What to Know : Wildcard Weekend

football, games, wildcardWelcome to your Wildcard Weekend What to Know post! Honestly, I don’t remember the last time I was more excited for a playoff round. This is fixing to be one for the ages, so let’s jump right in!

Bengals at Texans

Saturday, January 5th, 4:30pm EST

What to Know: Sometimes, history repeats itself. Almost a year ago to the day, the Texans and Bengals played in the 2012 AFC Wildcard game at Reliant Stadium. On Saturday, they’ll do the exact same thing. Last year’s score? Texans 31, Bengals 10. History has a reasonable chance of repeating itself in the outcome as well, since their current coach, Marvin Lewis, has an 0-3 record in the playoffs. But weren’t rules made to be broken? The Texans haven’t been playing their best as of late, and while that’s never an excellent predictor of playoff potential, it’s certainly a factor to consider. Especially since the Bengals have won 7 of their last 8 games.

Vikings at Packers

Saturday, January 5th, 8:00pm EST

What to Know: A) I’ll be a hott mess all day long. (Who am I kidding? I’m a hott mess right now just writing this post.) B) This is what Wildcard Weekend is all about. Two divisional rivals going at it for the third time in a season, split victories, one dominant throughout (the Packers), one a complete surprise (the Vikings). Consider this: the Packers were ranked 3rd in the ESPN Preseason Power Rankings. The Vikings? 31st. (And the only team ranked below them? The Colts. Who are also in the playoffs. THAT’S how crazy this league is.) Not to slight the rest of the team, but Adrian Peterson is the entire reason the Vikings are relevant right now, and he’s also their greatest chance for success. He’s run all over the Packers in their last two meetings (to the tune of 210 yards and 199 yards)…even with a fully loaded box. At times last Sunday the Packers brought NINE players down (leaving two lonely players upfield!). That’s nearly double the number of men on the offensive line. And they still couldn’t stop AP. I’m not necessarily blaming the Packers; I’m crediting Peterson. He’s a force that can’t be reckoned with and I think it will be a huge mistake if he doesn’t win league MVP this year.

Colts at Ravens

Sunday, January 6th, 1:o0pm EST

What to Know: The name of this game is emotion. The Colts have had a true dream season this year, defying all odds and playing in honor of head coach Chuck Pagano, who missed most of the season while going through cancer treatments. Coach Pagano, also defying all odds, is back on the sidelines again and will be coaching his team in their playoff appearance in Baltimore on Sunday. The Ravens, however, also have something to play for. Veteran middle linebacker Ray Lewis announced earlier this week that he will be retiring at the conclusion of this season. (If you don’t know who Ray Lewis is, you need to. He’s good for your soul. If you have 5 minutes, watch this. If you have 15 minutes, watch this. If you have 45 minutes, watch this. If you have an hour, watch them all! You won’t be sorry.) Lewis is the unquestioned leader of the team. He is the ultimate teammate (and one of the best, if not the best, middle linebackers to ever play the game). What he means to this team on and off the field can’t be overstated, so there’s no doubt the players will unite to try to win another Super Bowl for Ray.

This brings me to one of the unfortunate facts of football: for there to be a winner, there has to be a loser. And honestly, who wants to see either of these teams lose? They’re both so inspiring in their own ways, both deserve a victory for what they represent on and off the field. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Rick Telander’s book Like a Rose: “Football is the oddest, meanest, sweetest game. It is a conflict at its root and at its surface. It pulls a sane person in two directions – anger and joy.”

Seahawks at Redskins

Sunday, January 6th, 4:30pm EST

What to Know: This is only the second time in NFL history that two rookie quarterbacks are facing off against each other in the playoffs. The first time was last year when Texans rookie T.J. Yates and Bengals rookie Andy Dalton played in the aforementioned Wildcard game – but that was slightly different because Yates was not the starter; he was backing up for injured QB Matt Schaub. So that means this is the first time that two rookie QB’s who were the original starters have met in the playoffs – and what a pair to set the precedent! Seahawks QB Russell Wilson and Redskins QB Robert Griffin III (RG3) are both in contention for Rookie of the Year (along with Colts QB Andrew Luck, who will also be playing on Sunday). Both teams are coming into this game with a disadvantage: RG3 took a brutal hit a few weeks ago and is still recovering from the Gumby-esque contortion his leg suffered. The Seahawks are undefeated at home, but they’ve struggled at times as a road team and will have to travel cross-country for this game. It’s set to be a historic showdown, no matter what the final score is.

One Final Note:

Don’t be lulled into thinking that just because this is the first round of the playoffs it doesn’t really matter – that they’re just Wildcard games. Seriously, nothing could be further from the truth. Aside from the Super Bowl, this is my favorite weekend of football all season long. Eight powerhouse teams match up in a FULL WEEKEND of games. And recent history says that one of the underdogs from Wildcard Weekend will be the eventual Super Bowl winner (Packers in ’10, Giants in ’11).

So, basically: clear your schedules. It’s going to be a great weekend.

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