After 17 long weeks of the NFL regular season, 12 teams are left standing for a chance to make the trip to New York for Super Bowl XLVIII (48) in New York. The NFL postseason begins this weekend with four Wild Card round games.
The big story heading into the opening round of the playoffs is the weather — three of the four games will be played in areas hit hard by a massive winter storm that swept through the midwest and northeast late this week. But the other storyline is that three of these games are regular season rematches.
How will the weather — and the teams' familiarity with each other — affect the games? We'll know soon enough. But while we wait for the first kickoff, let's make some predictions!
Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
Saturday, 4:35 p.m.
After starting the season 9-0, the Chiefs went 2-5 in their last seven games — including a 23-7 loss to the Colts on December 22. Indianapolis, meanwhile, enters the playoffs on a three-game winning streak. But two of those Ws came against the Texans and the Jaguars. The AFC South champs would seem to have the momentum entering this Wild Card game, but Indy has been one of the more inconsistent teams this season. The Colts have the home field advantage on Saturday, but the Chiefs are playing for more than a victory — they want to show the rest of the NFL that the beginning of the season wasn't a fluke. Expect Kansas City and its hard-nose defense to come roaring out of the gate and never let up.
Pick: Kansas City Chiefs
New Orleans Saints (11-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
Saturday, 8:10 p.m.
The only game that's not a regular season rematch should be a lot of fun to watch. The Eagles have been on a tear behind QB Nick Foles, going 7-1 in their last eight games. They're also putting up huge numbers — Philadelphia has scored at least 24 points in every game since November 3. But they're meeting another high-octane offense in Drew Brees' Saints. New Orleans has been nearly unbeatable at home, but when they play away from the Superdome the wheels come off. The Saints are 3-5 on the road this season. Brees is one of the NFL's elite QBs, so that record might not mean much. But Saturday's game in Philadelphia won't be like any other road game: Philly fans are loud and rowdy and the weather could potentially be nasty. All of that and a white-hot Eagles offense that has been unstoppable should mean Foles picks up his first postseason win.
Pick: Philadelphia Eagles
San Diego Chargers (9-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)
Sunday, 1:05 p.m.
The Chargers needed a lot of help to sneak into the playoffs — both from other teams and the refs. But they're in the postseason for the first time since 2009 and are riding a four-game winning streak. That might not mean much when they head into Cincinnati to take on the Bengals: Paul Brown Stadium is one of the loudest in the league, and there should be some frigid weather lingering after this week's big winter storm. San Diego played the Bengals in Cincinnati on December 1, losing 17-10, but QB Philip Rivers will have his team fired up heading into the rematch. What would be great for the Chargers is if the Bengals' wildly inconsistent QB, Andy Dalton, has one of his off games where he throws twice as many picks as TD. But after a big win against Baltimore last week, expect the AFC North champs to try to make a statement in this game.
Pick: Cincinnati Bengals
San Francisco 49ers (12-4) at Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)
Sunday, 4:40 p.m.
The 49ers opened their NFC Championship defense with a 34-28 win against the Packers on September 8. But this rematch will be played in Green Bay, where the temperatures are predicted to be 26 degrees with a wind chill of -7 degrees. That's a far cry from the balmy California temperatures in San Francisco. What kind of impact will that have on the 49ers? They haven't had to play much in the cold this season, so it could be a shock. Still, San Francisco is on a six-game winning streak, while the Packers barely made it into the postseason. Plus, QB Aaron Rodgers is coming off a collarbone injury (he played his first game in more than a month last week). The weather will be brutal, and the game will likely be low-scoring, but the 49ers seem to have too much going their way for the Packers to advance.
Pick: San Francisco 49ers
What are your Wild Card round Picks? What teams do you think will move on to the divisional round? Let us know in the comments section below!
Photos: Jeff Moffett/Icon SMI (Chiefs/Colts), Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports (Brees), Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty Images (Foles), AP Photo/Denis Poroy (Chargers/Bengals), Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images (49ers/Packers)