NFL Playoffs To Start With Wild Card Teams In Action

The NFL playoffs start this weekend. Four wild card teams face four teams that won their divisions — and there are some very interesting storylines to follow.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK. We've gotten through Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year's. But if you're an NFL fan, the next holiday up is Wild Card Weekend. There is football on Saturday and Sunday. Four wild card teams facing four teams that won their divisions. And there are some pretty interesting storylines to cover. Let's cover them with NPR's Mike Pesca. Hey, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Storyline number one - not all the teams playing are wild cards. It is called that but they get to play divisional leaders, don't they?

GREENE: Yeah. It's kind of - I mean, it's a little embarrassing that divisional leaders have to play in something called Wild Card Weekend, but that's why the teams who had the best records get the byes...

PESCA: They'll be extra motivated.

GREENE: That's right.

PESCA: Exactly. Yeah.

GREENE: Well, let's start with the first game on Saturday - the Indianapolis Colts hosting the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs started the season 8-0. It looked like they were going to go undefeated. They finished 11-5. But we should say, last year they were the worst team in the NFL. It's been a turnaround.

PESCA: Yes, it has. No, it didn't look like they were going to go undefeated. They hadn't played the Broncos by that point. But, yeah. And you have to give credit to their coach, Andy Reid, who instituted an offense with Alex Smith, who is the game manager quarterback, which means he doesn't take huge chances. But that's pretty great and smart because their defense is really good.

All of that said, Indianapolis clearly has the edge in this game. Not only are they home, they played the Chiefs two weeks ago at the Chief's home stadium, Arrowhead. They beat the Chiefs rather easily in that game. Past is not prologue in the NFL but in that game we saw that I think the Chiefs might have trouble stopping young Andrew Luck and his Colts.

GREENE: All right. New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday night. This is a game that I think meteorologists have as much to say about as people at ESPN. I mean, the New Orleans Saints do not play well in the cold and it's going to be cold.

PESCA: Yes. It is a fact that the Saints are the only team in the playoffs with a losing record on the road. And there was a time just a few weeks ago where it seemed like the Saints and the Seahawks were in a collision course and home field advantage was going to determine everything. But I think almost too much has been made about the Saints' road woes.

Because, yes, it is true they've lost their last three games on the road, but look at the opponents - the Seattle Seahawks, the best defense in the NFL.

GREENE: Mm-hmm.

PESCA: The Carolina Panthers, the second best defense in the NFL. OK. They played St. Louis. St. Louis isn't bad. They also lost to the Jets on the road, who have a good defense, and they lost to the Patriots on the road, but they did score 27 points in that game. So you add it all up, the Eagles are by far the worst team in terms of defense that the Saints will be playing on the road.

That said, both of these teams have pretty bad defenses. This could be a game in the 40s - not degrees. It's going to be 11 degrees and that'll be bad for the Saints but this could be a really high scoring game.

GREENE: So Sunday, the San Diego Chargers go visit the Cincinnati Bengals. San Diego barely snuck into the playoffs. Does that make them a pushover?

PESCA: No. It doesn't make them a pushover. In the history of teams, like we saw the Arizona Cardinals make the Super Bowl after being one of these teams that quote-unquote shouldn't have made the playoffs, that alone doesn't make them a pushover.

That said, Cincinnati is the biggest favorite this weekend. They have a really good defense. They have the home field advantage. You know, all circumstances favor Cincinnati.

GREENE: OK. And finally Sunday night at Lambeau Field, the Packers of Green Bay are hosting the San Francisco 49ers. The Packers - really interesting. They barely made it to 500 but they've got their quarterback, Aaron Rogers, back. He was there for the last week of the season. Does that mean everything is all and well in Green Bay now?

PESCA: It doesn't because their middle linebacker, Clay Matthews, is out. He's the key to the defense. And Rogers, even with that great fourth down touchdown pass and all the magic that he connotes, he wasn't great in that game. And everyone's sort of saying, well, in the first half he wasn't good but the rust is clearly off. I don't know if that's true. That seems a little too easy.

And the other thing I'd say is the 49ers are a really great team. They've beaten the Packers three times since 2012. Colin Kaepernick is a tough guy to stop. So even though the 49ers are on the road, they're the favorite in that game.

GREENE: And of course whoever wins this weekend they move on to the next week when the teams who are resting this weekend will be waiting, teams like the Broncos.

PESCA: The Broncos loom, Seahawks loom. They loom.

GREENE: Always looming. NPR's Mike Pesca. Thanks, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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