Both Foxtel (ESPN) and Free-To-Air TV (One HD) will be airing all the playoff games live. Lets take a look at the AFC matchups.The twelve best teams in the NFL (well sort of) have now clinched a playoff seed and this week features four wild card games. Lets take a look at the two AFC games.
Kansas City Chiefs @ Indianapolis Colts
When and Where: Sunday January 5, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN
Coverage: LIVE on ESPN (via Foxtel) and One HD, 8:30 am AEST
The Colts, winners of the AFC South with an 11-5 record, will host the 11-5 Chiefs at home in the first playoff game of the season. Kansas City hosted Indianapolis a fortnight ago at Arrowhead with the Colts walking out with a comfortable 23 - 7 victory. This time though a trip to the divisional rounds are up for grabs.
The Chiefs defense was considered elite all year thanks to some great play by the lineman Tamba Hali and Justin Houston but over the back stretch of the season the defense has given up plenty of big plays and points. Since their bye in Week 10 the Chiefs defense have an average of 27.7 points scored against them each game. They finished the regular season ranked 25th against the pass and 22nd against the run.
With Tamba Hali in severe doubt for this game the rest of the defense must vastly improve if it has any chance of stopping a Colts offense that has found its rhythm lately. On offense the Chiefs only have to look at the tape from their last game against the Colts to know that running the ball with Charles is the answer. The Colts 13th ranked pass defense contained Alex Smith to a 57.6 passer rating, meanwhile Charles managed 106 yards on just 13 carries.
The Colts go into this one playing their best football since the loss of Reggie Wayne. They have won three straight while only allowing 20 points across that three game stretch. Robert Mathis finished the season as the first annual Deacon Jones Award for the sack leader and believes the Colts are getting "hot" at the right time similar to the Ravens last season. The Colts defense although not flashy has forced eight turnovers and only allowed nine out of 37 third down conversions in their last three games. This defense has an eerie 2006 feel to it when the Colts defense suddenly got hot and helped Peyton Manning win his first Super Bowl.
On offense the key will obviously be Andrew Luck who finished the season with 23 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. The emergence of Griff Whalen in the slot the last few weeks has given Luck a reliable target in the middle of the field. If Tamba Hali he is out, the loss of his pass rushing ability will give Luck some extra time to find Whalen.
Watch Out For: Colts linebacker Jerrell Freeman. Freeman narrowly missed out on a Pro Bowl position and had a superb game against the Chiefs a fortnight ago. He finished with five tackles, a sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery and an interception. A very underrated player primed for a big one.
Final Word and Prediction: While all signs point to a convincing Colts win there is something about that game a fortnight ago. The effort from the Chiefs was very lackluster and with much more to play expect a bold showing. It should be a very close game.
Kansas City 28 - 24
San Diego Chargers @ Cincinnati Bengals
When and Where: Monday January 6, Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
Coverage: LIVE on ESPN (via Foxtel) and One HD, 5:00 am AEST
The Chargers are the luckiest team in the NFL, they were lucky than Ryan Succop missed a chip shot field goal to banish them from the post season and they were lucky it wasn't called back for a penalty as well. They are lucky to be in the playoffs.In saying that they are team no one wants to play after some impressive wins including a victory against Denver at Mile High in early December.
The Bengals are undefeated at home and over the past two weeks have racked up 76 points. Andy Dalton has had seven touchdowns (6 passing, 1 rushing) over that span but the four interceptions last week are concerning. Dalton needs to go on a Joe Flacco type run if they have any chance of a deep playoff run. The last time these two teams met Dalton had an average game but managed to lead them to a 17-10 victory at Qualcomm stadium. The Bengals defense did what it does every week and applied a lot of pressure on Philip Rivers and managed three turnovers. Limited a high octane offense like the Chargers to ten points shows the quality that the Bengals has on defense. They finished the season ranked fifth in both passing and rushing defense.
The key for the Chargers is to put that last game behind them, yes that game where they struggled to beat a Kansas City Chiefs side with Chase Daniel at quarterback and Knile Davis at running back. The Chargers have a high octane offense led by Rivers with the help of new additions to the team in Danny Woodhead and Keenan Allen. Allen have over 1000 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in his rookie season and is definitely a contender for rookie of the year honours.
Ryan Mathews has finally given his critics a big stiff arm with a brilliant season but against the Bengals elite rush defense (even without Geno Atkins) it will be tough. Mathews was limited to 61 yards on 14 carries the last time he played the Bengals. A similar defensive game plan to the one used at Mile High will defintely be effective on Andy Dalton but the Chargers their path to victory is on offense.
Watch Out For: Bengals defensive line have collected 24 sacks at home this season and have limited opposing quarterbacks to a 60.6 quarterback rating with only nine touchdowns compared to 15 interceptions. Even greats like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have failed in Cincy this season.
Final Word and Prediction: Will the Chargers luck run out when they travel to Paul Brown stadium and take on a Bengals side that is an impressive 8-0 at home? Probably. The Bengals are a real Super Bowl contender if the right Andy Dalton shows up to play to support that great defensive unit
Cincinnati 38 - 17