Throughout wild-card round history, results have been wacky and often unpredictable.
Among the most unexpected outcomes have been in games when a team has a record that’s more than three games better than its foes.
There have been four such matchups, with the team with the poorer record winning each time. The last time it occurred was two seasons ago when the Steelers (12-4) were ambushed by Tebowmania (8-8), 29-23, in overtime. Keep that in mind when figuring out 49ers-Packers.
Also, using the same thought process, since the current NFL map was adjusted in 2002 with the inclusion of Houston, wild-card round home teams that have an inferior record to the visitor have gone 10-5 ATS. This week, that applies to Saints-Eagles in addition to 49ers-Packers.
One more thing: Whereas WC home teams have gone 7-1 SU/ATS the past two seasons, the year before that it was 1-3 SU/ATS.
And finally, here’s Super Bowl futures update from the LVH SuperBook. The Seahawks are the top pick at 2-1, with the Broncos at 5-2. The longest shot on the board is San Diego at 40-1.
Now for a closer look at the weekend’s games; the lines are provided by the SuperBook. Times are PST.
PRO FOOTBALL – SATURDAY, JAN. 4
Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
Time: 1:35 p.m. PST
Line: Colts by 1½ (46)
Facts: Kansas City is tied with Detroit with a current playoff-record seven straight losses… Last season, just before Indy faced Baltimore in the WC round, Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was hospitalized. The Colts lost 24-9... Indy had 27 takeaways this season, 12 more than last year when it had the worst total for any playoff team in history (15)... KC has been outgained by 30.4 yards a game this season. No team has ever won a Super Bowl with such a negative differential. Then again, no team ever was outscored by at least double one year and made the postseason the next the way KC just did.
Analysis: The Colts came out last week’s game dinged along the defensive line, with Cory Redding (probable) nursing a shoulder injury and nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin (questionable) with a knee issue. KC, on the other hand, is pretty much coming off a bye after benching most of its high-profile guys in San Diego, including All-Pro RB Jamaal Charles. He’s lots better than what the Colts can offer.
And when it comes to coaching, KC’s Andy Reid hasn’t won any Super Bowls, but he’s been pretty good getting his team past the first playoff hurdle, going 7-2 in his career in Philly. One more thing, the Chiefs, who had a +18 turnover differential this year, tops in the AFC, probably won’t have four turnovers against Indy the way they did two weeks ago in a 23-7 loss in KC.
Forecast: Chiefs 30, Colts 23
New Orleans Saints (11-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
Time: 5:10 p.m. PST
Line: Eagles by 2½ (54)
Facts: The Eagles’ defense was on the field 1,150 plays this season, more than any other team the past 10 years. Their offense ran 96 fewer plays, the fourth worst differential in the league in 2013. Conversely, New Orleans was a league-best plus-136 in plays run… Saints coach Sean Payton won the 2009 Super Bowl, but that might not help him here against the only rookie coach to make the 2013 postseason, Chip Kelly. Super Bowl-winning coaches are 8-13 SU/ATS in the wild-card round the previous 11 seasons.
The Eagles’ Shady McCoy handily won the rushing title, but the last time the ground-gaining champ went on to win the Super Bowl was in the 1998 season with Denver’s Terrell Davis… Philly averages 5.1 yards a rush and holds foes to 3.7, a margin of 1.4 that’s best in the league. In their last title season, 1960, they averaged only 3.2 a rush and yielded 4.9. That variance is the worst for any champ.
Analysis: Some teams work more slowly than others. The Saints took a record 20 years before their first winning season in 1987. It took another 13 before winning a postseason game. They’re now about due to earn their first road playoff win. Damn the elements! Although Saints RB Pierre Thomas is out (chest), he’s not what makes the Saints go. Kenny Graham has a league-best 16 receiving TDs and WR Kenny Stills has an NFL-best 20 yards a catch. They’ll be going against an Eagles defense that’s last in passing yards allowed.
Although Eagles QB Nick Foles did win the passing title, if he continues to wait too long to throw in the pocket, like he did last week against Dallas’ worst-rated overall defense, the Saints should be able to get some strip sacks. And P.S.: It does get cold in New Orleans, too, so 20-some degrees won’t scare off the Saints.
Forecast: Saints 34, Eagles 23
PRO FOOTBALL – SUNDAY, JAN. 5
San Diego Chargers (9-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)
Time: 10:05 a.m.
Weather: Low 30s, 90 percent chance of precipitation
Line: Bengals by 7 (47)
Facts: Chargers QB Philip Rivers had his poorest game of the season (passer rating) five weeks ago in San Diego’s 17-10 home loss to Cincinnati. The Bengals also held Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady to their worst games… Cincinnati’s record-tying run of 40-point home games ended at four in last week’s 34-17 win over Baltimore, which included a defensive TD.
The Bengals’ receivers are banged up, with TE Tyler Eifert (neck) and Jermaine Gresham (hamstring) questionable. They sat out last week when QB Andy Dalton had a career-high four INTs… In the 1980 postseason, the Bengals beat the Chargers 27-7 in the AFC title game, which was the second coldest on record – minus 9 degrees with a 59-below wind chill.
Analysis: Rivers and the Chargers came on like gangbusters at the end of the year to sneak into the playoffs. But upon further review, they were only 1-4 this season when facing teams with a defense ranked 18th or better. Cincinnati’s happens to be No. 3. That’s a black mark on SD. But Cincinnati’s Dalton looked confused last week vs. Baltimore without his TE targets.
Dalton’s end zone interception on a back-shoulder try was particularly awful. Rivers wouldn’t do that, not to mention that he already has two late-season wins in frosty KC and Denver this year. So, this savvy vet, who’s the league’s most accurate passer, should be able to acclimate to the wet conditions quite well.
Forecast: Chargers 28, Bengals 26
San Francisco 49ers (12-4) at Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)
Time: 1:40 p.m. PST
Weather: Around zero at kickoff, plunging thereafter; clear
Line: 49ers by 2½ (46½)
Facts: Almost exactly 35 years ago, with the wind chill reaching 26 below, according to the 49ers, San Francisco beat the host Bears 28-3 in the NFC title game en route to its third world title. Current 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was a backup QB for Chicago that year... Green Bay is the only team in the tournament with a losing record vs. the spread (6-10).
The Packers are 5-3 in games Rodgers started and didn’t get hurt. The only playoff team in 2012 with a losing ATS mark entering the postseason was eventual champion Baltimore, also 6-10... Green Bay won its first 13 home playoff games in history, but since 2002 is 3-4 at Lambeau. … The 49ers are the eighth team with 12 victories in a season to take the wild-card route since 2000, matching the 2001 San Fran squad.
Analysis: The game is no doubt going to be about biting cold, slick balls and the courage needed to take or deliver a big hit. With both teams having bruising running games (SF had 323 rush yards in a playoff win vs. visiting GB last season), the defenses could well be in for a painful day.
The guess here is that 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick will be taken somewhat out of his game more so than Rodgers, who surely won’t be looking to run. And if Kaepernick decides to go on some keepers, how many times can his slender body take a hit in these climes?
Forecast: Packers 31, 49ers 24
Last week: 10-6 ATS; 14-2 SU
Season: 129-119-8 (.520) ATS; 154-101-1 (.604) ATS
“Popular” Bob Christ has been forecasting NFL games for more than 30 years. His work has appeared in newspapers from coast to coast in Canada and the U.S. Contact him at [email protected].