The regular season is over. MDS won the picks contest. He gets the prize that goes along with it.
The prize package consists of satisfaction and continued employment. (The consolation prize was simply continued employment.)
But the slate is now clean, with the 256-game marathon replaced by an 11-game sprint. For the first four playoff games, we disagree on two of them. All picks and analysis for the wild-card round appear below.
Chiefs at Texans
MDS’s take: The Texans’ season started with a loss to the Chiefs in which coach Bill O’Brien botched the quarterback situation by pulling Brian Hoyer for Ryan Mallett. That set the team back, but O’Brien deserves a lot of credit for the way his team held it together late in the year after Hoyer was hurt and they had to play T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden. But I think Andy Reid deserves even more credit for the way he kept his team going after the injury to Jamaal Charles. In fact, the Chiefs have arguably the NFL’s best running attack, which is incredible given how important Charles was thought to be to the offense. I think it’s going to be that running game, led by Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware, that controls the game and gives the Chiefs a hard-fought win.
MDS’s pick: Chiefs 23, Texans 20.
Florio’s take: The Chiefs have won 10 in a row. The only win not in that streak came in Week One, when Kansas City plastered the Texans in Houston. And so the reasonable conclusion is that it will happen again. But that was 17 weeks ago, and long regular-season winning streaks only add pressure at this point. The Texans have the home-field advantage and a chip on their shoulder. The Chiefs vividly recall the collapse in Indy from two years ago, and they carry the burden of being expected to win. It all adds up to the supposedly inferior team, sparking by a pregame frenzy that looks like a KISS concert, advancing to the next round. They may not get any farther, but that’s a matter to be addressed next week.
Florio’s pick: Texans 23, Chiefs 20.
Steelers at Bengals
MDS’s take: If Andy Dalton were healthy for this game, I’d pick the Bengals and I wouldn’t think twice about it: Yes, Dalton has struggled in the postseason, but he was off to an excellent start this season before suffering a thumb injury. Unfortunately for the Bengals, it looks like Dalton will sit and AJ McCarron will start. That’s a rough break, as McCarron did not play well in the Bengals’ loss to the Steelers in December. I expect McCarron to struggle and Ben Roethlisberger to play well, as the Bengals lose yet another wild card game.
MDS’s pick: Steelers 28, Bengals 20.
Florio’s take: It’s Round Three between the Steelers and the Bengals, just like 10 years ago. That time, the Steelers knocked out quarterback Carson Palmer on the home team’s first play from scrimmage, paving the way for a win. This time, the Steelers already have dispensed with Andy Dalton, who broke a thumb while making a tackle after an interception. While the “nothing to lose” mentality could help the Bengals and backup A.J. McCarron, the Steelers already have spent a week staring into the abyss of having their season end after not going all out in Baltimore. On Saturday night, Pittsburgh throws Cincinnati into the pit.
Florio’s pick: Steelers 27, Bengals 20.
Seahawks at Vikings
MDS’s take: With the way the Seahawks are playing lately, the Vikings may come to regret beating the Packers to win the NFC North. Russell Wilson has been the best quarterback in football over the second half of the season, and Seattle’s defense was ferocious in shutting down the Cardinals’ offense in Week 17. The Vikings, meanwhile, aren’t getting much out of their passing game, as Teddy Bridgewater threw just 14 touchdowns, by far the fewest of any quarterback who started all 16 games this season. Adrian Peterson is the league’s leading rusher, but I think the Seahawks’ front can hold him in check and the Seahawks’ secondary can shut down the Vikings’ receivers. This game won’t be close.
MDS’s pick: Seahawks 30, Vikings 17.
Florio’s take: The Seahawks destroyed the Vikings when the two teams last got together, with a 38-7 trouncing. But for a late-game kickoff return (featuring 50 yards of high stepping from Cordarrelle Patterson), it would have been a shutout. So why would it be any different now? Intensely cold weather could flatten out the talent gap. So maybe the Seahawks only win by 16 this time.
Florio’s pick: Seahawks 30, Vikings 14.
Packers at Washington
MDS’s take: Washington is on a roll heading into the playoffs, with Kirk Cousins playing his best football, while Green Bay is stumbling with Aaron Rodgers struggling as much as he has in years. And yet I’m going to pick the Packers. I think Rodgers is ready for a big game against a suspect Washington secondary, and I’m betting on the Packers’ strong pass defense to give Cousins a rough outing.
MDS’s pick: Packers 24, Washington 20.
Florio’s take: Washington is much better than anyone expected them to be. The Packers are worse. Much, much worse. Despite winning 10 games, the Packers have gone 4-6 since starting 6-0. So should it be a surprise if Washington finds a way to beat Green Bay? And would it be a surprise if up-and-coming quarterback Kirk Cousins outplays Aaron Rodgers, who for whatever reason isn’t the guy he has been for most of his career? Not for me.
Florio’s pick: Washington 26, Packers 24.