Analysis and predictions for all four NFL wild-card playoff games this weekend:
Kansas City (11-5) at Indianapolis (11-5) – Saturday, 2:35 pm
1. Which Colts team will show up? Will it be the team that knocked off the NFL's two best squads, Denver and Seattle – or the team that was blown out at home by 7-9 St. Louis? No NFL team has had more of a Jekyll-and-Hyde personal this year than the Indianapolis Colts.
2. Will Charles get the ball? For some reason, Chiefs' star running back Jamaal Charles only rushed 13 times (for 106 yards and Kansas City's only touchdown) in their 23-7 home loss to Indianapolis in Week 16. The Colts allowed the seventh-most rushing yards per game in the regular season; will KC head coach Andy Reid let Charles loose this time around?
3. Can Indy establish the run again? With veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne out for the season with a knee injury, it's even more important for the Colts to use their running game to set up quarterback Andrew Luck and the passing game. Indy was able to do that in its Week 16 win over the Chiefs with a respectable 135 yards and 4.0 yards per carry. Can the Colts pull off a repeat performance?
Prediction: Nearly every Chiefs starter was rested for last week's game at San Diego, as KC was already locked into the No. 5 seed in the AFC. The Chiefs will be well-rested and hungry to avenge their most lopsided loss of the season. Charles will get more touches, and Luck will struggle against a defense that was No. 2 in the AFC in interceptions this season.
Kansas City 31, Indianapolis 17.
New Orleans (11-5) at Philadelphia (10-6) – Saturday, 6:10 pm
1. Can the Saints stop McCoy? The Eagles have perhaps the NFL's most dangerous running back in LeSean McCoy, who, thanks in part to first-year coach Chip Kelly's no-huddle scheme, can beat you on the ground (1,607 rushing yards, nine touchdowns) or through the air (539 yards, two touchdowns). It's the primary reason that no NFL team is better at using the run to set up the pass than the Eagles.
2. Can Brees be productive outdoors? Saints' quarterback Drew Brees' numbers explain everything you need to know about the team's road troubles this season:
Home: 27 TDs, 3 INTs, 126.3 QB rating
Away: 12 TDs, 9 INTs, 84.8 QB rating
Clear skies are in the forecast in Philadelphia on Saturday night, but temperatures are expected to in the 20s – not exactly what the doctor ordered for a QB that tends to be exceptionally mediocre away from his air-conditioned dome home.
3. Can Foles stay mistake-free? Second-year quarterback and Arizona Wildcat alum Nick Foles has been outstanding since taking over the starting job from Michael Vick, throwing for 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions on the season. However, this will be Foles' first-ever playoff start against the NFL's No. 2 passing defense. Being smart with the football – throwing the ball away or taking a sack rather than forcing it into coverage – is a must for Foles and the Eagles on Saturday.
Prediction: Simply put, with a 3-5 record away from the Superdome, the Saints are a pretty lousy road team. The Eagles already won a home game in the snow this season (34-20 over the Lions) and will embrace the chilly weather conditions. The Saints' defense is in the bottom-half of the NFL in rushing yards allowed, and McCoy and Co. are likely to run all over it.
Philadelphia 38, New Orleans 17.
San Diego (9-7) at Cincinnati (11-5) – Sunday, 11:05 am
1. Will bulletin-board material play a role? The Bengals have been revved up this week by a post-game video posted on the Chargers' Web site in which players talked about paying back the Bengals for their 17-10 win over San Diego in Week 13. While this kind of motivation is often overhyped by the media, the Bengals may come out hitting especially hard on Sunday – but they have to be careful not to pick up personal-foul penalties along the way, especially from former ASU linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who received second-team 2013 All-Pro honors but often has difficulty controlling his temper.
2. Which Andy Dalton will we see? This season, Bengals' third-year quarterback Andy Dalton has had three games in which he threw for at least three touchdowns and no more than one interception. He's also had five multi-interception games, including four picks in last week's home win over Baltimore. Dalton has a great matchup against a San Diego passing defense that allowed the NFL's fourth-most passing yards this season, but he was held to under 200 yards and just one TD in their Week 13 meeting.
3. Who will handle the snow better? There's an 80% chance of snow in Cincinnati on Sunday. Who will handle it better – Chargers' quarterback Philip Rivers, who has 10 years of NFL experience but typically plays in a warm-weather city, or Dalton, who's playing at home but doesn't necessarily have much experience in these conditions?
Prediction: With a loss to the 3-13 Redskins and a win over the 13-3 Broncos in 2013, it doesn't seem to matter who the Chargers play – and with 10 games this season decided by eight points or less, it's a good bet that Sunday's game will be a close one. In a tight contest, go with the team with the more experienced quarterback – Rivers' 105.5 passer rating trails only Peyton Manning among QBs to start every game this season.
San Diego 34, Cincinnati 31.
San Francisco (12-4) at Green Bay (8-7-1) – Sunday, 2:40 pm
1. What role will the cold play? It's not supposed to snow in Green Bay on Sunday, but there will be Ice Bowl-like conditions, as the high is expected to be -5, with a wind chill of -20. The 49ers certainly aren't used to that kind of frigidity – and while the Packers might be, the banged-up bodies of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Randall Cobb, who just returned from injuries a week ago, may not appreciate the cold weather, either.
2. Which secondary will step up? There wasn't a lot of passing defense to speak of in the 49ers' 34-28 Week 1 home win over Green Bay. Rodgers threw for 333 yards and three touchdowns, while 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick passed for a career-high 412 yards and three scores. If the cold temps don't slow down either quarterback, who will?
3. Does home-field really matter? Despite the potential cold-weather advantage that the Packers may enjoy, no NFL team has a better road record this season than San Francisco, which is 6-2 away from Candlestick Park. The Packers – the only team to make it to the playoffs with fewer than nine wins – went just 4-3-1 at home this season.
Prediction: Rodgers and Cobb are back, which is a big deal for Green Bay. But the 49ers are the more balanced team on offense and have one of the NFL's best run defenses, which could turn Green Bay into a one-dimensional team, despite running back Eddie Lacy's outstanding rookie season.
San Francisco 24, Green Bay 20.