Bengals and Colts hunt for upsets

Pigskin lovers can now embrace the NFL playoffs.

After 17 weeks of regular season play, the top 12 teams will now battle for the Super Bowl. The opening wild card round is up first this weekend, featuring eight squads.

On Saturday, 5 January, the Cincinnati Bengals face the Houston Texans at 4.30pm with the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers in action at 8pm. Both games are on NBC. On Sunday, 6 January, the Indianapolis Colts battle the Baltimore Ravens at 1pm on CBS with the Seattle Seahawks tackling the Washington Redskins at 4.30pm on Fox.

The Bengals are the sixth seed in the American Football Conference after finishing second in the AFC North at 10-6. The Texans are ranked third at 12-4 after winning the AFC South. Both had solid defences, behind talents like Cincy’s Geno Atkins and Houston’s J.J. Watt, with formidable offences featuring Cincy quarterback Andy Dalton and Houston running back Arian Foster.

The Bengals have the momentum as they ride into the postseason with three straight victories. The Texans lost two straight games. Odds are the Cincy offence shows balance and takes out Houston by a touchdown.

The Vikings are the sixth seed in the National Football Conference after finishing second in the NFC North at 10-6. Minnesota ended up just behind the 11-5 Green Bay Packers, the division champions. Both played a memorable regular season finale last Sunday decided by a late field goal.

Their playoff match-up pits Minnesota’s star runner, Adrian Peterson, against Green Bay’s elite hurler, Aaron Rodgers. The Vikings would appear to have the better form but they have to fight the cold of Lambeau Field. Odds are the elements help a much-maligned Packers defence en route to a six-point win.

It has been a miraculous run for Indy, who ended up second in the AFC South at 11-5 to nab the fifth seed. Baltimore, meanwhile, stumbled to the AFC North crown and the fourth seed at 10-6. The Colts were 4-1 in their last five games while the Ravens were just 1-4 during that span.

Yet the difference on Sunday might be experience. The Ravens should get a boost with the return of Ray Lewis. While Andrew Luck had a phenomenal rookie year for Indy, expect Lewis’ return to spur Ray Rice and a veteran Baltimore cast to a 10-point victory.

Many pundits will remember 2012 as the year of the rookie quarterback and two of them will do battle in Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Washington’s Robert Griffin III. Wilson guided the Seahawks to the fifth seed after an 11-5 campaign placed them second in the NFC West and Griffin III had the fourth seed after winning the NFC East at 10-6.

Griffin III is less than 100 per cent and goes against a Seahawks defence that is super aggressive. Odds are Seattle keeps the Redskins’ run game in check and win by a field goal.

The divisional round of the playoffs take place next weekend, featuring the AFC’s top seeds in Peyton Manning’s 13-3 Denver Broncos and Tom Brady’s 12-4 New England Patriots and the top NFC sides in Matt Ryan’s 13-3 Atlanta Falcons and Colin Kaepernick’s 11-4-1 San Francisco 49ers.