01.05.13

A Guide to the NFL’s Wild-Card Weekend

As the teams that haven't yet proven their worthiness face off for a shot at the Super Bowl, The Daily Beast offers a primer for the NFL’s big weekend games.

Are you experiencing mild to slightly above-average readiness for football?

Good, because the third season premiere of Downton Abbey isn’t the only thing on TV this weekend. The vagabond wild-card teams—those four squads who couldn’t win their divisions but still played decently enough to get a shot at the title—will launch their campaigns for a chance at Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. If you haven’t once seen the cringe-inducing Faith Hill Monday Night Football intro, if the burger that’s broken your heart this year hails from White Castle and not Pittsburgh, if you’re dusting off that Eli Manning jersey for a Super Bowl party, and if you think Tebow’s going elicit some heaven-sent miracle in the next two months, here are some headlines to get you caught up on what's happened so far in the 2012 season.

Ben Roethlisberger Intentionally Throws Interceptions, Season
Adrian Peterson Shows He Can Not Only Walk But Destroy Teams
Year of the Rookie (and Really Really Good) Quarterback
Bears Go 7-1, Yet Choke and Miss Playoffs
No Super Bowl Run This Year, Giants
Saints Bountygate Leads to Semi-Inspirational Mediocre Year
Peyton Manning Wears Broncos Jersey, Shows He’s Still Really Good
New York Jets Circus Goes On! Here’s Tattoogate

And now, a primer on the wild-card weekend matchups.

Cincinnati Bengals (12-6) @ and Houston Texans (12-4), Saturday 4:30 p.m. EST, NBC

It’s a rematch of last year’s 31-10 Texans victory, but it’s not exactly a battle of gun-slinging quarterbacks. The “Bungles,” as they’re colloquially known, are the best team in Ohio, but not exactly an NFL superpower. In week 16, they clinched a playoff spot by knocking out the Pittsburgh Steelers with defensive scores. And in the final week of the season, they eked out a win over the Ravens B-team. These aren’t exactly rave reviews for quarterback Andy Dalton.

Meanwhile, the Texans limped into the playoffs after being hailed as the league’s best for a few weeks. The season ended with wins against four crappy teams and pretty bad losses to three contenders. And things aren’t much brighter at the quarterback spot in Houston: In his last four games, Matt Schaub only threw one touchdown. Pundits consider this a temporary slump and not  the actual apocalypse.

What would be amazing: The Bengals bring football back to Ohio and win 2-0 on a safety.

What will probably happen: Schaub throws one touchdown, and the Texans win.

***

Minnesota Vikings (10-6) @ Green Bay Packers (11-5), Saturday 8 p.m. EST, NBC

This could be awkward. Last week, the Vikings nipped the Packers with a field goal as time expired. Minnesota had an extraordinary game from running back Adrian Peterson, who had a phenomenal 2,000+ yard year—after miraculously coming back from shredding his knee (there really aren’t enough adjectives to describe it). Unfortunately for the Vikings, they’ll need Peterson to have another monster game, since the quarterback position is helmed by Christian Ponder. Who’s he? Good question.

Meanwhile, the cheesehead Packers have quarterback Aaron Rodgers. We’ve all seen the commercials. Rodgers may have the personality of a peanut, but he’s still one of the best in the game.

What would be amazing: While the Vikings are winless when playing outside this year, forecasts of 20-degree weather and flurries in Green Bay elicit a huge game from Peterson, and a sloppy one from Rodgers.

What will probably happen: Packers smack the Vikings around.

***

Indianapolis Colts (11-5) @ Baltimore Ravens (10-6), Sunday 1 p.m. EST, CBS

The Colts did have an easy schedule and some late-game luck, but their record doesn’t lie—they won 11 games. They did this by riding rookie quarterback Andrew Luck to the postseason in what probably should’ve been an extremely depressing post-Peyton Manning season. All this while coach Chuck Pagano has battled leukemia.

Baltimore’s losing its bone-crunching leader Ray Lewis at the end of year to retirement. Sunday, he’ll be making a comeback after missing ten games with a torn triceps (!). It was just one more injury that downgraded a Super Bowl favorite to just another team.

What would be amazing: Colts ignore a dismal road record and go from last year’s worst team to sudden Super Bowl contender.

What will probably happen: Colts win! Introducing this year’s overachieving bad team.

***

Seattle Seahawks (11-5) @ Washington Redskins (10-6), Sunday 4:30 p.m. EST, Fox

In the weekend’s most exciting match up, the red-hot Seahawks face off against the rejuvenated Redskins. Both teams ended the second half of the season 7-1. Washington’s been led by rookie phenomenon Robert Griffin III, a.k.a. RGIII, who’s done everything from spark asinine conversations about what it means to be black to nearly destroy his knee. Running back Alfred Morris can also squat 600 pounds. Think about that.

The deep Seattle squad is led by lesser-known but nearly-as-good rookie Russell Wilson, who looks more like an average-sized accountant than an elite quarterback. While battling one of the league’s toughest schedules, the Seahawks were 8-0 at home. Their five losses were by less than one score. They torched the 49ers, who enjoy a bye-week, for 42 points. This team is good.

What would be amazing: The legend of RGIII grows: he avoids concussion and explodes in romp.

What will probably happen: America falls in love with Russell Wilson.