By Sam Cowan
On Saturday, the road to Super Bowl 50 enters its final stretch as the field will be narrowed to eight teams by Monday morning.
The opening round of the playoffs features three home underdogs, an intense division rivalry and three rematches from the regular season.
As usual, I will be making my picks for each game while also providing a look at how each team got here in the first place.
Texans over Chiefs
These two teams both overcame poor starts to claim a postseason spot. The Chiefs started off the year 1-5 before ripping off a remarkable 10 straight wins to make it in. The Texans got off to a similarly poor 2-5 start before winning 7 of their last 9 to clinch the third division title in team history.
These two teams also met in the opening week of the regular season where the Chiefs won 27-20. The Texans are the underdog here, but I am going with them because I do not believe in the Chiefs.
Over the course of their 10-game winning streak, the Chiefs’ best wins came against a Steelers team without Ben Roethlisberger and a win in which Peyton Manning melted down and threw five picks.
The Texans can at least hang their hat on a big win in Cincinnati during their hot streak. Due to the Texans being a motivated team playing at home, JJ Watt going back to his dominant, healthy self and Andy Reid’s poor playoff record I will go with the Texans.
Bengals over Steelers
I’ve got back-to-back underdogs to start my column this week. Listen, this is a division rivalry game which means just about anything can happen. These two teams split their regular season series with the road team winning each game.
Now they meet in the playoffs for the second time ever. I thought long and hard about this pick because I view it as a true 50-50 game. If Andy Dalton was healthy, I fully believe the Bengals would be the favorite here. If Deangelo Williams ends up playing for the Steelers, the odds would swing in their favor.
I am making this pick under the assumption that both players will miss the game. When the Steelers beat the Bengals earlier this season, the Bengals were missing cornerback Adam Jones and tight end Tyler Eifert.
I think both of those players will make a major impact for the home team in a close divisional game.
Seahawks over Vikings
The Seahawks started off by losing four of their first six before roaring back with a final record of 10-6 and claiming a wild-card spot.
The Vikings wrapped up their first division title since 2009 by winning three straight games to close out the regular season including a win at Green Bay in the regular season finale.
This game was not pretty for Minnesota fans last time they met as the Vikings got trounced 38-7 at home. I expect this game to be a little closer but with the same team coming out on top.
Russell Wilson has played out of his mind the last two months and the Seahawks’ defense is just a little bit better than the Vikings’.
Redskins over Packers
This is a game between a team everybody thought would be a top contender this season and a team almost nobody thought would be good.
The Packers started off the season with six straight wins and were hailed as the best team in the NFC before dropping six of their last 10 to end the year and not even being able to win their division. The Redskins were written off by virtually everybody after benching Robert Griffin III and going with Kirk Cousins, but Cousins rallied the team to a 9-7 record and an NFC East title.
Since Week 8, Cousins has been one of the most productive quarterbacks in the NFL with 20 touchdowns to just three interceptions. Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers has struggled connecting with receivers and the Packers run game has often been shut down for entire games.
I never would have guessed this at the start of this season, but I am taking the Redskins to beat the Packers and I predict Cousins will have a better game than Aaron Rodgers.
Anything can happen in the postseason so come back next week to see what I got right and what I missed on. Next week we will also continue postseason coverage as we move on to the divisional round as we draw ever closer to Super Bowl 50 here at the Cowan Corner.