BOSTON (CBS) – The NFL playoffs will be in full swing come Saturday afternoon, and while the Patriots won’t take the field for another week, there is still plenty of football for New England fans to feast on.
In addition to finding out which team will travel to Gillette next weekend, there is a smorgasbord of football storylines this Wild Card weekend. Here are four things to watch for while waiting for the Patriots to begin their Super Bowl march next week:
Will The Texans’ Struggles Continue?
After winning 11 of their first 12 games of the season, the Texans lost three of their final four as they slid from the top spot in the AFC to the No. 3 seed.
It all started thanks to a Monday night debacle in Foxboro at the hands of the Patriots, and now the Texans find themselves hosting what could be their only home game of the playoffs on Wild Card weekend.
Will this downward spiral continue now that Houston is in the playoffs? They should beat the Bengals, but will need to do so convincingly in order to sell themselves as legit contenders to make a trip to New Orleans in February – and even then, it’s still up for debate. Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and Arian Foster need to get the offense rolling again, and J.J. Watt and the rest of the defense needs to get back on the same page.
What is concerning for the Texans is how they lost those three games. They did not show up in any of them, losing 23-6 to the Vikings in Houston and 28-16 to the Colts in Indy — with a bye on the line. In those last four games, Schaub threw just one touchdown to four interceptions, and Houston was outscored 110-65.
Over the years, the Texans were viewed as a team that was oh-so-close to being a Super Bowl contender, and over the first two-thirds of the regular season it looked like they were finally there. But with the last month, the “pretender” label is back, and even if they straighten things out this weekend they’ll be rewarded with a trip back where their decline began.
Ray Lewis’ Last Game In Baltimore
Barring Cincinnati winning two straight games in Houston and Denver, mixed with Ravens wins over Indianapolis and New England, Ray Lewis will play his last game in Baltimore on Sunday.
The 37-year-old Lewis announced he will hang them up following this season after a 17-year Hall-of-Fame career, but he won’t be going out without a fight.
Lewis has been out of action with a triceps injury since Week 6, and the Ravens defense – iffy to begin with – suffered without its leader. But Lewis’ return should be the wake-up call Baltimore has needed this season, and should make for a much more fierce Ravens pass rush.
That means a long day for Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, who was sacked 41 times this season – fourth-most in the NFL.
Baltimore is reeling after a mediocre regular season, and will be thirsty for wins in Lewis’ final go. While Baltimore was an extremely underwhelming team during the regular season, having a guy like Lewis back in the huddle can turn a team around come playoff time.
As an added bonus, imagine what Lewis’ introduction dance will be when he takes the field. Knowing it’s likely his last ever, don’t expect him to hold much of anything back.
All Day vs. Green Bay Part III
The Vikings had to win four straight in order to make it to the playoffs, which included a thrilling Week 17 victory over the Packers in Minnesota.
Adrian Peterson came up short of the all-time record for rushing yards in a season, but his 199 yards and two touchdowns against Green Bay in the Vikings’ 37-34 Week 17 win was the cherry on top of the Vikings clinching the final spot in the NFC, and another date with the Packers.
Now Peterson gets to do it all over again, but this time in Lambeau.
Peterson, who ran for 881 yards over the final five weeks of the season, had 210 of those yards in Green Bay last month. But his Vikings were still on the short end of the 23-14 final score, and that tends to be the case for “All Day” and the Purple when they head to Lambeau.
The Packers are 5-1 against Peterson’s Vikings at Lambeau, and they’ve done their best to hold him to an average of 106.2 yards in those games. While Peterson should put up his numbers, it’s really up to Christian Ponder and the rest of Peterson’s supporting cast on offense to take advantage of the Packers’ porous secondary.
The Vikings fought hard and made it into the playoffs, but the feel-good story will likely come to an end Saturday night against the Packers – unless Peterson can put up some more superhuman numbers, and then some.
Rookie QB vs. Rookie QB
It’s been the season of rookie quarterbacks in the NFL, and two of them will face off in Sunday’s Wild Card weekend finale.
In the weekend’s most exciting matchup, rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III will lead his Washington Redskins against rookie quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks. Both have won their last five games and needed that late-season surge to get their teams into the playoffs. Now they’ll get their chance to show their moves on the big stage.
Both had amazing rookie seasons, and are looking to build off them when it counts most. Griffin threw for 3,200 yards, 20 touchdowns and finished third in the NFL with a 65.9 percent completion percentage.
He ran for seven scores and set a rookie record for a quarterback with 815 rushing yards. Wilson wasn’t too shabby either, racking up 3,100 yards, 26 touchdowns and four rushing scores, and he completed 64 percent of his passes.
On Sunday though, it will come down to each team’s defense. The edge appears to go to the Seahawks, as they defend the pass with the best of them and haven’t allowed more than 20 points in six weeks.
But, with Seattle so strong against the pass look for Washington to keep it on the ground as much as possible. In addition to Griffin keeping it himself, Washington running back Alfred Morris – who ran for 1,613 in his rookie campaign – could be the one stealing the spotlight.
The first playoff game in the nation’s capital in 13 years will certainly be an entertaining one, and could be a glimmer towards a very bright future for the duo of rookie QBs involved.