Indianapolis Colts (11-5) at Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
There are a lot of stories behind this game in which Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano has fought back from acute promyelocytic leukemia to go into remission and one of the greatest competitors in NFL history, linebacker Ray Lewis, has announced his retirement at season's end.
Pagano was also the Ravens defensive coordinator in 2011 and defensive secondary coach for 3 seasons. When a silent superstar like Ed Reed says that Pagano is like a father to him, there's a lot more to this game.
That said, it's not only about the stories, it's about the game played on the field and Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are two of the fiercest competitors in NFL history. Just because they have sentimental thoughts about Pagano doesn't mean that they're not going to go after Andrew Luck and try to drive him into the ground repeatedly or try to embarrass him by intercepting a pass for a touchdown.
There is no doubt that Andrew Luck and RGIII are the future of the NFL. That being said, Luck will have a difficult time against a veteran Ravens football team. This season, they're ranked 17th against the pass and 20th against the run. Expect the Ravens defense to play at a higher level, knowing that this could be Ray Lewis' last game and striving for the ultimate prize, the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Facing rookie Andrew Luck will be no picnic. Luck has surpassed all expectations by throwing for 4374 yards and 23 TD's in his first year. The Colts could've easily missed the playoffs this season if you look at their play on a game to game basis. There were a lot of games where they were very lucky to squeak out a win. Teams that win like this can be very dangerous. There's a reason why the Colts are a 7 point betting underdog and have a better record than the Ravens; Luck has led this team and being lucky has gotten them to this point.
For the Ravens, you can sum this up quite simply. Baltimore's offense is based around running back Ray Rice. Rice is a threat to catch passes out of the backfield and his 1143 yards and 9 TD's rushing speak for themselves. Quarterback Joe Flacco, has shown a lot of improvement this season in accuracy and avoiding mistakes. He's thrown for nearly 4000 yards this season to go along with 22 TD's and 10 INT's. He's the perfect quarterback for this offense.
Expect Flacco to be successful in finding receivers while Ray Rice should find success running the ball against the 29th ranked rushing defense in the NFL.
Free Pick #1 - Baltimore -7
Seattle Seahawks (11-5) at Washington Redskins (10-6)
This is my favorite matchup of the Wildcard games as Rookie quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III meet up in the nation's capital to decide who advances to the 2nd round of the playoffs?
In Wilson, you have a quarterback that was very successful in college when he transferred to Wisconsin in his senior year to be part of a Big-Ten Champion and in RGIII, you have a quarterback that burst upon the scene to steal the Heisman Trophy away from Andrew Luck.
Both quarterbacks are small in stature, can run like the wind, and play a similar style at the position.
Seattle has been unstoppable as of late, as they've scored numerous defensive touchdowns and have scored 42 points or more points in 3 out of their last 4 games. Expect to see a lot of running back Marshawn Lynch. Lynch has rushed for over 100 yards in his last 4 games.
RGIII is the key
With a little help from backup quarterback Kirk Cousins, the Washington Redskins got to this point off of the talent of Robert Griffin III. The Skins faced elimination in the last week of the season, but sent Tony Romo and the Cowboys packing. In that game, Alfred Morris ran for 200 yards and 3 TD's. Not bad for a late round pick out of Florida Atlantic University.
It's RGIII vs. Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch vs. Alfred Morris
Playing in Washington makes a huge difference here as Seattle and Lynch find most of their success at home, in front of a very loud crowd. RGIII always find's a way to do the impossible. Look for Griffin III and the Redskins to advance.
Free Pick #2 - Washington +2.5
Free NFL Parlay Pick: Baltimore -7 and Washington +2.5 at 5 Dimes