and Christian Ponder
will go toe-to-toe for the third time this season. The QBs split their first two battles. (Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE)
In six of the past seven seasons, at least one of the eventual Super Bowl participants played on the opening weekend of the postseason. At first glance there appear to be some dangerous teams set to take the field early in this year's playoffs, too.
We'll have plenty of coverage to get you ready for Wild-Card Weekend between now and next Saturday, but here's an early glance at the first four playoff matchups:
No. 6 Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) at No. 3 Houston Texans (12-4)
Will a year make any difference for the Bengals? This also was the 3-vs.-6 matchup in last season's AFC playoffs, with Houston erasing an early 7-0 lead and taking control after a J.J. Watt pick-6 in the second quarter. That Texans team did not have an injured Matt Schaub -- T.J. Yates threw for 159 yards and a touchdown in the win.
But just like in 2011, the Texans will head into this game reeling. They took a three-game losing skid to the postseason last year and have dropped three of four this time around. Can Houston bounce back again to take down Cincinnati?
No. 5 Indianapolis Colts (11-5) at No. 4 Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
If this comes down to the quarterbacks, as so many playoff matchups do, Joe Flacco would have the edge based on the location of the game alone -- Flacco has been much better at home; Andrew Luck threw 13 interceptions and finished 4-4 on the road.
That said, the Ravens posted a measly 1-4 record (and fired its offensive coordinator) in December. Indianapolis, meanwhile, closed with a 5-1 run.
The key intangible here may be Baltimore's injury situation. Terrell Suggs is playing hurt, Ray Lewis has not suited up since Week 6 and Anquan Boldin sat out Week 17 with a shoulder injury. All three of those players are critical to the Ravens' game plan, so Indianapolis will try to take advantage if they're playing at less than full speed.
No. 6 Minnesota Vikings (10-6) at No. 3 Green Bay Packers (11-5)
The trilogy concludes.
Green Bay rallied past Minnesota in Week 13, 23-14, despite a long touchdown run from Adrian Peterson. Then, Peterson and the Vikings scored revenge Sunday with a playoff-clinching, 37-34 victory. If those first two meetings are any indication, the rubber match of this series could be the game to see during the playoffs' opening weekend.
The Packers have to find some way to at least slow down Peterson -- much easier said than done, but Peterson posted 409 combined rushing yards in those two earlier matchups. A third game around the 200-yard mark would allow Minnesota to take a lot of heat off Christian Ponder, which is the ideal scenario since Ponder cannot go toe-to-toe with Aaron Rodgers through the air.
No. 5 Seattle Seahawks (11-5) at No. 4 Washington Redskins (10-6)
The Seahawks and Redskins share a lot of obvious similarities. Those start in the backfield, where Seattle boasts rookie QB Russell Wilson and bruising running back Marshawn Lynch, while Washington has probable Offensive Rookie of the Year Robert Griffin III and 1,500-yard rusher Alfred Morris.
The two teams utilize similar styles on offense, too, where they use misdirection to free up their playmakers.
Washington's challenge will be measuring up defensively -- the Seahawks allowed fewer points during the regular season than any other team. The Seahawks, though, have not been the same team outside of Seattle (a December win in Chicago aside). A raucous Washington crowd, celebrating its franchise's first home playoff game since 1999, could make a massive impact.