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AFC Wildcard Playoff Preview

A preview of the two AFC Wildcard games this weekend between Baltimore-Pittsburgh and Cincinnati-Indianapolis


The NFL playoffs are finally here and while the Kansas City Chiefs are not part of the dance this year, let's take a look at the games we'll all still be watching this weekend.

On the final day of the NFL regular season last Sunday, 10 of the 16 games played had playoff implications. Four divisions were decided, including the AFC North as Pittsburgh defeated Cincinnati.

Here's how the AFC playoff seeds finished this season:

1. New England (12-4, AFC East champion)
2. Denver (12-4, AFC West champion)
3. Pittsburgh (11-5, AFC North champion)
4. Indianapolis (11-5, AFC South champion)
5. Cincinnati (10-5-1)  
6. Baltimore (10-6)

The first game of the AFC playoffs is a Saturday night matchup between a couple of rival teams.


AFC North rivals Baltimore and Pittsburgh will meet on Saturday night at Heinz Field. These teams split the season series with Baltimore by taking the first game 26-6 back in Week 2 while Pittsburgh took the second game 43-23 in Week 9.

The Ravens qualified for the postseason with a 20-10 win over Cleveland combined with a San Diego loss in Week 17 and the Steelers clinched the division title with a 27-17 win over Cincinnati in the regular-season finale.

The Steelers used a perfect December (4-0) to lock up the AFC North. Pittsburgh boasts an offense featuring quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (4,952 passing yards, 32 touchdowns, 103.3 passer rating), running back Le'Veon Bell (1,361 rushing yards, 854 receiving yards, 11 total touchdowns) and wide receiver Antonio Brown (129 receptions for 1,698 yards and 13 touchdowns).

A couple of the key players for the Ravens will be running back Justin Forsett and quarterback Joe Flacco.

Forsett finished the season fifth in the NFL in rushing with 235 carries for 1,265 yards and eight touchdowns. His 17 rushes for 20-plus yards led the NFL and his 5.4 yards per carry led all running backs, and he'll go up against a Steelers defense that ranked 26th in the NFL by allowing 56 rushes of 10 or more yards.

Flacco finished the season with 3,986 passing yards while completing 62 percent with 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

The Steelers defense is allowing a quarterback rating of 112 on passes that travel 20 or more yards in the air, which means Steve Smith Sr., who leads the Ravens this season in targets (133), receptions (79), yards (1,065) and 20-plus yard receptions (15), might be a popular target for Flacco on Saturday night.


The second game of the AFC Wildcard weekend features the Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts.

The Bengals have won five of their past seven games and are in the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season under head coach Marvin Lewis.

The Colts have won nine of the past 12 AFC South division titles.

In Week 7, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck went 27 of 24 for 344 yards and two touchdown passes as Indianapolis shut out Cincinnati 27-0.

Luck led the NFL with 40 touchdown passes and was named to the Pro Bowl for the third time in his first three seasons.

Luck's top target this season has been receiver T.Y. Hilton, who leads the team in targets (130), receptions (82), yards (1,345) and 20-plus yard receptions (21). In the Week 7 meeting vs. Cincinnati, Hilton had seven catches for 107 yards.

For the Bengals, they're led by quarterback Andy Dalton, who is looking to shake off a playoff stigma of three consecutive first-round losses.

While Dalton has led the Bengals to the playoffs in his first three years at quarterback, the 13-point average margin of defeat in the playoffs combined with a 57 percent completion percentage with just one touchdown and six interceptions has put the focus squarely on his ability to succeed when it matters the most.

For that reason, the Bengals may look to lean on rookie running back Jeremy Hill, who ranks eighth in the NFL with 1,124 yards rushing and nine touchdowns.

Saturday, January 3 Sunday, January 4
Arizona at Carolina 3:35 PM (ESPN) Cincinnati at Indianapolis 12:05 PM (CBS)
Baltimore at Pittsburgh 7:15 PM (NBC) Detroit at Dallas 3:40 PM (FOX)
All times listed in Central Standard Time

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