It's playoff time! The NFL field has been whittled down from 32 teams to 12, and eight of those teams will battle it out in this weekend's wildcard round.
Over the next few weeks, NZME's resident NFL tragics will share their thoughts and tips on each game as we get closer to finding a Super Bowl champion.
ALEX CHAPMAN (AC) Radio Sport Journalist – "The Axe Chap" is a dyed-in-the-wool New England Patriots fan - you've been warned. Pick to win the Super Bowl: New Orleans Saints.
CHRISTOPHER REIVE (CR) NZ Herald Sports Journalist – Unlike his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers, Reive will be consistent and reliable; delivering quality prose from first game to last. Pick to win the Super Bowl: Los Angeles Rams.
MARC PEARD (MP) Producer of the Radio Sport Breakfast – NZME's resident Carolina Panthers apologist, his analysis will be measured, reasoned and on point as a result of him devouring stats like he does free pizza on a Friday night. Pick to win the Super Bowl: Los Angeles Chargers.
NIGEL YALDEN (NY) Radio Sport Rugby Editor – Yalden supports the New York Jets, so has a monumental credibility issue to deal with before we even get started here. Pick to win the Super Bowl: New Orleans Saints.
Now, let's get to the tipping.
AFC: Houston Texans vs. Indianapolis Colts @ Houston – Sunday 10.35am
Zzzzzzzz … I'm finding it really hard to get excited about this game. This game is really going to be decided by the protection of the quarterbacks. Andrew Luck has been one of the better generals this season, leading the Colts from their 1-5 start while for the Texans, Deshaun Watson has been hit a lot which at times has cost them games.
Prediction: Colts will find ways to sack Watson and take the win.
CR: For me, this is the most enticing fixture of the round. I love a good quarterback shootout and this one should be spectacular. Both Deshaun Watson and Andrew Luck are completing above 67 per cent of their passes. The Colts took their regular season match up back in week 14 – thanks to 199 receiving yards from T.Y. Hilton – but both defences will have to come ready to play in this one.
Prediction: Colts win on a late Adam Vinatieri field goal.
MP: In a game that should be dominated by two talented young quarterbacks, I get the feeling we will be seeing a lot of defence in this one and I sense an unhealthy amount of Andrew Luck in a JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney sandwich.
Prediction: Give me the Texans and Deshaun Watson with a 6 point win.
NY: There is so much to like about this game which, in my opinion, is the best matchup of wildcard weekend. Both teams have effective defensives (Colts ranked 11th, Texans 12th) however I believe Colts quarterback Andrew Luck will be the difference in what at times will be a hellacious contest.
Prediction: Andrew Luck orchestrates a match winning drive for the Colts in overtime.
NFC: Dallas Cowboys vs. Seattle Seahawks @ Dallas – Sunday 2.15pm
I'm quite excited about this game. The Cowboys have been a pleasure to watch in the latter part of the season with a 6-1 run to secure the NFC East, led by Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. Seattle on the other hand have been led by a strong defence, though there are still concerns over the offensive line.
Prediction: For my man Nate Rarere's sake, I have to go with the Cowboys.
CR: The Seahawks exceeded expectations this year to make the playoffs - quite easily at that - but it's hard to see them winning in Dallas. 4-4 on the road this year, the Seahawks meet one of the league's best defences, with the Cowboys allowing the sixth fewest points scored against them and the fifth fewest rushing yards. With Dak Prescott under centre, Ezekiel Elliott at running back and receivers like Amari Cooper and Cole Beasley on hand, Dallas should be too good in this one.
Prediction: Dallas win by 7 or more; Ezekiel Elliott bags multiple touchdowns.
MP: The Cowboys should win this game - should, and will. It's a home game; Cowboys coach Jason Garrett will understand this and not allow "Dem Boys" to go into their shells.
Prediction: Expecting a 7 point win on the back of a monster rushing effort from Ezekiel Elliott.
NY: This is a simple matter of trust. I trust Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seahawks big game temperament much more than I trust Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, quarterback Dak Prescott and the Cowboys recent history of being ordinary in the post-season. That said, Dallas has been good at home this season (just one loss) while Seattle has just a 50 per cent winning record on the road.
Prediction: Pete Carroll will chew a lot of gum; Jason Garrett will clap a lot, Seattle will win
AFC: Baltimore Ravens vs. Los Angeles Chargers @ Baltimore – Monday 7.05am
interesting game this one. I'm still unsure how the Ravens have resurged like this but rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson is something else, as is this Baltimore defence. The Chargers have obviously been led by Philip Rivers, the seemingly nice guy of quarterbacks with a gritty determination to win.
Prediction: The Chargers are a very good chance to go deep in these playoffs, arguably more so than Baltimore. But Lamar Jackson v Tom Brady in the next round would be good fun so for that, I'll say the Ravens by 2.
CR: The Ravens torched the Chargers just a couple of weeks ago with their running game. Since rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson has been given the keys to the Baltimore offence, they've been hard to stop on the ground. The Chargers will be aware of that and will have addressed the gaping holes they showed in week 16. The Raven have been susceptible to big games from opposing quarterbacks and Philip Rivers should cause them plenty of problems. The home crowd will help the cause for Baltimore, but I like the Chargers in this one... and that totally isn't influenced by my love for the Ravens AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers.
Prediction: Philip Rivers throws for 300+ yards in a LA Chargers win
MP: Chargers, Chargers, Chargers! I believe in father of seven Phillip Rivers, quarterback of the Los Angeles Chargers. Yes the Ravens won the last meeting between these two teams in week 16, thought I blame the epic 29-28 thriller the Chargers played against the Kansas City Chiefs the week before for that result.
Prediction: I want to say Chargers by 10, but it is the Wildcard round and the Ravens are at home - so make it by 3.
NY: I would love to see veteran quarterback Phillip Rivers lead the Chargers on a run deep into the playoffs. Sadly for old man Rivers, the Ravens are rolling along in a very scary fashion. Baltimore had the best total defence in NFL at the end of the regular season and you know what they say - defence wins championships!
Prediction: I get bombarded with messages from former All Black Keven Mealamu throughout this game telling me how good "his Ravens" are.
NFC: Chicago Bears vs. Philadelphia Eagles @ Chicago – Monday 10.40am
Matt Nagy has been a fantastic coach this year, and should rightly be rewarded with Coach of the Year honours. The fact the Bears managed to beat the Vikings last week as well, with nothing really to play for, will be a confidence boost. They have a good defence and an unglamorous but effective offense. The Eagles, on the other hand, are somehow still in this despite starting the season 4-6 and I'm still unsure how.
Prediction: Nope, no more Eagles. Nick Foles won't do it again for Philly… or will he? Bugger it, Bears by 7.
CR: The Bears have been a lot of fun to watch this season and have shown just how important a good defence is in the league. Most teams in the NFL rely on a strong offence and good-enough defence; for the Bears it's the other way around. Linebacker Khalil Mack has terrorised opposing quarterbacks, while Mitchell Trubisky has improved in strides under centre for Chicago this season. Philadelphia has struggled to recapture the form that saw them win the Super Bowl a year ago. The Eagles shouldn't be written off by any stretch, but they're facing an uphill battle in Chicago.
Prediction: Khalil Mack gets multiple sacks; Bears win.
MP: The Bears have been my most surprising team this year. It's extremely fun to know they have a nasty defence again; however it will be Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky that the folks in the windy city of Chicago will be boasting about after they beat the defending Super Bowl champions.
Prediction: Bears win by 3.
NY: Wrestling legend Ric Flair loved to say in his promos "To be the man, you gotta beat the man … woooo" and that's just what I expect the Bears do to. Chicago's defence is nasty and while they have the second worst overall offence of the remaining playoff teams (Dallas is the worst), the Bears will do enough to end Philadelphia's reign as Super Bowl champions - though the Eagles will go down swinging.
Prediction: A couple of fourth-quarter field goals and a late interception earn Chicago the win.
Wildcard weekend picks
Colts, Cowboys, Ravens, Bears
Colts, Cowboys, Chargers, Bears
Texans, Cowboys, Chargers, Bears
Colts, Seahawks, Ravens, Bears