AFC Wild Card: Chiefs (11-5) at Colts (11-5)
Saturday, 4:35 p.m., NBC
How the Chiefs win: Get Jamaal Charles involved in the passing game. In the Chiefs’ 11 wins this season, Charles has seven receiving touchdowns. In the Chiefs’ four losses that he played in (he rested Week 17), the running back failed to get in the end zone. Charles was Kansas City’s leading receiver this season with 693 yards. Utilizing screens will be critical to slowing Robert Mathis (19½ sacks) and the Colts’ pass rush.
How the Colts win: Win the turnover battle. This is a matchup of the top two AFC teams in turnover margin. The Chiefs are a conference-best plus-18, and the Colts are plus-13. When the two teams met a couple weeks ago in Kansas City, Indianapolis won the turnover battle 4-0 and blew out the Chiefs 23-7. The usually error-free Alex Smith had three turnovers in that loss. In games Smith didn’t throw an interception, the Chiefs were 8-1 this season.
By the numbers: 4 — Playoff teams defeated by the Colts this season. They beat the 49ers, Seahawks, Broncos and Chiefs, but three of their five losses were to nonplayoff teams.
Prediction: Colts 24, Chiefs 13. The Colts have been sporadic: They beat each conference’s No. 1 seed, yet got blown out by the Rams and Cardinals. On Saturday, Andrew Luck and the Colts’ offense will find a way to put up some points, but it will be a dominant defensive performance at home that will make the difference.
NFC Wild Card: Saints (11-5) at Eagles (10-6)
Saturday, 8:10 p.m., NBC
How the Saints win: Bring offense on the road. At home, the Saints were undefeated and averaged 34 points a game. On the road, they were 3-5 and averaged 17.8 points a game. The biggest difference was the effectiveness of the Saints’ passing attack. In the Superdome, Drew Brees had a 126.3 passer rating (2,835 yards, 27 TDs, 3 INTs). Away from home, Brees had an 84.8 rating (2,327 yards, 12 TDs, 9 INTs).
How the Eagles win: Shut down Saints running backs. Of Brees’ 446 completions, 171 of them (38.3 percent) were to running backs. The Saints are the best screen team in football, with Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas each catching more than 70 balls this season. The Eagles’ defense will have to take away Brees’ check-down options to prevent the Saints, who led the NFC in first downs, from sustaining long drives.
By the numbers: 1 — Fumbles by the Eagles’ LeSean McCoy this season. McCoy led the league in rushing (1,607 yards) and carries (314). Of the 10 running backs with more than 250 rushes, McCoy and Eddie Lacy were the only ones with one fumble.
Prediction: Eagles 28, Saints 24. The dynamic, fast-paced Eagles offense gets most of the credit for the team’s success, but its defense has stepped up down the stretch. Philadelphia has held 11 of its past 12 opponents to less than 23 points. It’ll come up big again Saturday night.
AFC Wild Card: Chargers (9-7) at Bengals (11-5)
Sunday, 1:05 p.m., CBS
How the Chargers win: Get Ryan Mathews 20 carries. In the last four games of the season — all San Diego wins — Mathews had 473 rushing yards and three touchdowns. The Chargers are 6-0 when Mathews rushes the ball at least 20 times. Cincinnati counters with one of the best rush defenses in the league, ranking fifth in the NFL. San Diego’s last loss was Dec. 1 to the Bengals, who were able to hold Mathews to 61 yards on 14 carries.
How the Bengals win: Andy Dalton takes care of the football. The Bengals quarterback threw the third-most touchdowns (33) in the league, but he also threw the fifth-most interceptions (20). There were 11 quarterbacks who threw 14 picks or more, and Dalton is the only one whose team made the playoffs. The Bengals overcame a four-interception game by Dalton to beat the Ravens in the season finale, but don’t expect them to be able to do that again Sunday.
By the numbers: 141 — Points the Bengals outscored their opponents at home this season. They went 8-0 at Paul Brown Stadium, including wins over the Packers, Patriots and Colts.
Prediction: Bengals 31, Chargers 17. The Chargers are not a playoff-caliber team. To squeak their way in, they needed a missed 41-yard field goal to beat a Chiefs team that was resting 20 of 22 starters. The Bengals will show why they’re one of the best home teams in the league.
NFC wild card: 49ers (12-4) at Packers (8-7-1)
Sunday, 4:40 p.m., Fox
How the 49ers win: Shut down Eddie Lacy. The 49ers haven’t allowed a running back to reach 100 rushing yards in a game all season. Meanwhile, Lacy rushed for 1,178 yards in his rookie year and scored in six of the Packers’ last seven games. Slowing Green Bay’s rushing game would put more pressure on Aaron Rodgers, who will be playing in his second game back from a collarbone injury.
How the Packers win: Take away Vernon Davis in the red zone. The tight end is Colin Kaepernick’s favorite target inside the 20. Davis caught 13 of the 49ers’ 21 passing touchdowns and has gotten into the end zone in six of the past seven games. Green Bay’s defense needs to force Kaepernick to go away from Davis. San Francisco wide receivers combined for just 133 catches this year. To put that in perspective, that’s just 20 more receptions than the Redskins’ Pierre Garcon had by himself.
By the numbers: 1 — Interceptions thrown by Kaepernick in the last six games of the season, all 49ers wins. In that span, he threw 10 touchdowns and had a passer rating over 100 in five of those games.
Prediction: 49ers 28, Packers 21. San Francisco has peaked at the right time, winning its last six games. The temperature is expected to drop below zero in Green Bay, but the 49ers have a run-first, defensive-minded team that can adapt to the freezing cold.