Your weekend starts here: Home teams face uphill battle in NFL wild-card round


Forget everything you ever heard about the importance of home-field advantage in the NFL playoffs.

There are four wild-card games this weekend, and the visiting team is favoured in three. The fourth home team, the Washington Redskins, are a slim favourite.

But a number of key players will be sidelined by injuries, opening the door for unheralded young players such as Fitzgerald Toussaint, Christine Michael and AJ McCarron to step up and carry their teams to the next round.

Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at Houston Texans (9-7), Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET 
Way back in Week 1, the Chiefs beat the Texans, 27-20, in Houston. That is relevant here, because the Chiefs began the season in a funk, losing their next five games in a row. Since then, of course, they've won 10 straight. Texans quarterback Brian Hoyer will have his hands full with a strong KC defense. The match-up to watch: The Chiefs' standout rookie cornerback Marcus Peters goes head to head against Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins (1,521 yards, 11 touchdowns). As has been the case most of this season, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith will not be expected to win the game -- he hasn't topped 200 yards passing since November -- but he will be expected to take care of the ball.

Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (12-4), Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET 
The two division rivals split their season series, with the Steelers winning 33-20 in Cincinnati on December 13, but that means nothing here. The Bengals, of course, have lost in the wild-card round four straight years and five out of the last six seasons. Both teams are down key players: Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams are out with injuries. Pittsburgh will count on two backs with limited experience, Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman, to carry the load on the ground.

Fair or not, this game will be billed as a showdown between quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and AJ McCarron. While the 25-year-old McCarron has played well in place of Dalton (thumb) in recent weeks, he doesn't have Big Ben's big-game experience. If the Bengals can get their running game going and keep Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown off the field, they could break their postseason curse.

Seattle Seahawks (10-6) at Minnesota Vikings (11-5), Sunday, 1:05 p.m. ET 
Congratulations, Minnesota Vikings, on your NFC North championship. Your prize: a wild-card playoff game against the two-time defending NFC champion Seahawks, who are playing as well as anyone right now, winning six of their last seven. That streak includes a 38-7 win over the Vikings in Week 13. The unknown factor in this game at TCF Bank Stadium is the weather: A high temperature of 4 degrees is forecast, and both teams could struggle to adapt. Those conditions would favour the running game, and that would seem to give the Vikings and the NFL's leading rusher, Adrian Peterson, the advantage. The Seahawks will counter with Christine Michael, who carried 17 times for 102 yards last week in Seattle's 36-6 thrashing of the Cardinals.

Green Bay Packers (10-6) at Washington Redskins (9-7), Sunday, 4:40 p.m. ET 
After starting the season 6-0, the Packers have looked distinctly mediocre the past couple of months. Since the loss of Jordy Nelson in the preseason, the Packers don't scare anyone deep this year, inviting defenses to come up and take the running game and short passes away from QB Aaron Rodgers. The Pack ranked 25th in average passing yard per game this year. Luckily for them, the Redskins ranked 25th in average yards per game defending the pass. On the other side of the ball, Kirk Cousins has looked like the second coming of Sonny Jurgensen of late, firing 11 touchdown passes (against no interceptions) in his last three games.