Who knew all it took to get into the wild-card weekend was to start a young quarterback? Of the eight teams playing Saturday and Sunday, there are three rookies, a pair of second-year signal-callers, and three so-called veterans. The average age of the eight starters is 25.6 years old. (Oh, to be young again!) The Ravens' Joe Flacco, a fifth-year pro, has the most postseason experience and will play in his 10th playoff game. The Packers' Aaron Rodgers is the only QB in this octet to win a Super Bowl. He will be playing in his seventh postseason game. The Texans' Matt Schaub, the elder statesman of the group at 31 years young, will be making his first career playoff start. (Remember, Schaub was injured last season as T.J. Yates, another rookie, led the Texans to a wild-card win vs. the Bengals.)
Here's a closer look at the matchups:
BENGALS (10-6) at TEXANS (12-4), 4:30 p.m.
Texans by 4 1/2; O/U: 43 1/2
TV: Ch. 4; Radio: WFAN (660, 101.9)
A rematch of last season's wild-card playoff game won by Houston, 31-10. This line would figure to be higher, except that the Texans have struggled down the stretch and lost three of their last four games. The Texans -- 2-5 against the spread (ATS) in their last seven games -- cost themselves the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Bengals have won seven of their last eight games, including quality wins against the Giants, as well as Pittsburgh and Baltimore the last two weeks. Cincinnati's strength is its defense, especially a front seven that registered 51 sacks this season, third-best in the NFL. I won't be shocked if the Bengals win here, but at the very least they cover.
THE PICK: Bengals
Packers by 7 1/2; O/U: 46
TV: Ch. 4; Radio: WFAN (660, 101.9)
2013 is going to start the same way 2012 finished for these two: playing against each other with a lot on the line. Only this time, the stakes are higher. Last week's 37-34 Vikings win might have been the best game of the season. The win catapulted Minnesota to the postseason, and no one meant more to its playoff push than RB Adrian Peterson, who finished just nine yards shy of the NFL single-season rushing mark. Peterson ran for 409 yards (7.3 yards per carry) and two TDs in two games vs. the Packers this season. On Dec. 2, Green Bay won, 23-14, at Lambeau Field, where the Packers are 15-4 all-time in home playoff games but just 2-4 in their last six. That said, Green Bay won nine of its last 11 regular-season games, and was 8-3 ATS. Aaron Rodgers has too many receiving weapons. Plus, the Packers are getting healthy at the right time, and I think they limit Peterson's production.
THE PICK: Packers
COLTS (11-5) AT RAVENS (10-6), 1 p.m.
Ravens by 6 1/2; O/U: 47
TV: Ch. 2; Radio: WFAN (660, 101.9)
This was the toughest pick for me. Maybe because I was leaning toward a Colts cover, but after Ray Lewis made the announcement that he would retire after this season, it got me thinking about the Ravens. Baltimore and its struggling defense will be happy to have Lewis back after his Week 6 injury. The Ravens (6-9-1 ATS this season) lost four of their last five (the lone win came vs. the Giants) to close the regular season. The losses came against division rival Pittsburgh and playoff teams Washington, Denver and Cincinnati. On the other side, the Colts' magical run that was buoyed by "Chuckstrong" saw Indy go 9-2 overall and ATS in its last 11 regular-season games. I'll stick with my original pick of Indy (11-5 ATS in '12) getting the points. I won't be surprised if it's Lewis' last game, and if it is, happy trails to the best inside linebacker I ever saw play.
THE PICK: Colts
SEAHAWKS (11-5) at REDSKINS (10-6), 4:30 p.m.
Seahawks by 3; O/U: 46.
TV: Ch. 5; Radio: WFAN (660, 101.9)
This could be the crown jewel of wild-card weekend. There's a reason why this is the last game of the four. Both teams are on fire: the Redskins have won (and covered) seven straight while the Seahawks have won five in a row (4-1 ATS). Both teams have exciting rookie QBs in Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. They also have strong running games. Redskins rookie RB Alfred Morris (1,613 yards, 13 TDs) and Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch (1,590 yards, 11 TDs) were the second- and third-leading rushers in the NFL. It's going to come down to which defense can best stop the others' explosive offense. Seattle is ranked fourth overall (306.2 yards per game), while Washington is 28th (377.7).
RG3 and the Redskins' remarkable late-season run ends here.
THE PICK: Seahawks
JOHN BOELL 121-128-6 (10-7 best bets)
Bengals Packers Colts Seahawks (best bet)
TOM ROCK 129-120-6 (11-6)
Bengals Packers Ravens (best bet) Redskins
BOB GLAUBER 114-135-6 (6-10-1)
Texans (best bet) Vikings Colts Redskins
KIMBERLEY A. MARTIN 136-113-6 (12-5)
Texans (best bet) Packers Ravens Redskins