Cold concerns in Green Bay

  • By: David John (Twitter: @SLifeDaveJohn)
  • Last Updated: January 5 2014, 21:07 GMT

David John previews Sunday's NFL wild card games taking place in Cincinnati and Green Bay.

Jordy Nelson: Admits conditions won't be enjoyable
Jordy Nelson: Admits conditions won't be enjoyable

San Diego at Cincinnati (1805GMT)

The Bengals are the biggest favourites of the four games this weekend as they give up the best part of a touchdown for the visit of the Chargers.

That is probably little surprise considering they went 8-0 at Paul Brown Stadium during the regular season, culminating in a 34-17 victory over Baltimore to secure the number three seed and another handy home fixture.

That outcome also turned out to be the average winning score in their favour in 2013 and you would have to believe that ending a 20-year drought in terms of a play-off victory is set for the taking.

In earlier previews I have touched on the performances of quarterback Andy Dalton. The Red Rifle is still guilty of some careless mistakes with the football but he does have two factors very much in his favour.

Firstly, the depth of the personnel around him has been largely able to overcome any errors, in particular a stout defense that has little in the way of any glaring weakness.

Secondly, Dalton's own demeanour and outlook is a extremely important. He threw a season-high four picks last week against the Ravens and I specifically watched him back on the bench after a couple of those mistakes for any sign of emotion.

There was not a flicker. He has that crucial ability to get back up and move on as his offensive co-ordinator Jay Gruden observed: "Out of 75 plays (against the Ravens), 65 were damn good and 10 were questionable. I feel great where Andy is right now - he is really unflappable."

So we just about know what we are going to get from Dalton and with passing options like the silky AJ Green, improving Marvin Jones and rangy Mohamed Sanu, he should get his opportunities to take some deep shots down the field against a pass defense ranked 29th in the NFL.

The trio of receivers mentioned will get the lion's share of the limelight but I think that the elusive Andrew Hawkins merits a closer look.

He only has 12 receptions all year having spent the first half of the season rehabbing an ankle injury on IR. But he could be a bit of an X factor for the Bengals this week having caught three passes for 74 yards against Baltimore to advertise his wellbeing.

He snagged three balls as well for 65 yards in the week 13 game in San Diego so I would not be surprised at all to see him worked into the gameplan with his quickness and ability to make yards after the catch a very valuable commodity.

His line for total receiving yards in the game looks a very achievable 30.5.

The Chargers will not be phased by the cold weather as they have already notched eyecatching wins on the road at Philadelphia, Kansas and Denver with their only loss in the last six games coming in that clash with Cincinnati (17-10).

Quarterback Philip Rivers seems to have found a new lease of life under new head coach Mike McCoy while rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen has really shone on a consistent basis.

But I do think that the Bengals have more quality all round and it will be the Queen City who progress to the next phase.

Verdict: San Diego 23 Cincinnati 31

San Francisco at Green Bay (2140GMT)

You would think that the major talking point in this game would be the triumphant return to action after injury of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers as he guided his side into the post-season with a dramatic win last week over Chicago.

But it isn't. All anyone wants to discuss is the weather and how the two teams are going to cope with temperatures that will be -14 and potentially into the -20s.

Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has made sure certain portions of practice have taken place outside to help get his team used to handling the ball in the frigid conditions.

Opposite number Jim Harbaugh has rather stuck his head in the sand and refused to answer questions on how his team - who have practiced in California this week in temperatures around 60F - will adjust to the deep cold.

Knowing Harbaugh, he won't want his players focused on anything bar beating the opponent in front them. He won't use it as an excuse either if they are eliminated from the play-offs but the extreme conditions are sure to have bearing on the outcome.

The hosts aren't invincible either when the thermometer plummets so it is not as easy as suggesting they will cope best and prevail.

"I think we are a little more adapted to it," said wide receiver Jordy Nelson. "But it is not enjoyable for anyone."

And that suggests it is a game that will come down to fundamentals and concentration.

And without wanting to put too negative a spin on things, I think that a play on the total turnovers being greater than 2.5 gets a positive vote.

These are two very active defences anyway when it comes to forcing an error but I remember Denver running back Montee Ball playing earlier in the season at New England in conditions less cold but explaining that the ball felt completely different.

So handling snaps and completing hand-offs suddenly becomes far more fraught with danger while passes - even short, high-percentage attempts - are increasingly likely to ricochet off of frozen finger tips and be gobbled up.

But to end on a more positive note, I do think that teams adjust extremely well as games progress and they adapt to dealing with whatever the weather throws at them.

Cast your minds back to week 14 and the last time Mother Nature got heavily involved and it looked a racing certainty that scoring in a number of match-ups would barely creep into double digits, including the 'Snow Bowl' between Detroit and Philadelphia.

However, a chance for coaches at half-time to make a few tweaks in strategy saw an avalanche of points after the break while players also got to grips with what was required.

I am not ruling out a similar scenario here either so add in a bet on the second half being the highest scoring.

Verdict: San Francisco 24 Green Bay 22