Eight teams will participate in the Wild Card Round of the 2015 NFL playoffs. Only four will advance.
Here is how each of the eight teams can score a first-round win and advance to the Divisional Round:
Kansas City Chiefs: Win turnover margin
The Chiefs won 10 straight games to finish the 2015 season, largely thanks to an offense capable of protecting the football and a defense proactive at taking it away. Kansas City was plus-16 in turnovers over the final 10 games, with 23 takeaways and just seven giveaways. The Chiefs were 9-2 when winning the turnover battle in 2015.
Houston Texans: Sack Alex Smith
The Texans enter the postseason with 45 sacks (fifth-most in the NFL), while J.J. Watt led the league with 17.5. Houston needs to unleash its ferocious pass-rush on Alex Smith. After being sacked over four times per game over Kansas City’s five-game losing streak early in the season, Smith took just 22 total sacks during the 10-game winning streak. The Chiefs will be doing everything in their power to keep Watt and Co. off their quarterback.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Stay balanced on offense
The Steelers won’t have DeAngelo Williams, who averaged over 100 total yards per game when he started in 2015. Pittsburgh will now have to lean on Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman at running back, which will put pressure on the Steelers offense to stay balanced. Ben Roethlisberger is as good as they come, but he can be mistake prone (16 interceptions this season) when Pittsburgh becomes one-dimensional and pass happy. The Steelers need production from their backup running backs to take some pressure off Roethlisberger.
Cincinnati Bengals: No game-changing mistakes from AJ McCarron
The Bengals are talented enough on offense and defense to beat Pittsburgh without Andy Dalton. However, they probably aren’t capable of overcoming big mistakes from their young quarterback. In their last meeting, Pittsburgh scored a pick-six of McCarron and the Steelers won by 13 points. If he can play mistake-free for 60 minutes on a big stage, the Bengals will have a very good chance at winning their first playoff game in 25 years.
Seattle Seahawks: Take away Adrian Peterson
The Seahawks ran away from the Vikings in the first meeting, building a 21-0 first-half lead before winning 38-7. Peterson, the eventual NFL rushing champion, carried just eight times for a season-low 18 yards against the league’s top ranked run defense. Built on the running game, the Vikings were just 1-5 when rushing for fewer than 120 total yards in 2015. Seattle will survive the Minnesota cold and advance if Peterson is taken away.
Minnesota Vikings: Contain Russell Wilson
In the first meeting between these two teams, Wilson threw for 274 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 51 and another score. He dipped and dodged away from pressure, throwing on the run and making plays all over the field. The Seahawks won six of their final seven games, mostly due to the red-hot run of Wilson. In the one loss, however, the Rams pressured Wilson and forced mistakes. The Vikings must replicate the formula on Sunday.
Green Bay Packers: Pressure Kirk Cousins
Kirk Cousins threw 29 touchdown passes and registered a 101.6 passer rating in 2015, but he was a much different quarterback when facing pressure. His completion percentage dropped nearly 24 points and his passer rating almost 40 points when Cousins was under duress in the pocket. The Packers will likely be without starting cornerback Sam Shields, making pressure even more important. Cousins has too many weapons—namely DeSean Jackson, Jordan Reed and Pierre Garcon—for the Packers to allow him to sit in the pocket all day.
Washington Redskins: Stop the run
Even with Aaron Rodgers under center, the Packers are now reliant on the run game to move the team’s struggling offense. Green Bay scored big wins against the Vikings and Cowboys over the second half of the season by leaning on Eddie Lacy and James Starks. The Redskins finished the season ranked 26th against the run, but the Washington defense must find a way to keep the Packers from running the ball consistently on Sunday. Stopping Rodgers becomes far more achievable if he’s operating a one-dimensional offense.