Which NFL Wild Card Weekend Game Are You Most Intrigued With?
Ah, it's finally here, playoff time in the NFL. It's a great way to keep the good times rolling after the holidays, especially if your team is still in it to win it or if you're just a gigantic football fan like myself (RIP Green Bay).
Nevertheless, the NFL's got what I feel to be four very intriguing match-ups for various reasons this weekend during the Wild Card Round. I want to hear which you think is most intriguing and you can let me know by voting on my latest Twitter poll:
COLTS AT TEXANS: Saturday 3:35 pm (HOU -1.5)
This is the third time these AFC South foes will do battle this season and they split the season series where each road team won the contest. In addition, both teams have actually scored the same number of points combined between the two games.
This is the time for the Houston Texans to show the pundits that they're for real, that they can win a big game in a big moment. They started the season 0-3 and then rattled off nine straight dubs to put themselves in prime playoff position. However, the narrative is that they had one of the easiest schedules in all of the NFL this season and they absolutely did, so I'm looking to see if the Texans are for real or not on Saturday.
As for the Indianapolis Colts, it's been a resurgent type of year for quarterback Andrew Luck who spent the better parts of the last two seasons sidelined/ineffective with a shoulder injury. That time away allowed the team to build up other glaring needs such as the offensive line where just this past season they used two of their top three draft picks to finally help protect their most valuable asset in Luck. He's gone from one of the most sacked quarterbacks in the league to the least sacked quarterback and it's made all the difference. Now, don't forget this defense as well because they've been surprisingly good this season and have only allowed 16 points per game over their last ten games.
My Prediction: IND: 25 HOU: 20
COWBOYS VS. SEAHAWKS: Saturday 7:15 pm (DAL -2.0)
We saw this match-up very early in the season way back in week three where the Seattle Seahawks defeated the Dallas Cowboys 24-13 in Seattle, this time the game is in Dallas. What intrigues me most about these two teams is that they're very similar to each other on offense. The Cowboys rank 10th in the league rushing for 123 yards per game, where the Seahawks rank 1st overall in the NFL by rushing for 160 yards per game. Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott do similar things at the quarterback position, both can beat you deep when it's there and can extend plays with their legs.
The Cowboys are very good at home this season, sporting a shiny 7-1 record at Jerry World so that plays into their favor on Saturday night. I mentioned both teams like to run the football and we know how scary Zek can be when he gets going but where this team is really scary is at all three levels of their defense. On the defensive line, they've got a stud in DeMarcus Lawrence who can really get after the passer with 10.5 sacks and a career-high in tackles with 64 this season. On the second level, it's all Jaylen Smith and Leighton Vander Esch at linebacker. Jaylen Smith had 121 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and passes defended. As for Vander Esch, he was third in the league in tackles with 140 on the season, this rookie absolutely flies around the field. Finally, Byron Jones at cornerback is LEGIT, this dude didn't have a single interception this season but corners that usually play a ton of man defense don't get the opportunity to create interceptions. Quarterbacks didn't have much success throwing his way as opposing QB's had just over a 50% completion percentage when throwing to the receiver he was covering, not good numbers for them.
For the Seahawks, Russell Wilson is the absolute x-factor, he's proven his worth in big games with a 26-6-1 record in primetime games including playoffs over his career. He's battle-tested in the playoffs with an 8-4 record, he's been to two Super Bowls and has won one. Let's talk about Wilson's weapons, he's got old reliable Doug Baldwin as healthy as he's been all season long and late this season in two games late in the season when the Seahawks needed to win he had a total 203 yards on 11 catches and three touchdowns. Tyler Lockett has really come into his own as a wide receiver this year with the absence of Baldwin for part of this year as he set career highs in targets (70), receptions (57), yards (965), and touchdowns (10). He's also caught 84% of balls thrown to him, that's second in the league next to Michael Thomas of the Saints. How about Beast Mode 2.0 in the second year running back Chris Carson who took control of this team's running game that led the league in rushing with 160 yards per game. Carson surpassed 1,100 yards in just 14 games this season and scored nine touchdowns.
My Prediction: SEA: 24 DAL: 20
CHARGERS AT RAVENS: Sunday 12:05 pm (BAL-2.5)
We just saw this match-up a couple weeks ago which was a surprising win for the Baltimore Ravens on the road against the Los Angeles Chargers. However, this will be the first time a team will receive its second crack at being able to solve the Lamar Jackson puzzle and the Baltimore offense. That is what makes this game so intriguing to me.
The Ravens have only lost one game since Lamar Jackson took over at the quarterback position (6-1), he's been dynamic as a runner but has struggled with passing the football. His completion percentage is at 58.2% which ranks him 36th in the NFL right now and he's worst in the NFL at ball location and accuracy. But you know what? Raven fans are stealing the old Al Davis mantra, "JUST WIN BABY!" On the other side of the football, they've been extremely good this season and especially in that game against Los Angeles. In that game the Baltimore defense picked up four sacks and eight quarterback hits on Phillip Rivers and it'll be interesting to see what kind of pressure packages Don Martindale will dial up this time around.
For the Chargers they've got to protect Rivers this time, they've got a terrific offense with plenty of dangerous weapons like Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and they might be getting their young, talented tight end Hunter Henry back this week. Defensively they've got play-makers as well in Joey Bosa, Casey Hayward, Melvin Ingram, Derwin James, and Desmond King. To me this defense has to find a way to slow down the Lamar Jackson train, if they can't do that then their Super Bowl hopes will be packed up and returned to Los Angeles for a very long and painful off-season. That was kind of a Debbie downer Charger fans, I apologize. Let's leave you on more of a positive note and tell you that this team is 8-0 outside the state of California this season with big wins at Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and Seattle.
My Prediction: BAL: 22 LAC: 20
BEARS VS. EAGLES: Sunday 3:40 pm (CHI -6.5)
Alright, our final game of the weekend and it's a match-up we haven't previously seen during the 2018 season. The big question here is, can Nick Foles pull off more postseason magic!? Well, if he's going to he's going to have to go through the best defense in the league on the road in frigid Solider Field with a high of 37 degrees on Sunday.
For the Bears you know how good their defense has been with the addition of Khalil Mack and as a whole they've held opposing quarterbacks to a league-low 50.8 total QBR. This team has to be aware of where Zach Ertz and former Bear Alshon Jeffery are at all times. Ertz has had an incredible receiving year for a tight end and we know Foles loves to throw it up to Jefferey whenever he's got a chance. This Chicago team is a different animal, pun intended, when they're at home in the friendly confines of Solider Field (7-1 this year). This defense also lead the NFL with 36 total takeaways and 27 interceptions this season. The offense isn't super dynamic but head coach Matt Naggy has really helped 2nd year quarterback Mitch Trubisky along and they have some weapons around him. You can look at both running backs with Jordan Howard as more of the conventional back and Tarik Cohen as the specialty back who can be super dynamic.
As for the Eagles their secondary is heavily banged up missing big pieces like, safety Rodney McLeod, CB Ronald Darby, and CB Jalen Mills. One thing they may be able to rely upon is the teams overall postseason experience and the lack there of for the Bears and especially young Trubisky. Philly has a pretty darn good defensive front themselves and if they can help their depleted secondary out by pressuring the 2nd year QB they might have a chance in this game to keep it close. The offensive line is also going to have to hold up and protect Foles who took a big shot last week and injured his ribs, if Nate Sudfeld has to enter this game you can pull at as many "Philly Special's" as you want you're not advancing to New Orleans next week.
My Prediction: CHI: 27 PHI: 13
Enjoy the games this week!