Congrats to the 12 NFL fanbases who still have something to cheer for as the postseason kicks off! While the majority of the league switches into draft and free agency, and in many cases coach-hiring, mode, these fans get to watch their teams compete for greater glory.
This weekend’s slate of four games is as strong of a Wild Card weekend as I can remember. All eight teams have legitimate chances to win multiple playoff games. That is not always the case (see: last January). Enjoy what should be a great docket.
Here’s how I see the games playing out…
- Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans (-1): Divisional matchups in the Wild Card round are always a tough forecast. What complicates this one even further is that both teams won on the other’s home field in the regular season.
I give the Texans the edge because they have a wider margin for error. If Deshaun Watson is struggling against a Colts defense which remains the biggest weak point of any positional matchup in this game, the Texans can still get something going with Lamar Miller, Alfred Blue and the run game--enough to get a few shots for Ka’imi Fairbairn, the NFL’s leading FG kicker this year.
But Watson shouldn’t struggle, not against an Indy that allowed over 70 percent of opposing passes to be complete and managed just 3 sacks in the final 126 pass attempts against them. The Colts inability to impact the passing game even when the opponent is in obvious pass/comeback mode is a big problem. Of course, if the Texans can’t keep the Colts and Andrew Luck out of the red zone, where they’re fantastic at converting TDs…
Texans 29, Colts 24
- Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys (-2.5): The only reason I think Seattle has a very good chance in this game: the Seahawks have a consistent ground-and-pound game. That travels well. No team averaged more yards per carry than Seattle.
The Cowboys' defense is tough, but they’ve shown cracks in stopping the run of late. Dallas surrendered nearly 130 yards per game on the ground in the last three weeks. They haven’t seen a team that has a QB who will look to attack with the run or work a potential read-option in awhile, and Russell Wilson stresses defenses as well as anyone in that regard.
The flip side is the Dallas offense, reinvigorated with the Amari Cooper acquisition and finding success with guys like Blake Jarwin and Michael Gallup in the last couple of weeks. Seattle won four of its last 5, but the one loss was their one road game, to San Francisco. While their style of offense should be fine, Seattle defense is simply not the same away from the 12th man. Ezekiel Elliott will be the game’s MVP in a close win for the home team, with a big 3rd down reception by Cole Beasley sealing the game.
Cowboys 31, Seahawks 30
- Los Angeles Chargers at Baltimore Ravens (-3): The Lamar Jackson experience has the Ravens rolling, but this will mark the first time a team gets a second crack at defending the nifty rookie QB. These two teams squared off in Week 16, a game the Ravens won, 22-10.
The Chargers contained Jackson well on that night. Baltimore managed just one offensive TD in the win and Jackson rushed for just 39 yards. The rookie won that game with his arm, taking shots at the talented Chargers pass defense when given the chance. Even hitting on a couple of big plays should work again for Jackson and the Ravens offense.
That’s because Baltimore defense is playing great football of late. In that Week 16 game, the Chargers managed just 14 first downs while turning the ball over three times. Baltimore’s defense is so adept at taking away the run and making a team one-dimensional, unleashing the pass rush and forcing non-premium players to make plays. Philip Rivers is having a phenomenal season, but he’s not a guy who can create outside the pocket or avoid the rush well other than throwing the ball away.
That won’t cut it in Baltimore. And if it turns into a field goal situation to win, I’ll take Justin Tucker from 55 before I trust Michael Badgley from 30.
Ravens 23, Chargers 17
- Philadelphia Eagles at Chicago Bears (-6.5): On their way to winning their way into the playoffs by going 5-1 down the stretch, the defending champion Eagles knocked off two other playoff teams in the final three weeks. Those wins over the Texans and Rams stand out, because they showed how well Nick Foles and the Eagles offense can adapt to playing against defenses that are front-loaded. The run game perked up nicely.
The problem for the Eagles in Chicago is the back end of the Bears defense. Even with Pro Bowl safety Eddie Jackson questionable, the secondary and off-ball LBs in Chicago are a well-coordinated and talented bunch. Philly wasn’t as successful in Dallas, though that loss was more about the Eagles dilapidated secondary being unable to stop the Cowboys. Chicago can exploit that relative weakness too.
Bears 30, Eagles 27
All lines are from BetOnline as of 11:10 AM Friday