NFL Wild Card Weekend Preview and Predictions
Well, the NFL regular season has come and gone, and now only 12 teams will be continuing to play into January. As always, the playoff lives of some teams came down to the final games of the season, and this year it was the Steelers who were left on the outside looking in.
Now, technically the Steelers weren’t officially eliminated at this moment. They still had a chance at a Wild Card spot if the Titans and Colts tied that night, but with Blaine Gabbert starting for Tennessee the odds of that happening were almost 0. When all the dust had settled, the playoff standings looked like this:
1. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)
2. New England Patriots (11-5)
3. Houston Texans (11-5)
4. Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
5. Los Angeles Chargers (12-4)
6. Indianapolis Colts (10-6)
1. New Orleans Saints (13-3)
2. Los Angeles Rams (13-3)
3. Chicago Bears (12-4)
4. Dallas Cowboys (10-6)
5. Seattle Seahawks (10-6)
6. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)
#3 Texans vs. #6 Colts
The playoffs kick off with an AFC South matchup between the Texans and Colts. Now, while the Colts didn’t win the division like I had said earlier after listening to Pat McAfee maybe a little bit too much, they did end the season on a 9-1 run in their last 10 games. The Texans also had a slow start to their season, losing their first three games before beating the Colts in overtime of Week 4. The two teams met again in Week 14, this time the Colts getting the edge. Between those games, Houston was on a stretch of nine straight wins which began with their win against Indianapolis earlier in the season.
The resurgence of the Colts is in large part due to the return of Andrew Luck, and shaking off the rust at the start of the season, he has returned to his pre-injury form and finished the regular season 5th in passing yards and 2nd in passing touchdowns. The same can be said for the Texans, as Deshaun Watson spent the first few weeks of the season shaking off some rust after recovering from a torn ACL suffered last season.
With the season series being split 1-1, and both games being decided by just 3 points, this game is set to be a lot closer than you might think.
#4 Cowboys vs. #5 Seahawks
The Cowboys season changed with the addition of Amari Cooper at the trade deadline. Entering their bye week with a 3-4 record, Dallas then went 7-2 after the break including wins over all three of their division rivals. The Seahawks won the lone meeting between these two teams this season, but again this was before the arrival of Amari Cooper.
The Seahawks are no longer that same team from the Legion of Boom era, as most of those players have moved on. The defense doesn’t give opponents that same sense of fear that they used to, and Wilson is forced to use his feet to make plays a lot more than I’m sure he would like. He’s essentially willed this team to the playoffs, and they’ll go as far as he can take them on his own.
Dallas is the more well-rounded team, but Russell Wilson takes the edge over Dak Prescott at quarterback. Despite having the edge at the most important position in football, I still don’t think the Seahawks have what it takes to pull this off. Expect some big things from Amari Cooper once again.
#4 Ravens vs. #5 Chargers
While a 4 vs. 5 seed is typically a close game, the Chargers are much better than your typical #4. Despite that, it could hurt them that they have to travel to Baltimore for this game, leaving the warm L.A. temperatures that they’re used to. Despite having the better record, the Chargers still find themselves as the underdogs for this game, but they’re still my pick to move on to the next round.
The only question mark is that the Ravens just beat the Chargers 22-10 just a few weeks ago. But in my opinion, all that means is that both teams have tape on each other, and both teams will have to mix up the game plan. Also, if Lamar Jackson struggles early on in his playoff debut, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Ravens put Mr. Elite aka Joe Flacco in the game. He’s won them a Super Bowl in the past, and maybe another decent playoff run convinces Baltimore to keep him around for one more season.
Lamar Jackson will most likely be the X-factor this game, but the play of Philip Rivers can’t be overlooked. He finished 8th in passing yards with 4308, and tied for 6th in passing touchdown alongside Drew Brees and Jared Goff with 32. At 37, Rivers is showing that he still has some gas left in the tank. At the end of the day, I think the Chargers are one of the top teams in the league. The Ravens are definitely on the way up thanks to Lamar Jackson, but I think experience will be the difference in this one.
#3 Bears vs. #6 Eagles
The Bears stacked defense will get the first chance to knock off the defending Super Bowl champions. The Eagles were close to not even making the playoffs, but when Nick Foles stepped in for an injured Carson Wentz once again everything started to turn back around. The Eagles just snuck into the playoffs, but with Foles in the game they seem to be a different team than with Wentz, so much so that there’s a quarterback controversy according to some. After winning the Super Bowl last year, the Eagles made moves that the experts thought would make them even better, but all we learned is that the Super Bowl hangover is a real thing.
Both of these teams are used to playing in the cold, so January temperatures at Soldier Field shouldn’t be a shock to either team. But being at Soldier Field is definitely a big advantage for the Bears, as they’re 7-1 at home this season. The Bears passing offense hasn’t been stellar, but Mitch Trubisky is showing signs of being a high-end quarterback in the league. Meanwhile, their ground game ranks 11th in the NFL, with Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen forming a dynamic duo. Neither offense is outstanding, but the Bears defense will be a difference maker. They rank 3rd in Total Yards, 7th in Passing Yards, and 1st in both Rushing Yards and Points Allowed. This one should be low scoring, but you know how the saying goes: offense wins games, but defense wins championships. The Bears are hoping that even with the league trending towards high scoring games and big plays, that the old saying is still true in 2019.