Jan. 31, 2019
NFL Wild Card Round Preview
With a new year comes the time for the NFL playoffs. 17 weeks of games has left us with only the best to compete for that almighty Lombardi Trophy. Some years there is a team or two that appears to have no business playing in the postseason. This year, no such teams are present. All twelve teams in the show have a legitimate shot at going all the way if you ask me. However, only one team can reach the goal. Is that team going to take their first step towards the trophy this weekend, or will they be watching their next opponent from home? Of course, only time can answer that question. But in the mean time, we can make our guesses, and that's exactly what I'm doing today.
Colts vs Texans
While most people's attention was focused on the Rams, Saints, Chiefs, and a few others, the Texans and Colts were quietly dominating their schedules down the stretch. In the past eleven weeks, the two of them combined for only three losses. One of those losses was a Colts victory over Houston. They've shown that they can win the games that they should, but what they've yet to do is prove that they're capable of beating the big dogs. One team will get the chance to prove themselves. The other will be sent home with lots of people questioning their true abilities.
To me, the Texans have seemed to be one of the most underrated teams in the game. For once, their defense isn't torn apart by injuries, and that means they've been just as dominant as they should be. They run the ball more than most teams around, and they do it with pretty consistent success. The only thing really holding this team back is an atrocious offensive line. Deshaun Watson's 62 sacks is easily the most in the league. Despite the lack of protection he's still surpassed 4,000 yards and has a 103.1 passer rating. Andrew Luck on the other hand has been sacked only 18 times all year (fewest in the NFL), and that has contributed largely to his success.
The difference in offensive line play is big, but Houston does have a couple things to bridge the gap. The obvious difference is the Texans' superior pass rush. What I believe to be the bigger factor is dominant ground control on both sides. Houston is just a little stronger on the ground on both sides of the ball. In this modern NFL, we often don't put much value on the run game, but it really can be a difference maker. Indianapolis will not have the same offensive production if they become one-dimensional. They Colts may limit Houston rushing attack, but I can't see them shutting them down in the same way. This is what I believe will make the difference in a tight game.
Texans win, 26-24
Seahawks vs Cowboys
In many ways, Seattle and Dallas resemble each other quite closely. Both team's offenses are rooted strongly in their backfield. Ezekiel Elliott's 1,434 rushing yards is the highest of any individual runner. However, it's the Seahawks who claim the league's best rushing attack. Chris Carson leads the way with 1,151 yards, while Mike Davis, Rashaad Penny, and Russell Wilson together have tacked on another 1,309. All four of the aforementioned Seattle runners have averaged over 4.5 yards per carry. Leading the aerial attacks are Wilson and Prescott. Both are former mid-round draft picks who have turned into very efficient passers with great mobility. Wilson is a little more that. These offenses are good, but they are overshadowed by even better defenses.
There is one major difference between these opposing teams. This difference is the veteran leadership and experience of the Seattle Seahawks. Although Seattle's roster has been shaken up substantially since there Super Bowl runs just a few years ago, they still have seasoned leaders in people like Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, and Pete Carroll. That can go a long way. Dallas doesn't have anyone like that on their roster. Obviously inexperienced teams have to win from time to time. Otherwise no one would ever gain experience. However, it sure can be an uphill battle.
Seahawks win, 24-17
Chargers vs Ravens
It was only a couple weeks ago that these two squared off in L.A.. That game turned out to be the poorest performance from the Chargers all season. Rivers had easily his worst game of 2018, throwing for less than 200 yards, 0 TD's, 2 INT's, and a passer rating of 51.7. With only 51 yards, the running game wasn't much better. On the defensive side, they were able to limit Lamar Jackson's legs. Jackson had his lowest rushing total with "only" 39 yards. However, he had his best day throwing the ball thus far, passing for over 200 yards for the first time. This was the only game in which the Chargers failed to reach 20 points. The 22-10 score tied their largest margin of defeat of this season.
The Chargers have been one of the league's best this year, but they need to make a lot of adjustments this week to keep their season alive. So far, they have shown me plenty to believe they can do that. Two of their four losses came in their first meetings with the Chiefs and Broncos. They made the necessary adjustments the next time they played those two, and they were rewarded with wins. The Chargers also did not lose any consecutive games all year. Another thing going for them this time is the road venue. I know that sounds weird, but the Chargers are 7-1 away from home. Their one road loss came against the L.A. Rams. So maybe it's best that they stay out of their home city.
All that said, it won't be an easy win by any means. Baltimore's defense is no joke, and Jackson has made this offense something to talk about. I think having seen Jackson first-hand recently will aid the Chargers significantly. Athletic QB's like him are hard to stop early in their career, but it doesn't usually take long for NFL teams to figure them out. After seeing him up close once, they should be well equipped to limit his impact on the game, and Rivers will do just enough to scrape out a winning score.
Chargers win, 20-16
Eagles vs Bears
Perhaps no team in the game has shocked the league like the Chicago Bears. As an optimistic Bear fan myself, 8-8 without a trip to the postseason would have satisfied me. So seeing them go 12-4 with a division title has been a dream come true. But to keep the dream alive, they have to go through the defending Champs.
The Eagles have been a far cry from last year's team. They haven't been top 10 in scoring on either side of the ball. Their run game has been bottom tier. They have a turnover differential in the negatives. Yet somehow they still hung around .500 until their savior, Nick Foles, came to the rescue. In the last three weeks, they made a playoff push and reminded everyone that they are still here. They can still defend their title. If you asked me a few weeks ago which potential wild card opponent scared me the most, I would have said the Eagles.
This Sunday's game is set to be a defensive slug fest. I would consider these two teams to have the two best defensive fronts in the game. They will keep the opposing QB uncomfortable all day long. Cold weather in Chicago won't enhance their production either. This type of low-scoring game has suited the Bears well. They are 12-0 when their opponent scores less than 24. The Eagles will have a hard time reaching that mark. The Bears are hard enough to score on in the cold with the crowd on their side. It doesn't help that Nick Foles could be playing through a minor rib injury. The Bears won't have a great day offensively, but I do believe they'll do just enough. Jordan Howard has ran the ball very well in recent weeks, which could be big in this game and any others moving forward. Trubisky isn't out of the development stage yet, but he has shown me that he can make enough plays and few enough mistakes to win games.
Bears win, 16-13