NFL Playoff Season is upon us and this year’s installation is a doozy for better or for worse. Traditional playoff powerhouses over the last couple years are absent including the Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers, while only 5 teams are returning to the playoffs, making 7 teams that haven’t seen the postseason in quite some time. Some of those notable teams returning after lengthy absences include the Chicago Bears, Los Angeles Chargers, Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts, all playing well over the last stretch of the regular season, posing as serious threats in their respected conferences.
Last but not least there are a ton of stories going in such as defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles barely making it to the post season after winning home-field advantage last year, New England despite getting a first-round bye appears to not look as dominant as they had in past seasons, New Orleans looking like the clear cut favorites in the NFC and Kansas City looking to finally make a deep postseason run now having probable MVP, Patrick Mahomes behind center.
Indianapolis Colts (10-6) at Houston Texans (11-5)
Where: NRG Stadium, Houston Texas
When: Saturday January 5th, 3:35 PM CST.
2018 Matchups: Week 4, Texans 37 – Colts 24 and Week 13, Colts 24 – Texans 21
In the ESPN Game, Houston and Indianapolis play each other for the third time this season and in the previous matchups the away team won the game. Both teams had completely regular seasons as Houston started off 0-3, went on a 9-game win streak and then won 2 out of their last 4. The Colts started off the season 1-5, only to win 9 of their last 10 and sneak into the second wild-card spot on the last night of the season.
The Colts are experiencing a resurgence this season thanks to the return of Andrew Luck, 2 rookie of the year candidates in Darius Leonard and Quentin Nelson and first-year head coach Frank Reich. Now with Luck, TY Hilton who has had a phenomenal year, a solid run game, a solid offensive line and a new, improved defense, this Colts team is much better than their 10-6 record indicates. For the first time in a while, Andrew Luck will not have to carry the team as much as he had before his injury because of these upgrades and he will have more time in the pocket. Leonard as a rookie leads the league in tackles and has 7 sacks, making him just as valuable on defense as Luck is on offense.
For the first time in a while the Texans have made it through the regular season with a lot of key guys staying healthy. Much like Luck, Deshaun Watson is coming back from injury and has had a solid season throwing and running the ball. The most valuable player on that offense is DeAndre Hopkins who is the best receiver in these playoffs, having 115 receptions without a single drop, 1,572 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. For the first time in seemingly forever, JJ Watt has played a season without it ending in injury and his 16 sacks along with Jadeveon Clowney’s 9 have given Houston a dangerous pass-rush and third ranking rush defense even though they rank 28th in pass defense.
Prediction: Colts 30, Texans 27
The Texans are a very good postseason team at home but much like their Week 13 matchup, the game will be close, but the Colts will walk away with the win. Down the stretch the Colts have been the much better team on both sides of the ball and unlike the Texans they are consistent. The Texans will have a tremendous advantage at home with JJ Watt, Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins but that’s a position the Colts this year and Andrew Luck throughout his career are used to being. With being hotter, the experience of Andrew Luck and a way better defense, the Colts will win this game.
Seattle Seahawks (10-6) at Dallas Cowboys (10-6)
Where: AT&T Stadium, Dallas Texas
When: Saturday, January 5th, 7:15 PM
2018 Matchup: Week 3, Seahawks 24 – Cowboys 13
In the Saturday night game, both teams had slow starts to the 2018 season and they are not the same teams that faced each other week 3 in Seattle. The Seahawks at the beginning had a horrendous offensive line and zero run game but now they have lead the league in rushing at 160 yards a game and Russell Wilson has had an MVP caliber season. Their defense, although not legion of boom caliber yet, is still a force to be reckon with for opposing offenses thanks to Bobby Wagner, Frank Clark and Shaquill Griffin.
The Cowboys had a much different journey to the postseason and there in thanks to the midseason acquisition of Amari Cooper, the development of a great young defense and a weak NFC East. Like Seattle, they have shown that they can beat top NFL teams, yet had horrible losses to not so good teams. At home, their defense was one of the only ones to stop the Saints and make Drew Brees look not-elite but the Seahawks, even though not at the offensive level of the Saints has a frustrating offense to stop thanks to the run game and Russell Wilson. In recent memory the run-game has been king for Dallas but thanks to absences and injuries on that offensive line, it has not been consistent and as reliable as it once was. ‘
Prediction: Seattle 27, Dallas 17
Thinking this will be a heavy run and defensive game but I think the outcome will rely heavily on the play of the quarterbacks and Russell Wilson is the man. He’s been there before, and he’s made some great young defenses humble on the road in postseasons past. It’s Jerry World and the Cowboys’ defense could have some tricks up their sleeves much like the Thursday night Saints game, but I think Wilson is not as predictable as Brees, especially when he’s running and outside of the pocket. On the other-side if Dak and Amari Cooper can get acquainted early, that could spell trouble for Seattle but it all depends on which Dak shows up and he hasn’t been consistent enough in games to tell. It’s Jerry World, home-field advantage won’t be much of a factor and Seattle is the better team even with the Cowboy’s great young defense.
Los Angeles Chargers (12-4) at Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Maryland
When: Sunday, January 6th, 12:05 PM
2018 Matchup: Week 16, Ravens 22 – Chargers 10
Former Packers Playing: Casey Hayward (LA), Ty Montgomery (BAL)
To me on paper this will be the best game of Wild-Card weekend because of the teams involved and their game 2 weeks ago, but it has a seedy underbelly to it. The crime: it’s wrong that the Chargers are playing this team in that city. Arguably the Chargers are the most stacked team of young talent and they have a veteran MVP candidate quarterback. Their defense is one of the best in the league thanks to guys like DROY candidate Derwin James and guys like Casey Hayward, Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram and Jahleel Addae. Behind Phillip Rivers they are stacked on offense with Melvin Gordon who is a top 10 runningback, Keenan Allen who is a top 10 receiver and another emerging long-game receiver, Mike Williams. If it wasn’t for this matchup and being on the road, the Chargers would be my favorites to make it out of the AFC because of their stacked roster and their ability to beat top teams with their backs against the wall. They beat the Chiefs on the road at Arrowhead and they could probably beat the Patriots in Foxborough, in fact they have looked better on the road than at home. This Baltimore matchup is a real problem and I’ll explain in my prediction.
Baltimore has had a tale of two seasons since the changing of the guard at quarterback. With Joe Flacco their run game was non-existent, and they had an offense that couldn’t produce. Since Lamar Jackson took over, the Ravens have been the best rushing team in the NFL by far and pass game is now unpredictable making it just as effective as it was under Flacco. They still have one of the scariest defenses in the league allowing the second fewest points and fewest total yards. Baltimore is in playoff mode as they’ve been red-hot in the final stretch of the season and with the combination of their running attack and defense, teams will have a frustrating time possessing the ball and scoring points. It is also a style of play perfect for cold weather regardless of which team is playing and that’s perfect because they will be playing in Baltimore and probably New England and Kansas City if they make a run.
Prediction: Ravens 24 – Chargers 20
I think the Chargers will play a little better than their regular season matchup since it is the playoffs and their backs will be against the wall, but I think the result will be very much the same. Ravens have a strong home-field advantage and a team that will run the time out and stop you in three downs. This will be the best and most competitive game of the weekend and it’s super unfortunate that the Chargers are playing an away game against the one team that made them look vulnerable this year. I believe it they played against the Texans against Houston they would beat them and have a really good chance of beating either the Chiefs or the Patriots. The Ravens, a team that plays and is built to stop a team like the Chargers as it was evident in their Week 16 matchup.
Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) at Chicago Bears (12-4)
Where: Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois
When: Sunday, January 6th, 3:40 PM
2018 Matchup: None
This is the one game this weekend that either things could get very interesting or very ugly really quick, depending on the play of Nick Foles. From Super Bowl Champions, to barely making it to the playoffs, the Eagles season wasn’t looking pretty but thanks to the defense stepping up when needed and the play of Nick Foles who is once again filling in for the injured Carson Wentz, the Eagles are hot at the right time. If playoff football and the cliché’ “any given Sunday” has taught me anything, especially growing up as a Packer fan, it doesn’t take a stacked team or a great team to make the playoffs and win the Super Bowl, it takes a hot team that knows how to win. To me right now without considering who they are playing, the Eagles are somewhere in the middle. They don’t have a run game, their defense is mediocre at best and Nick Foles is starting under center but I’ve seen many teams like this Eagles team that has made some shocking upsets in the playoffs.
The Bears are either this year’s Jaguars or this year’s Rams, and I’m leaning towards this year’s Rams. They have an ultra-young, talented and terrifying defense and a just as young, exciting offense. If he isn’t already, Mitch Trubisky is a future second tier quarterback and they have a first-year coach who isn’t afraid to take chances and do anything it takes to win games much like Sean McVay or Doug Pederson. They are dominant on defense, having the ability to stop any team they want no matter how high-powered they are, and their offense is on the cusp of being equally scary. If the Saints didn’t have home-field advantage, the Bears would be my team to beat in the NFC.
Prediction: Bears 24 – Eagles 13
I’m using my brain in this prediction and my brain can’t see the Bears losing at home. Again, this game could be very interesting or very ugly and I’m thinking it’s going to be ugly for the Eagles. On both sides of the ball the Eagles are overmatched, and they are playing at Soldier Field. This game will be a thrashing and a disappointing end to what will probably be an exciting wild-card weekend.