The 2018 NFL Playoffs have arrived, the stage is set, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Wild Card weekend should have NFL fans on the edge of their seats, because all four of these matchups have the potential to come down to the wire. Let’s take a look at my breakdown of each game, analysis of each team and score predictions.
Colts (10-6) vs. Texans (11-5), Saturday, 1/05/19, 4:25 pm, ESPN
An 0-3 start is what stared this Texans team in the face just three weeks into the NFL season. Things were trending downward, not upward, the offense wasn’t clicking, Deshaun Watson didn’t look healthy, and the defense wasn’t holding up their end, either. A Week 4 matchup at Indianapolis changed the direction of this team’s entirely. Houston would walk out with a 37-34 OT victory that afternoon, which in turn, would set a 9 game win-streak in motion. Despite being sacked a league-high 62 times, Watson and this vigorous Texans’ defense marched their way to another AFC South Championship, an astounding 11-5 record, and the #3 seed in the AFC playoff race.
Similar to their opponent, Indianapolis, too had their fair share of blunders, as they started the season 1-5. Whether it was one-score games that Indy couldn’t close out, or drive-killing drops and penalties, the Colts looked another season or two away from being legit playoff contenders. A meeting was called by one of the Colts players, and afterwards, something changed within that locker room. Behind Andrew Luck’s MVP-caliber season, an offensive line that allowed a league-low 18 sacks, and an 11th ranked defense, Indy went on to play their best football in several seasons, winning 9 of their last 10 regular season games. They became only the third team in NFL history to make the playoffs after starting 1-5.
Seeing as their first two meetings both ended in 3 point victories, I see this game being no different. Houston’s offensive line could have their hands full with Indy’s 11th ranked defense that consists of a nasty pass-rushing packages dialed up by DC Matt Eberflus. On the flip side, Anthony Castanzo and rookie Braden Smith are in charge of, yet again blocking the dominant-duo of J.J Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.
Both the Texans’ offensive line and secondary concern me greatly. In both games this regular season, the Colts lived in Houston’s backfield, as they accumulated 10 total sacks. Stopping T.Y. Hilton is also a MUST for Houston, as Hilton has essentially owned the Texans each time he comes to NRG Stadium. Indy’s running game has to get going early, and Luck needs to avoid any blunders in order to keep this Texans’ defense on their heels. This will be close, but I have to give the edge to Indianapolis because throughout the last seven weeks, the Colts’ defense has ranked #1 in points allowed per game.
Score Prediction: Colts 27, Texans 20
Seattle Seahawks (10-6) vs. Dallas Cowboys (10-6), Saturday 1/05/19, 8:15 pm, FOX
It’s a rematch of the week 3 game which fell in Seattle’s favor. The Hawks came out with a 24-13 victory. This time around, Dallas has home-field advantage. Seattle started out slow, but quickly picked things up. They have the league’s #1 running attack, averaging 160 yards per game. Despite being sacked 51 times, Russell Wilson was nothing short of spectacular. He accumulated a 35:7, TD:INT ratio, and a QB-rating of 110.9. Seattle’s offense also ranks 7th in points per game with 26.8, so between both the air and ground attack, this offense can score quite a few points.
Seattle’s defense is nothing to look past, either. They rank 11th points allowed per game with 21.7 and 13th in rushing with 113.2 yards per game. Not bad for a team that was considered by many to be in a “rebuilding” phase. Give credit to head coach Pete Carroll as well, he has helped guide this team to a 10-6 season.
A 3-5 start for Dallas certainly isn’t how the wanted to start their season. Nonetheless, the managed to climb out that hole with some very impressive victories over teams like Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Atlanta. A mid-season trade for speedster Amari Cooper turned out to be exactly what the Boys’ needed to spark their offense that early on in the season, was considered average at best. Defensively, Dallas was as dominant as ever. To most, the line-backing tandem of Jaylon Smith and rookie Leighton Vander Esch was the best in the entire league.
This defense that ranks in the top 10 in most statistical categories has carried this team before, they could easily do it again especially considering their opponent in Seattle has a horrendous offensive line. However, the Cowboys did struggle against Indianapolis, allowing 178 total rushing yards in a 23-0 blowout loss. Seeing as how Seattle can also run the ball effectively similar to how Indianapolis did, I’m going to give the edge to Seattle in this game.
Yes, Dallas plays better at home than on the road, but Russell Wilson is far-and-away the better in this matchup, and he does a much better job at extending plays than Dak Prescott does. A team that can run the ball well, usually controls time of possession. Dallas has a top ten running game, and for that reason will keep it close, but I truly believe Seattle has the advantage here.
Score Prediction: Seattle 27, Dallas 23
Baltimore Ravens vs. Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, 1/06/19, 1:05 pm, CBS
Baltimore’s #1 ranked defense got the better of the loaded Chargers’ offense the first time around. They’ll be trying to do the same on Sunday when the Chargers come to town. The Ravens had a nice start to their season, but found themselves struggling not too long after. Enter rookie QB Lamar Jackson, who brought an entirely different ability to this Baltimore offense. Since being inserted into the starting lineup, Jackson went 6-1 through seven games, and helped the Ravens soar to an AFC North Championship after ending the season with a 10-6 record.
To no surprise, Baltimore is also 2nd in rushing yards garnered per game with 152.6. This Ravens offense is very run-oriented and it seems to be working very well as teams have had a hard time stopping their dominant running game. If I am an AFC team, I don’t want to see this team in the playoffs at all. This is a team that can lean on their ground game to wear out opposing defenses, and then rely on their NFL’s best-ranked defense to make it almost impossible to score.
The Chargers had just about as good of a season their fans could have asked for. They are the most loaded team in terms of their offensive personnel, and that defense is nothing to look past, either. As a Top 10 unit, Los Angeles can compete with anyone. Rookie safety Derwin James is a top candidate for DROY, as he’s had a phenomenal season, and defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa make for one of the league’s best pass-rushing duos, too. Phillip Rivers has quite the arsenal to work with. Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Melvin Gordon, and the always-reliable Antonio Gates are only some of his many weapons.
Los Angeles finished with a 12-4 record, but ended up with the #5 seed because of the Kansas City Chiefs, who won the division with the same record. The pieces are there for Rivers to finally nab his first Super Bowl, but in order to get there, he’ll have to get past the #1 ranked Ravens’ defense in Baltimore, Maryland on Sunday afternoon.
The X-Factor to me is the Chargers’ offensive line. Can they hold up against the league’s top-ranked defense? As for Baltimore, Jackson has had his inaccuracies when throwing, so if they are unable to get their dominant ground game going, I don’t see them pulling out a win against a team that is as loaded as the Chargers. That said, I think Los Angeles find a way to get it done on the road. It won’t be easy by any stretch of the imagination, but if there’s any team that can take down this dominant Baltimore squad, it’s the Chargers.
Score Prediction: Chargers 31, Ravens 28
Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) vs. Chicago Bears, (12-4), 1/06/19, 4:40 pm, NBC
The reigning Super Bowl Champs didn’t necessarily have a “super” start to their season. Carson Wentz struggled somewhat in his return to action, but managed to lead his team to several victories. Yet, something was different. This Eagles team certainly didn’t look or play like the NFL champions of the world for several games down the stretch of mid-season. Wentz’s season was unfortunately brought to an end after suffering a back injury late in the season. Insert Super Bowl 52 MVP Nick Foles, who had to win the last several games of the season to even make the playoffs.
Foles did just that. He once again carried this team the rest of the way by beating teams like the Rams, Texans, and Redskins. Philadelphia would finish the season with a 9-7 record and will face a defense that might hold the scariest pass-rushing unit in all of Pro Football. I don’t know how he does, I don’t think anyone does. Foles is just on fire, but his biggest challenge will come Sunday evening against a dominant Bears team on the road.
What a season for the Windy City Chicago Bears. They started off fast and with new head coach Matt Nagy at the helm of this offense, anything was on the table. This was by far one of the most intriguing offenses that I’ve had the privilege of watching. Second-year QB Mitchell Trubisky showed major signs of improvement with Nagy as his guider. However, he also had some “Huh?” moments throughout the season, too. Trubisky, much-like Phillip Rivers, has quite the assort of weaponry to work with at the wide receiver position.
Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton, Tarik Cohen, Jordan Howard, and rookie Anthony Miller are just some of a few weapons that are at Trubisky’s disposal. Nagy has found a unique variety of ways to get each of these players involved based on their strengths. It may be hard for Philadelphia to keep up if this offense starts clicking early.
But what truly make this Chicago team scary, is their early-season acquisition in former Raiders’ defensive end Khalil Mack. This defense was already playing lights out, with the likes of Eddie Jackson, Adrian Amos, Kyle Fuller, Akeem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, and rookie linebacker Roquan Smith. They are fast, athletic, and make it very, very difficult for the opposition to score. Make no mistake about it, this Bears defense is legit.
My only concern is this will be Mitchell Trubisky’s first playoff game, and I’m not sure if he can play consistently enough to keep up with Nick Foles. Don’t forget, the Eagles still have a dominant defense to work with as well, with players like Jordan Hicks, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and several others. That said, I’m giving the edge to Chicago for one reason– their defense. Despite Philadelphia having their own assortment of weapons with players like Alshon Jeffery, Golden Tate, Darren Sproles, and Nelson Agholor, it won’t be enough to keep this Bears defense from bringing the house down at Solider Field Sunday afternoon.
Score Prediction: Eagles 24, Bears 31
All of these games have the potential to come down to the wire, whether you’re excited for the back-and-fourth scoring that could occur, or the potential for defensive dominance across the board, the NFL playoffs have yet to disappoint since the league was first created. And I’d be willing to bet the 2018 playoffs will bring just as much nail-biting, edge of your seat finishes, too! Here’s to the 2018 NFL playoffs!