NFL Wild Card Weekend Preview
Seven of the 12 teams who made the playoffs this season were new to the field. This will continue a streak of at least four new teams in the playoffs every year for the last 29 years, or every year since 1990.
The two wild-card matches in the AFC are the Chargers-Ravens and Colts-Texans games. The two NFC matchups are between the Seahawks and Cowboys and the Bears battling the Eagles.
Indianapolis at Houston
4:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, ESPN/ABC
The Colts are one of the hottest and scariest teams heading into the playoffs, but I’m going to go with the Texans, 31-28. Indy and Texans are both from the AFC South, so this will be their third meeting of the season. The two teams split those games, 37-34 Houston, and 24-21 Indianapolis.
The Texans had 18 players appear on their Week 17 injury report. Luckily for them only three had an injury designation headed into their game against the Jaguars. Indy one-upped Houston in the injury department. The Colts had 19 players on their injury report, and some of their injuries are unfortunately significant. Starting center Ryan Kelly (neck) missed Sunday night’s game while he also missed three games from Week 12-14 with a knee injury. Expect him to return this week in a huge matchup in the playoffs
The Story lines could come down to this:
Andrew Luck, TY Hilton and Marlon Mack
Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller
Which trio will help their offense explode and end up with the most points on the board at the end of the game.
Stats to know:
Houston has allowed just 19.8 points per game during the regular season. On the other side of the ball, the Texans defense racked up 43 sacks this season. J.J. Watt has a team-high 16 sacks. He makes a nice one tow punch combo with Clowney. Quarterback Deshaun Watson threw for over 4,000 yards this season while completing nearly 69 percent of his passes. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins caught 115 passes for 1,572 yards this season. Houston finished the regular season as the 11th highest scoring team in the league, averaging 25.1 points per game.
Indianapolis is averaging 27 points per game, and Indy has had a resurgence this season throwing the ball with the return of quarterback Andrew Luck. Luck had a monster bounce-back season. A season where he will most likely win come back player of the season by throwing for over 4,500 yards and 39 touchdowns. T.Y. Hilton averaged more than 16 yards per catch this season and racked up 1,270 receiving yards in just 14 games. Rookie linebacker Darius Leonard leads the entire NFL with 163 tackles during the regular season.
Chargers at Ravens
1 p.m. ET, Sunday, CBS
This rematch game on the Wild-Card Weekend features two teams who battled it out just a few weeks ago in Los Angeles, where the Ravens stunned the NFL world with a win over a red hot Chargers team.
The Ravens have the NFL’s number one yardage defense, which isn’t terribly surprising with their history and the talent they have across the board on defense. If that’s not enough the Ravens also have the ninth best offense when it comes to offensive yards. The Ravens are consistently rushing for more yards then passing. During the last eight games, the Ravens have has at least three rushers over 40 yards each in the running game. After Baltimore racked up 296 rushing yards in an impressive victory against the Browns that fittingly ended with a defensive interception, the Ravens have averaged 229.6 yards per game on the ground in the last seven games. The Chargers are formidable against the run, ranking in the top 10 with just 105.8 yards allowed per game.
The question this week for the Ravens will be, whether or not they add a new wrinkle to the offense. This will be the first time the Ravens will play a team for the second time, meaning a second opportunity at seeing the rookie phenom of Lamar Jackson.
The most significant injury Baltimore faces is a lingering left shoulder issue to starting left guard Alex Lewis that kept him out of his fourth game in a row. For the Chargers however, star running back Melvin Gordon returned to the lineup last week after dealing with a sprained MCL. He suffered yet another injury in that game as this one is an apparent ankle issue. Linebacker Jatavis Brown is out for the season after suffering an ankle injury. But head coach Anthony Lynn said the young tight end Hunter Henry is on track to receive first-team reps this week after being out for the entire season with a torn ACL. If Henry returns how much of a factor will a player the hasn’t played a snap this season become?
The Turnover Battle:
The Chargers, for most of the season, have easily been one of the best teams at not only protecting the ball but limiting turnovers as well. In their first 14 games this 2018 season, Los Angeles had given the ball away just 12 times. But over the last two weeks, the Chargers have committed seven turnovers. In the Chargers loss to the Ravens on week 16 LA had three turnover and four more against Denver in the regular-season finale. It’s Rivers who has been uncharacteristically careless the last few weeks. He has just one touchdown against four interceptions in the last two games. Baltimore has an aggressive defense, but it generated just 17 takeaways. The takeaways have come in bunches over the last few weeks. Baltimore seemingly turned their defense on midway through the season.
Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks
8:15 p.m. ET, Saturday CBS
The Cowboys and Seahawks will battle it out for the second time this season, and this time it’ll be in Dallas at AT&T Stadium. Prior to this contest, Seattle defeated Dallas by a score of 24-13. However, the NFL Playoffs are a completely different animal, and anything can happen in this game. Seattle signal caller, Russell Wilson, will lead the charge for the Seahawks in his 13th playoff game, and he is coming into this game with a 8-4 win-loss record in the playoffs, however, none were against the Cowboys On the other hand, Cowboys Quarterback, Dak Prescott, will start his 2nd postseason game, and is coming into this contest without a playoff win. The Seahawks and Cowboys both have superb scatbacks, with the likes of Chris Carson for Seattle, who ran for 1,151 rushing yards amd obtained 9 touchdowns. As for Dallas, Ezekiel Elliott remains the main carrier, and he ran for 1,434 yards, along with 6 touchdowns.
Stats to Know:
The Seahawks enter this game with the number one ranked rushing offense, while the Cowboys have the 5th ranked rushing defense, which should bring an interesting matchup for the game Between the two teams, both Quarterbacks in Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott have had a solid or great season for their team. Wilson has thrown for 3,448 passing yards this season, along with 35 passing TD’s, while having just seven interceptions. Adding on, rookie second-string halfback, Rashaad Penny, broke out this season running for over 400 yards, while having under 100 rush attempts and scoring two touchdowns. As for Dallas, Prescott threw for 3,885 passing yards, with 22 touchdown passes and eight interceptions. Despite Prescott not having a Pro-Bowl caliber season, the Cowboys managed to win the NFC East and acquire the 4th seed in the playoffs for the NFC. My personal score prediction for this game is the Cowboys defeating the Seahawks by a score of 24-20.
Philadelphia Eagles at Chicago Bears
4:40 p.m. ET, Sunday NBC
The Philadelphia Eagles snuck their way into the playoffs with a win over the Redskins, and a Vikings loss to Philadelphia’s opponents, the Chicago Bears. While the Eagles may be a hot team in the NFC by having a three game win streak, the Bears enter this game with a outstanding chance because of their remarkable 12-win season, which had them beating two teams that are currently in the playoffs(Rams and Seahawks). This game will take place at Solider Field, giving the Bears a huge advantage. During the season, Chicago finished 7-1 at home, while the Eagles capped off their regular season by finishing a subpar 3-5 on the road. Despite losing Carson Wentz for the rest of the season due to injury, the Eagles managed to acquire the 6th seed in the NFL playoffs and are bound to make another Super Bowl run. However, with teams such as the Saints, Rams, and Bears, it seems too unrealistic in my opinion. Moreover, entering this game, Bears quarterback, Mitch Trubisky, has never started in a playoff game, while Eagles signal caller, Nick Foles enters this contest as a defending Super Bowll champion.
Stats to Know:
The Eagles come into this game with the 7th best passing offense in the NFL, while the Bears currently have the 3rd best ranked defense in the NFL. Moreover, Mitch Trubisky recorded a solid 2018 campaign, throwing for 3,223 passing yards, having 24 touchdowns, but throwing 12 interceptions. On the other hand, Nick Foles has only played in five games this season, but has made a significant impact for the Eagles, throwing for 1,413 passing yards, seven touchdowns, and having a 72.3% completion percentage heading into Sunday’s bout. Injury wise, the Eagles currently have Michael Bennett and Fletcher Cox on the injury report, but they should be “good to go” for this Sunday’s tilt against the Bears. Adding on, cornerback, Sidney Jones IV, did not practice on Wednesday, and his status for Sunday is unknown, all according to Chris McPherson, writer at https://www.philadelphiaeagles.com. As for the Bears, wide reciever, Allen Robinson, was a full participant in practice. However, free safety Eddie Jackson, was limited in practice, all according to Matt Eurich. My personal score prediction for this game is the Bears defeating the Eagles by a score of 17-13.
Note: The AFC playoff preview was written by Matt Bachota, while the NFC playoff preview was written by Ansh Suchdeve.