By: Brady Gardner
After 17 weeks of regular season football, the NFL postseason is upon us. The field has been narrowed down to twelve teams, all with the same goal to secure a coveted Lombardi trophy. With four squads earning first round byes, eight teams will be competing this weekend, with the fixtures split equally between Saturday and Sunday.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that these might be some of the best Wild Card Round games the NFL has seen in a long time. Each team competing has their own case for why they could go deep in the postseason, never mind survive the first round. In this article, I will be previewing each matchup, and giving my prediction for which teams will be moving on. Anyway, enough prefacing: let’s get into the games!
Colts @ Texans – 4:35pm ET on Saturday, 1/5
In the first game of the weekend, The Colts and Texans will be meeting for the third time this season. These sides got into the playoffs in just about as different ways as they possibly could have: the 11-5 Texans were in the mix for a first round bye up until Week 17, and the 10-6 Colts snuck in through essentially a play-in game against the 9-7 Titans to determine who would take the sixth seed. However, the Texans have cooled down since their midseason 9-game win streak, and the Colts have pulled off 10 wins in a 11 games after starting the season 1-5.
This matchup becomes even more interesting when comparing head-to-head results. The visitors have defeated the hosts in both of the teams’ two regular season matchups, but there has been very little to separate these teams regardless of the location: both games were decided by three points, and the cumulative score from both meetings was 58-58. In their most recent matchup less than a month ago, the Colts ended the Texans’ midseason unbeaten run with a 24-21 win at Houston’s NRG Stadium, where this weekend’s playoff game will be held.
Can the Colts do it again? I don’t think so. Andrew Luck has never been impressive in the playoffs, and facing one of the best defensive lines in the league will be a real challenge. Luck’s quarterback counterpart Deshaun Watson may be playing in his first postseason game, but Watson has played some of his best football for long stretches this year, and will be guided by coaching staff with plenty of postseason experience. Indianapolis will not go down easily, but Houston should be able to come away with a victory at home against the Colts.
Brady’s Prediction – Texans 28, Colts 24.
Seahawks @ Cowboys – 8:15pm ET on Saturday, 1/5
In the weekend’s only night game, the Cowboys host the Seahawks, looking to get revenge after Seattle was victorious 24-13 on home turf when Dallas visited the northwest earlier this season. Both of these teams got into the playoffs fairly comfortably, using strong runs down the stretch to guarantee themselves playoff berth with multiple games left to play. The Cowboys finished the season with seven wins in eight games, while the Seahawks concluded their campaign with six wins over the same period of time. Both teams finished with records of 10-6.
This playoff tilt is expected to feature quite the ground battle, with both sides possessing an effective combination of mobile quarterbacks, strong running backs, and powerful offensive lines. Despite the Seahawks more than doubling the Cowboys in carries in the teams’ meeting earlier this season (39 vs. 19), Dallas dominated in terms of rush yards (166 vs. 113). Ezekiel Elliott only carried the ball 16 times for Dallas in that game, but he should be expected to have an increased workload in the postseason as the centerpiece of the Cowboys’ offense.
The regular season provided some reasons to be optimistic about this Cowboys team in the postseason, but I just can’t bring myself to buy in on this Dallas team in the playoffs. The lights will be brighter than ever in AT&T Stadium with a primetime audience tuning in on Saturday night, and the mix of ambitious expectations with postseason inexperience could be the downfall of the Cowboys yet again. Seattle coach Pete Carroll and quarterback Russell Wilson know how to win in January, so the Seahawks should be able to overcome the Cowboys on the road.
Brady’s Prediction – Seahawks 30, Cowboys 20
Chargers @ Ravens – 1:05pm ET on Sunday, 1/6
Kicking off the second day on Wild Card Weekend, the Chargers will travel across the country to face off against the Ravens. Los Angeles is by far the most overqualified first round participant of the 2019 playoffs, finishing the season with a 12-4 record and missing out on overtaking division rival Kansas City for the first seed through a mere tiebreaker. Meanwhile, the 10-6 Ravens clawed their way to the top of the AFC North, outlasting the 9-6-1 Steelers in the race to clinch playoff berth via a division title.
In a Week 15 visit to LA, the Ravens defeated the Chargers 22-10 in a game that certainly meant more to Baltimore, considering Los Angeles had already secured a playoff spot by that point. Regardless of whether or not the Chargers were looking beyond that specific matchup, it was still an impressive win for Baltimore that featured stingy defensive play to shut down one of the league’s more productive offenses. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson didn’t dazzle in that game, but did enough to keep the LA offense off the field and finish with a victory.
With the Ravens beating the Chargers in LA, one could anticipate that Baltimore would be able to get a similar result when the same fixture moves to Baltimore. However, this Los Angeles team has consistency been danger on the road in 2018, defeating notable hosts in the Chiefs, Steelers, and Seahawks at various points throughout the season. Additionally, the Chargers will be the first team to see Jackson twice in the rookie’s young career, so LA should be able to stall Jackson and the Ravens the second time around and win in their first playoff game since 2013.
Brady’s Prediction – Chargers 34, Ravens 17
Eagles @ Bears – 4:40pm ET on Sunday 1/6
To conclude the first round of the NFL playoffs, the defending champion Eagles will fly to Chicago to take on the Bears. It’s been a long time coming for Chicago to get postseason football back to Soldier Field, but first-year head coach Matt Nagy has assembled a dangerous 12-4 team squad that could really make some noise on the NFC side of the bracket. The Windy City has not been an easy place to play for any visiting team this season, with the Bears’ only loss at home coming to the 11-5 Patriots in a one-score game way back in Week 6.
As for the Eagles, this team has completely transformed since quarterback Nick Foles took over for the injured Carson Wentz in Week 15. The Eagles were 3-0 under Foles to end the regular season, defeating playoff teams in the Rams and Texans along the way. The record of this wild card team may be a far cry from that of last year’s 13-3 Eagles who finished as the NFC’s first seed, but the core of the Super Bowl champion roster is still there, and there seems to be a sense of belief in Philadelphia that the Eagles could make a run in the postseason once again.
As fun as it would be to watch the magic of Nick Foles to continue, I think Philadelphia’s good fortune with their backup quarterback will run out here. The Bears defense has proven time and time again that they can shut down top quarterbacks, so Foles will really have to come up with something special to overcome Chicago in Soldier Field. That said, Foles did put together some offensive masterpieces in last year’s postseason, but it would irrational to expect lighting to strike twice. The Bears should be able to take care of business at home against the Eagles.
Brady’s Prediction – Bears 28, Eagles 17
This is one of the most exciting weekends of the year, football fans. Enjoy the games!