Wild Card Weekend Full of Rematches
It is playoff time again. That means that everything gets ratcheted up a notch starting this wild card weekend. This year’s wild card round is all about rematches. All four games feature opponents with significant history adding to the already palpable energy.
Third time’s the charm
Our first wild card rematch pits the Houston Texans against the Indianapolis Colts. As division opponents, this will be the third time these two face each other this season. Each of the previous two was decided by three points, with the road team winning both times. Important considering this weekend’s venue. Both teams went 2-3 against teams that made the playoffs this year.
Quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson each have strong cases for Comeback Player of the Year. Houston and Indianapolis had identical 4-12 records last season. Indy kept the Houston pass-rush at bay the last time they met and sacked Watson five times. That makes sense as the Colts allowed the fewest sacks this year and the Texans allowed the most. It is also a good recipe for success in the playoffs.
It will be on both quarterbacks’ right arms yet again, as each team boasts top-10 run defenses and bottom-half pass defenses. Both are also top-five in red zone scoring attempts allowed. Deandre Hopkins — second in catches and yards among receivers — was held to 36 yards on four catches in week 14 but found the end zone. Indy’s T.Y. Hilton – 9 for 199 in week 14 — is eighth in YPC and typically plays well against Houston.
The Texans will need to start fast and maintain it as their scoring falls off — eighth to 21st — from the first to the second half of games. That is an issue against a Colts offense that is second in second-half scoring the last three weeks and fifth in fourth quarter scoring on the year. The week 14 loss snapped a nine-game winning streak for the Texans and started the Colts’ recent four-game streak.
Production: Colts 34-30
Saturday evening, the Seattle Seahawks visit the Dallas Cowboys in a wild card rematch from the 2006 season. Tony Romo jokes aside, this game will see the leagues leading rusher against the leading rushing team. It also sees Dallas assistant coach Kris Richard facing his former boss in Pete Carroll. The teams are .500 head-to-head in the regular season since that last playoff meeting.
Ezekiel Elliott led the NFL in rushing by 127 yards even though he sat week 17. Meanwhile, the Seahawks have found their workhorse in Chris Carson, who clocks in at fifth on the rushing list. Zeke also holds the slight edge in touchdowns at 10-9. Seattle scores better as a whole at 26.8 points per game. Dallas sits at 21.2, though that number is higher at home.
With these rushing offenses coupled with two defenses in the top-15 in run stopping, this is shaping up to be a low-scoring affair. Furthermore, Seattle is fourth and Dallas seventh in opponent redone scoring percentage. Dak Prescott will have to outduel Russell Wilson. He has the easier task facing the 17th ranked pass defense, while Wilson faces Dallas’ 13th ranked unit.
Prescott and Amari Cooper will need to show up against the Seahawks zone defense, something they struggled with against the Colts in the regular season. Seattle will undoubtedly be counting on Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett being too shifty for the bigger Cowboy corners. This game could very well come down to kicker yet again. If it is on the quarterbacks, Wilson has the edge.
Prediction: 27-24 Cowboys
Long Time No See
Wild card weekend continues Sunday with the most recent rematch as the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers just met in week 16. That game took place in L.A. with the surging Ravens winning 22-10. Since taking over, rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson is 6-1 including the win over the Chargers. Los Angeles won their other four games in December
Baltimore leads the league in rush attempts, is second in yards, and is averaging a staggering 232.2 rushing yards per game over their last three contests. They also lead the league in time of possession. The downside is they have averaged the fewest pass attempts over the past three weeks. Philip Rivers is having an underrated season. He is sitting eighth in passing yards and completion percentage and is tied for sixth with 32 touchdowns.
The Ravens field the only defense in the NFL in the top-five for both passing and rushing yards allowed. They might have trouble as they only rank 23rd in takeaways while L.A. is 12th in giveaways, but Rivers did throw two picks in week 16. The Chargers are no slouches defensively, ranking ninth in passing and rushing yards allowed. They also sit seventh in defensive scoring.
L.A. will need more out of running back Melvin Gordon this week after getting very little two weeks ago. He is fourth among running backs with 14 total touchdowns. If he is bottled up yet again, the Chargers will once again fall short of reaching the Super Bowl. Baltimore is playing with house money at this point and has a good chance to keep it going if they stick to their recent plan of attack.
Prediction: 21-14 Ravens
Unstoppable Force vs Immovable Object
In the final wild card rematch, the Philadelphia Eagles take on the Chicago Bears. Not only is this a rematch from last year – the Eagles rolled the Bears 31-3 – Philly also took Chicago out in the divisional round of the 2001 playoffs. It is also the second time former Bears-wideout Alshon Jeffery returns to the city where he once worked.
Chicago has won four in a row on the strength of the league’s number one scoring defense. They are also the number one run defense, meaning the Eagles will need to attack their seventh-ranked pass defense, though Chicago is also first in interceptions. Philly has stepped up their run defense the past three weeks, allowing a league-best 55 YPG; offset by the 30th ranked pass defense.
Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is the biggest question mark in these playoffs. Chicago fields a top-10 scoring offense, but rank in the twenties in both passing attempts and yards. Nick Foles has Philly leading the league in passing yards over the last three weeks, but he has also thrown an interception each week. He will need to take advantage of an at-best, hobbled Eddie Jackson with tight end Zach Ertz; who is second the NFL with 116 receptions.
Eagles’ players — Jeffery and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox — began chirping in the media this week. As defending champs, if any team can trash talk it is the Eagles. Still an odd tactic; the more experienced team providing bulletin board material. Both defenses rank in the top-6 in scoring. Philly leads the league in red zone scoring percentage on the year, but Chicago has been dominant over the past several weeks. This could come down to the kickers. That is a scary proposition for Bear fans, but may be welcome for Jake Elliot‘s homecoming.
Prediction: 24-17 Bears
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