Friday, January 04, 2019

2018 NFL Playoffs: Wildcard

Indianapolis Colts (+1) at Houston Texans: These AFC South rivals split their two regular season matchups with the road team prevailing in both contests. These clubs are also similar in that both got off to slow starts to the season only to finish strong (Indy went from 1-5 to 10-6; Houston 0-3 to 11-5).

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck led his squad to the playoffs each of his first three seasons (2012-2014) in the NFL. However, injuries plagued Luck the following three years (0 playoff appearances), including missing all of 2017 with a bum shoulder. But he rebounded nicely in 2018, putting some of the best numbers (4,593 yards and 39 TDs) of his career.

The Texans have themselves a nice option at QB too, with second year player Deshaun Watson. Not only did Watson exceed 4,000 yards passing in 2018, he amassed 551 rush yards, which was third best among quarterbacks.

This game is a more favorable matchup for the Colts given that the Texans rank 28th in total pass yards allowed. Once again the road team will emerge victorious
Indianapolis 30 Houston 27

Seattle Seahawks (+2) at Dallas Cowboys: The Seahawks are back in the postseason for the sixth time in quarterback Russell Wilson's seven seasons. Amazingly, Wilson's teams have never been "one and done" in the playoffs. And despite losing defensive stalwarts Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor over the past couple of years, Seattle has not had the obligatory dramatic falloff that other teams usually endure.

After going "one and done" in the 2016 postseason, the Cowboys are looking to continue their solid play after winning 7 of their final 8 regular season games. However, Dallas has fallen back to earth somewhat by failing to compile 300 yards of offense in weeks 15 and 16. Sure, they racked up 400+ last week but it was against an opponent (NY Giants) with nothing on the line in a game where Dallas's playoff seeding had already been known.

To me, the key matchup is Dallas running back (and NFL rushing leader) Ezekiel Elliott vs. a Seattle defense which allowed 4.9 yards per rush in 2018, which was third worse in the NFL. Running the ball is a good strategy for the Cowboys in general if it helps keep playmaker Wilson off the field.
Dallas 21 Seattle 17

San Diego Los Angeles Chargers (+3) at Baltimore Ravens: This is a rematch of a Week 16 game where the Ravens went into L.A. and whipped the Chargers 22-10. Perhaps the most eye-popping stat was the prolific Los Angeles offense mustered only 198 total yards.

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, in his 15th season, showed no signs of slowing up in 2018. He compiled another 4,000-yard passing season while also tossing 32 touchdowns. He would greatly benefit in this game by a productive outing from the team's leading rusher Melvin Gordon, who has been slowed by an ankle injury. 

Yes, the Ravens are back to playing the stout defense we've become accustom to, finishing #1 in fewest yards allowed in 2018. However, rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson has breathed life into what had been a pedestrian Baltimore offense by going 6-1 as a starter. He's not the type to put up big passing numbers but he doesn't turn the ball over much and is the leading rusher in the NFL among QBs. That'll be the key this game for the Ravens. Take care of the ball and don't let Rivers and Co. have too many possessions.
Baltimore 20 Los Angeles Chargers 14

Philadelphia Eagles (+6) at Chicago Bears: Is Eagles quarterback Nick Foles poised to once again lead Philly on an improbable Super Bowl run? After taking the reins in 2017 after legit MVP candidate Carson Wentz suffered a season-ending knee injury in December, Foles led the Eagles to a Super Bowl win, culminating it with the game's MVP award. Then this season, Wentz was declared out with a bad back after Week 14 resulting in Foles taking over the struggling 6-7 squad. Once again he looked fantastic in leading the Eagles to wins in the final three regular season games.

For the Bears to win in their first postseason appearance in eight years, QB Mitch Trubisky merely has to be a game manager. While I don't believe he's a Super Bowl caliber quarterback, the Bears defense absolutely has a championship makeup. I have a feeling Khalil Mack is going to get well acquainted with the sore-ribbed Foles in this one.
Chicago 20 Philadelphia 9


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