Previewing Wild-Card Weekend
by Andrew Pasquini – Sports 1140 KHTK
Wild-card weekend will feature plenty of new teams. As a matter of fact, all seven of the teams who missed the playoffs last season will be playing this weekend with the Philadelphia Eagles as the lone team who made the playoffs last year. The Eagles just so happen to also be the defending Super Bowl champions.
Three of the four games this weekends feature re-matches of games from earlier in the season with the Colts-Texans as the lone divisional game.
Here’s a preview of the four wild-card games this weekend:
Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans (-1.5)
Saturday at 1:35pm on ABC
Both of these teams had discouraging starts to their seasons with the Colts starting the season 1-5 and Houston starting 1-3. Now, both teams are two of the hottest teams entering the playoffs.
Indianapolis closed the season out winning nine of their last 10 games of the regular season including one in Houston, beating the Texans 24-21 in Week 13. Andrew Luck has fully comeback from his shoulder injury that sidelined him for the entire 2017 season, throwing for 39 touchdowns and 4,593 yards and have led the Colts to the fifth-highest scoring offense in the league.
The key to Luck’s resurgence has been the Colts ability to keep him upright, only allowing the Stanford product to be sacked 18 times this season and just twice the past three weeks. To compare his 2018 season, Luck was only sacked on 2.7% of his dropbacks this season. In his previous five seasons with the Colts, Luck was sacked on 5.6% of his dropbacks. The Colts offensive line being able to cut that number in half has been a huge part to the Colts success.
The Texans had success getting to Luck this season though, sacking him six times in the teams two meetings this season, including four sacks in Houston’s 37-34 Week 4 win. Houston got to opposing teams quarterbacks 43 times this season, tied for 11th in the NFL this season. JJ Watt led the pass rush of the Texans this season with 16 sacks.
However, Deshaun Watson was sacked 62 times this season and sacked on 10.9% of his dropbacks, more than five times the amount Luck was sacked. Indianapolis hasn’t had the ability to get to the opposing quarterback like the Texans, recording just 38 sacks on the season. Watson was able to match his quarterback rating from last season while playing the full 16 games coming off a torn ACL.
Prediction: Indianapolis over Houston
Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys (-1)
Saturday at 5:15pm on FOX
These two teams faced each other in Week 3 with the Seahawks beating the Cowboys 24-13. The big difference between their Week 3 matchup and Saturday’s wild-card game is the location. Week 3 was in Seattle, where the Seahawks hold a 6-2 record at home. Saturday is in Arlington at AT&T Stadium, where the Cowboys are 7-1 this season.
Expect this game to feature a lot of running with backs like Ezekiel Elliot and Chris Carson being the feature backs. The Seahawks ran the ball the best out of any team in the NFL this season, running the ball 534 times (second in the NFL) for 2,560 yards (first). Dallas wasn’t too far behind with 439 attempts (10th) for 1,513 yards (10th).
Dallas comes at Seattle with Elliot being the workhorse, carrying the ball 304 times for 1,434 yards and six touchdowns. Seattle has three running backs that can beat a defense, with Carson getting majority of the carries with 257 carries but Mike Davis and Rashaad Penny combined for 197 carries for 933 yards and six touchdowns.
Defensively though, Seattle has struggled against the run, allowing 113.2 yards per game but has prevented the opposing teams running game from scoring, allowing just nine rushing touchdowns on the season. Dallas is top-five in rushing defense allowing 94.6 yards per game but have allowed more touchdowns than Seattle with 12.
Dallas does have a slight advantage in the passing game led by Dak Prescott who thew for 3,885 yards and 22 touchdowns. Dallas was 23rd in passing yards per game where Seattle was ranked 27th led by Russell Wilson who threw for 3,448 yards but had 35 touchdown passes.
Where Seattle has the biggest advantage is forcing turnovers. Seattle had a league-best +15 turnover margin compared to Dallas who finished at a +3. Seattle turned the ball over just 11 times all season compared to 17 by Dallas.
This game has the potential to be the best of wild-card weekend.
Prediction: Seattle over Dallas
Los Angeles Chargers at Baltimore Ravens (-2.5)
Sunday at 10:05am on CBS
Just two weeks ago, the Ravens dominated the Chargers in Los Angeles, winning 22-10 but don’t take too much stock into what happened in Week 16.
The Chargers are a better team than what they showed against Baltimore in Week 16. Los Angeles gained just 198 total yards against the Ravens, which is well below their average of 374. A lot of the Chargers struggles in that game may have been due to the Ravens defense, which was the second-best scoring defense in the league and was able to hold Los Angeles to their lowest point total of the season.
Some of the offensive issues from the Chargers in that game came because of Baltimore’s ability to shut Keenan Allen down. Allen averaged six receptions per game for 76 yards but Baltimore was able to hold him to just five receptions for 58 yards and no touchdowns. Allen was by far the favorite target of Phillip Rivers this season, having 27% of the teams’ total targets.
Melvin Gordon also struggled against the Ravens, carrying the ball 12 times for 41 yards, which was his second-lowest total for rushing yards in a game this season. Baltimore’s ability to take away the Chargers two best offensive players was a huge key to their win in Week 16, although it shouldn’t be much of a surprise as the Ravens had the fifth-best passing and fourth-best rushing defense in the league.
For how good the defense has been, the Ravens season turned around as soon as Lamar Jackson took over the starting quarterback job from Joe Flacco. Baltimore started the season with a 4-4 record but have won six of their last seven games and won the AFC North after Jackson took over. Jackson is a true dual-threat quarterback, passing for 1,201 yards and rushing for 695 yards. The Ravens have been running an option offense almost exclusively since Jackson has taken over and teams have struggled to stop it, including the Chargers who allowed the Ravens to throw for 204 and rush for 159 more.
Prediction: Baltimore over Los Angeles
Philadelphia Eagles at Chicago Bears (-6)
Sunday at 1:40pm on NBC
The Eagles are the only team to be playing this weekend who made the playoff last season when they defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII. The good news for Philadelphia is they’re back in the playoffs after clinching the final spot in NFC in Week 17. The bad news is Philadelphia has to defend their crown against arguably the best defense in the NFL on the road.
For the second season in a row, the Eagles come into the playoffs with Nick Foles as there starting quarterback after Carson Wentz injured his back in Week 14. The Eagles have been in good hands with Foles this season, who has won the last three games for the Eagles while averaging 320.7 passing yards and two touchdowns per game and has a 108.4 quarterback rating since taking over the starting spot.
Foles hasn’t faced a defense quite like the Bears however. The Bears defense leads the league in points allowed per game (17.7), rushing yards allowed per game (80), takeaways (36), and had the third-most sacks in the league (50). Chicago added edge rusher Khalil Mack before the season started, which turned their already good defense into an elite one. Mack has led the Bears defense with 12.5 sacks and 6 forced fumbles and has hit the opposing teams quarterback 18 times. The Eagles offensive line was in the middle of the pack in the NFL this season in allowing sacks with 40 but they’ll have their hands full in trying to keep Foles upright against the Bears.
Where the Eagles will struggle on offense in on the ground. Since Jay Ajayi tore his ACL in Week 5, the Eagles have struggled with the rushing attack. They’ve used a rotation of Josh Adams, Wendell Smallwood, and Darren Sproles since Ajai went down but Smallwood lost the starting job after rushing for just 111 yards in his four starts after Ajayi’s injury. Adams took the next five starts and rushed for 286 yards but Sproles started Week 16 against the Texans and Smallwood regained the starting job in Week 17. The Eagles have used four different running backs Ajayi got hurt but finished 28th in the league in rushing.
What Philadelphia does have over Chicago is the playoff experience. Sunday will be Mitchell Trubisky’s first career start in the playoffs and the Eagles will need to hope he makes mistakes to give their offense the best field position possible against the tough Bears defense. It will be Bears head coach Matt Nagy’s job to get Trubisky to utilize weapons like Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, and Jordan Howard against Philadelphia’s 23rd-ranked defense.
Prediction: Chicago over Philadelphia