Over the last year I have written about the controversy regarding the National Anthem in the NFL. As a fan it has frustrated me to no end. I started this season pretty much not caring a whole lot about watching football. But then a funny thing happened. The games in the NFL this year were incredible. And over time it completely sidelined the controversy (the networks stopped playing it up too once sponsors started pulling ads). And slowly I started caring again. The highlight of the year has to be the Rams/Chiefs game. I don’t think even a Super Bowl repeat could top it. You also had so many young quarterbacks taking the stage – Deshaun Jackson in Houston, Patrick Mahones in KC, Lamar Jackson in Baltimore, and Jared Goff for the Rams. And don’t forget Baker Mayfield in Cleveland. I had a chance to see him for the first time last weekend. The Browns have FINALLY found their franchise QB. They are on their way up. But the best story of the year is the unbelievable comeback by Andrew Luck for the Colts. After being out for almost 2 years he is back in top form and has fans in Indy excited again.
So we have now come to the Wild Card weekend. In previous seasons these games have sometimes been duds (see Houston vs. Cincinnati). But the lineup of games this weekend are all excellent and should provide some great entertainment. Here is my analysis and predictions.
Saturday January 5:
Indy (10-6) at Houston (11-5)
Both these teams are sizzling hot. Indy started 1-5 and finished 10-6. Houston started 0-3 and finished 11-5. Something has to give. I have been very impressed with Deshaun Watson and his ability to scramble out of trouble and throw on the run. And with J.J Watt leading, their defense is one of the best in the league. However, I saw one another great defense in the league against the Colts just a few weeks ago, the Dallas Cowboys. The Colts sliced and diced them while no one laid a finger on Andrew Luck. I’m not sure they even got to the same zip code. The Colts offensive line will be the difference in the game. They will win the battle against Houston’s defense and propel the Colts to a win.
Seattle (10-6) at Dallas (10-6)
Full disclosure: I have been a die hard Dallas Cowboy fan since the Staubach Era.
This game is a toss-up. Both coaches are very conservative in their play-calling so expect to see a lot of running plays. And Ezekiel Elliot rested last week so he is ready to go. Actually it would be nice to see them open it up a little. It’s the playoffs after all! Unlike previous seasons, the Dallas defense is the strength of this team. They only gave up 3 scores in the first quarter all year. But they do have problems defending mobile quarterbacks. And Russell Wilson will give them something to worry about in that category. And while Ezekiel Elliot led the league in rushing this season, Seattle quietly lead the NFL in rushing as a team this season. The Cowboys wouldn’t even be here if not for the trade to bring in Amari Cooper. He has transformed this team from a 3-5 start to a 10-6 finish. And he has also opened up opportunities for Cole Beasley as witnessed by the insane touchdown grab last weekend against the Giants. I give a very slight edge to Dallas for two reasons. One, it’s a home game. Two, they looked like a playoff team in their win over the Giants (as opposed to previous seasons when they folded up like an accordion). Yes Seattle won as well but barely and at home. This will be a squeaker that will no doubt take years off my life.
Sunday January 6:
L.A. Chargers (12-4) at Baltimore Ravens (10-6).
These teams played just 2 weeks ago resulting in a dominating performance by the Ravens defense in dismantling the Chargers 22-10. I guess if you’re an optimist you would say that after seeing the Ravens in person the Chargers would be better prepared for a second encounter. Perhaps. And the Ravens did almost lose to the Browns last week. But while the game might be closer, I just don’t see the Chargers containing Lamar Jackson. And I just can’t shake the feeling that the Chargers will blow this opportunity like they have so many times over the last several years. Of course that was normally during the regular season. I hope I am surprised but if there is a blowout game on wild card weekend, this will be the one. I think the Chargers match up well with the other teams in the playoffs. It’s just unfortunate they drew the Ravens in the wild card.
Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) at Chicago Bears (12-4)
Once again Nick Foles has come to the rescue for the Eagles. And while I am sure Carson Wentz is the future of the team, right now you have to wonder it Foles isn’t the better of the two? I guess it’s not a fair comparison since we’ve yet to see Weinz under center in the playoffs. Which brings up another interesting question. Is Wentz injury prone? I cannot recall a second year quarterback having been injured in both seasons. Nevertheless, the Eagles are flying high right now. That will probably end Sunday evening. I think the Chicago Bears are the most dangerous team in the league. They have an awesome defense and a pretty decent offense to compliment it. They are 9-1 since their loss to New England back in October. They may not win by a huge margin, but their defense will tame the Eagles and the Bears will advance to the next round.
Just a few thoughts looking beyond this weekend.
In the AFC, a lot of people are looking past New England. Boy oh boy that is fool-hardy! When was the last time an 11-5 team was considered sub-par? Yes New England is not as powerful as they once were. And at some point father time is going to catch up with Tom Brady. But I would not be surprised to see the Patriots in the Super Bowl again. Everyone is touting the Chiefs but let’s see how Mahomes does against some stiff defenses (especially the Ravens if my prediction comes true). And KC is another team like the Chargers who have a track record of losing the big game. And don’t count Indy out.
In the NFC, the Rams and Saints ARE beatable, even though that would be a difficult task. But Dallas stifled the Saints a few weeks ago, holding them to 10 points and the Bears held the Rams to 6. Granted a Rams/Saints marathon in the NFC Championship would be fun to watch but as I said above, look out for Chicago. You might say, but what about the Bears quarterback? No one’s heard of him. So, tell me who was the quarterback for the Bears the last time they were in the Super Bowl (2007).
It was Rex Grossman. And yes I had to look that up. Need I say more?