After seventeen weeks of the regular season, the opening round of the NFL playoffs is finally here. Wild Card weekend features four games. Although a Wild Card has not won the Super Bowl in six seasons, could this be the year that one of them goes all the way to the Promised Land?
Heading into the Wild Card, several big stories have come to fruition. Can backup Nick Foles lead the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles to back-to-back victories as a #6 seed? Or, will the Chicago Bears’ stonewall defense be impossible to overcome?
Comeback Player of the Year Andrew Luck and the Indy Colts are coming in smoking hot to the playoffs, but can he pick off the Houston Texans for the second time in three weeks?
Do the Dallas Cowboys have enough defense to shut down Russell Wilson and Seattle’s deadly rushing attack? Or will Dak, Zeke, and Amari put on a dazzling show for the Cowboys?
The Baltimore Ravens got the best of the L.A. Chargers a couple of weeks earlier, but can the Chargers figure out how to stop Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ rush-heavy offense this second time around?
#6 Indianapolis Colts (10-6) at #3 Houston Texans (11-5)… Saturday game. The Texans opened as a 2.5-point favorite at home and were quickly bet down to -1. The public really loves Andrew Luck and the Colts, despite their poor past performances in the postseason. Luck’s last playoff game was the infamous butt-kicking against the New England Patriots that prompted Tom Brady’s “Deflategate.” These teams split their season series, but the Colts won their last meeting 24-21. In Week 14, the Colts snapped the Texans’ nine-game winning streak and Luck threw for two scores. Now, the Colts are in the middle of their own hot streak, winning nine out of their last ten games. You can make an argument that they’ve been in playoff mode for the previous month. After winning nine straight, the Texans ended the season on a 2-2 clip. The Colts boast the fifth-best offense in the league with 27.1 points per game. Head coach Frank Reich revamped the offense and Luck gets the ball out faster than in previous seasons. As a result, his sacks are down and he’s not taking the same punishment from pass rushers. The Colts offensive line did a great job as the only NFL team that prevented fewer than 20 sacks this season, but they will have a difficult assignment this week stopping J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney and keeping them away from Luck. The Texans have the top defense in the NFL in terms of DVOA metrics. However, their pass D is only ranked #18 overall. The Texans will not have a hard time containing RB Marlon Mack, but it’s Luck that they’re most worried about. Texans RB Lamar Miller quietly rushed for almost 1,000 yards. Watson was sacked over 60 times this season, including 12 times by the Colts.
#5 Seattle Seahawks (10-6) at #4 Dallas Cowboys (10-6)… Saturday Game. The Cowboys are a 2.5-point home favorite. Without the Legion of Boom, the Seahawks still made the playoffs during a so-called rebuilding year. The 2018 Seahawks are one of Pete Carroll’s best coaching jobs of his career. The Seahawks lead the NFL with 160 rushing yards per game. They move the chains, keep the clock going, and give their defense long rests. RB Chris Carson won the NFC offensive player of the month for December. Only Derrick Henry had more rushing yards over the last five weeks. You can’t ever count Russell Wilson out of any game, especially in the playoffs. The Seahawks gave up only 11 turnovers in the regular season, the fewest in the NFL. The Seahawks won six out of their last seven games to lock up the #5 seed. To think that at one point, the Cowboys looked doomed at 3-5 and Jason Garrett was on the verge of uploading his resume to Monster.com. But the Cowboys turned around the season and saved Garrett’s job thanks to the Zeke and Dak show. The addition of Amari Cooper feels like a steal right now considering Jerry Jones only acquired the wide receiver from the Oakland Raiders for a first-round draft pick. Zeke sat out Week 17, so he’ll be playing on fresh legs. Prescott/Cooper emerged as a lethal tandem on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys won seven out of their last eight games. They are also 7-1 at home this season. The Cowboys lost to the Seahawks 24-13 in Seattle in Week 3, but that game happened so long ago, it might as well have been last season. The Seahawks are 5-2-1 against the spread over their last eight games. Pete Carroll is 6-0 in opening-round playoff games with Seattle since 2010. The Cowboys are 1-2 in playoff games under Jason Garrett.
.@ccarson_32 capped off the regular season with a career-high 122 yards!
— NFL (@NFL) January 2, 2019
#5 L.A. Chargers (12-4) at #4 Baltimore Ravens (10-6)… Sunday game. The Ravens are a 3-point favorite at home. The Chargers are 7-1 on the road and play better away from Southern California. The Ravens are 6-2 at home in Baltimore this season. This AFC Wild Card game is a rematch of a Week 16 battle when the Ravens won 22-10. The Chargers defense will be facing Lamar Jackson a second time in three weeks and should have figured out his quirks by now. If not, they will have a long night ahead of them. The Ravens went 6-1 since Jackson entered the starting lineup, including the last two games of the season that had playoff implications. The Ravens are the top rushing team in the AFC with 152 yards per game, led by Jackson and Gus Edwards. The last time these two teams met, the stronger defense prevailed over a superior offense, and the Ravens kept Philip Rivers in check. This time, however, the Chargers get back RB Melvin Gordon, who missed several games with an MCL sprain. The Chargers’ lack of consistency in the kicking department is their biggest problem. Ravens coach Jim Harbaugh is 5-0 straight up and ATS in the opening round of the playoffs.
#6 Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) at #3 Chicago Bears (12-4)… Sunday Game. The Bears are 6.5-point favorites at home and the biggest favorite out of all four Wild Card games. Da Bears went 7-1 at home this season…and it’s gonna be cold, cold, cold in Chicago this weekend. The Eagles backdoored the final Wild Card spot when the Vikings choked down the stretch. Will the Nick Foles Magic run out in Chicago against the Monsters of the Midway? Foles is 6-0 in must-win games over the last two seasons, but he’ll face one of his biggest tests against Kahlil Mack and the stingy Bears defense. The Bears allow only 17.7 points per game, which is best in the NFL. They have the top-ranked rush defense and a top-seven pass defense in terms of yards allowed. QB Mitch Trubisky (24 TD, 12 INTs) has the benefit of an awesome defense, so all he has to do is manage the ball and not commit any turnovers. Sounds easier said than done. The onus is on Foles to make the big plays. For at least one more game, the Eagles are the defending Super Bowl champs and it’s up to the Bears to knock them out. By the way, it’s the 20th anniversary of the infamous Fog Bowl between the Eagles and Bears in 1988.
Pauly McGuire is a writer specializing in sports betting. He’s covered the NFL, NBA, college basketball, MLB, and the Olympics for numerous outlets. He’s the former co-host of the Everything Is Bettable podcast with Jesse May. You also might remember Pauly as the creator of the Tao of Poker blog. He was a partner in one of the first daily fantasy sports sites, Fantasy Sports Live.