NFL Playoffs: Wild-Card Round Predictions

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QB Russell Wilson marches an impressive Seahawks team into Dallas this weekend.

 

By: Elias McMillan

Last Week: 12-4

Final Regular Season Record: 150-104-2

Wild-Card Round

Indianapolis @ Houston – These interdivisional playoff matchups are usually really competitive so I’m expecting a close matchup here between AFC South rivals. The Colts and Texans split their meetings in the regular season with the road team winning in each matchup. In their first meeting in Houston, plenty of points were scored as the Texans escaped by a field goal. A lot has changed with both teams since then. More so with Indy. The Colts caught fire late this season and they’ve been able to ride their current wave they’re on into the post season. With Indy, you know what you’re getting with their offense. QB Andrew Luck is a candidate for comeback player of the year. At receiver, they don’t have much outside of T.Y. Hilton but TE Eric Ebron has been a breakout player after a disappointing start to his career in Detroit. In the second half of the season, the Colts found their running game as Marlon Mack has emerged as a difference maker along with rookie Nyneim Hines. But what has really been impressive about the Colts this season has been the toughness they’ve shown on the defensive side of the ball. Rookie LB Darius Leonard led the league in tackles this season and he sets the tone for this “bend but don’t break” defense. Houston will present a lot of challenges offensively. QB Deshaun Watson is a playmaker with his arm and legs. It helps that he has an all-Pro WR to go to in DeAndre Hopkins. RB Lamar Miller has also quietly had a nice season. I think this game will hinge on if the Houston defense shows up and makes big plays. The Texans do defend the run well up front with J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. But they also have the tendency to give up big plays in the secondary. I think the Colts will be able to attack through the air for some big plays if Luck can avoid the Texans pass rush. Despite having Hopkins, I don’t think Watson will be able to out produce Luck especially with how well Indy’s defense has been playing. Despite winning 11 games, Houston really hasn’t beaten a quality opponent this season outside of that early season victory against the Colts. I think Indy is playing better football right now and they’ll get the win on the road Saturday. Prediction: Colts 34 – Texans 24

Seattle @ Dallas – The Seahawks hammered Dallas at home back in September but in this rematch, I expect them to see a different Cowboys team. After starting the season 3-5, Dallas saved their season by trading for WR Amari Cooper, leaning on their defense, and allowing the other teams in their division to collapse. Seattle has had an impressive regular season that no one really saw coming. Without the Legion of Boom, Seattle stuck to their guns and now they look like a team that no one in the playoffs wants to see. QB Russell Wilson continues to lead this offense efficiently while at the same time having the potential to create a big plays after each snap. RB Chris Carson has been a big part of Seattle’s offense as he is one of the top rushers in football this year. Seattle’s wideouts still have that underrated label on them but defensive backs across the league know how dangerous Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett can be. Yes, the Legion of Boom is gone but this Seahawks defense is underrated. LB Bobby Wagner is a guy that Dallas will need to key on as he is always around the ball. Seattle’s defense ranked in the middle of the road this year against the run and the passing game. I think Dallas can really present some issues for them on offense. As usual, everything for Dallas will run through RB Ezekiel Elliott. But Seattle can not completely write off what QB Dak Prescott can bring to the table. Dallas allowed Dak to gain extra reps last week in a meaningless game in New York. I wouldn’t be surprised if that experience left him with more confidence so we could see him take more chances down the field to Copper and the other receivers. Dallas’ turnaround this season was heavily aided by the play of their defense. DE Demarcus Lawrence has solidified himself as one of the top pass rushers in the game. Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch are basically what Carolina had a few years ago with Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. And CB Byron Jones is having an all-Pro season in his first year in that position. The Cowboys on defense will have to focus on preventing the big plays from Wilson but they also have to account for Seattle’s running game. Dallas ranks in the top five for run defense but then I remember what the Colts did to them in their last defeat. I think Seattle is capable of using the run to set up the big plays from their QB. Dallas created a lot of big plays on their own last week but that was against the Giants. These teams are almost equally matched. I guess we also have to consider that Seattle has a knack for under performing on the road. But they are more experienced in these situations. My heart is with the home team but I think Wilson will lift Seattle to victory. Prediction: Seahawks 24 – Cowboys 23

Los Angeles Chargers @ Baltimore – The Ravens really bullied the Chargers a few weeks ago. I think experience will prove to be a great teacher as LA travels up to Baltimore looking for revenge. Baltimore was able to dominate LA in their first meeting upfront on offense and defense. The Ravens collapsed that offensive line and made it tough for QB Phillip Rivers to create in the passing game. I think LA will be better prepared for what Baltimore brings to the table. For starters, the Chargers are healthier on offense. RB Melvin Gordon will be ready to go and big play TE Hunter Henry will also be returning from injury. Baltimore has a tough front 7 on defense but their secondary can give big plays. The key for the Chargers will be to keep their QB away from pressure so he and WR Keenan Allen can attack this secondary. LA’s defense has been shaky but they have some great individual talent. I’m a big time believer in edge rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Rookie safety Derwin James is another young player who makes plays on this defense. The Chargers will have to focus on stopping what Baltimore can do in the running game. Rookie QB Lamar Jackson has been a killer with his running ability during Baltimore’s run to a division title. RB’s Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon have proven to be more than serviceable recently as well. LA shouldn’t dare Jackson to throw but they do have to account for Baltimore’s strength, which is the run game. If the Chargers can better protect Rivers this time around, I really like their chances on the road. Rivers is at the end of his career. These opportunities for him are not guaranteed. Knowing this, I think the Chargers will make the best of it and score the upset. Prediction: Chargers 29 – Ravens 24

Philadelphia @ Chicago – Finally, a game that is not a rematch from earlier this season. The Bears eliminated Minnesota last week in the final game of the regular season, making this matchup possible. Philadelphia defied odds late in this season, scoring upsets in LA and against Houston to spring them into the postseason conversation. The Eagles, much like last year, are rallying around QB Nick Foles. Foles didn’t start the 2018 season great but he has really come on recently. The Eagles are going to have to lean on Foles and the air attack in this game. The Eagles don’t have a run game to talk about and they’re facing a defense that is tough upfront and in the secondary. I expect to see LB Khalil Mack and company to set the tone in this game at the line of scrimmage and in the backfield pressuring the QB. I also believe that Philly’s defense will not be able to account for Chicago’s many weapons on offense. QB Mitch Trubisky has a great cast around him in the backfield with Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen and at wideout with Allen Robinson and rookie Anthony Miller. The way the Eagles got into the post season was a nice story but it will end in Chicago on Sunday. Prediction: Bears 27 – Eagles 13

 

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