NFL Game Picks: Wild-Card Round
The 2018 NFL season has gone by quickly. But as we enter 2019, we still have four weeks of football to go before a champion is crowned. Postseason action kicks off this weekend, with two games on Saturday and two on Sunday. Four teams: the Chiefs, Patriots, Rams and Saints, will enjoy the week off, but eight more will be playing in the win-or-go-home wild-card round. Here’s a look at what’s in store for this first weekend of 2019.
No. 6 Indianapolis Colts (10-6) @ No. 3 Houston Texans (11-5)
What a comeback season it has been for both of these teams. After both teams finished 4-12 last season with the Titans and Jaguars earning postseason bids, it’s been a total flip of the switch, as Tennessee and Jacksonville find themselves on the outside, while Indy and Houston get a shot at the big one. Let’s not forget how the season started either. The Colts were 1-5 in mid-October, and the Texans lost their first three in a row. But with both teams finishing the year in fantastic fashion, we have ourselves an AFC South bout in the first game of the NFL playoffs.
As far as the season series goes, it’s been as close as you can get. Houston took the first game back in late September in a wild 37-34 overtime victory, but Indianapolis fired back with a 24-21 win in early December. These teams are about as evenly matched as it gets, especially on the defensive side of the ball, as the Colts and Texans rank No. 11 and No. 12 in total defense, respectively. The Colts have the edge on offense, thanks to a guy named Andrew Luck, but when Deshaun Watson has weapons like DeAndre Hopkins, that gap isn’t so noticeable.
So, who comes out on top? It’s a tough decision, but Houston has the edge. If the home team can find a way to put pressure on Luck, the Texans should advance. With the likes of J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney on the team, that shouldn’t be an impossible task. Regardless, expect this one to come down to the wire. There may not be a better game to watch this weekend.
The pick: Houston 27, Indianapolis 24
No. 5 Seattle Seahawks (10-6) @ No. 4 Dallas Cowboys (10-6)
Another rematch takes place on Saturday night, as these teams last met in week 3, when the Seahawks pulled out a 24-13 victory. That win ended up being essential for Seattle’s season, as the Seahawks were able to turn an 0-2 start into a playoff berth. It took a bit more time, but Dallas was able to make a nice turnaround too by following a 3-5 start with wins in seven of the last eight.
As far as unexpected appearances go, Seattle wins. Many analysts had the rebuilding Seahawks finishing with four or five wins. Instead, Russell Wilson has led his team the postseason once again. But he didn’t have to do it alone. A solid run game, improved offensive line and excellent defense, despite the collapse of the Legion of Boom, have given Pete Carroll something to work with, and his team find itself playoffs because of it. Credit must go to Dallas too; the defense has been among the best in the league, and the addition of Amari Cooper has allowed the offense to roar. For both rosters, all it took to make a postseason run was making the proper adjustments.
The Seahawks got the win the last time these teams played, but will history repeat itself? The situation is a little different, as this week’s game is in Arlington, Texas instead of Seattle, Washington. But if Russell Wilson can find a way to expose the Dallas defense, the result should be no different. Seahawks win a close one.
The pick: Seattle 23, Dallas 20
No. 5 Los Angeles Chargers (12-4) @ No. 4 Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
That week 16 meeting between these two teams is looming large. Had Los Angeles shown up and won that game, the playoff picture would look massively different. The Chargers would be on bye this week, and the Ravens would be out of the postseason entirely. But that’s not the way things played out, and because of it, the 12-4 Chargers need to go on the road in order to keep their Super Bowl hopes alive. That’s the NFL!
It won’t be an easy rematch, but Los Angeles has the necessary tools to avenge its regular season loss to Baltimore. The offensive trio of Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen should be ready to go, and they’ll need to be in order to take the AFC’s top defense head-on. As for the other side of the ball, Lamar Jackson must be contained. Since taking over the starting job in week 11, the Ravens have been a near unstoppable force, going 6-1 in that span.
This wild-card weekend is shaping up to be one of the best in a long time, and this game should be no exception to that. In the end, Lamar Jackson has been one of the most exciting rookies to watch, but Philip Rivers has years of experience, and he won’t let the past sit on this game. Rivers and the Chargers find a way to crack through the stout Ravens defense and move on to the next round.
The pick: LA Chargers 26, Baltimore 21
No. 6 Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) @ No. 3 Chicago Bears (12-4)
This is a mismatch on paper, but a closer look reveals that the truth is much different. Yes, Chicago has been a dominant force on defense all season long. When the likes of Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and Eddie Jackson are on the team, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. But Philadelphia’s offense has found new life with Nick Foles under center. Assuming Foles is 100 percent in time for Sunday’s bout, this one should be a doozy.
So, how did we get here? As for Chicago, credit goes to Matt Nagy. In his first year as head coach, Nagy has found a way for both the offense and defense to click. It’s rare that a team goes from worst-to-first in their division, but the Bears have done just that with Nagy calling the shots.
Philadelphia’s story is just insane. At 4-6, the Eagles were destined for an early offseason, but the magician Nick Foles has put this team in the Super Bowl conversation yet again. What a story it would be if he could lead his there in back-to-back years.
Of course, a Philadelphia trip to consecutive Super Bowls is no easy task. Firstly, the Eagles need to focus on finding a way to slip past this fierce Chicago defense, and that’s easier said than done. The defense will have to stop weapons like Tarik Cohen and former Eagle Trey Burton, and with a banged-up secondary, that’s no small task either. The advantage goes to the home team here, but don’t be surprised if Foles pulls off the upset once again.
The pick: Chicago 30, Philadelphia 24
DJ Bauer is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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