NFL Wild Card Weekend Breakdown

It’s the most exciting time of the year for football fans and the Charm City Bird Watch crew is back again for another year of playoff predictions. As each round of the playoffs progresses our staff will be breaking down every matchup and giving you a prediction as to who we think will win.

indianapolis-colts-v-houston-texans-5c2baf39d208a82f49000001

Image Credit: 12UP

Indianapolis Colts (10-6) @ Houston Texans (11-5) – Sat 4:35 pm – ABC / ESPN

Nolan: This will be the first of hopefully many great playoff games in 2018. After watching the Bills and Titans stink it up in the AFC bracket last year, I think we are all ready for a better slate of games. The Colts and Texans will square off for the third time this season. Both of their previous meetings was decided by three points and I’m expecting another close game for round three. Both teams also put together impressive win streaks this season, proving they are both capable of a postseason run. I’m picking the Texans at home because of their defense. We all know about their leader J.J. Watt but the defense as a whole doesn’t get much national attention despite being right up there with the Ravens and Bears. They are top three in stopping the run and one of five teams holding their opponents to under 20 points-per-game.

Score: Texans 26 Colts 21

Ian: This will be Deshaun Watson’s first career NFL playoff game but he has performed well on the biggest stage of college football multiple times and I expect him to remain poised in this one and lead his team to victory. The Colts haven’t been to the playoffs since 2014 but Andrew Luck has returned and is playing at an MVP level. The Texans have the home field advantage here and the two teams have played two games this season each decided by three points. I think the Texans have a few more playmakers overall than the Colts and ultimately that will be enough to send Houston through to the next round.

Score: Texans 27 Colts 23

Jay: This is a Houston team who many had written off early after starting the season 0-3. They would end up going on a brilliant winning streak that helped them win the AFC South title. On the other hand, the Colts started the season 1-5 before turning things around to squeak into the playoffs with a late season win against another division foe, the Tennessee Titans. Both teams have talented quarterbacks, but the play of Andrew Luck has been absolutely lights out. Deshaun Watson comes into this game battered and bruised after being sacked a league high 62 times this season. The Colts have accounted for 12 of those between their two previous meetings this year. The lack of protection for Watson will be the difference in this game. I see pressure forcing Watson to make some ill-timed mistakes.

Score: Colts 24 Texans 20

JakeThink the Ravens will have their hands full putting a gameplan together to face the same team twice in three weeks? Think about how the Colts and Texans feel, facing each other for the third time this season as AFC South foes. With that said, I think this game is relatively low-scoring. The Texans can run the ball with Lamar Miller, but DeShaun Watson lacks the repertoire of weapons that he had before Demaryius Thomas went down with a torn Achilles. Couple that with Watson being sacked more than anyone in the NFL this season (62 times), and Houston has a problem. The Colts offensive line went from being one of the worst in the NFL to being one of the best, ranking third in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. However, one-third of the 18 sacks given up by the Colts this season came at the hands of the Texans. All of these factors will likely lead to a low-scoring affair, but I think Andrew Luck finds a way in the end and wins his second game in Houston in five weeks. 


image-2.jpeg

Image Credit: The Landry Hat

Seattle Seahawks (10-6) @ Dallas Cowboys (10-6) – Sat 8:15 pm – FOX

Nolan: As a Ravens fan I should probably appreciate what the Seahawks are doing right now but I’m not super confident in them as a road team. They have some nice wins under their belt this season, including a 24-13 win over Dallas in week three. However, all of those impressive wins came at home. The Seahawks have had a handful of chances to pick up good road wins but they will finish the season with a 4-4 record away from CenturyLink Field. Their best performance on the road was a 30-27 win over Carolina but they also lost to inferior teams in San Francisco and Denver. The Cowboys have been prone to early playoff exits under Jason Garrett but I see them rising to the occasion this week at home.

Score: Cowboys 28 Seahawks 19

Ian: Pete Carroll vs Jason Garrett / Russell Wilson vs Dak Prescott.

These two matchups alone are enough for me to lean toward Seattle in this one. Seattle has a decided advantage in both of these matchups. It is impossible for me to trust Dallas in the playoffs especially against two guys that have had the playoff success that Carroll and Wilson have had in Seattle. A revamped running game that ranked first in the NFL in rushing yards per game and a healthier Doug Baldwin will be the difference in what will be the next Cowboys playoff flop.

Score: Seahawks 23 Cowboys 19

Jay: Rumors are Jerry Jones has said he wants playoff success from Jason Garrett before he makes a decision on whether or not he will retain his head coaching title. Rightfully so as America’s teams has only mustered two playoff wins since 1996. Maybe these Cowboys are different. This Cowboys team runs the football extremely well with Ezekiel Elliott. They also boast one of the best defenses in the league led by rookie sensation Leighton Vander Esch. But they are matching up against a perennial playoff challenger in the Seattle Seahawks. Russell Wilson can beat you in every way as his arm and leg combination makes him the prototype dual threat quarterback. The Seahawks have a similar mentality of the Cowboys they want to run the football and play good defense. Except this Seahawks offense is scary running the football. They have a league-high 2,560 yards on the ground this year with a staggering 160 yards-per-game. The Seahawks also protect the ball very well with the league’s best turnover differential (+15). I believe that will be the difference in Saturday’s game. A late game mistake by the young Dallas offensive cast sets up Wilson and company to win the game.

Score: Seahawks 20 Cowboys 17

Jake: I know the Seahawks went 4-4 on the road this season, but my pick comes down to not being able to trust the Cowboys. Since the new millennium, the Cowboys have played to a 2-6 record in the postseason. Two years ago the Cowboys won the NFC East and owned the top overall seed in the playoffs only to lose to the Packers at home in the divisional round. There’s some franchises that choke in crunch time, and the Cowboys are certainly one of them. I have much more faith in Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, who have made the playoffs in six of the last seven seasons with at least one win in each trip. Pete Carroll is a playoff wizard and I think Wilson & Carroll lead Seattle to another playoff win over Jason Garrett and the Cowboys. 

Score: Seahawks 27 Cowboys 21


Los Angeles Chargers (12-4) @ Baltimore Ravens (10-6) – Sun 1:05 pm – CBS

Nolan: Playing the same team twice in the span of three weeks is less than ideal but that is the scenario this week for the Ravens and Chargers. The odds were stacked against Baltimore as a road team a few weeks ago but this time they will get to host the Chargers at M&T Bank Stadium. The tape is out on Lamar Jackson and Los Angeles will be the first team to face him twice. When you combine that with the fact that the Chargers are 7-1 on the road this year, there is a lot of reason to be concerned as a Ravens fan. However, I trust Baltimore to get the job done at home. The pass rush flustered Philip Rivers last time and helped generate turnovers. If Jackson and the offense can actually capitalize off of them by finishing some drives, the Ravens will win this game.

Score: Ravens 24 Chargers 23

Ian: Here are three things Ian is looking for this Sunday when the Ravens host the Chargers.

Jay: The Lamar Jackson effect is contagious in Baltimore. After taking over for the former super bowl MVP Joe Flacco, Jackson and company have done nothing but win. The revitalized offense has been churning on the ground by averaging 229.5 yards-per-game through the last seven games. This team was 4-5 at the bye with an injured starting quarterback. Most thought this season was lost (myself included). With the No. 1 defense smothering opponents and the electrifying play of Jackson, this team has won six of seven and brought home the AFC North title at 10-6. The Chargers have quietly been one of the best teams in football this season. After moving from San Diego to Los Angeles, the Chargers have essentially played 16 away games but still find themselves in the postseason with a 12-4 record. Phillip Rivers has been the driving factor for the Chargers success this season. In the first matchup between the Chargers and Ravens, Rivers played terrible and was running for his life most of the evening. Rivers has all the weapons around him to be successful, but none of the matters if the offensive line can’t slow down this tenacious Ravens pass rush. If the Chargers figure out how to slow down the pass rush it could turn into a long day for the Ravens but I would look for Don Martindale to have some crafty schemes drawn up to stay in Rivers face all day.

Score: Ravens 28 Chargers 24

Jake: Lamar Jackson will make his first start in an NFL playoff game against Philip Rivers, who owns a 4-5 postseason record with a Chargers team making their first postseason appearance since 2013. The question on everyone’s mind is how will both teams change their gameplan just two weeks after facing each other in Carson, California? It’s going to be hard for the Ravens defense to limit Rivers and the Chargers’ offense to 181 total yards like they did in that week 16 affair. When I couple that along with the Ravens recent redzone and second half struggles on offense, I’m finding it hard to pick the Ravens in. I picked the Chargers two weeks ago and I was wrong, so hopefully history repeats itself. I’m guessing that the Chargers look tired from playing at 1:00 after travelling from the west coast, but I think arguably the best roster in the AFC finds their way on Sunday. 

Score: Chargers 21 Ravens 20 

chicago-bears-v-philadelphia-eagles-5c2ba181bb4b8768bc000001.jpg

Image Credit: 12Up

Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) @ Chicago Bears (12-4) – Sun 4:40 pm – NBC

Nolan: Last year I picked against the Eagles in every playoff game all the way through the Super Bowl and was wrong every time. I should have probably learned my lesson by now, especially with Nick Foles back under center, but that’s not the case. The Bears will present a big challenge for the Eagles with their stout defense. Philly has played in 12 games this season decided by seven points or less and they came out on top in six of them. If the game comes down to one key possession in the fourth quarter, they have a good shot but I am expecting the Bears to be up by more than one possession late in the game.

Score: Bears 28 Eagles 17

Ian: The Bears are led by first year head coach Matt Nagy and second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. The defending champs counter with Doug Pedersen and super bowl MVP Nick Foles, who is looking to take the Eagles on another magical run. The Bears boast one of the league’s top defenses and they figure to make life difficult for Foles and company this Sunday night in Chicago but the Eagles have all of the experience needed to emerge victorious here. The Eagles stop the run effectively and Trubisky isn’t good enough to carry the offense in Chi-Town. Couple that with the Eagles offense finding their way the last few weeks, and this one has the makings for a long day for the Bears. Give me the Eagles here.

Score: Eagles 26 Bears 14

Jay: Philadelphia’s lord and savior Nick Foles will roll into the windy city this Sunday to match up against the monsters of the midway, led by Khalil Mack. The reigning super bowl champions have not had the season they had hoped for as they lost their starting quarterback Carson Wentz once again. However, the Philadelphia natives had no fear as Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles came off the bench to secure three must-win games and send the Eagles back to the postseason. Can Foles and the Eagles repeat what they did last year? Can a backup quarterback lead them to the Super Bowl again? On the other hand, the Chicago Bears have been an absolute terror for opposing offenses. They have the league’s top scoring defense, allowing just under 18 points a game. Khalil Mack leads a tenacious pass rush which has wreaked havoc across the league this season. If Mitchell Trubisky can find the steady consistency that he has found for much of the season, the Bears should win this game handily. The front seven of the Bears are the X-factor in this game. Can they contain Zach Ertz and Darren Sproles catching the ball out of the backfield? Foles is nursing some injured ribs which I’m sure will be very tender. Mack and company should have a field day.

Score: Bears 23 Eagles 16

Jake: Just like Nolan, I picked against the Eagles all throughout the playoffs last year, with the exception being the Super Bowl. I learned my lesson and I’m rolling with the Eagles this time. I can’t explain it, but there’s something about Nick Foles in big games that I can’t go against. I certainly understand why the Bears are the favorites at home, especially since the Eagles have a hard time running the football and defending the pass. Not to mention that the Bears defense is flat-out scary and can completely take over a game. While Matt Nagy could very well be named the NFL Coach of the Year soon, I have more faith in the defending Super Bowl champions to pull off the upset on the road simply because they’ve been here before. Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears have a bright future ahead of them, but I think Trubisky makes one or two late-game mistakes that end up being all the Eagles need to move on to the divisional round. 

Score: Eagles 24, Bears 20







Advertisements

BREAKING: UMBC defeats Virginia 74-54, becomes first 16-1 upset in NCAA Tournament history

CHARLOTTE, NC — For the first time in NCAA tournament history, a #16 seed defeated a #1 seed, and it was the University of Maryland – Baltimore County (UMBC) Retrievers that did so, taking down the top-ranked Virginia University Cavaliers 74-54.

The two teams went into halftime all knotted up at 21, but UMBC outscored Virginia 53-33 in the second half to seal the biggest upset in the history of March madness.

The Retrievers scored the first six points of the second half, three of them coming on a three-pointer made by junior forward Joe Sherburne, and there was no looking back from there. Graduate student guard Jarius Lyles made three free-throws in a row, and followed it up with a jumper that extended UMBC’s lead to 12 points.

By the time the Retrievers reached 50 points, they already had a commanding 16-point lead with 8:36 remaining in the game. The Cavaliers came within 12 points a few times after that point, but that would be as close as they got before the Retrievers pulled away, jump-started by a Lyles layup at the 3:55 mark.

As UMBC’s lead continued to grow, the Cavaliers started to foul. The Retrievers handled this well, going 4-for-5 in free-throw attempts in the final three minutes. The last points scored in the game came from a layup by Sherburne with 46 ticks left. After Nigel Johnson of Virginia missed a three-point jumper, the Retrievers ran the clock out as the history of March Madness was changed forever.

Lyles led the way for the Retrievers, scoring 28 points and going 3-for-4 from the three-point line. Sophomore forward Arkel Lamar notched a double-double, totaling 12 points and 10 rebounds. Senior guard K.J. Maura and Sherburne also reached double figures; Sherburne scored 14 points and Maura tallied 10. Lyles, Maura, and Lamar all tied for the team-lead in assists with three apiece.

As a team, UMBC out-shot Virginia in both field goals and three-pointers. The Retrievers went 26-for-48 in free-throw attempts (54.2%), while the Cavaliers went 23-for-56 (41.1%). UMBC only shot 50% from the three-point line in 24 attempts, but Virginia could not make anything. In 22 three-point attempts, the Cavaliers made just four three-pointers.

The Retrievers are back in action on Sunday against the #9-ranked Kansas State Wildcats. Kansas State topped #8 Creighton 69-59 on Friday. Start time is TBA.

More Twitter: 

Image Credit: WCNC

Super Bowl 52 Preview

On Sunday, Feb. 4, the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots will face off in the 52’nd installment of the Super Bowl from Mall of America Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Let’s waste no time and break down the game, featuring insight from Charm City Bird Watch owner Jake McDonnell, along with authors Nolan McGraw, Tyler Feeser, and Vasilios Nikolaou. Each staff writer’s take includes a blurb about the game, followed by their official pick.

usa-today-8039332.0.jpg

Image Credit: Bleeding Green Nation

Jake: Eagles fans, this is the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Everyone, including myself, counted you out after Carson Wentz tore his ACL in week 14. After watching Nick Foles struggle during the final two weeks of the regular season, I left the Eagles out for dead. I picked against them in both the divisional round and in the conference championship round, and I ate my words. I am scared to eat my words again, especially since I go to school in central-eastern Pennsylvania.

If I sat down and just looked at the rosters, the Eagles would be the easy pick. Despite losing Wentz, Jason Peters, and others, their roster is loaded with talent at almost every position. Philly’s roster was deep at the start of the season. When they’ve lost key pieces due to injury (Darren Sproles, Jordan Hicks, Peters), they’ve made trades or free agent signings to fill the void (Jay Ajayi, Dannell Ellerbee).

Torrey_Smith_2017.jpg

Image Credit: Wikipedia

The Eagles also have several former Ravens on their roster – Torrey Smith, Corey Graham, Timmy Jernigan, and Ellerbee (Lawrence Guy is the fifth former Raven in this game, except he’s on the other sideline with the Patriots). This, combined with the hatred shared between the Ravens and Patriots, is causing most Ravens fans to root for the Eagles, along with the rest of America minus the New England / Boston area. I would like to point out that should New England emerge victorious on Sunday, they will tie the Steelers for the most Super Bowl championships with six.

Going back to the matchups, clearly the Eagles are the more talented team. You could make the argument that if Wentz was playing in this game, the Eagles would win easily. I’m hesitant to think that they would, because Wentz aside, the Eagles still have to play the greatest coach and the greatest quarterback of all time. The tandem of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will make their eighth career Super Bowl appearance with the Patriots, winners of five of their seven attempts. This is the third time in four years that the Patriots will compete in the Super Bowl, giving them the clear experience advantage.

There are some other small factors that play into the Patriots’ favor, too. Both teams are used to playing outdoors. The Super Bowl will be played indoors. Keep in mind that Gillette Stadium, home of the Patriots, is a turf surface, like Mall of America Stadium. The Eagles play on grass at Lincoln Financial Field. 12 of the last 13 Super Bowl champions won while wearing their white jerseys. The Patriots will wear white on Sunday. Although I do not believe in conspiracy theories, many people will claim that the referees will favor the Patriots in this game too. I know that a lot of what I said in this paragraph could be taken as junk, but minus the point about the officials, it’s all true. Another fact to point out is that Eagles fans will be foaming at the mouth to take over Minnesota, and they will have plenty of fans on-hand at Mall of America Stadium.

As I sit here and type this out, I have no idea who to pick. The easy cop-out would be to pick the Patriots, coached and quarterbacked by the best do ever do it. On the other hand, you have an Eagles team that has dominated all season and has the much better roster. Looking at the most recent results, the Patriots had to come from behind and beat Jacksonville, while the Eagles curb-stomped the Vikings 38-7.

ap-2005-02-06-super-bowl-xxxix-mike-vrabel-td-1516595595.jpg

Image Credit: WCVB-TV

13 years ago in Jacksonville, Adam Vinatieri booted a 22-yard field goal with 8:40 remaining in Super Bowl 39. That kick put the Patriots up 10. Although the Eagles scored a touchdown with just under two minutes left, the Patriots got the ball back and put the game away.

They say what goes around, comes around. That’s what I believe what happens this Sunday. Give me Jake Elliott kicking a field goal with five minutes left to put the Eagles up by 10. New England will threat again, but they will run out of time. The Patriots came out on top on that night in Jacksonville, but the Eagles will win the rematch. They’ve been the better team all season, and I believe they will prove to be just that on Sunday. They’re ready for this.

Pick: Eagles 24, Patriots 21

Nolan: There is no shortage of narratives surrounding this year’s big game. The New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles put themselves in the Super Bowl conversation relatively early but their seasons took two completely different paths. On one hand you have a New England team that was pegged to become repeat champions right from the start. The Patriots didn’t have much trouble getting back to the Super Bowl after playing in a weak AFC East division and facing just one of the only two teams in the playoffs that posed a legitimate threat to them.

ct-fantasy-football-week-15-nick-foles-20171214.jpg

Image Credit: Chicago Tribune

The Eagles garnered their own share of attention early in the year and quickly made a name for themselves in a competitive NFC playoff picture. Led by second-year quarterback Carson Wentz, Philadelphia went 11-2 and won nine games in a row while securing a #1 seed. After losing Wentz to a season-ending injury, Philadelphia went from a favorite to a long shot in the eyes of the media. The Eagles were underdogs in both of their playoff matchups and even though that won’t change come Sunday, I don’t think the Eagles fan base would want it any other way at this point.

It’s no secret that I have doubted the Eagles so far in the playoffs. I incorrectly picked them to lose to both the Falcons and Vikings. While I am still skeptical, Philadelphia has shown me that they are truly worthy of being in the Super Bowl. Their game plans against Atlanta and Minnesota were so well-executed that I know the Eagles will not be caught off guard by New England. I also have no doubt that this will be a close contest but the Patriots are probably the most daunting opponent the Eagles have faced all year.

I should have probably learned my lesson by now, but I’m still not picking the Eagles. When a playoff game comes down to crunch time, I will never confidently bet against a Tom Brady-led offense. Between last year’s Super Bowl and this year’s AFC championship game, Brady has shown why he is arguably the greatest of all time. In both of these games, the Patriots put together two great comebacks without their best weapon on the field. Even with a very impressive defense, Philadelphia is going to have their hands full against Rob Gronkowski and Pats offense.

When I pair this with New England’s Super Bowl experience, I have no hesitation picking the Patriots. I’m not saying the Eagles will be intimidated by the big game spotlight, but I know that they cannot be more comfortable than the Patriots who have a roster full of players with at least one Super Bowl under their belt.

Pick: Patriots 34, Eagles 31

Tyler: Philadelphia will once again be playing as the underdog as they try to win their first Super Bowl in team history on Sunday. It is probably a good thing for them as they have been the underdog in each of their previous two postseason games. They love when people doubt them. They don’t lack the confidence that is needed to beat a team like the Patriots. The thing with the Eagles is that they have their confidence under control. They are cocky but know how to control themselves. At the time of me writing this, they haven’t given New England any bulletin board material, which is important.

USATSI_8869344.jpg

Image Credit: Pro Football Rumors

On the field, Philadelphia has the talent, the players, and believe it or not, the coaching to beat New England. But they are going to have to be near perfect (if not perfect) in order to beat them. Two weeks ago the Eagles showed just how dominant they can be on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. They completely dismantled Minnesota’s top-ranked defense. New England doesn’t have near the defensive talent that Minnesota has but New England does have Bill Belichick and two weeks to prepare. Nick Foles will need to play as well as he did against Minnesota if the Eagles want to have a chance. I look for the Eagles coaching staff to continue putting Foles in positions to be successful. The run-pass-options have proven to be effective so far this postseason. I also look for the running game to be established early and often so that Foles isn’t forced to make plays and potentially mistakes.

USATSI_9484194.jpg

Image Credit: Pro Football Rumors

Defensively, the Eagles have the pass rush to get pressure on Tom Brady. I also think they have the front seven to be able to neutralize the running game of the Patriots. The difficult thing for the Eagles will be stopping Rob Gronkowski and the entire Patriots passing game. I don’t know if they have anyone that can match up with Gronkowski and keep him neutralized. The pass rush could get to Brady enough that it helps out the secondary on the outside. Stopping Gronkowski is going to be the key for the Eagles in this game. If they can do that even a little they will be fine. If they can’t stop him, that will be the deciding factor in the game.

Ultimately, I think Foles shuts his doubters up one last time and leads the Eagles to a championship. He will win the Super Bowl MVP award as well. Jake Elliott kicks a game-winning field goal after Foles drives them down the field and into field goal range.

Pick: Eagles 27, Patriots 24

Vasilios: It’s that time of year folks, where companies shell out millions of dollars for a 30-second commercial spot and some people care more about those than the game. But for us sports-inclined folks, we are about to watch a Super Bowl rematch from 13 years ago where the quarterback for the Eagles at that time was Donovan McNabb. Not much has changed for the Patriots, besides switching automatic kickers Adam Vinatieri for Stephen Gostkowski, and a new cast of role players. From Super Bowl 39 until now, arguably the best head coach/quarterback duo in history in Bill Belichick and Tom Brady continues to stand the test of time.

00d8f714ddfb4382949c6dcc19412769-780x1046.jpg

Image Credit: The Seattle Times

The Eagles are the consummate underdog, as evidenced by the German Shepherd mask donned by several Eagles players after their wins against the Falcons and Vikings. That defense is suffocating, Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham are absolute monsters off the ball and rookie end Derek Barnett is no slouch either. But the spotlight rests on the biggest enigma on the Eagles roster, Nick Foles. After taking over for Carson Wentz in week 14, he has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in recent history, matched only by Brady in that span.

9900f3de648c4eac9cf2928237b854df.jpg

Image Credit: New England Patriots

But if I recall correctly, Brady usurped the job from his predecessor, Drew Bledsoe, and went on to win a Super Bowl that same year against The Greatest Show On Turf led by Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk. I’m not saying that Foles’ career will follow the same unique path, but damn, Foles has the chance to “Tom Brady” Tom Brady.

Eagles win a tightly contested game and hand Brady and the Pats their third Super Bowl loss to an NFC East team.

Pick: Eagles 21, Patriots 17

Super Bowl LII broadcast information:

Kickoff: 6:30 pm

Channel: NBC

Commentators: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya

Head Referee: Gene Steratore

Halftime show: Justin Timberlake

Image Credit: NFL.com