NFL Divisional Round Breakdown

Even though the Ravens find themselves on the outside looking in at the rest of the NFL postseason, the Charm City Bird Watch writers continue their playoff breakdown with some thoughts and picks for the four games making up the divisional round this weekend.

Just like Wild Card weekend, there are two games on Saturday and two games on Sunday.


Saturday, January 12

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Image Credit: Bleacher Report 

AFC: #6 Colts @ #1 Kansas City Chiefs – 4:35 pm – NBC

JakeUp until their bye week in week 12, the Chiefs were the hottest team in the AFC and up there with the Saints and Rams as the best team in the NFL. But in the five games since their bye week, the Chiefs went 3-2 and were one play away from losing to the Ravens in week 14. Since week 7, the Colts went 10-1, including last week’s 21-7 Wild Card win over Houston.

Even without Kareem Hunt and Sammy Watkins, the Chiefs have plenty of weapons on offense. Watkins returned to practice this week and has a chance to play on Saturday. The Chiefs defense is another story. Kansas City’s defense allowed 27 or more points eight times this season, while Andrew Luck and the Colts offense scored 27 or more points nine times. If you thought what Luck did to the Texans defense was impressive last week, wait until Saturday. I think this game will turn into a shootout. In the end, Patrick Mahomes makes the first mistake and Luck’s playoff experience leads Indy to a game-winning drive.

Score: Colts 37 Chiefs 34

NolanWhen I look at this matchup I see a Colts team that has won six straight and a Chiefs team that lost two of its final three games and has been sitting around for a week. Make no mistake, this Chiefs offense is as good as it gets but they have not been able to make up for their atrocious defense. All four of the Chiefs losses this season came against playoff teams in high scoring shootouts.

Patrick Mahomes and company can put up all the points they want but the defense has rarely held a lead against quality opponents. I think that Andrew Luck and the Colts will march into Arrowhead with all the confidence in the world. They have been playing win or go home games for so many weeks in a row that the playoffs probably don’t feel any different for them. For that reason, I believe all the pressure will be on the Chiefs as Mahomes makes his first playoff start and Andy Reid desperately tries to prove he can keep a team from choking in the postseason.

Score: Colts 35 Chiefs 33

Ian: Andy Reid-coached teams have a terrible reputation of failing to get the job done in big games. From back in his days with the Eagles, playoff disappointments have been his MO. Reid is 11-13 lifetime in the postseason, fresh off the heels of a 22-21 home loss in last year’s AFC Wildcard round to the Titans. In that game the Chiefs failed to score a second-half point and saw their 21-3 halftime lead evaporate.

Enter NFL MVP front-runner Patrick Mahomes. The first-year starter tallied over 5,000 yards passing and tossed a NFL-high 50 touchdowns. At every turn, Mahomes has proven to be the real deal, leading the Chiefs to a 12-4 record and the number one seed in the AFC. Can things be different for Reid this time?

The Andrew Luck-led Colts come calling, winners of 10 of their last 11 contests including last week’s 21-7 embarrassment of the Houston Texans. Indy has leaned on Luck throughout most of this run but have also revived their running game thanks to Marlon Mack, who has racked up five 100-yard games during the streak.

Three of the young quarterbacks (DeShaun Watson, Lamar Jackson, Mitchell Trubisky) lost last week. Mahomes is the best of that bunch and something tells me he makes just enough plays to get the Chiefs on to the AFC Championship game.

Key stat to watch here: Colts are just 4-4 on the road and average almost a touchdown less per game away from home.

Score: Chiefs 31 Colts 26

JayThis matchup is one I am extremely excited for. Two powerful offenses led by excellent quarterbacks. The likely MVP front-runner Patrick Mahomes leads the NFL’s top offense against Andrew Luck and the surprisingly good Indianapolis Colts.

Mahomes has led this Chiefs offense to elite status with his quarterback play. He’s thrown 50 touchdown passes during the regular season. The Chiefs are far from famished when it comes to offensive talent. They are blessed with arguably the best tight end in the NFL with Travis Kelce, a top 5 wide receiver with Tyreek Hill who had nearly 1,500 yards receiving during the regular season.

As stacked as the Chiefs seem to be, the Colts aren’t far behind. While Mahomes threw 50 touchdowns, the next closest quarterback was Andrew Luck with 39. Luck has an absolutely lethal target with T.Y. Hilton who is an extremely underrated wide receiver. In my book, Hill is certainly a top 10 target for any NFL quarterback.

Besides starting 1-5 and making it to the divisional round, the biggest surprise to come out of Indianapolis has been the Colt defense. The defense, which really turned things around in the second half of the season, is led by rookie phenom Darius Leonard who led the league with 163 tackles. As well as the Colts defense has played, it has been nearly impossible for any defense to stop the Mahomes show. But I believe the Colts get it done on the road behind a steady run game along with the arm of Luck. Look for the Colts to eke out a win here in a gunfight at Arrowhead.

Score: Colts 31 Chiefs 28


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Image Credit: Turf Show Times 

NFC: #4 Dallas Cowboys @ #2 Los Angeles Rams – 8:15 pm – FOX

Jake: Like the Chiefs, the Rams went 3-2 after their bye after winning 10 of 11 games. Those two losses came against two teams who made the playoffs – the Bears and the Eagles – and the Jared Goff-led offense scored a combined 29 points over those two games. Over the final five games, Goff threw six touchdowns and six interceptions. Four of those six touchdowns came in the Rams’ 48-32 week 17 win against the 49ers.

Against the Bears third-ranked defense 14, Goff threw for 180 yards and four interceptions. Dallas owns the seventh-ranked defense in the NFL, but they come in fifth against the run. That will put all the pressure on Goff’s shoulders, and he’s gotten flustered when asked to carry the Rams offense.

Including Dallas’ 24-22 Wild Card win over the Seahawks, the Cowboys have won eight of their last nine. For all the criticism Dak Prescott gets, he’s done what Tony Romo couldn’t do throughout his career, and that was come through in the clutch. Both offenses will struggle to move the ball. Unlike my projections for Saturday’s AFC Tilt, this game will be low-scoring. It will be close, but I think Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott putting together a game-winning drive is more likely than Goff and Todd Gurley getting it done.

Score: Cowboys 23, Rams 19

Nolan: I was the only one who believed in the Cowboys last week but that nice win over Seattle did not come without an injury tax. Dallas lost Allen Hurns to a season-ending injury while fellow receivers Cole Beasley and Tavon Austin got banged up as well. Jerry Jones has stated that he thinks both Beasley and Austin will suit up on Saturday but they are still questionable for now.

The Rams are much healthier. Todd Gurley’s status will be a huge factor but he has had some extra time to rest with the bye week. Even if Gurley is not ready to go, C.J Anderson has shown he can step up and be a go-to option after racking up 299 yards on the ground in the Rams final two games of the season. The Rams may have disappointed in the playoffs last year but I think they will be just fine at home on Saturday. Sean McVay’s team has hosted a handful of tough opponents at the Coliseum this year and still finished with a 7-1 home record.

Score: Rams 29 Cowboys 20

Ian: Dak Preskott and the Cowboys come into Saturday night’s contest winners of eight of their last nine games with their only setback being a 23-0 road loss to the Colts. The Cowboys feature one of the NFL’ top running backs in Ezekiel Elliott and the Rams are 23rd against the run, giving up over five yards a carry.

Dallas also ranks seventh in total defense, good for the highest-ranked defense remaining in the playoffs. Leighton Vander Esch is a frontrunner for defensive rookie of the year on that unit and DeMarcus Lawrence has his second straight 10+ sack season.

The Rams are the two seed in the NFC and are at 13-3 on the year. They split their last four games with wins over the Cardinals and 49ers with losses to the Bears and Eagles. LA has not been the same since their bye week and that is non-negotiable.

But the Rams are loaded. They are hopeful to get a healthy Todd Gurley back and that should help bring some of the spark back to their offense. The Rams are 7-1 at home while Dallas is 3-5 on the road this season.

Plus it’s the Cowboys. They always choke right?

Score: Rams 26 Cowboys 24

Jay: This matchup features the quarterbacks of the future. Both Jared Goff and Dak Prescott are from the 2016 draft class. And Both have led their respective teams to big wins this season. Prescott has had controversy swirling around him, elevating his game play to the next level of consistency. Ezekiel Elliot is without a doubt the best offensive weapon the Cowboys have. In my opinion, their only chance to win this game is for Elliott to have a HUGE game.

The Rams are dripping with talent on both sides of the ball. The Rams have Todd Gurley who led the NFL with 17 rushing touchdowns, they have a plethora of wide receivers that Goff has no problem spreading the ball around to. They have two receivers with over 1,200 yards receiving and at least 80+ catches. Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods will test this Dallas secondary very early in the game. I would like for the Rams to get off to a hot start and take away the Dallas running game. If they do so they rely on Dak’s arm and the Cowboys offensive line to protect him. If the Cowboys are forced to go one dimensional it will leave the Rams with Aaron Donald chomping at the bit.

Score: Rams 23 Cowboys 16


Sunday, January 13

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Image Credit: Pats Pulpit 

AFC: #5 Los Angeles Chargers @ #2 New England Patriots – 1:05 pm – CBS

Jake: I understand that together, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will go down as the best quarterback-head coach partnership of all time. I get that that no one goes into New England and beats the Patriots in the playoffs. I agree that the Patriots would much rather play the Chargers this week than the Ravens if Baltimore had squeaked out a win over Los Angeles in the Wild Card round.

But after watching how the Chargers defense absolutely destroyed the Ravens offense, I don’t know how Brady and his below-average weapons will put up points against the likes of Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and Derwin James. You could make an argument that the Ravens group of running backs, receivers, and tight ends are more talented than what the Patriots have, especially after Josh Gordon went back to rehab. That’s saying something.

I’m expecting a close game for a number of reasons. Philip Rivers is reportedly dealing with a sore arm and Melvin Gordon got banged up again last week. On Monday the early weather forecast in Foxboro called for snow, but that’s since changed. It’s still going to be below freezing, which wasn’t the case in sunny Baltimore on Sunday.

Fans across the NFL (except Patriots fans) have long waited for the collapse of the Patriots. We saw some signs of regression throughout the regular season, and I think the Chargers put the nail in the coffin and punch their ticket to their first AFC Championship since 2008.

Score: Chargers 26, Patriots 24

Nolan: Only two teams in the last 20 years have gone into Foxborough in the playoffs and defeated the Patriots on their home turf. This Sunday the Los Angeles Chargers will become the third.

The Chargers have been road warriors all year, moving to 8-1 last week with a 23-17 win in Baltimore. They’ve shown that they are the most balanced team in the AFC.

I am not discrediting the Patriots. I understand their history in the postseason and the fact that they are undefeated at home this year. However, this might be the weakest New England team we have seen in a long time. Brady lost a nice weapon a few weeks ago when Josh Gordon decided to step away from the league. Rob Gronkowski has not been fully healthy in years and it’s really starting to have a significant impact on his performance. That leaves Julian Edelman as the only big threat in the Patriots passing game.

The only thing standing in the Chargers way is themselves. Despite handling the Ravens with ease last week, they still came up short in the red zone too often. Settling for field goals will not be an option if they want to beat the Patriots.

Score: Chargers 23 Patriots 21

Ian: As we all know the Chargers are the jerks that ended the Ravens season. They have lost only twice in their last 14 games and are arguably the most talented team in the NFL top to bottom. Philip Rivers has been terrible the last three weeks and is unlikely to deliver another clunker. Melvin Gordon should have another week of health under his belt as well. The Chargers have capable wide receivers all over the field and will officially welcome back Hunter Henry to the mix. Henry was activated to the Chargers 53-man roster on Monday. 

LA’s defense ruined the Ravens offense’s entire gameplan last week by switching to seven defensive backs and putting their two beast pass rushers – Melvin Ingram, and Joey Bosa – inside on the Ravens turnstile interior linemen. Ingram and Bosa wrecked the game from the beginning and the Ravens had no answers as the Chargers racked up seven sacks.

The Patriots come into this matchup with the Chargers once again being doubted. The yearly mantra of “New England doesn’t look so tough this year” has been circulating once again. The Pats have looked old at time this season. Gronk looks done. Tom Brady is fading. Yadda Yadda Yadda.

Brady and Bill Belichick are 27-10 in the playoffs together. They are 19-3 at home in the playoffs (two losses to Flac Daddy and the Ravens, and one to Sanchize and the Jets).  Brady had eight touchdowns and no picks in the playoffs last season after once again hearing how weak the Patriots looked going into the postseason.

Score: Patriots 30 Chargers 17

Jay: Are the Patriots still good? Yes. As long as Bill Belichick is still coaching and Tom Brady is under center the Patriots will be good. Did they have a “DOWN” season? That I don’t understand the Patriots are still 11-5 coming off a first-round bye with another road team coming into Foxboro. Road teams haven’t won in Foxboro during the playoffs since the Baltimore Ravens did it on their way to the Superbowl in 2013.

Sure, Brady is slowing down and Rob Gronkowski hasn’t been healthy, so the stats might not be there like they once were. But they still have the best head coach/quarterback duo in the history of the NFL.

Now to the Chargers, who looks like they are the most well-rounded team in the NFL. They can beat you at all facets of the game. Although historically unsuccessful in the playoffs, Philip Rivers has been one most consistent starting quarterbacks in the NFL for more than a decade. This game features a great matchup between two wily old vets who aren’t strangers in the postseason. Brady and the Patriots are 2-0 in the playoff versus Rivers and the Chargers. But many think this Chargers team is different they have a top 10 running back in the league with Melvin Gordon. Gordon has had over 2,000 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns over the past two seasons combined. The Chargers also boast deep wide receiver/tight end group led by Keenan Allen and the crafty veteran Antonio Gates.

Many would argue the Chargers’ biggest weapon is on their defense with the pass-rushing duo of Melvin Ingram, and Joey Bosa. The Chargers defense is certainly legit and has given teams fits all season long. In this game I anticipate Brady will put together another dazzling game-winning drive. I’m taking the Patriots in a close one.

Score: Patriots 28, Chargers 24


NFC: #6 Philadelphia Eagles @ #1 New Orleans Saints – 4:40 pm – FOX

Jake: Much to the chagrin of all the Eagles fans I know, I picked against them in both the divisional round and conference championship round last year before picking them to win Super Bowl 52. I picked them again last week against Chicago and thanks to a blocked field goal, I ended Wild Card weekend 3-1 overall.

I’m sorry, Philadelphia, but I cannot pick the Eagles this week. I give all the credit in the world to what Nick Foles did in the final few weeks of the season (along with other help around the NFC) to get the Eagles back into the postseason. There is indeed something magical about Foles and this Eagles team that cannot be explained, but Philly’s hopes and dreams of winning their second straight Super Bowl  will end this weekend in the Superdome.

While I think the Eagles offense will be just fine, this game will come down to Drew Brees picking apart the Eagles secondary that’s been rattled with injuries throughout the season. In the first half of the regular season you could have made the case for the best team in the NFL being either the Saints, Chiefs, or Rams. As time went on, the Saints emerged as the best team and I believe Brees will win his second Lombardi trophy when it’s all said and done.

I will not be surprised at all if the magic in Philly continues this weekend, but I cannot pick against the Saints, the best team in the NFL.

Score: Saints 35, Eagles 24

Nolan: The Nick Foles magic in Philly seems unstoppable at this point. As much as I sound like a hater when it comes to the Eagles, I genuinely did not see them winning any of the playoff games they have been in over the past two years. That will be the case once again this week as they travel to New Orleans.

The Saints are my pick to win it all this year so I don’t care who they are matched up against. The road to the Super bowl will go through the Superdome and I don’t think anyone can go in there and take down the Saints. If New Orleans can jump out to an early lead, like they did when they hosted the Eagles earlier this year, I think they will run away with it. Since Foles has taken over as starter, the Eagles have never trailed an opponent by more than five points. Their ability to win close games should not be overlooked. I just don’t like their chances if they find themselves down by more than a possession, which will likely be the case when taking on the high-powered Saints offense.

Score: Saints 31 Eagles 21

Ian: This should be the easiest game of the weekend to pick. The Eagles limped into the playoffs at 9-7 and the Saints are the SuperBowl favorites, sitting at 13-3 and having just enjoyed a bye week. Philly was in Chicago on Sunday night, moving forward in the playoffs thanks to a blocked field goal.

Nick Foles and company will continue to try and defy the odds when they head to the SuperDome to take on the Saints. Foles went 25-for-40 for 266 yards with two touchdowns and two picks in Chicago against one of the NFL’s best defenses. Philly has no running game and Foles will need to be much better than what he showed against Chicago. 

Defensively the Eagles did a nice job Sunday shutting down Mitchell Trubisky and the upstart Bears offense. This was fresh off a shutout performance against the Redskins which helped propel them to the playoffs.  

Drew Brees leads a rested Saints unit that throttled the Eagles 48-7 on November 18 in New Orleans. Brees, the other most popular selection for MVP in the NFL this season, tossed 32 touchdowns in leading the Saints to the one seed in the NFC.

The Saints are arguably the best team in the NFL. They are at home and this feels like a season of destiny type thing for a Saints team trying to rebound from last season’s heartbreaking loss in the divisional round to the Minnesota Vikings.

Score: Saints 30 Eagles 22

Jay: The Philadelphia lord and savior Nick Foles did it again. Last week the Eagles upset the Bears in heart-breaking fashion when Cody Parkey double-doinked what would have been the game-winning field goal off the post and cross bar.

Of course, everyone is asking the same question following the upset, are the Eagles a better team without Carson Wentz? Wentz, just a year ago, led the Eagles through much of the season to be the best team in the NFC. But after injury, it was the play of Foles that won them the game that matters the most. He has been really good when the Eagles need him. And they will certainly need him to glow on Sunday when they take on the Saints.

The Drew Brees-led Saints have been arguably the best team this season, boasting an NFL-best 13-3 record. But as of late they’ve seemed to struggle getting their once high-powered offense rolling. Brees’s connection with Michael Thomas was extraordinary this season as Thomas caught 125 balls for 1,400+ yards. The Saints certainly have a plethora of offensive talent with Brees, Thomas, and the exceptional running/catching abilities of Alvin Kamara. The Saints are well rounded, and their defense has been pretty good down the stretch. If Cameron Jordan and company can get pressure to stop Foles, and pressure into early mistakes, I think this Saints team will run away handily. Bress and Thomas will have a huge game against this tattered Eagle secondary.  

Score: Saints 31 Eagles 20


Image Credit: USA Online Sportsbooks 

#PushThePod

Episode 33: Where do the Ravens go from here? 105.7 The Fan‘s Ken Weinman weighs in

 

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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.

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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. 


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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 

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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








Three things to watch for as the Ravens head to Miami

The Baltimore Ravens will look to push their preseason record to 4-0 as they head to Miami Gardens, Florida to take on the Dolphins in preseason game number four at Hard Rock Stadium Saturday night.

The biggest stories heading into this game are surrounding cornerback Jimmy Smith and left tackle Ronnie Stanley.  Smith was suspended four games due to a violation of the NFL’s personal conduct policy dating back to an alleged domestic violence dispute with an ex-girlfriend. He is eligible to play in the remainder of the preseason and it appears that he will.

As far as Stanley is concerned, the Ravens left tackle is unlikely to appear in any of the final two preseason games as he is recovering from a right knee strain suffered in the 20-19 win over the Indianapolis Colts. Couple that with the continued absence of right guard Marshal Yanda and the absence of right tackle James Hurst from practices this week and it is possible that three of the five projected offensive line starters will not play Saturday night.

With all of that being said, here are three things to watch for in preseason game number four for the Ravens.

1) Who steps up on the offensive line?

With the absences on the offensive line, it will be intriguing to see if any of the Ravens younger offensive linemen can step up. Orlando Brown Jr. is an option to start at left tackle Saturday, but many believe he is better suited to play right tackle at the NFL level. It is also a lot for the Ravens to ask of Brown Jr. to move back to the left side after taking every rep at right tackle to this point in his NFL career.

The depth along the offensive line has been questioned all preseason and Saturday night will provide another test for players like Jermaine Eluemunor, Nico Siragusa, Greg Senat, Maurquice Shakir and Bradley Bozeman among others. Senat is likely the solution at left tackle for Saturday’s contest, but starting the sixth-round pick out of Wagner on the blind side will make the Ravens and their fans feel uneasy about the protection of their quarterbacks.

With the issues on the offensive line, I do not foresee the Ravens starting Joe Flacco in Saturday’s contest. Flacco has had a nice preseason to date and putting him out their without 60% of the starting offensive line is not a situation that the Ravens should explore.

2) Quarterback Competition

In what is becoming a weekly feature of this article, the backup quarterback competition should be on full display Saturday night in Miami. It is unknown to this point how the snaps will be distributed among Lamar Jackson and Robert Griffin III but it is known that the performances Saturday night will play a key role in deciding which of the two will be the backup.

Griffin III should be the leader in the clubhouse for that role. The Ravens have been incredibly torn on the issue to this point and it will be interesting to see if Griffin III can add some fuel to that fire with another strong performance on Saturday night.

Jackson has struggled so far this preseason. As ESPN’S Booger McFarland indicated on Monday night against the Colts: “We have this conversation about should Joe Flacco be worried. I don’t think he should be. Lamar Jackson, at best, in my opinion, is two years away from having an opportunity to see if he can play quarterback in this league.”

Jackson has been inaccurate thus far through three games. Jackson’s first instinct is to escape the pocket and put himself in positions to take big hits rather than move around in the pocket and scan downfield. Jackson has also struggled throwing a tight spiral to this point.

Jackson will have every opportunity the next two weeks to change the narrative and regain what many thought was a stranglehold on the backup role heading into the season.

3) Bubble players

Heading into the last two preseason games, there are several Ravens that will be looking to put an exclamation on their cases to make the 53-man roster.

  • Breshad Perriman caught a touchdown pass this preseason but also had a key drop in the Hall of Fame Game leading to an interception. He will be looking for a big night Saturday to solidify his roster standing.
  • Kamalei Correa flashed in the Hall of Fame game but has disappointed in each of the last two weeks. It is often a “what have you done for me lately” league and if Correa’s greatest accolade of the preseason turns out to be his performance in the Hall of Fame Game, he will be on the outside looking in.
  • Bronson Kaufusi has struggled to make an impact since the Ravens drafted him in the third round out of BYU in 2016. Kaufusi did have one pass batted down last week, but the 27-year old will need to make a much greater impact in the last two weeks to earn a roster spot.
  • Jaleel Scott was a 2018 fourth-round pick for the Ravens and has yet to make an impact this preseason. The 6’6 209-pound wideout out of New Mexico State took just three offensive snaps on Monday night against the Colts and appears to be destined for the practice squad at best.

Image Credit: AP