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







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Podcast Episode 32: The Ravens are AFC North champions

Welcome to Episode 32 of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast with site owner Jake McDonnell, editor Nolan McGraw, and author Ian Schultz.

At the top of the show, we revisit the Ravens 26-24 win over the Cleveland Browns (4:40). As always, we tell you Who’s Trending (26:15) and go over some things to watch for in the Ravens upcoming Wild Card game against the Chargers (38:15).

In addition to the Ravens game, we gave a quick break down of the other three wild card games and some predictions for who we think will win (48:07). Be on the lookout for some more in depth articles on charmcitybirdwatch.com throughout the playoffs where all of our authors will give their official predictions as each round arrives.

Before getting into the weekly numbers segment (1:05:40) we had to take a moment to appreciate the Steelers meltdown following their elimination from playoff contention (57:40). Jake, Nolan, and Ian all give their opinion on the Antonio Brown situation and his heated exchange with Ben Roethlisberger.

You can find the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast on SoundCloud, iTunes, and Google Play. Please leave us a review on iTunes, we love to hear your feedback and may read it on a future episode. Happy New Year and thanks for listening!

Image credit: Kathy Kmonicek / Associated Press

Three takeaways following the Ravens playoff-clinching 26-24 win over the Browns

With Sunday’s win, the Ravens clinched a playoff berth for the first time in three years and their first AFC North championship in six years.

#1: Ravens ride rushing attack and rack up season’s highest total

No one needed a reminder that the Ravens were going to stick with what’s been working with the Lamar Jackson offense, and that was the running game. Needing a win to host a home playoff game, the Ravens ran the football 47 times and finished with 296 yards. That marks the Ravens’ highest rushing total this season and the third-best single-game rushing total in franchise history, according to Patrick Gleason.

Kenneth Dixon led the way on the ground, finishing with a career-high 117 yards on 12 carries. It’s the first time in his career finishing with over 100 yards rushing in a game. Jackson racked up 90 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Jackson’s rushing scores came from 25 and eight yards out. If it had not been for a bogus holding call on Maxx Williams, Jackson would have added a 33-yard touchdown that would have put the Ravens ahead 27-14. Instead, the Ravens had to settle for a field goal.

Here’s another look at Williams’ “holding” penalty that negated a Ravens touchdown:

Gus Edwards followed Jackson with 76 yards on 12 carries, and Ty Montgomery totaled 13 yards on two carries. All elements of the Ravens’ running attack had success against Cleveland’s 28th-ranked run defense, as Baltimore picked up 16-of-24 first downs on the ground.

#2: Oft-criticized defenders finally come up with turnovers

The Ravens defense has been dominant all season. Baltimore exits of week 17 with the NFL’s top-ranked defense, finishing first in yards given up (4,687), fourth in run defense (1,327 yards given up) and fifth in pass defense (3,360 yards given up).

Even with all of their success, defensive turnovers have eluded the Ravens until recently. The Ravens defense tied for 22nd this season with 17 takeaways. Two veteran players on this defensive unit – linebacker C.J. Mosley and cornerback Jimmy Smith – went into week 17 without any turnovers on their stat line.

Smith drew harsh criticism from fans early in the season when he served a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Upon returning to the field in week 5, it took more than a month for Smith to return to his form due to recovering from a torn Achilles suffered in December 2017. With Smith struggling, Marlon Humphrey stepped up and emerged as the Ravens’ top cornerback, but week 17 told a different story.

While Humphrey struggled in coverage on Sunday, Smith picked off Baker Mayfield twice. Smith’s first interception occurred during Cleveland’s first possession when Mayfield attempted a pass to Antonio Callaway on 2nd-and-5. The latter came with just over four minutes left in the half off a deflection by Tavon Young on a pass intended for Rashard Higgins. The officials initially ruled the pass incomplete, but Smith got up and immediately signaled to head coach John Harbaugh to challenge the play.

After a booth review, the call was overturned. The Ravens opened the scoring with a field goal following Smith’s first interception, but after Smith’s second interception the Ravens gave the ball up when Jackson fumbled on the goal line. Obviously the Ravens need to do a better job of translating turnovers into points, but Smith chose a great time to put together his best performance of 2018.

In regards to Mosley, fans and media alike have pointed to pass coverage being the fifth-year linebacker’s biggest flaw. Defending the middle of the field, specifically tight ends, has plagued the Ravens defense in recent seasons. In a contract year, Mosley leads the defense with 105 total tackles, but he also failed to record a single turnover until yesterday.

As the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 16-13 with about two minutes to play in Baltimore, the Ravens, holding a two-point lead, went three-and-out on offense and punted the ball to the Browns with 1:49 left in regulation. The Ravens now had to stop the Browns from scoring on this drive to punch their ticket to the postseason. You didn’t need to remind anyone of what happened in the final minutes of last year’s New Years Eve defeat to Cincinnati. Everyone was already biting their nails thinking about it.

Mayfield and the Browns reached the Ravens’ 39-yard line following two completions of 16 yards or more to Jarvis Landry and former Ravens first-round pick Breshad Perriman. After forcing three straight incompletions, it was fourth down and the pressure was on the Ravens defense.

Last year on 4th-and-12 Baltimore had their hearts broken when Andy Dalton and Tyler Boyd connected for a 49-yard touchdown with less than a minute left on the clock. This time on fourth down, Mayfield tried to throw a pass as Humphrey and a number of Ravens defenders crept into the backfield. The ball, intended for Duke Johnson, was tipped and intercepted by Mosley with 1:01 left on the clock.

With Cleveland only having one timeout left, the Ravens simply kneeled down twice to put the game away for good.

“All of people on social media saying I can’t cover, I won’t say too much about them, people are going to talk,” Mosley said at the podium after the game. “They get it now, we’re in there.”


#3: The Flock finally comes through

On a personal level, perhaps the best part about Sunday’s playoff-clinching win was seeing how full and loud M&T Bank Stadium was. A number of factors have led to a concerning amount of empty seats at NFL football games, and the Ravens are one of many teams around the league facing this issue. Two weeks after huge patches of empty seats were visible against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Ravens fans filled the stadium and were loud throughout the game.

The announced attendance is about 1,000 less than M&T Bank Stadium’s capacity. From what I saw sitting at the game, there were still some empty seats visible, but not nearly the amount that it’s been lately. I would say that the stadium was about 92% full. Considering the implications of the game and from how the Ravens have struggled to get people in seats lately, the franchise should be very happy with the turnout.

Because of the in-home experience of watching NFL football, the weather, the knee, technology taking over people’s lives, safety concerns, the cost of parking/transportation/food/drinks, bad officiating, fantasy football, and other factors, attendance for the Ravens and the NFL will continue to be an uphill battle. Not making the playoffs three years in a row certainly hurt the Ravens too, but now they’re back in the race with a weapon in Jackson that the Ravens have not had in years.

Without question, M&T Bank Stadium should be full and raucous next Sunday at 1:05 pm for the Ravens Wild Card matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers, who the Ravens of course defeated less than two weeks ago in Carson California. I would imagine that a lot of fans in attendance for yesterday’s fun will definitely be looking into purchasing tickets, as well as a number of fans who couldn’t make it to the game yesterday. Last week, several Ravens players expressed their desire for a full stadium on social media. I think the players thrive on the crowd, and they’ll definitely need The Flock to bring the noise again next Sunday against the Chargers.

Image Credit: Baltimore Sun