This is the fifth playoff appearance by the Houston Texans, as with their previous four playoff appearances they are playing in the first game on Saturday. The Texans may not be a marquee team, but they have to be somewhat sick of the Rodney Dangerfield level of disrespect. In those four previous Wild Card games, the Texans are 3-1. This time around, the Texans are facing a division opponent in the Indianapolis Colts. The teams split their two regular-season meetings. The Texans’ Week 4 win in Indianapolis was their most important game of the regular season, as they earned their first win of the season after starting 0-3. The game was a back and forth battle, with the Colts overcoming a 28-10 deficit in the third quarter and tied the game in the final minute of regulation. In overtime, the teams traded field goals, before the Colts gambled and lost on the field goal 37-34 at the end of overtime. The Texans catapulted on to win their next nine games. The streak would end with a 24-21 home loss to the Colts. The win was one of the Colts most important wins of the season as it came a week after their six-game winning streak ended with a shutout in Jacksonville. Both teams are anomalies in that teams that start 0-3 like the Texans rarely make the playoffs and the Colts are just the second teams to make the playoffs after starting 1-5. Overall the Texans are the better team with the aggressive pass rush led by J.J. Watt who was healthy for the first time in three years and had 16 sacks. Andrew Luck meanwhile is a lock for comeback player of the year after missing all of 2017 and passing for 4,593 yards with 39 touchdowns. Look for another close game, with the Texans defense and Deshaun Watson’s mobility being the key for a Houston win.
Much like the early Saturday matchup, the NFC battle between the Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks feature teams that needed strong finishes to get in the playoffs. Seattle started the season with two straight losses, while the Cowboys at the mid-point in their season were 3-5. Dallas was helped greatly by the acquisition of Amari Cooper, who helped them open up their offense. The Seahawks meanwhile need to get better line play and that helped Russell Wilson stay upright to have another strong year. The Cowboys overall may have the better players, but Dak Prescott needs to prove he can win this type of game. Russell Wilson had won a Super Bowl and always seems to bring his best in the postseason. Another big player that helped the Cowboys turn their season around was rookie Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch who was often a disruptive pass rusher, run stopper and pass defender. If the Seahawks are to get the win on the road, they need to prevent Vander Esch from dominating the middle. These are fairly evenly matched teams, which means that whoever wins the turnover battle will likely win the game, as often is the case in the postseason. The biggest matchup key will be Ezekiel Elliott if the Seahawks can keep him under wraps their chances of winning increases greatly as Dak Prescott has had trouble with turnovers when the pressure is turned up. The Seahawks have the experience edge and the coaching edge. If they can get control of the game, they can get the crowd edge as fans at AT&T Stadium may turn on their Cowboys. That is one factor that has often been a problem in their recent home playoff failures. Look for the game to be close, with the wily Seahawks winning by a field goal.
This matchup ought to seem familiar as the Baltimore Ravens went into the StubHub Center and stunned the Los Angeles Chargers in the penultimate game of the season. The game was a swing for both teams. As the Ravens went into first place the next day with the Steelers loss in New Orleans, while the Chargers missed a chance at home field throughout the playoffs as they would have climbed past the Chiefs who lost the next day in Seattle. The Chargers were one of the top teams in the AFC all season, as they got strong play on both sides of the ball. Derwin James a potential Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate had a big season for Los Angeles, making the AFC Pro Bowl roster while leading the team in tackles. A rookie was also key to the Ravens success as they won six of their last seven games with Lamar Jackson at quarterback. Jackson at the age of 21 is the youngest quarterback to start a playoff game. Philip Rivers meanwhile who was frustrated by the Ravens defense two weeks ago is trying to finally get to a Super Bowl in his 16th season. He has been to the Pro Bowl eight times, including the last three years. Look for him to make the necessary adjustments to figure out how to beat the Ravens, as he will be helped by Melvin Gordon, who was just coming back from injury when they met in Week 16. Meanwhile, Jackson in his first playoff game has got to show he can effectively and consistently throw the ball. Last week when they needed to beat the Browns, the Chargers too often settled for field goals in the red zone. That can not happen again this week as the Chargers have the experience the Browns lacked to take advantage. The Chargers were the best road team in the NFL at 7-1, look for that trend to continue with a win in Baltimore. In fact, they have yet to lose a game outside of LA all season.
Thirty years ago, the Philadelphia Eagles played the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field in one of the craziest weather games, when a dense fog rolled in. The Eagles have somehow done it again. Appearing dead in the water three weeks ago, they closed the season with three straight wins, and five wins in their last six games. The Chicago Bears with likely Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack have won their first division title in eight years with a hungry ball-hawking defense that often won games on their own. If not for the Bears win over the Vikings, the Eagles would not even be in the playoffs. Once again Philadelphia will be banking on super-sub Nick Foles to lead them at quarterback. Foles has won all three games he has started since Carson Wentz was shut down. Already a legend in Philadelphia, Nick Foles could get a statue next to Rocky if he goes on another Super Bowl run. The question will be after getting Philadelphia into the playoffs how they can keep both quarterbacks since Nick Foles has proven he is a flat-out winner. However, the magic has to end sometime, and this is when the magic carpet ride ends for the Eagles. Khalil Mack has been a game changer all season for the Bears, as his acquisition for the Raiders turned the Bears for a potential contender to division champions. While Mack, has been the Bears monster in the middle their secondary has often been the key to victory, led by Eddie Jackson who has six interceptions, including a pair of game-winning pick sixes. Kyle Fuller also had seven interceptions, while Mack forced six fumbles. The Bears ability to steal the ball away will be the difference as the Eagles quest to win a second straight Lombardi Trophy comes to an end.