Wild-Card Weekend could produce surprises

By Steve Sell
January 03, 2019

The NFL’s Wild-Card Weekend more often than not is little more than a formality.

The home teams generally dominate, setting up No. 1 seeds vs. 4 and No. 2 vs. 3 in the respective semifinals.

But given the parity that has infiltrated the NFL, there’s a good chance one or two of the No. 5 or 6 seeds could move on to the semifinals next week.

There’s simply no matchup that looks like a guaranteed win. Road teams are going to put up terrific fights. 

The four teams that drew byes — Kansas City, New England, Los Angeles’ Rams and New Orleans — will use the week off to heal up and get fresh for next week’s semifinals.

Here are my picks, with a few no doubt raising some eyebrows.

• Houston 34, Indianapolis 28 — Until a couple of weeks ago, the Colts weren’t even in the discussion. Andrew Luck was having trouble throwing the deep ball and the Indy defense wasn’t stopping anybody.

But Luck’s arm seemingly has become invigorated and the Colts finished December with a rush, going 4-0.

Houston started terribly, 0-3, then reeled off a long winning streak to capture its division. DeShaun Watson has put up some big numbers despite running for his life behind a leaky offensive line. 

Defensively the Texans have some of the best disruptors in the game. They haven’t enjoyed a great playoff history though.

• Seattle 24, Dallas 17 — At midseason, it was unsure if Dallas’ Jason Garrett would have a job.

The Cowboys were floundering at 3-5 and their fans were howling for his head.

But Dallas went 7-1 the second half of the season, due to the addition of Amari Cooper to give Dak Prescott a big-time target and to take the pressure off Zeke Elliott. The Cowboys’ defense also developed into one of the NFL’s best.

But this Seattle team is sneaky. It has made itself over offensively, relying on a punishing ground game to augment Russell Wilson, who because of that rushing attack is using more play action and getting sacked less.

This game will come down to quarterback play and Wilson is far more trustworthy than Prescott, who hasn’t proved he has what it takes to perform in the clutch.

• Baltimore 27, Los Angeles Chargers 23 — The Ravens won this matchup a few weeks ago in Los Angeles and this game is in Baltimore.

It’s never good for a West Coast team to go across the country. The Chargers are however, getting healthier, but the Ravens are the team that I don’t think anybody wants to play right now. They run the ball tremendously and their defense is perhaps the best in the NFL.

• Chicago 20, Philadelphia 17 — The defending Super Bowl champions had to roar down the stretch just to make it. The Bears made it with plenty of room to spare.

I’ve always said the playoffs are about the team playing the best going into the postseason, not the complete body of work. Chicago didn’t look like a serious contender halfway through the season, but that defense has been savage and Khalil Mack is a monster. 

The only concerns are about the Bears’ offense, but this is an old-school team.

The Eagles’ Nick Foles is being asked to channel his Super Bowl form, but I think he’ll run out of miracles against the Bears.