Join us throughout the NFL playoffs as Josh and the Baker give their thoughts on the matchups. Josh will be writing from his usual gambling angle, while the Baker will be picking who he thinks will move on.
Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans
Saturday, January 5 4:35 PM EST (ABC/ESPN)
Josh: This is game where the number is slightly inflated due to recent events. In Week 14, the Colts marched into Houston and threw all over a Houston to win 24-21. Houston, who had won nine consecutive games prior to that loss, has struggled to protect Deshaun Watson all season (including the five sacks allowed against Indianapolis that week).
Houston’s stout run defense (ranked 8th in DVOA of all NFL defenses over the past 32 years) will force the Colts to be one-dimensional, which might not be a problem for Andrew Luck (it usually isn’t). However, that’s not really a formula that works in the playoffs, especially on the road. If Houston can keep Indy’s passing game in check, or force Luck into one of his infamous turnover-heavy performances (15 interceptions and six fumbles on the year), Houston should be able to win this game.
That all being said, these teams are ranked very closely in most categories, with the Colts being the more balanced team overall given Houston’s weakness against the pass. Since there really isn’t much of an edge, the smart money is on the short home favorite. Houston’s key deficiencies should be watched, though, as Indianapolis will not go down easy.
Pick: Texans -1
Baker: Until I see something that proves me wrong, I just don’t trust Houston. Maybe this is the year they show they belong and DeShaun Watson could be the difference maker they need. This feels like make or break territory for Bill O’Brien’s tenure. He’s finally got his Quarterback for a playoff game, but there’s a lot of demons to stare down here. I do like having home field advantage, but I’m far from sold on the Texans. Show me something.
The Colts fit that traditional “team on a run” playoff situation a little bit. They’ve been in win or die mode since early December and answered the bell winning their final four games. Last week’s game against the Titans was essentially a playoff game, so it’s hard telling whether that was draining or if it’s got the Colts primed for the real thing this week. I trust Andrew Luck more than I trust Watson, while I agree with Josh that Indy will have a tough time running the ball, I think they’ll get it done again this week.
Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys
Saturday, January 5 8:15 PM EST (FOX)
Josh: If we want to oversimplify this game, Russell Wilson is not the same guy on the road and the Dallas defense is much better at home.
While the Seahawks defeated the Cowboys early in the season 24-13, that game was in Seattle and both teams have changed significantly since then. That game should not be factored into any real analysis heading into Saturday. Seattle has legitimate edges at quarterback and head coach, which at least seems important, but Dallas’ better overall roster and homefield gives them a slight edge. Their pass rush, like Seattle’s, is legitimate and they will need to contain Wilson to win. Wilson doesn’t turn it over much, but Dallas has contained big quarterbacks before in their home stadium (see Brees, Drew).
From a gambling perspective, the betting is nearly 50-50 heading into Friday morning, with slightly more sharp money heading to Seattle (hence the number dropping a full point after opening at 2.5). If you’re on the Dallas side, it would be smart to wait until the game is at 1, which seems likely at this point. I will, again, take the short home favorite.
Pick: Cowboys -1.5
Baker: I agree with all of Josh’s points on this game. Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson are simply tough outs in the playoffs, but I believe the Cowboys have turned the corner.
What a difference a few months make. The Cowboys bring an ascending defense to the table led by the young LB core of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, a power running game, and are almost completely injury free. The old playoff recipe used to be defense and running the ball. Sprinkle in Amari Cooper and maybe Michael Gallup in there, and all of a sudden Dallas doesn’t look like a team with many holes. The Seahawks are going to be in this game and you never know what kind of magic they’ll find in the postseason, but it’s not enough to convince me they’ll go into The Big D and bring one home.
Los Angeles Chargers at Baltimore Ravens
Sunday, January 6 1:05 PM EST (CBS)
Josh: This is yet another game where the line is inflated due to recent events, that being Baltimore’s Week 16 victory over the Chargers. While the Ravens should probably be favored in this game, laying 3 points against a more well-rounded Chargers team (arguably the best team in the AFC with offense and defense both ranked top 10 in DVOA) seems like a lot on paper.
The Ravens, with their defense and new-found running game featuring Lamar Jackson running around like a mad man, have won 5 of 6 as the hottest team in the conference. Despite their recent dominance, their formula of running their quarterback into the ground isn’t what the folks at home would call “sustainable.” Speaking of that Week 16 matchup, it’s hard for me to believe Philip Rivers turns it over multiple times against this defense again.
As Robert Mays detailed more eloquently, this is Phil’s last real shot at a championship. I’m betting on the Chargers coming through for one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL over the past decade. The Chargers are my Super Bowl pick, along with the Saints from the NFC. I expect them to win this game, and will naturally take the 3 points despite Baltimore’s homefield advantage.
Pick: Chargers +3
Baker: This might be the game I’m looking forward to most this weekend. I do agree with Josh regarding the Chargers and how strong they are on both sides of the ball, but I wouldn’t put it past a Harbaugh brother to find lightening in a bottle with a running quarterback and ride that a long ways (see Jim & Colin Kaepernick *cough cough*).
Both of these teams have a little bit of the “nobody believes in us” thing going on. The Chargers can’t draw a home crowd and it feels like the national media slept walked on the Ravens until the past two weeks. I badly want to see Philip Rivers find some playoff magic, but like the Texans I’m not sure if I’m ready to believe in the Chargers until they prove me wrong.
My prediction is that the winner of this game will go on a run. I’m not ready to say a Super Bowl run, but this game is now officially the BarnBurner Baker’s You Dont Want to Play us Bowl.
Give me the Ravens. I flipped a coin.
Philadelphia Eagles at Chicago Bears
Sunday, January 6 4:40 PM EST (NBC)
Josh: Per ESPN’s Tim McManus, Nick Foles is considering wearing some extra protection in the ribcage area against the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
He’ll need it.
The Chicago defense was as dominant as any this season, and it will be difficult for even the red-hot Eagles to move the ball at Soldier Field. However, from a gambling perspective, the Eagles opened as 7-point underdogs, a line which has since moved down to 6 and even 5.5 in some books. With the total for the game listed at 41, 6 points seems like a high number to be laying. The Eagles defense has stepped up in a big way the last three weeks, with some standout play from youngsters Rasul Douglas and Avonte Maddox in the secondary. Keys to this game will include the performance of both running games (committees of Cohen & Howard and Adams & Smallwood, respectively) and turnovers (duh). I’m not at all convinced that Mitch Trubisky will be able to perform under pressure this Sunday, or that the Bears will not be overly conservative with their play calling even if Trubisky has a nice evening. This game will be closer than people think, at the very least, and I would not count out the defending Super Bowl champs.
Pick: Eagles +6
Baker: They wouldn’t be the Chicago Bears if they didn’t roll into this weekend with one of the (if not *The) best defense in the league and a big ole question mark at quarterback. Khalil Mack has been league MVP worthy and has flipped the balance of power in the NFC North for the foreseeable future. Chicago also gets a shot in the arm in the form of Eddie Jackson returning to practice and looking to play this weekend. I’m also very interested to see what kind of tricks Matt Nagy brings to Wild Card Weekend. He’s been one of the most electric play callers all year and he’ll need to be again this weekend, because do you really trust Mitchell Trubisky if the defense can’t spot him a lopsided lead?
It hasn’t been the same type of road as last year for the Eagles, but yet here they are again with Nick Foles, laying six points in a game nobody seems to think they can win. The only thing missing is last year’s dog masks.
Maybe they’ll bring them back out again. Like Josh stayed, the defense has elevated their game over the past few weeks and for some reason I think the whole team rallies behind Nick Foles. Doug Pederson showed just last year what he’s capable of. It seems odd to think that the defending champs are the “nobody believes in us” NFC team, but here we are. The Eagles locker room should be wallpapered with bulletin board material. They’ll need it again next week in New Orleans.
Winter has come to Chicago.