It was only fitting that Week 17 of the NFL season was up in the air for so many teams, including the first "win and in" game in five seasons between Indianapolis and Tennessee to cap it off. The 2018 NFL Regular Season gave rise to once hopeless franchises (looking at you, Cleveland), and a cryptocurrency-esque crash to reality for teams that some considered Super Bowl favorites such as Jacksonville and Minnesota. It even took a heroic December effort from Philadelphia to even be able to defend their title in the new year. Parody was ever evident this season, with less than half the teams that made the playoffs returning to the dance. With 20 teams now eliminated, let's look at the first round of games last weekend.
Philadelphia Eagles at Chicago Bears:
Philadelphia will be the only returning playoff team to play on Wild Card Weekend. With Carson Wentz banged up, déjà vu struck as the Eagles turned to Nick Foles to go 3-0 and head to the playoffs. Philadelphia started their title defense in poor fashion, but seemed to get their wake up call after a 41-point loss to New Orleans in November, going 5-1 since.
Chicago was projected to do better this season with Mitch Trubisky in his second year. It wasn't until the trade for Khalil Mack when the Bears looked like true playoff contenders. They took full advantage from the subpar seasons of the Vikings and Packers, and also ride into the playoffs winning five of their last six.
The game fell in the trenches between Philadelphia's offensive line and Chicago's defensive line. The Bears have only given up three touchdowns in their last four games, and will certainly be licking their chops to take down Foles, who has suffered some big hits in the past few games.
Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys:
Despite being dethroned as perennial NFC West favorites, the Seahawks found a way to find themselves back into the playoffs. Led by a resilient Russell Wilson who has quietly thrown 35 touchdowns, Seattle has found a running game behind Chris Carson. Without their 12th man support, their offensive line needs to maintain their improvement to keep up with Jason Garrett's offense.
Dallas comes into the playoffs winning seven of eight, including two wins over the Eagles and a Thursday night win over the Saints in that stretch. Another beneficiary of an Oakland trade, Dallas has played much better since the arrival of Amari Cooper. Even with Cooper only playing nine games with Dallas, he leads the team in touchdowns and is 3rd in receiving yards.
Containing the Quarterback, especially with linebackers, was the deciding factor in this game. Bobby Wagner and Leighton Vander Esch have their work cut out for them against two of the more creative quarterbacks in the NFL.
Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans:
Coming into 2018, the Colts' season literally were on Andrew Luck's shoulders. Through the first six games, Luck and Indianapolis looked like they were doomed at 1-5. They then turned the season and ended 9-1 in their last ten. Back in the top ten in passing yards per game, Luck has had an MVP caliber season.
Houston had a similar situation to start their season, albeit a quicker turnaround time. The Texans limped into a 0-3 start, but found themselves winning the AFC South, winning eleven of their last thirteen. Deshaun Jackson and Deandre Hopkins have become an electrifying duo, and Houston has one of the best run defenses in the league.
The Texans and Colts will likely come to how successful Luck can be against the 28th ranked pass defense. Houston never figured out how to force Indianapolis into 3rd and longs. If the home team can assist JJ Watt into pressuring the quarterback, they would've stood a chance in this shootout.
Los Angeles Chargers at Baltimore Ravens:
Less than two weeks ago, the Chargers were coming into the StubHub Center with all the momentum in the world. They were about to face a team with tons of question marks, especially at who their starting quarterback was, and were humbled by a hungry defense.
The Chargers are still one of the most competent offenses in the NFL. They are considered by many as the dark horse in the AFC. Phillip Rivers has proven in his illustrious career that he can go into hostile territory and win a big game, although not in consistent fashion. Los Angeles will need to cool it on the turnovers, however.
Baltimore nearly had Cleveland snatch away their season last week. They needed three rushing touchdowns from rookie Lamar Jackson, and a scrappy late 4th quarter defensive performance to hold off the Browns. John Harbaugh has the coaching experience needed to come away with another win.
What are your thoughts on the Wild Card matches? Talk to us in the comments section below!