Mark Tenally/Associated Press
The Indianapolis Colts knocked off the Tennessee Titans on Sunday night to secure the final playoff spot of 2018. However, while the score did get a close at times, Indianapolis dominated the Blaine Gabbert-led Titans most of the game. The real pre-playoff drama occurred earlier in the day.
The late-afternoon game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns came down to the wire, and as it played out, Pittsburgh Steelers fans and players alike watched the action unfold at Heinz Field.
The AFC North title was on the line, and the Ravens won it with a defensive stand just outside of field-goal range. The win gave them a 10-6 record and the division, and it left the Colts and Titans fighting for the final playoff spot.
Pittsburgh needed a Browns upset to take the division, thanks to a 2-4 slide to finish the season. They and the 8-7-1 Minnesota Vikings both watched their playoff dreams die on Sunday afternoon. The Philadelphia Eagles slipped into the postseason with a win and a Vikings loss, and with Indianapolis win on Sunday night, the playoff picture was set.
The New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams all have a first-round bye. The other eight playoff teams will be in action next weekend, and we’re here to make our predictions for how that weekend unfolds.
Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans
When: Saturday, January 5 at 4:35 p.m. ET
TV and Live Stream: ESPN, ABC, WatchESPN and fuboTV
The Houston Texans have been one of the better stories in the NFL this season. They lost Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus to season-ending injuries last season. All three returned to form in 2018. The Texans started the season 0-3, they then rattled off nine straight wins and went on to go 11-5 and win the AFC South.
With the Colts coming to town, we’re going to have a familiar matchup. We’re also getting an unlikely one, as Indianapolis started the season 1-5.
Indianapolis is actually the more dangerous of the two teams in this game, as they’ve been scrapping for a playoff shot over the last several months. They’re a balanced team with an improving defense, a strong running game and a 100-percent Andrew Luck.
Luck vs. Watson makes for an intriguing quarterback duel, but we believe this game will be decided in the trenches. That’s a matchup that favors Indianapolis, especially when it comes to pass protection. Watson was sacked 62 times in the regular season.
Ultimately, a poor offensive line and a lack of receiving options outside of DeAndre Hopkins could cost the Texans. The Colts don’t have these glaring issues. Indianapolis won 24-21 the last time these two teams met, and this game might not even be as close.
Prediction: Colts 30, Texans 20
Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys
When: Saturday, January 5 at 8:15 p.m. ET
The NFC action certainly kicks off with a bang. The Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys are similar teams that should make for an exciting matchup. Both have solid defenses (each is allowing fewer than 22 points per game) and both have a rushing attack that can dominate games. Dallas has home-field advantage. Seattle has a Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
There are two big factors in this game that favor Seattle, though. One is Wilson. He is a quarterback you trust more in a clutch playoff situation—as long as it isn’t throwing from the 2-yard line. Prescott has yet to prove he can deliver late in a playoff game, and if he’s asked to do so against Seattle’s aggressive defense, it could spell trouble.
The other factor is that Seattle is built to win on the road. While Dallas has the better running back in Ezekiel Elliott, the Seahawks have the league’s No. 1 rushing offense (158.5 yards per game). A strong running game and a stiff defense are always going to travel, and this lessens the advantage Dallas gets from being at home.
This is going to be a physical, hard-fought battle, and it truly could go either way. While not everyone on Seattle’s roster is playoff-tested, Wilson and head coach Pete Carroll are experienced in these types of games. Because of this, we’re predicting the Seahawks in a close one.
Prediction: Seahawks 24, Cowboys 20
Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press
Los Angeles Chargers at Baltimore Ravens
When: Sunday, January 6 at 1:05 p.m. ET
TV and Live Stream: CBS, CBS All Access and fuboTV
In a rematch of Week 16, the Ravens will host the Los Angeles Chargers with a shot at the Patriots on the line. The last matchup came in Los Angeles, and the Ravens won handily, 22-10. However, the Chargers are eager to get a little revenge.
“Round two — that’s all I can say about that,” Chargers defensive back Desmond King said, per Eric D. Williams of ESPN.com. “It’s round two and we have to get ready to play.”
This game is likely to come down to L.A’s ability to slow the run and its ability to protect the football. The Browns showed on Sunday that with some creative playcalling, a team can move the ball on Baltimore’s defense. Cleveland had 426 yards of offense but also turned the ball over three times. Those turnovers are why Baltimore is in the postseason instead of Pittsburgh.
The Chargers have shown they can win on the road in tough environments—they won in Pittsburgh and Kansas City late in the season—but they won’t if they cannot protect the ball. Philip Rivers’ two interceptions in the last outing against Baltimore were costly, and he’s had six in the last three games.
Our guess is that coach Anthony Lynn makes ball-security a major point of emphasis this week and the Chargers are more careful with the ball this time around. However, we believe a late turnover will still doom the Chargers, just like it did the Browns on Sunday.
Prediction: Ravens 26, Chargers 22
Philadelphia Eagles at Chicago Bears
When: Sunday, January 6 at 4:40 p.m. ET
TV and Live Stream: NBC, NBC Sports App and fuboTV
The Eagles aren’t quite the same team they were last season, but over the last few weeks, they’ve looked a lot like that Super Bowl squad. Nick Foles has brought some chemistry to the offense, the defense is feeding off the energy, and a three-game winning streak has the Eagles set to visit the Chicago Bears.
What awaits is a Bears defense that has allowed a league-low 17.7 points per game. The Eagles are going to need every bit of that offensive chemistry to put points on the board in Chicago.
This game will largely come down to Foles’ health. He left Sunday’s game with a rib injury, and he is set to undergo further tests on Monday, according to Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer:
Jay Glazer @JayGlazer
Eagles are planning more tests for Nick Foles ribs/chest tomorrow. Was in a lot of pain going into x-rays but hoping just a bruise and can play in playoffs
If Foles is at or close to 100 percent, we believe the edge will lie with Philadelphia. He has already pulled out wins against playoff teams (Houston and the Rams) in recent weeks, and it’s not like he lacks big-time playoff experience.
While Chicago can certainly lean on its run game and defense, the inexperience of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky could be the Bears’ downfall. If the Eagles are forced to start Nate Sudfeld, though, the advantage will rest with the Bears.
“My plan is to get ready to roll,” Foles said, per ESPN’s Michele Steele.
For now, we’re going to assume that Foles will start, and because of that, we’re going to pick the Eagles to come out on top.
Prediction: Eagles 22, Bears 17