This weekend's list of wild card participants includes two teams with quarterbacks who missed the majority of the previous season, a reigning Super Bowl Champion on the brink of a quarterback controversy, a rookie phenom who's led his team to six of seven wins to secure a division title and a field general no one wants to face in a one and done scenario.
Four potentially entertaining games headline the start of the NFL's postseason beginning with the Indianapolis Colts (10-6) at the Houston Texans (11-5) followed by the Seattle Seahawks (10-6) facing the Dallas Cowboys (10-6). Sunday's games showcase the AFC North Champion Baltimore Ravens hosting the surprising Los Angeles Chargers. The day closes out with the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) going on the road to meet the Chicago Bears (12-4).
Who: Indianapolis Colts vs. Houston Texans
When: Saturday 4:35 PM EST
The Colts and Texans split their season series with the Colts winning in Houston 24-21 on December 12th. Deshaun Watson was 22 of 38 for 267 yards and a touchdown. The most telling statistic was the five sacks surrendered by the Texans offensive line so late in the season. Watson was held in check outside of the pocket -- finishing with an uncharacteristic 35 yards on 5 rushes.
The Texans offense doesn't strike fear in most teams, but when DeAndre Hopkins, Lamar Miller and Watson get going, they are a problem. Miller shook off a late season injury and looks ready to go. Hopkins has caught 115 passes this season without a drop - the most since 2007. Watson bounced back from a season-ending knee injury last season and hasn't missed a beat, passing for 26 touchdowns while only being picked off 9 times. Watson also finished second on the team in rushing with 551 yards and five more scores. Mid-season pickup Demaryius Thomas serves as a bigger target for Watson when coverage leans toward Hopkins. Third wide receiver Keke Coutee has struggled with a hamstring injury, but will more than likely suit up for today's contest.
The nightmarish combination of defensive ends J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney has a total of 25 sacks and 8 forced fumbles for Andrew Luck to think about. While pursuing Luck, they must be aware of running back Marlon Mack and tight end Eric Ebron in the short passing game.
Andrew Luck is finally healthy and it showed in his play this season. Luck passed for 4,593 yards with 39 touchdowns and 15 interceptions - his best season since 2014. Luck has a great combination back in Marlon Mack who started in Week 2 and has held the spot down since. Mack led the Colts in rushing with 908 yards and 9 touchdowns with a healthy 4.7 yards per carry average.
The primary beneficiary of Luck's return has to be wideout T.Y. Hilton. Hilton returned to Pro Bowl form hauling in 76 passes for 1,270 yards and 6 scores. To everyone's surprise the Colts passing game goes through tight end Eric Ebron. The Detroit Lions castoff had a career season with 750 yards and 13 tiouchdowns on 66 receptions. Ebron is just as effective on intermediate routes as he is in the red zone.
The Colts defense is led by linebacker Darius Leonard who leads the team in tackles and is second in sacks. He's complimented by Denico Autry, Jabaal Sheard and Anthony Walker. The Colts push upfront will be critical as the secondary has been unable to produce turnovers.
The Colts are the 3rd team in the Super Bowl era to start the season 1-5 and make the playoffs. The Texans are the 6th team to start 0-3 and make the playoffs. Something has to give today, but this is only the beginning of a potentially great rivalry.
Prediction: Texans 27 - Colts 25
Who: Seattle Seahawks vs. Dallas Cowboys
When: Saturday 8:15 PM EST
No team has leaned on one another more to get to the post season than the Seattle Seahawks. Pete Carroll's bunch looked like they were headed for a rebuild after their 5-4 start, but suddenly caught fire winning six of their last seven, including wins against the Packers, Panthers, Vikings and Chiefs. The Seahawks have been in every game, their worst defeat of the season was an eleven-point loss to the Cowboys in Week 3.
Seattle comes into the postseason as the NFL's top ranked rushing offense. Chris Carson pounded out 1,151 yards and 9 touchdowns on 247 touches. His backups Mike Davis and Rashaad Penny rushed for 514 and 419 yards, respectively. Davis is the one to keep an eye on with 34 receptions out of the backfield. Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett combined for 107 receptions, more than 1,50 yards and 15 scores providing the Seahawks with two formidable deep ball threats.
Russell Wilson has risen to the occasion once again this season. His 35 touchdowns are a new career high while his 7 interceptions tie a career low. One point of concern for Wilson is he has been sacked 51 times (career high) including six in the regular season finale.
The fabled Legion of Boom is no more but young players have gravitated around All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner -- the epicenter of the Seahawks 13th ranked run defense.
The Dallas Cowboys rebounded from a 3-5 start to sweep division rival and Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia on their way to closing out their season 7-1 and winning the NFC East. It wasn't easy and sometimes they were hard to watch, but as the season wore on a sense of urgency enveloped this young group.
Dak Prescott didn't look polished at times this year (22 touchdowns, 8 interceptions), but when the Cowboys needed a play, he didn't hesitate to look for Amari Cooper (80 receiving yards per game) or attempt to make a play himself. The luxury of handing off to Ezekiel Elliot (1,434 yards, 6 touchdowns) makes life under center that much easier. There were times where you could tell Prescott missed the safety valve that was former tight end Jason Witten. The Cowboys have a decent supporting cast to go with Cooper in Cole Beasley and speedster Michael Gallup.
The strength of the Cowboys is their offensive line, whose goal today should be to seek out Wagner and put a body on him.
Linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith anchor a defense which isn't much after the front seven. Tyrone Crawford, Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence should cause their share of havoc. A porous Cowboys secondary could be the difference in this game.
The Cowboys are participating in their 62nd playoff game, surpassing the Steelers (61) for the most postseason games played by a franchise in NFL history.
Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson are the only players in NFL history with 30+ wins and fewer than 30 INTs in their first three NFL seasons.
Prediction: Seahawks 31 - Cowboys 27