One half of the NFL's Divisional Round is set up as the Indianapolis Colts and the Dallas Cowboys were victorious in their respective meetings. Today, the Baltimore Ravens, Los Angeles Chargers, Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles will have the opportunity to advance.
Who: Los Angeles Chargers (12-4) vs. Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
When: Sunday at 1:05 PM EST
Today marks the second meeting in three weeks between the Chargers and Ravens. In their last meeting the Ravens traveled to cross country to stun the Chargers 22-10. The Ravens forced three turnovers while sacking Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers four times. The Ravens offense rushed for 159 yards, keeping the Chargers pass rush at bay.
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has show progression each week since stepping in for veteran Joe Flacco in Week 10. In that time, Jackson has compiled a 6-1 record with 11 total touchdowns and only three interceptions. Jackson's ability to escape virtually any pass rush makes him a handful to get a hand on in the open field. The emergence of Gus Edwards as the bell cow in the Ravens backfield presents the Chargers front seven with a definite challenge when the Ravens go to the read pass option. Javorious Allen and Kenneth Dixon are adequate backups to Edwards.
The receiving trio of Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead have been exceptional at getting open when Jackson breaks containment. Tight end Mark Andrews came on strong in the closing weeks of the regular season and should be a sought after target in the red zone.
The Ravens calling card remains their defense and its ability to make a game ugly. Led by the great Terrell Suggs, this defense has four players with five or more sacks. Linebacker C.J. Mosley is the Ravens anchor in the middle while Matt Judon, Patrick Onwuasor, Za'Darius Smith and Suggs create havoc in the trenches. The secondary gets its share of action with nine picks spread throughout the unit led by safeties Tony Jefferson and former Charger Eric Weddle.
No matter the result today, Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn has my vote for NFL Coach of the Year. The Bolts 12-4 mark was second only to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC standings winning 7 of their final 9 games, many in hostile territory have brought the Chargers to this point.
Phillip Rivers put together another excellent season and he didn't have to do it alone. The versatile backfield of Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler kept defenses guessing and Rivers upright and healthy. Gordon suffered a knee injury late in the season, but will be ready to go. Ekeler is a couple of weeks removed from concussion protocol, so he will be monitored throughout the contest.
Keenan Allen along with Mike and Terrell Williams (no relation) have combined for close to 2,500 yards and 21 scores through the air. If Rivers is given the time, this trio can give the Ravens some problems. Not to be overlooked is Antonio Gates or Ekeler as a fourth receiver.
Joey Bosa only suited up for 7 games this season and was still able to account for 5.5 sacks. The Chargers are going to need Bosa at his pass rushing best while remaining disciplined in going after Jackson. Linebackers Melvin Ingram and Jatavis Brown will fill in the gaps. Safety Derwin James is arguably the game's best safety and is playing alongside another Pro Bowler in teammate Adrian Phillips.
The Chargers had seven giveaways in their final two games of the regular season (12 in first 14 games). That can't happen today against an opportunistic Ravens defense which has fought tooth and nail to get into the postseason. Lamar Jackson remains the X-factor. The bigger the stage, the better he performs. I don't believe the bright lights of the postseason get to him just yet.
Prediction: Ravens 23 - Chargers 17
Who: Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) at Chicago Bears (12-4)
When: Sunday 4:40 PM EST
Amid injuries, chaos and a brewing quarterback controversy the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles have made it to the postseason. At least for this week, Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles will be manning a team that righted itself in the waning weeks of the season, winning 5 of their last 6 contests. Foles finished the season 4-1 as a starter. Foles didn't open the season looking his championship best, but late seasons victories over the Rams and Texans in back to back weeks have given the fans hope that this team has a deep playoff run in them.
Injuries have riddled the Eagles backfield which now is comprised of banger Josh Adams coupled with scat backs Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood. The trade deadline acquisition of wide receiver Golden Tate hasn't panned out as expected, but he was brought in for games like this. Alshon jeffrey has emerged late in the season and Nelson Agholor has remained a viable target throughout the season. The main cog to the Eagles passing attack is Zach Ertz who set the single season record for receptions by a tight end (116). Expect Ertz to be a little more motivated than usual as he was snubbed by voters for the All-Pro squad.
The offensive line has to be prepared for a constant pass rush led by Kahlil Mack and Danny Trevathan.
The miracle for the Eagles in this crazy season is their ability to remain in let alone win games with a depleted secondary. Five defensive back are either on injured reserve or the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Kudos to safety Malcolm Jenkins who played every defensive snap this season.
The defensive front seven was exceptional in the last month of the regular season. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (10 sacks) reasserted himself as one of, if not the league's best interior linemen. Free agent pick up Michael Bennett fit right in playing next to Cox as he tallied nine sacks. Chris Long and Brandon Graham were excellent as secondary pass rushers. Linebackers Nigel Bradham, Jordan Hicks and Kamu-Grugier Hill are opportunistic and physical. Cox, Bennett and others should feel comfortable going after Mitch Trubisky with three capable linebackers and Jenkins at their backs.
To say the addition of Kahlil Mack changed the Chicago Bears season around would be an understatement. It shaped the NFC North and probably the landscape of the NFC for the foreseeable future. Food for thought: Mack out-sacked the Oakland Raiders franchise that traded him.
Mitch Trubisky started 14 games this season and put together a decent run. A great deal of his success can be placed on the shoulders of 23 year-old running back Tarik Cohen who has become Mr. Do It All for the Bears. Cohen has rushed for 444 yards, caught 71 balls for 725 yards and passed for a touchdown. His nine scores tie him with backfield teammate Jordan Howard. Cohen also plays a major role in the Bears return game.
Taylor Gabriel, Allen Robinson and tight end Trey Burton give Trubisky reliable hands downfield. These three are even more dangerous if Cohen and Howard are included in the passing game. If Trubisky can get the protection and time he needs, he should be able to pick his spots against a beat up and tired Eagles secondary.
The Bears pass rush cannot allow Foles to pick his spots and the difficulty in that is Foles spreads the ball around, so he's not locking on to one receiver. Linebacker Roquan Smith will have his eyes on anyone coming out of the backfield. Trevathan can be a problem as a covering linebacker. The secondary will present a still challenge for Foles as Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson have 13 picks between them and former NY Giant Prince Amukamara chips in as a solid cover man. None of this works if Mack and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks can't pressure Foles.
Over the last 10 seasons, Super Bowl-winning QBs are 9-1 vs QBs making their first playoff start in the Wild Card round (Exception: Tim Tebow in 2011).
The Bears won 9 of their last 10 games to close out the season for the first time since 1985 (went on to win Super Bowl XX).
It's been 30 years since the infamous Fog Bowl game in 1988 and 16 years since a young Donovan McNabb returned home to defeat the Bears in the NFC Divisional Round. The Bears have the two H's (health and hunger) to put them over the top while the Eagles have learned what championship pride means. They won't go down without a fight, but the journey ends for Philly today.
Prediction: Bears 29 - Eagles 20