Wild Card Round Observations

I went 0-3-1 ATS and had to tear up my 18:1 ticket on the Ravens to win the AFC, so I didn’t especially enjoy Wild Card weekend. What’s worse is with the exception of the Cowboys-Seahawks which started at 1:00 am my time, and which I watched via the 40-minute condensed version Sunday morning, I had the indignity of viewing standalone games in real time, something I had mercifully avoided for most of the year. You forget how much the experience consists in sitting through muted commercials and watching officials huddle while the booth uselessly speculates on what we’ll find out minutes later anyway.

People are excited about the Colts after their easy win over the Texans, but don’t count me among them. Andrew Luck was sharp enough, Frank Reich seems like an excellent coach and they hit the lottery with Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard. But the Colts were life and death with the Giants at home in Week 16 with a playoff berth on the line, and now they’ve beaten the Blaine Gabbert Titans and the Texans. Their best win was a romp over the Cowboys at home the week after Dallas had more or less locked up the NFC East. Their future is bright, but I don’t see them hanging too closely with the Chiefs at Arrowhead.

Deshaun Watson had 4.8 YPA in a home playoff game, though he ran for 76 yards. DeAndre Hopkins had a miserable (10-5-37) game and looked like he was playing hurt. The Texans badly missed Will Fuller, a player who can actually stretch defenses. As great as Hopkins is at his craft, he’s had only 11 catches for 40-plus yards over the last four seasons, spanning 680 targets. By contrast, Tyreek Hill, who the Colts face this week, has had 17 40-yard plays on 242 targets over the last two years.

Keke Coutee (14-11-110-1) was the Texans’ only bright spot, and it mostly came in garbage time.

It’s funny as soon as we heard about Watson’s streak of not losing a game by more than one score since high school, his team lost by 14.

I get the Colts offensive line is good, but no sacks from J.J. Watt or Jadeveon Clowney in a home playoff game is weak.

Running backs often don’t matter, but Ezekiel Elliott (26-137-1, 5-4-32) is a difference maker for Dallas. I heard someone compare him to Emmitt Smith, and I think that’s apt. There’s not much Barry Sanders/Saquon Barkley in them, but they’re always moving forward, finding the hole that’s there, twisting, fighting and spinning for extra yards.

Tyler Lockett (6-4-120) was the Seahawks only productive weapon. It’s amazing how efficient he and Russell Wilson have been together this entire year.

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The Seahawks should have involved the speedy Rashaad Penny (4-for-29) more. Chris Carson (13-for-20) had nowhere to go, and his brute force style wasn’t working against Dallas’ stout run defense.

The Ravens offense struggled for 53 minutes, but it’s not like the Chargers moved the ball, either. Philip Rivers (5.0 YPA, 160 passing yards, no TDs) and Melvin Gordon (2.4 YPC) did little, and but for a Kenneth Dixon fumble, a Lamar Jackson pick and a nice punt return by Desmond King, the score would have been 3-0 at the half.

Jackson looked terrible most of the game, but finished with 194 passing yards (6.7 YPA), two passing TDs and 54 rushing yards. But the pick and the fumbles (three, one lost) killed the Ravens. I still have to imagine they’re sold on him as their starter for 2019, especially after his late-game comeback.

It was amazing the Ravens even got the ball back with 54 seconds down only six. When the Chargers went up 23-3 with 9:09 left in the third quarter, people were actually clamoring for the washed-up Joe Flacco! As if Flacco, who’s been a poor man’s Eli Manning for six years, had any hope of engineering a comeback against a top pass defense. John Harbaugh wisely stuck with Jackson who made it a game before losing a fumble to seal it.

Nick Foles didn’t play a great game, but he was calm and unflustered on the road against arguably the league’s toughest defense and engineered the game-winning drive, converting the go-ahead TD on fourth down. If he beats the Saints this week, how can the Eagles not consider keeping him and dealing Carson Wentz? Foles turns 30 in a couple weeks and has at least five years left in him. He reminds me of Kurt Warner in some ways, left for dead after putting up historic numbers in 2013, only to return and prove it was no fluke.

Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz, Golden Tate, Nelson Agholor and Dallas Goedert are a deep and talented receiving corps.

As of one month ago, who thought two NFC East teams would be left standing among the final eight?

Mitchell Trubisky (303 yards, 7.0 YPA, one TD, no picks) played well mostly from the pocket after hurting his leg early in the game. He made accurate throws, didn’t make many mistakes and led the team on the would-be game-winning drive. Allen Robinson (13-10-143-1) proved his worth this game, playing like the No. 1 WR he was in 2015.

Parkey actually hit the game-winning field goal, but Doug Pederson called time out and made him kick it again. Usually the time out to “ice” the kicker is a waste of everyone’s time and often backfires, but here it made all the difference. The missed kick hit both the upright and the cross bar, so it wasn’t by much, and as it turns out might have been tipped (blocked) at the line of scrimmage.