Playoff time has arrived in the NFL. The Colts and Texans take it to round three while the Ravens and Chargers do battle for the second time in three weeks. And honestly, these may be the hottest teams in the AFC so this may be the best games we’ve seen in a while in terms of Wild Card games. And could the winners be more of the favorites than the Chiefs and Patriots? Time will tell with that. But today, let’s look at these two games.
COLTS AT TEXANS, 4:15 (SATURDAY), ESPN:
FOR THE COLTS: It will be very important on how they start the game. They need to take the Texans fans out of the game early. They jumped to a 17-7 lead at halftime in Houston last month not looking back in a 24-21 stunner. It gave Indianapolis that massive momentum of a team that doesn’t need to be messed with. Andrew Luck is getting stronger and better as the season continued while TY Hilton has been a monster in this stretch (while being “questionable” with his nagging ankle injury) and to me being one of the game’s elite receivers. Adding on top, the Colts may have found a stud at running back in Marlon Mack (25+ rushing attempts in two of the final 3 games of the season). The defense has been pretty good in this run and has a feel of the 2016 Falcons defense down the stretch of playing stronger and stronger with a young group of standout players led by Darius Leonard. But once again, they have to be on top of their game against DeShaun Watson and frustrate him as much as possible. Also, trying to find a way to keep DeAndre Hopkins from being a massive factor will be a key.
FOR THE TEXANS: Trust the stars. Houston has a bevvy of great players on both sides of the ball. DeShaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins on offense. JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Jonathan Joseph on defense. Those guys will have to play the games of their lives. Lamar Miller also needs to have a big game on the ground to keep Houston from sinking even at home. Last game against Indianapolis he only rushed for 33 yards on 14 carries. That needs to be better. Watson played decent, but was also sacked 5 times so the Texans need to do a better job of protecting their young quarterback. If Houston has no answer for the Colts pass rush, it may be a major repeat of last time out. The other major key is can the Texans put pressure on Luck the entire game? He was sacked twice but still threw for nearly 400 yards last game and nearly 500 the time before. Houston can’t shut down Luck, but they can’t let him take over a game like he’s been doing. Or the Texans (my AFC pick) will be going home Saturday.
OUTLOOK: This game will be FUN. I have no dog in the fight (and no, I do not bet on games) so I am going to enjoy seeing this game on how it plays out. I think we will see offense, but also I think we will see key stops being made and whoever gets that key turnover may win. I just think right now despite the hot streak they have gone on, the Colts are still a tad young and winning on the road against a team with a lot of veteran punch in the Texans is a tough task in January. I’ve told a few of my friends however that if there is one team I REALLY want to see win in the playoffs, it is the Colts. I just think the task is too great for a youthful squad. But maybe they aren’t smart enough to realize it and make that run. TEXANS 34, COLTS 31
CHARGERS AT RAVENS, 1:05 (SUNDAY, CBS)
FOR THE CHARGERS: The leader of the crew, Philip Rivers, needs to be composed. I know he is a fiery guy and people love him for that. However, when things go awry sometimes, it helps nobody on the team. That win in Kansas City the Chargers had in December, I felt Rivers kept his emotions in check well enough to give Los Angeles that W. However, one game later, it somewhat went away and the team lost at “home.” The team that frustrated him? The Ravens. And this time the game is in Baltimore. The weather forecast doesn’t play out to be a disastrous one for the team coming in from southern California (sunny and 55 is the kickoff forecast) and since I have joked a few times the Chargers have played 16 road games the last two years, it may not amount to much. But Baltimore really frustrated that balanced Chargers offense. And they went after the leader. So all the weapons of Melvin Gordon (12 carries for 41 yards vs. the Ravens), Keenan Allen (5 receptions for 58 yards), Mike Williams (1 reception for 7), and Tyrell Williams (1 reception for 12), would be useless. The good news is Hunter Henry, who has been out all season, may play Sunday so it will help out the offense and maybe spread Baltimore out. But if Rivers is pressured constantly (sacked 3 times in that game), there isn’t going to be much hope for the Chargers. Defensively, they really didn’t have Lamar Jackson completely take over the game in the win, but will have to be a little bit better and really win the field position war. The Chargers have studs around like Joey Bosa and Derwin James. They just need to step up in a big way to shut down Jackson & Co. The best bet however is for the Chargers to build a lead late and make Jackson pass.
FOR THE RAVENS: While the talk and love will be going to Lamar Jackson, the defense is what will be key. If they pressure Rivers and frustrate Rivers like last time, I don’t see the Ravens losing this game. Now if Rivers plays well and some hiccups happen, that is when Jackson will be brought in focus. He reminds me a lot of Michael Vick where he relies on the running and passing is still a question mark (for the record, I do think he will be a better passer as seasons progress). Part of it is the receivers have to make plays. But if the Ravens are down, that will be the big thing. But he can dictate the tempo of the game with his legs. If he doesn’t make mistakes with the ball, he should be fine. That means he better keep an eye out on Bosa because he won’t be fine for that long.
OUTLOOK: The more I have thought about this game, the more I like Baltimore at home. The issue isn’t really the Chargers playing on the road as they are pretty good and they’re accustomed to playing in front of crowds who pull for the other team. But it is how they can frustrate Rivers. I think Rivers had a great year, but he is one of those guys who wears his emotions on his sleeves. Baltimore is a team who feasts on those kinds of quarterbacks throughout its history. And while that isn’t Ray Lewis and Ed Reed on that side of the ball, CJ Mosley is coming into his own and a few other “no-namers” are coming into their own. The Chargers will put up a fight, but offensively will have issues I think while Baltimore does just enough to make the key plays needed on offense to win. RAVENS 20, CHARGERS 13
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat