As we sit on the eve of the playoffs, the NFC Wild Card games are going to be a couple of interesting games. We have the defending Super Bowl champions having to take the long road to a repeat. We have a team who has relied on their defense to win games again, just like they did over 30 years ago for their only Super Bowl Title. We have a team who has rebuilt and retooled for another Super Bowl run. And finally we have a team who made a big trade midway through the season hoping to catch fire the rest of the way. And they ultimately did. So we have teams set with storylines and goals so it really should be a fun start to the playoffs.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS AT DALLAS COWBOYS, 8:15 (SATURDAY), FOX
FOR THE SEAHAWKS: They got there with a revamped defense and a young one. They god rid of the major veterans from the Legion of Boom years (save really Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright) and have started over, but it really worked as the poise and focus has been there (something I felt was missing for the past three seasons in Seattle). The Seahawks will rely once again on offense with Russell Wilson who probably had his best season of his career this year (3,000+ yards, 35 TD’s only 7 INT’s with a comp. rate of 65.6). However, Wilson can be like Barry Sanders of quarterbacks where he tries to do too much and can actually lose yards now and then (51 sacks on him this year, most in his career). And Dallas is a team that Wilson can’t try to be cute with the football against as they can get after him like nobody else. However, what has made Wilson more difficult has been the presence of a run game, something that really has been missing since 2014 when Marshawn Lynch was there. Chris Carson is a back who had over 1,000 yards and 9 touchdowns. If he has a good game, it will make Dallas’s defense honest which is great for Wilson.
FOR THE COWBOYS: The Amari Cooper trade installed new life into the franchise from top to bottom. Dallas went 7-1 down the stretch with Cooper on the roster (not counting the Tennessee game). Dak Prescott was the one who benefited the most as many started to view him as a flash in the pan. Prescott completed 69% of his passes with 12 TD’s and 3 INT in that span. Ezekiel Elliott showed he is one of the game’s elite backs and can really put pressure on any team himself. And in the game against Seattle earlier this season rushed for over 100 yards. The Cowboys defense has been pretty strong all season if not spectacular. They have guys who can get after quarterbacks (Demarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, Tyrone Crawford), and a great young linebacker that is fun to watch in Leighton Vander Esch. So the front seven for Dallas will have to be a major issue for Seattle.
OUTLOOK: The key match-up is going to be Seattle’s receivers against Dallas’s secondary. The one thing about Seattle and how great they’ve been has been the play of Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett notably for the Seahawks. If the Cowboys can’t get pressure Wilson, this may be a long game for Dallas. It will also be can Wilson play without trying to do too much with the ball such as trying to extend plays. If he can avoid that, then I think Seattle is in great position to win. However, he has also been hit a lot this year again. I don’t know if the Seahawks line can stop Dallas’s pass rush. On the other side, Dallas has been a far different team than the one that lost to Seattle in what feels like a century ago. I don’t know for as good as the Seahawks defense is, if there is any one player that can stop Cooper on the outside. That may be the two things I give an edge on Dallas with and that may be enough to send them into the Divisional round. COWBOYS 23, SEAHAWKS 20
EAGLES AT BEARS, 4:40 (SUNDAY), FOX
FOR THE EAGLES: Well, it has a small ring to it. Starting QB is injured and backup comes in and gets them to the playoffs. Philadelphia who had been somewhat lying in the weeds all season, strung a winning streak near the end of the season to defend their Super Bowl title. Nick Foles gets the nod, hoping to keep that magic like they had last season. But this time they have to do it away from Philadelphia and do it in a hostile environment in Chicago. Tough task to take. But Foles has Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz, and now Golden Tate to have a formidable passing game. However, the lack of a running game is very problematic this year (28th in the league in rushing yards) and going against the #1 run defense in the league in Chicago. This right here, if Philadelphia has no luck whatsoever, the game could not last very long. Foles however has been solid, but again, Chicago’s defense is excellent against the pass and opportunistic as well. So the Eagles will need to do something on defense such as getting interceptions and fumbles. That means the Eagles front four need to put pressure on Mitch Trubisky to have a shot. Trubisky had a great sophomore season, but hasn’t been tested in playoff time yet. The Eagles will have to force Trubisky into making some errors and stop the tandem of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. It’s a tough task to do doing everything on Chicago’s fairly balanced offense.
FOR THE BEARS: Chicago will rely on their #1 defense to get them to Atlanta in February. They are one who relies on getting turnovers and making those big stops especially from keeping the drive from extending into longer drives. With the Eagles having a non-existent running game this season, the Bears may not have to worry much on that and focus on going after Foles. In that case, you can see it being a long game or Philadelphia’s offense. With the Bears offense, Trubisky will have to play smart and not try to take major chances down the field if he is pressured. He threw for 12 INT’s (not bad) but it seems like those INT’s have come at times where he’s been under the gun and tries to do too much a la Russell Wilson. It may have to come with experience for him as the Bears have’t seen the playoffs for a good while. But I think to take pressure off of Trubisky, both Cohen and Howard will have to be actively involved in the offense so Trubisky has a great chance. When they are involved, Trubisky fares far better than when that aspect is shut down.
OUTLOOK: This is the one game that I feel “comfortable” in my pick. Chicago’s defense is tough across the board and Philadelphia right now is really one-dimensional. That bodes well for the Bears who can just get after Foles. As for the other side, if Trubisky plays smart and doesn’t turn the ball over, then I don’t see it being much of a game. The only way Philadelphia wins is if Chicago makes mistake after mistake. I don’t see it happening. Chicago has been a pretty disciplined group all season. Maybe a concern should be the special teams notably with Cody Parkey on the Bears. If it does, I don’t know if it affects this game. BEARS 27, EAGLES 10
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat