For the first time in a while, the wildcard round met expectations. Three of the four games were decided by one score, and the Eagles-Bears matchup may end up going down as an instant classic due to its bizarre ending. There were also statements made by teams, good and bad. Let’s recap the weekend by looking at some winners and losers.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers (Won 23-17 at BAL)
Oh have the tides turned. Just two weeks after losing to the Ravens in a game that cost them home field advantage in the AFC throughout the playoffs, the Chargers made a statement by beating these same Ravens on the road. Don’t be fooled by the score, Los Angeles led by 20 in the 4th quarter and it took several miracle plays by Lamar Jackson to make this game look close. By no means did the Chargers play a flawless game. In fact, their offense disappointed. Phillip Rivers threw for just 160 yards, they averaged just 2.7 yards per carry, and no receiver topped 40 yards. However, Los Angeles’ offensive line only allowed one sack against a stout defensive front, and the Chargers were able to control the time of possession by seven minutes. A lot of the credit for that along with this win has to go to the defense. Los Angeles did a tremendous job stopping Baltimore’s elite rushing attack by using different defensive looks to matchup with the Ravens speed and to confuse Jackson. Baltimore ran for just 90 yards, and had negative passing yards at one point in the second half. They were left with no way to move the ball down the field, and that just shows how talented this Chargers defense is. They sacked a mobile Jackson SEVEN times, forced three interceptions, and held Baltimore to 33% on third down. That defense headlined by Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa, and Derwin James is talented, and they provide Rivers with the help he’s never had. That’s the statement that was made in this game- that the Chargers no longer have to rely on Rivers. This is a complete team with a lot of young talent that will just continue to get better and improve as the time goes on. For a team that once looked to have a dark future once Rivers retired, it’s encouraging to see that there’s so much talent on this team that it would be impossible for Rivers’ successor not to thrive. That’s for another day though, as the Chargers will now head to New England to take on the Patriots. It’s likely that’ll be it for the Chargers, but they may be the more talented team and they definitely have a legitimate shot to take down Tom Brady and co. Could an upset be in the works? At this point, should it even be considered an upset when the Chargers win, no matter who they play?
Loser: Houston Texans (Lost 21-7 vs IND)
At one point, the Texans looked to be destined for a first round bye, which would’ve given them a legitimate shot to host the AFC Championship game. Thanks to the scariest thing for NFL teams right now that is Foles magic, Houston was booted to the #3 seed. That meant they had to host the Colts, but they were still the division champs that were going to prove who the better team was. Well, the Texans proved who the better team was alright, but it definitely wasn’t them. Houston quickly fell into an early hole, and was down 21-0 at halftime. Deshaun Watson struggled when DeAndre Hopkins was shut down (37 receiving yards) by the Colts, and Houston didn’t have anyone else step up. That’s been the problem with the Texans. Due to Will Fuller and Demaryius Thomas’ injuries, Hopkins is the only playmaker on offense that Watson could consistently trust. Remember, Thomas was only acquired because Fuller, who has struggled with injuries, tore his ACL. Neither can be counted on moving forward after both suffered gruesome injuries that will take awhile to recover from. Watson also still plays behind the league’s worst offensive line, and it’s impossible to win when that’s the case. On the other side of the ball, the Texans “stout” run defense was gashed for 200 yards by the Colts. You read that right, 200 yards on 5.7 yards per carry! Houston once again couldn’t stop TY Hilton, and the defense allowed the Colts to convert 64% of their third downs. One of the league’s best pass rushes in league led Jadeveon Clowney and JJ Watt? Didn’t sack Andrew Luck once. There’s no other way to put it, the Texans were awful in every facet of the game. They were exposed as “pretenders” who only made it this far due to an easy schedule. The AFC South belongs to the Colts, and Houston is farther away from being a Super Bowl contender than many realized, especially since they’ll have a first place schedule to deal with next year. As of now, my money is definitely on the Texans not even making it back to the playoffs next season.
Winner: Dallas Cowboys (Won 24-22)
At 3-5, the Cowboys looked cooked. Now, they’re two wins away from reaching the Super Bowl. It looked like Dak Prescott wasn’t Dallas’ long term answer at quarterback. After the acquisition of Amari Cooper, critics of Prescott have been quiet to say the least. The complete 180 that is the Cowboys season could not have gone better for them, and they’re winners because of the effect this win has on them right now and in the future. Dallas played an exceptional game against the pesky Seahawks at home on Saturday night. Dak Prescott threw for 226 yards and had a big run late in the 4th quarter that was essentially the dagger. He did throw an interception, but that was more of a ridiculous play by Seahawks linebacker KJ Wright than a bad throw or read by Prescott. Add in 137 rushing yards by Ezekiel Elliot and 106 receiving yards, and it’s safe to say Dallas’ new big tree showed off on center stage. When these three play well, the Cowboys are unstoppable thanks to their superb defense. Despite facing the league’s top rushing attack, Dallas held Seattle to 73 yards on the ground. They also held the Seahawks to two for thirteen (15%) on third down, which is unheard of. Since both sides did their job, the Cowboys won the time of possession battle by around nine minutes, and were able to win playing their game. They were efficient on offense, ran the ball effectively to the point they could control time of possession, while their defense held the opposing offense in check. It’s how they win, and it’s a formula that makes them a dangerous team. Facing a 13-3 Rams team off a bye on the road will be tough, but Dallas can beat anyone, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them keep it close, if not win.
Loser: Baltimore Ravens (Lost 23-17 vs LAC)
Though we all fell in love with the Ravens as a dark horse Super Bowl candidate due to their stout defense and their elite rushing attack, it was always clear they needed to play their game to win. The second a team forced them to play from behind, they’d be toast. That’s because despite his impressive win-loss record, Lamar Jackson remains arguably the worst quarterback out of the five rookies. He had negative passing yards at one point in the second half, was careless with the football, and looked lost at times. It got so bad that fans even began to chant for Joe Flacco, yes really. The defense did their part, limited the Chargers to 243 total yards, but that wasn’t enough. It’ll be interesting to see what the Ravens do this offseason. They could compliment Jackson with better running backs or receivers, add to an offensive line that allowed seven sacks, or make a superb defense the league’s best. It may not matter though, until Jackson can become more of a quarterback and less of a runner. This type of offense can’t last, and if Jackson can’t stretch the field, Baltimore’s offense will be amongst the league’s worst next season. The Chargers showed how to beat Baltimore, and if Jackson can’t adapt, the Ravens will not make the playoffs next season. It’s just impossible to win when you have to so one-dimensional because your quarterback, although explosive with a ton of upside, is currently a liability. This isn’t to say Jackson is a bust, because there’s now reason to think so yet, but it’s safe to see it’s impossible for a team to make a Super Bowl run the with the current version of him under center. Baltimore will remain a dangerous team if he develops into a true passer of the football, but that’s a major if, and one that they have to be concerned about moving forward.