Bal, Carson Wentz, Chicago Bears, Fletcher Cox, Jay Ajayi, Joe Flacco, Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack, LA Chargers, Lamar Jackson, Matt Nagy, Mitchell Trubisky, NFL, Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles, Philip Rivers, Vic Fangio
And now it is time to at the Sunday Wildcard games but before that there’s this week’s trivia question to deal with.
‘Firstly and with 2 points on offer I want to know
The 2017/18’s Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year played for which teams?
Secondly and again for 2 points:
What was significant about the 2015/16 Wildcard Weekend?’
Now, the first question I think is slightly sneaky as I believe both players were on the New Orleans Saints, namely Alvin Kamara and Marshon Lattimore.
The second is trickier and I’m torn between two things, either this was the last time that a team with a losing record made the playoffs, or and this is the one I’m going for, this was the last time that a road team won wildcard game. I’m sure both of these are wrong but I can’t think anything else so I have a nasty feeling I’m going to kick myself when the answer is revealed.
‘This week’s trivia is keeping me occupied and my mind off the state of the names linked with the Dolphins HC position!
First question was about last year’s Rookies of the Year, and I believe they were both from the New Orleans Saints – I know offensively it was Alvin Kamara and while I can’t think who the defensive rookie was, I’m fairly sure they were also a Saint.
The second question is a bit tougher. I’ve looked at the results and I’m still struggling. I don’t think it’s the first time any of the teams made it to the playoffs, and I don’t think there’s anything significant about the dates or anything like that. The only think I notice is that all of the road teams won which I would have thought is pretty rare… was it the first time that had happened? I’ll go with that.’
LA Charger (5th) @ Baltimore Ravens (4th)
The Ravens are yet another example of your season being defined by how you finish a season rather than how you start it, although they were at least competitive all year. However, after a 3-1 start the Ravens fell to 4-5 before the bye and had lost against all three of their division opponents. However, with an injury to Joe Flacco’s hip they put Lamar Jackson into the starting line-up and went 6-1 in the second half of the season. It has to be said that the reason they were competitive all year was that their defence was right up there for best in the league all season, and it was their offensive woes that were causing them problems after some initial promise. However, when they placed rookie quarterback Jackson into the line-up, they started running the ball so much that the combination of time of procession and their defence enabled them beat everyone but the Chiefs after their bye, including the Chargers. The commitment to the running game did not mean that they were lining up with 21 personnel and running up the middle, but rather the Ravens made use of the pistol and multiple tight-ends to take advantage of Jackson’s skill running the ball, which also opened up the game for their running backs. How sustainable this is in the long term I don’t know, but it makes them a scary proposition in this game.
The Chargers may be the fifth seed, but they actually have a better record at 12-4 than the Ravens and have been a force all year. Their slightly slow start can be attributed to facing both the Chiefs and Rams in their opening four games but the only team with a losing record they lost to all year was their division rivals the Broncos. Otherwise, despite missing Joey Bosa for half the season on defence they won and kept winning thanks to strong performances on both sides of the ball, in fact they finished third in the league on offence by DVOA and eighth in defence. If there is a worry, it is that they have been banged up at running back through the latter half of the season and they lost to the Ravens two weeks ago. In fact, the Chargers had real problems picking up a linebacker defensive-tackle stunt in that game, which overcame Philip Rivers’ usual ability to counter poor offensive line play by being quick to get rid of the ball.
So how does this game look to shape up? Well, this time the Chargers have to travel across the country to face the Ravens but given their lack of home field advantage in their temporary home in LA this might not be the disadvantage you might think. You also have to believe that the Chargers will figure something out to stop the particular protection issue they had in their last game. The Chargers have the players on offence to function against a good Ravens defence and if the Ravens blitz as much as they did late against the Browns last week in a close game, then I can see Philip Rivers making much smarter plays to get rid of the ball. This is a game where if the Chargers can get up early they can cause the Ravens real problems by getting them out of their time of procession and defence game plan. I think it will be a tough game and I can definitely see the Chargers winning it, but with their ability to play in more than one way and the experience of Rivers at quarterback I give the Chargers a slight edge.
Philadelphia Eagles (6th) @ Chicago Bears (3rd)
The Bears are the turnaround story of the season having gone 12-4 after going 5-11 the previous year. Matt Nagy has been able to come in and improve the offence, although I was surprised that their offensive DVOA was only twentieth in the league, although that is still better than the twenty-eight they were last season. Yet when combined with the league’s best defence by DVOA the formula has been more than enough for the Bears to win. It helped that Nagy was secure enough when he came in to keep Vic Fangio on as defensive coordinator, who has continued his development of the defence and the addition of Khalil Mack via trade at the start of the season augmented an already strong defence and was in of itself transformative.
The Eagles on the other hand, have very much had a season of Super Bowl hangover and injury, which meant that they required a late surge and results to go their way even get into the playoffs. In fact they almost have to thank the very team they face this evening as if the Bears had not beaten the Vikings in their last game of the regular season then the Eagles win against Washington would have been meaningless. Both the Eagles’ offensive and defensive DVOAs are very average, and whilst the defence has struggled with injuries, particularly in the secondary, the offence has struggled with an absence of players who can stretch the field and a running game that has lacked consistency since Jay Ajayi was lost for the season to a torn ACL. It should be mentioned that Fletcher Cox has had a remarkable year as part of reduced but still strong defensive line, while on offence tight-end Zac Ertz has been the stand out player on offence. However, as is often the way, the big story of the Eagles’ season is at quarterback. Carson Wentz led the team for most of last season only to go down with a knee injury late in the season, which saw Nick Foles come in and lead the Eagles all the way to a Super Bowl title. However, Foles started the season 1-1 before Wentz came back in and went 5-6 and things started to look bleak for the Super Bowl Champions when it was revealed that Wentz had a stress fracture in his back. Now, last year’s run was remarkable enough for Nick Foles, who not so long ago was at home contemplating retirement, yet now he is an Super Bowl MVP and he went 3-0 at the end of the season to get the Eagles into the playoffs and here they are travelling to face the Bears.
The Bears are surprisingly strong favourites, with the line often being quoted as the Bears giving six and a half points to the Eagles, which looks strong to me. I think this will be an fascinating matchup and given the injuries I would give the edge to the Bears but if I was picking against the line I’d lean Eagles given their recent form and the fact the Bears have been limiting what they ask Mitchell Trubisky to do, and anytime you have to specifically game plan to limit your quarterback’s mistakes then you are at a slight disadvantage and I would not put it pas the Eagles to be able to take advantage.