It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Bowl season has concluded, the holidays are over and we can lock right in on the most important NFL games of the year, with 12 teams having qualified for the postseason and chasing the Lombardi Trophy. This might really be or so; legitimately every team that made the postseason can make a deep run this year. Any of the dozen teams in the playoffs winning the Super Bowl wouldn’t be that big a shock.
And Wild-Card Weekend should be fun too: only one of the games features a spread of more than three points, which means we should expect plenty of drama and action. If you want picks, DFS advice and a daily NFL breakdown for the playoff stretch, make sure and subscribe to the Pick Six Podcast. Listen to the latest episode with Brady Quinn, breaking down coaching rumors and looking at the wild card round, below.
And if you think you know who’s going to win these games, you can also join our Pick Six Podcast Playoff Pick ‘Em Challenge and compete against myself and other CBS experts right here. Mine are below.
Rubber match situation here for the division rivals in a game that’s going to be close. The first matchup was a 37-34 overtime win for Houston in Indy and the second game was a 24-21 late-game win for Indy in Houston. Andrew Luck deserves to be in the MVP conversation this year and Frank Reich would be my pick for Coach of the Year. They provide the Colts a significant advantage in terms of coach/quarterback combo over just about every team in the NFL. The Texans are close though — Bill O’Brien catches flak, but the dude has won a bunch of games with less than top-tier talent, especially at quarterback. Deshaun Watson has never appeared in a playoff game, but bet against him on a big stage at your own risk. I’m actually going to do just that, but not because I don’t believe in Watson. I just think the Colts strength — their offensive line — can mitigate the Texans strength — their defensive line — in a way that most teams are not able to do. O’Brien’s playoff record is a little questionable; the Texans were blanked 30-0 by the Chiefs after the 2014 season, so they went out and spent on Brock Osweiler and he beat Connor Cook and the Raiders but then got handled by the Patriots in New England the following week. J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney are playmakers, but something about this matchup just has me believing the Colts win in a close one.
Pick: Colts 24, Texans 21
Another situation where the coach and quarterback for one team are probably better than the other and that’s why I lean towards Seattle. I’ve been down on the Cowboys for much of the season, and it turns out I was wrong about them and how they would incorporate Amari Cooper and improve the offense with a true No. 1 wide receiver. Ezekiel Elliott sat out Week 17 and still led the league in rushing. He’s been dominant down the stretch. The Cowboys offensive line is a problem for anyone and Seattle’s front seven isn’t the dominant unit it used to be, although Bobby Wagner might currently be the best middle linebacker in football. Seattle’s strength is its run game and Dallas is actually good at stopping the run. That’s a serious cause for concern. But are Brian Schottenheimer, Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson just going to run into a brick wall over and over without some success? I don’t think so. They’ll be a little more creative in this spot with the offense out of the gate. Wilson’s been so efficient down the stretch — he completed 65 percent of his passes in the final seven games (Seattle went 6-1), while throwing 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He only averaged 211 passing yards per game, but his 9.3 yards per attempt is eye popping. I don’t see this being a blowout and I want to side with Carroll/Wilson over Jason Garrett/Dak Prescott if that’s the case.
Pick: Seahawks 17, Cowboys 14
The Ravens are awesome. They should be terrifying for the top two seeds in the conference (KC, NE) thanks to their ability to run downhill and play physical on both sides of the ball. But I don’t know if this is a great matchup for the Ravens in the first round, even if they already beat the Chargers. Lamar Jackson is a lethal running threat who is improving as a passer, but the Chargers have seen him once already in the last month. There’s only been three teams since 2008 with a rookie quarterback to beat a team once in the regular season and follow it up with another victory in the playoffs. None of the teams that were beaten had a top 10 defense by DVOA; the Chargers are currently eighth. Everyone remembers the Ravens winning that game, but people forget Philip Rivers was driving late when Antonio Gates fumbled. A healthy Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon — we think they’re healthy although Lord only knows why Anthony Lynn would play his banged up Pro Bowl running back in Week 17 — make a world of difference. Rivers doesn’t get credit for his playoff production, even though most of his losses came against the Patriots and he once played in an AFC Championship Game without an ACL. He’s going to shine in this matchup. Since 1990, five rookie quarterbacks have won a Wild-Card game. Three of those quarterbacks were favored to win and two of the quarterbacks favored were playing against other rookie quarterbacks (T.J. Yates vs. Andy Dalton, Russell Wilson vs. Robert Griffin III). Joe Flacco in 2008 is the only quarterback favored to win a wild-card, beating the 2008 Wildcat Dolphins on the road thanks to a defense that picked off Chad Pennington four times. If you’re getting a Hall of Fame QB against a rookie and you’re catching points you take the points.
Pick: Chargers 24, Ravens 14
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The Nick Foles hype train is running wild and people want to believe in the Eagles again this year. That’s fine. I get it. I really do. The Eagles are terrifying with their dog masks and their patented “no one believes in us” thing they came up with over the last 365 days. But you know what else is terrifying? Khalil Mack and the Bears defense. This Bears team has mauled people all year long. Compare them by Football Outsiders DVOA metric and Chicago ranks up there with the 2015 Broncos and 2013 Seahawks, both championship caliber defenses. The Bears don’t feel quite as dominant as those groups, but let’s not forget both the Broncos and the Seahawks surprised us as the year went on. Denver was a home underdog to the Patriots in the AFC title game and a pretty heavy dog to the Panthers in the Super Bowl. Seattle was 13-3 and established itself as a scary defense over a few years, but was still an underdog to the Broncos in the Super Bowl. Just saying that the Bears might be undervalued here considering what they can do on defense, especially with Nick Foles banged up and not sporting the full complement of weapons he had during the Eagles playoff run last year. Give me Chicago and I actually think they win easily, with Mitchell Trubisky putting together a surprisingly nice game for the Bears offense.
Pick: Bears 31, Eagles 14