It’s finally arrived, that part of the NFL season that all thirty-two teams have fought and bled for seventeen weeks over; sacrificing everything game after game, tackle after tackle, just to be a part of it, the 2019 NFL playoffs.
But only twelve teams remain.
The other twenty didn’t cut the mustard and are off to the Bahamas or some other warm spot to tweak their golf swings and cheat their diet, relaxing their fitness routine for just a few weeks until the grind of professional football gets started all over again.
For the twelve teams that made the grade, whose 2018 regular season records were good enough to qualify for a post season seed, their hard work isn’t quite done, the season’s unsatisfying end just one loss away for all of them but one.
For now, the top four seeds will enjoy a bye week rest while the other eight teams get the party started with Wild Card Weekend.
It’s four games, the first two on Saturday, January 5th and the second two on Sunday, January 6th, with all four games hosted by the third and fourth playoff seeds of each conference.
To get a big picture look at Wild Card Weekend, here are all four games described along with current predictions, odds, key injuries, upsets and underdogs.
We’ll answer some frequently asked questions about this opening barrage of NFL games and hopefully give you an idea of how exciting (and profitable) Wild Card Weekend looks to be.
This game takes place at NRG Stadium (formerly Reliant Stadium) in Houston, TX where the Texans have been playing home games since their inception in 2002.
The stadium holds 72,220 people, cost $352 million to build and was the first NFL facility to have a retractable roof.
Going into Week 17, the Indianapolis Colts were tied with the Tennessee Titans, both with a record of 9-6 and trailing the Houston Texans by a game in the AFC South.
The Colts were already scheduled to play the Titans in Week 17, and given that they were both fighting for the same sixth seed, it was the perfect kind of matchup to end the season with.
The Colts ended up soundly beating the Titans 33-17 as the very last game of the 2018 regular season and became the AFC’s sixth playoff seed.
Leading their seventh ranked offense is veteran quarterback Andrew Luck, who has had a top-five NFL season, completing 67.3 percent of his passes for 4,593 yards and 39 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
The Colts defense is ranked 20th in the league and they’ll be going up against a Texans rush defense ranked 3rd overall, so running back Marlon Mack will have to rise above his 4.7 yards per carry to help counter-balance Luck’s passing game.
There are seven Indianapolis Colts players listed as inactive for Wild Card Weekend, but even some who are playing are tweaked, like T.Y. Hilton who continues to play with a tender ankle.
Despite a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Houston Texans clinched their playoff berth in Week 16 and had an AFC South leading record of 10-5.
The Texans then clinched their AFC South title and the sixth playoff seed in Week 17 by beating the Jacksonville Jaguars 20-3.
Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins has caught 115 balls for 1,572 yards and 11 touchdowns, and if he and quarterback Deshaun Watson can get in a rhythm it will be a nightmare for the Colts’ 16th ranked passing defense.
This season the Texans have had eleven one-score games, which is a problem in the playoffs when it’s best not to let the other team hang around in the fourth quarter.
All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt (arm) and defensive back Mike Tyson (knee) are both listed as questionable for Wild Card Weekend.
Indianapolis has already beat Houston at NRG Stadium in Week 14 and could do it again, despite being the underdog by less than a field goal.
The odds makers have the Houston Texans favored by 2.5 points with an over/under of 47.5
Texans 27, Colts 21
This game takes place at AT&T Stadium, formerly Cowboys Stadium, in Arlington, TX where the Cowboys have been playing home games since 2009.
The stadium holds 80,000 people, 105,000 with standing room and cost $1.15 billion to build which makes it one of the most expensive sports venues ever built.
The Seahawks clinched a playoff berth in Week 16 by defeating the Kansas City Chiefs 38-37 in a game that featured four fourth quarter touchdowns, two from each team.
In Week 17, they beat the Arizona Cardinals 27-24 at home to bring their record to 10-6, second best in the NFC West to the 13-3 Los Angeles Rams.
The Seahawks only had 11 turnovers all season and finished top-ten in takeaways with 26, so they don’t fall victim to careless turnovers on offense and they’ll create fumbles and interceptions with their defense.
The Seahawks offensive line has allowed quarterback Russell Wilson to get sacked 51 times, tied for third most in the league.
There are six Seattle Seahawks players listed as inactive for Wild Card Weekend and some who are playing injured, like right tackle Germain Ifedi (groin), left guard J.R. Sweezy (ankle) and guard D.J. Fluker (hamstring).
The Dallas Cowboys clinched the NFC East division title in Week 16 after defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27-20.
Pro-Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliot sat out the team’s Week 17 narrow win over the New York Giants 36-35, so he should be well rested for this wild card matchup.
Running back Ezekiel Elliot, who’s had 381 total touches for 2001 yards from scrimmage and 9 touchdowns.
One of their biggest strengths turned into one of their more glaring weaknesses when wide receiver Amari Cooper’s production decreased in the final three games when he scored zero touchdowns after notching five scores in the previous three games.
Four Cowboys are listed as inactive for Wild Card Weekend, the toughest being guard Zack Martin (ankle), while guard Xavier Su’a-Filo (ankle) and outside linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (shin) are both listed as questionable.
The Seahawks could easily take this one, just like they did in six of their last seven games, though their 4-4 road record keeps all optimism and hope in perspective.
The odds makers have the Dallas Cowboys favored by 2.5 points with an over/under of 42.0.
Cowboys 24, Seahawks 21
This game takes place at M&T Bank Stadium, once referred to as Ravens Stadium, in Baltimore, MD where the Ravens have been playing home games since 1998.
The stadium holds 71,008 people and cost $331 million to build and is located adjacent to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the home of the Baltimore Orioles.
The Chargers clinched a playoff berth in Week 15 by defeating the Kansas City Chiefs 29-28 in front of their hometown crowd.
In Week 17, they beat the Denver Broncos 23-9 but due to a tiebreaker, they placed second in the AFC West and the 5th seed in the playoffs.
Besides their veteran quarterback Philip Rivers, who’s quietly thrown for the eighth most yards in the league (4,308), it’s their place kicker Michael Badgley, who’s 14-for-14 in field goals under fifty yards.
The Chargers are a notoriously slow starting team, and in the playoffs, it’s a lot tougher to come back from early deficits.
There are two Los Angeles Chargers players listed as questionable for Wild Card Weekend, running back Melvin Gordon (ankle) and outside linebacker Jatavis Brown (ankle).
The Baltimore Ravens clinched the AFC North division title and AFC sixth playoff seed in Week 17 after barely defeating the resurging Cleveland Browns 26-24.
Had they lost that game, the Pittsburgh Steelers would have been in the post season in their place.
Baltimore has the number one defense in the league, allowing opponents to score an average of just 17.9 points and move the ball 292.9 total yards per game.
Could be their starting quarterback, Lamar Jackson, but only because he’s a rookie and it’s the playoffs, which tend to overwhelm the newest players.
One Baltimore Ravens player is listed as questionable for Wild Card Weekend, guard Alex Lewis (shoulder).
The Ravens just beat the Chargers in Week 16 by a score of 22-10, but Los Angeles is 7-1 on the road so they could find an upset win in Baltimore.
The odds makers have the Baltimore Ravens favored by 2.5 points with an over/under of 42.0.
Los Angeles 21, Ravens 20
This game takes place at Soldier Field in Chicago, IL where the Cowboys have been playing home games since 1971.
The stadium holds 61,500 people, and cost $186 million to build plus there were $842 million in renovations done in 2001-03.
The Eagles clinched a playoff berth in Week 17 after they defeated the Washington Redskins 24-0 in front of their hometown crowd.
The Eagles finished a game behind the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East and ended up as the NFC’s sixth seed in the playoffs.
Once again, as in last season when he jumped off the bench and took the team to a Super Bowl Championship, this season has to be backup quarterback Nick Foles, who, since starting as quarterback due to Carson Wentz’s back injury five weeks ago, has gone 4-1.
The Eagles defense is ranked 23rd in the league and allows opponents to score an average of 21.8 points and move the ball a total of 366 yards per game.
There are four Eagles players listed as questionable for Wild Card Weekend, none that are more important to Philadelphia than now starter Nick Foles (ribs).
The Chicago Bears clinched the NFC North division title in Week 15 by defeating the Green Bay Packers 24-17.
With two NFC teams possessing better records by just one win, the Bears are forced to host the wild card game and take their chances against the Super Bowl defending champion Eagles.
Got to be their defense, ranked third in the league in yards allowed per game (299) but were clearly ranked first in DVOA, although running back Tarik Cohen and linebacker Khalil Mack also make life more interesting for everyone but the other teams.
Got to be their offense, which is ranked 21st in total yards gained per game (343) although they are a top-ten scoring team, averaging 26.3 points per matchup with second year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
Of the six Bears players listed as questionable for Wild Card Weekend, half of them are wide receivers, including Taylor Gabriel (ribs), Anthony Miller (shoulder) and Allen Robinson (ribs).
It would take a miracle for the Eagles and their backup quarterback to beat the Bears, who are favored by almost a touchdown, but Philadelphia did the same thing last year all the way to the Super Bowl, so best not to overlook them too quickly.
The odds makers have the Chicago Bears favored by 5.5 points with an over/under of 42.0.
Bears 26, Eagles 13
The Divisional round will be next, with the two AFC Wild Card Weekend winners having to face either the number one seeded team, the 12-4 Kansas City Chiefs, or the number two seed, the 11-5 New England Patriots.
The two NFC Wild Card Weekend winners will have to face either the number one seeded team, the 13-3 New Orleans Saints, or the number two seed, the 13-3 Los Angeles Rams.
Specific matchups are still TBD.
Currently, the New Orleans Saints are the team predicted to win the Super Bowl, listed as +225, while the Philadelphia Eagles are considered the biggest long shot, listed as +3000.
Below are all of the current Super Bowl odds for the twelve playoff teams:
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Mike Lukas is a retired standup comedian turned freelance writer now living in Dallas, Texas, originally from Cleveland, Ohio. His love for the game of football and all things Cleveland Browns turned Mike into a pro blogger years ago. Now Mike enjoys writing about all thirty-two NFL teams, hoping to help football gamblers gain a slight edge in their pursuit of the perfect wager. Email: [email protected]More info on Mike Lukas
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