AFC: #5 Chargers vs #4 Ravens, 1:05 PM ET, CBS
It’s very surprising that the Ravens were able to get to this point, considering where they were standing in the AFC North race at about the halfway point of the season, and then even more so considering what their offense has looked like since Lamar Jackson has been the teams’ starting quarterback.
On the other side, the Chargers were still playing for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs last weekend if the Chiefs would’ve lost to the Raiders. That didn’t end up happening and now they’re stuck going to Baltimore to try and advance in the playoffs.
This game is a rematch of a week 16 game in which the Ravens were able to go to Los Angeles and get a 22-10 win. It also features two of the leagues top defenses, with the Ravens ranking second and the Chargers ranking eighth respectively in points allowed per game. That, combined with the results of these two teams’ last matchup, makes it fair to expect another low-scoring game.
The name of the game for the Ravens since Lamar Jackson has been the starting quarterback has been running the ball. They’ve been able to bring almost a college-like offense to the NFL when it comes to all of the different types of options they run and they’ve been able to be successful with it, and it hasn’t just been Lamar Jackson. Since the teams bye week they have been 6-1 and Gus Edwards has also been huge on the ground during that stretch.
For the Chargers, it’s a much more balanced attack. Phillip Rivers has had a great season, completing 68.3% of his passes, while throwing for 4,308 yards and 32 touchdowns to only 12 interceptions. Los Angeles has a really good receiving trio of Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Tyrell Williams, and on top of that, they have Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler as a very good running back duo that not only can run the ball, but they are both also big-time threats to do damage in the passing game out of the backfield. Overall, the Chargers just have a ton of weapons to work with, but the problem is that Melvin Gordon isn’t 100% as he’s been dealing with an ankle injury, and Austin Ekeler is listed as questionable for this game as he’s been dealing with a groin injury.
The result of this game could very likely depend on the status of a couple of key Chargers players. Of course, Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler are banged up, although it’s expected that Gordon will be good to go, but on top of that, the Chargers’ nose tackle, Brandon Mebane is expected to miss this game while dealing with a personal matter. Mebane being out is going to hurt against a team that runs the ball as well as the Ravens do.
With all of that being said, I’m going with the Chargers because they have a quarterback who has played in the playoffs before, but more importantly, because they’ll be the first team to see this Lamar Jackson lead rushing offense twice and I think they’ll be able to make adjustments to it to be able to put them in more third and longs and force Jackson to beat them through the air. Now they will have to be able to generate more than 10 points to win this game, which I think they’ll be able to do because it’ll also be their second time going against this defense in three weeks.
NFC: #6 Eagles vs #3 Bears, 4:40 PM ET, NBC
For the second straight season, the Philadelphia Eagles are going to try and make a run after a championship with Nick Foles and not Carson Wentz under center. But to even get that started, they’ll have to go on the road and go through one of the better defenses in all of football, which is a far cry from what they had to go through last season when they had home-field advantage.
Much like some of the other games this weekend, a low-scoring game should be expected. The Bears do rank in the top-ten in scoring points this year behind Mitchell Trubisky, but they can tend to be spotty on offense, and on the other side, the Eagles have struggled on offense a lot more this season than they did last season, but they have been gaining momentum on that side of the ball over the past couple of weeks since Nick Foles took over for an injured Carson Wentz.
The reason I think this Eagles trip to the playoffs will have a different result, is not only because the Eagles are really banged up in the secondary, but also because Nick Foles is dealing with a rib injury, and he’ll be going on the road to face one of the top pass-rushes in the league, lead by one of, if not maybe the best pass-rusher in the league, Khalil Mack. I think that Bears front will be able to get after Foles and make him uncomfortable while he’s already dealing with an injury that could have the potential to really be re-aggravated the first time he gets hit.
Now despite a banged up Eagles secondary, that was made even thinner when it was announced that Sidney Jones would miss the game with a hamstring injury, I think the Eagles defense can keep them in the game, because the strength of the Bears offense is running the ball and the Eagles were seventh in the league in stopping the run this season.
For the Eagles to actually go in and win they will have to find a way to stop the pass, which can be done because Mitchell Trubisky isn’t the best passer yet, but they do have some really good pass-catchers with Tarik Cohen, Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller just to name a few. Those guys are capable of making some big plays happen in the passing game, despite the Bears only having the 21st ranked passing offense this season.
I think this game will be close for most of it just because of how dominant the Bears are on defense but also because they are spotty on offense at times, but over the course of a whole game I think Chicago will be able to wear them down and with that pass-rush having the Soldier Field crowd behind them, they’ll be able to make Nick Foles very uncomfortable. Now the health of Eddie Jackson will be important for the Bears, but I think they can get the win here regardless.