Everything you need to know about Wild Card Weekend

WEEI
January 07, 2019 - 7:02 am

By JOHN ANDERSEN

Mike Mutnansky is catching an enormous amount of flack after his disastrous start to the NFL playoffs on M&M Investments. I’ll defend Mut to, as Marc James would say, “a certain extent,” as if you listened to the most recent episode of M&M Investments backward not only does it line up with the Wizard of Oz but you also hear Mut’s real picks, which coincidentally are all of the correct picks.

Now, if you’re upset at the lack of accessibility to Mut’s real picks, then head over to my Twitter feed @JohnWEEI for the winners. No spelunking required.

Had Nick Foles not summoned a gust of wind at the perfect moment I’d have been 100 percent.

Here’s everything you need to know about Wild Card Weekend in the NFL:

Colts 21, Texans 7

In the name of shamelessly patting oneself on the back, this Colts win is 50 percent vindicating and 50 percent dirty. Vindicating because anyone who’s read these all year knows my thoughts on the Colts, and dirty because of the shame that comes with patting oneself on the back... as well as how obvious this one should’ve been. Riding the Colts this season doesn’t feel like some against-the-grain stance, it just feels like the way it should’ve been. DeShaun Watson is still missing way too many passes for the Texans’ offense to be successful when the running game fails. The Colts’ defense, led by rookie All-Pro LB Darius Leonard, held Lamar Miller to 18 yards and forced (or didn’t force) Watson to throw 20 incompletions. The last two matchups between these two teams saw a Colts offensive line, one of the best in the league, struggle against the stacked Houston pass rush. This game wasn’t perfect, but they and Marlon Mack’s success in the run game aided in opening up the passing game. Having a two or three-score lead much of the game kept the Texans’ front seven honest and prevented the Colts’ offense from becoming one-dimensional. Matt Eberflus’ defense held DeAndre Hopkins to five catches on ten targets and only 37 yards. The Texans’ success hinged on DeShaun Watson, and he made too many mistakes to pull through.

Cowboys 24, Seahawks 22

This one will go down as one of the most egregiously-called games in playoff history. Unlike the Ravens (more on that later), the Seahawks have the ability to be something other than the team they’ve been all season long. They’re run-first: they run the ball more than any team in the league and throw the ball less than any team in the league. But it in the first half the run did not work, because the team you’re playing (talking at Marty Schottenheimer at this point) has the best linebackers in the NFL and one of the best run defenses. The Seahawks aren’t the Ravens or Jaguars; they have an elite QB that can throw the ball, has had success doing so all season, and had success in this game. But Schottenheimer REFUSED to throw the ball in the second half, and actually ran the ball MORE in the second half than he did in the first, just with Rashaad Penny instead of Chris Carson. I guess the idea is if you can’t establish the run game with one RB, then try with another? Or, try with the QB who had 8.8 yards per attempt in the first half and was solely responsible for the game not being out of reach. The Seahawks’ coaching staff lost them this game; they had the chance to make adjustments at halftime when they lead 14-10. Dallas didn’t gain the lead until the fourth quarter, and despite the running game having done nothing all game, the Seahawks tried to put the game out of reach by running the ball when running the ball didn’t work. Running clock only works when you get first downs.

Chargers 23, Ravens 17

Twitter was awash with angry takes of this being a “boring” game, mostly from football Simple Jacks like Dale Arnold and Christian Fauria. X’s and O’s-actualized viewers like myself and Glenn Ordway were treated to one of the more intricate chess matches this season has seen, as Chargers kicker Mike Badgley put on a clinic of wind calculation, foot planting, and accounting for the spin of the (maybe) spherical Earth en route to a 4-of-5 day for the Money Badger. But the more interesting schematic move from either team this game was the Chargers’ use of safeties at linebacker, whose speed in the box contributed to a rough weekend for “run first” offenses-- which exposed the fact that the Ravens’ is more of a “run only” offense. Melvin Gordon also wrecked the Ravens’ offensive line, something that the two sacks on the stat sheet doesn’t fully convey. At one point in the fourth quarter, a hot microphone picked up Lamar Jackson dropping a hard F-bomb right as Ingram came straight through the line with no resistance. Shockingly Ed Werder had no comment on Jackson’s soiling of America’s youth, but chose to focus his attention on this:

The only thing more excruciating than watching the Ravens’ offense for the first 55 minutes of this game were the reviews. Not only were we, the audience, treated to some DMV level wait times, but then the officials would come back and rule the exact opposite of what was right in front of our eyes on the 9,000 angles shown. It’s like if Chris Curtis went into his testicle surgery, had to wait three hours in the waiting room knowing he’s about to get his testicle cut open, then came out of the surgery being told the issue was actually in his nostril-- but they had to cut his testicle open anyway just to make sure.

Obviously, those last five minutes were a slightly different story for Baltimore’s offense, but the success was still more based on broken plays and bad calls more than it was on playing within any sort of structure. That can work to a degree but tends to catch up with an offense, as it did when the Ravens got the ball back with about a minute left and LA’s second-round pick Uchenna Nwosu knocked the ball clean out of Jackson’s hands to seal the win and a trip to New England for the Chargers.

Eagles 16, Bears 15

The whole “playing within a system” point from the last paragraph is why I don’t have much faith in the Bears. I picked them to win this game and was a Cody Parkey drinking of the kool-aid away from going 4-for-4 on the weekend, but I wouldn’t have picked them to go any further. Trubisky continues to be way too frenetic in the pocket and misses on easy throws, but will scramble and make a big play, or even throw an amazing pass like he did on Chicago’s final drive; all of which combine to simultaneously fuel both sides of the “Is Trubisky good?” debate. QBs with this trait eventually hold their team back from winning when they play teams they should beat, and the Bears should have beat the Eagles. Chicago’s defense far out-played Philly’s offense, but Nick Foles is a QB who limits his mistakes; Trubisky isn’t. Foles gets the ball out quick, especially against the blitz, whereas Trubisky drops his eyes, panics and throws errant passes. Trubisky’s mistakes kept the game close, but the Bears still had a chance to win this one at the end.

Short-sighted, selfish move by me to not include an “any combination of the three” option.

DIVISIONAL ROUND:

Colts @ Chiefs

Cowboys @ Rams

Chargers @ Patriots

Eagles @ Saints

Written under duress by John Andersen, award-winning NFL journalist who has written books on Leonard Weaver and Yamon Figurs ... maybe. You can follow John on Twitter @JohnWEEI.

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