sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, assistant sports activities editor): The NFL’s 2018 common season is lastly within the books. Earlier than the playoffs get rolling, let’s look again on an fascinating Week 17 and preview subsequent weekend’s wild-card spherical. We’ll finish with giving our Tremendous Bowl predictions once more, simply to maintain us trustworthy.
Salfino (Michael Salfino, contributor): I should revise my Saints-Steelers Tremendous Bowl decide.
The AFC had all of the drama yesterday, so let’s begin with the Ravens/Steelers/Colts/Titans enterprise.
neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): I used to be very a lot hoping for that Colts-Titans tie. However alas.
sara.ziegler: If the NFL have been scripted, we might have ended the common season on a tie.
neil: Notably this of all common seasons.
Salfino: What’s fascinating to me concerning the Ravens is that groups aren’t punishing Lamar Jackson for operating.
joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): I’m unclear on why groups don’t pressure Jackson to beat them together with his arm as properly. It’s labored up to now towards different extremely cellular QBs, and there appears to be no nice purpose why it gained’t work once more.
neil: That’s a part of what makes the Ravens so fascinating, that their second-half playoff push principally coincided with the QB change and this rush-heavy id that appears so totally different in a league that set new data for passing in 2018.
Salfino: Sure, the Ravens and the Chiefs are the offenses you actually can’t put together for in every week, IMO. I do not know how a workforce can put together for Jackson in a single week. However LAC at the least simply confronted him. Is that benefit Chargers? To me that is probably the most fascinating recreation of the wild-card spherical.
sara.ziegler: The Ravens almost let Sunday’s recreation slip away, although.
Salfino: The issue is that it’s so exhausting to remain disciplined and never chase him. Defenses are taught to be aggressive.
Jackson permits the offense to play 11 on 11, and all of protection is based on the protection enjoying 11 on 10.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Additionally unusual is that we will make legit comps between Jackson and Josh Allen. Invoice Belichick stored Allen within the pocket throughout Week 16 understanding the primary hazard he poses is from his legs. And New England gained.
Salfino: Sure, the Patriots are simply taught to be tremendous disciplined to allow them to counter that in all probability higher than most groups.
sara.ziegler: Did the Browns determine that out just a little bit too towards Jackson? The Ravens rushed for eight.5 yards per carry within the first half and simply Four.5 within the second.
Salfino: Perhaps as the sport wore on, however by then the injury was completed. The Browns have been simply getting gashed. The Ravens have been operating on Third-and-long and changing. It was like a university recreation — old-school school earlier than the passing explosion.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Credit score as nicely to the play-calling, I feel. It’s a really artistic scheme the Ravens are rolling out.
Salfino: Is the Ravens protection overrated? The place are the blue chip gamers? They’re simply coached so properly. Wink Martindale ought to get interviews.
neil: And Jackson’s personal velocity is basically one thing to behold. On that first TD Jackson scored, it seemed like he was shot out of a cannon.
Salfino: Jackson additionally seemed like he was enjoying at online game velocity even on the shorter second TD run. He simply darted into the top zone like everybody was standing nonetheless.
I feel the Ravens offense is underrated and their protection is overrated.
sara.ziegler: Within the different afternoon AFC recreation of observe, the Steelers got here out extremely flat earlier than rallying for the win, which wasn’t fairly sufficient.
neil: Pittsburgh’s season will go down as one of many all-time collapses, I feel?
Salfino: The Steelers should be probably the most disappointing workforce in current reminiscence. They have been prime 10 in all the important thing defensive stats besides interception proportion — which is fluky, however man that killed them. They’ve Ben Roethlisberger throwing for five,000 yards, two All-Professional WRs, and the operating recreation was high quality. But they only blew one recreation after the opposite.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Antonio Brown has been inefficient this yr, however he was missed.
Salfino: The Steelers have been sixth in yards per play and sixth in yards allowed per play and didn’t make the playoffs. That is virtually unimaginable. I assumed it was unimaginable.
neil: After Week 11, we gave them a 97 % probability of creating the playoffs.
sara.ziegler: I used to be stunned all season that they have been as excessive in Elo as they have been.
Salfino: Being third in sack fee and 28th in interception price defies typical knowledge that strain creates turnovers. Perhaps PIT was tremendous unfortunate, too.
sara.ziegler: They reeled off six wins in a row, however they by no means appeared dominant.
neil: A few of that was in all probability residual, Sara, from final yr, once they had Le’Veon Bell, and so on. However the narrative all first half was how they didn’t want Bell.
sara.ziegler: Yeah, and James Conner crammed in nicely for them!
Salfino: Is MIN extra disappointing than PIT? That is going to be a brutal offseason for Kirk Cousins. No participant in reminiscence goes to be beneath extra strain than he might be subsequent yr.
neil: This can be a fraught query for Sara ….
sara.ziegler: I can’t even speak about it.
sara.ziegler: Properly, Mike, everyone knows how nicely Cousins does with strain.
Salfino: I actually thought Cousins was a franchise QB. He did fairly properly with simply rubbish offensive expertise in 2017 in WAS, and this yr he simply by no means actually might get it going. He performed so tight.
neil: Sunday was kind of symbolic of the entire 2018 Vikings.
They managed their future at residence (granted towards the Bears).
Cousins goes Four-for-11 for two.1 yards per try and two sacks on third and fourth down.
Horrible general efficiency.
Salfino: It appeared like Cousins averaged a few yard per try. If I have been the coach of the Vikings, I’d inform him to take possibilities and never care about INTs. They’re overrated.
neil: The Minnesota protection was uncharacteristically dangerous on third down, too. Allowed 57 % conversions after giving up solely 28 % all season earlier than Sunday.
This would be the defining picture of the season for me.
Salfino: Cousins displaying Thielen find out how to run routes was each hilarious and unhappy.
joshua.hermsmeyer: One silver lining for the Vikings is that the situational soccer we sometimes use to guage Cousins as a disappointment is among the many least predictive of future efficiency in all of soccer: throws beneath strain, third-down conversions. Kirk deserves his share of the blame, however all the offense appeared out of sync yesterday and for lots of the second half of the season.
sara.ziegler: Cousins has his redemption narrative all set for subsequent season, LOL.
Salfino: The Eagles profit from the Vikings’ struggles. I can’t consider that the Bears are solely 6-point favorites.
neil: Notably with Nick Foles not essentially 100 %.
sara.ziegler: The Eagles don’t even want Foles, Neil!
neil: Carson Wentz? Nick Foles? Nate Sudfeld? No drawback.
sara.ziegler: Nicely … Wentz? Some issues.
Everybody else? Superb.
neil: Philly was all the time a backup QB’s dream metropolis through the McNabb period. A few of that has carried over, I assume.
Salfino: Foles has obtained to be probably the most risky QB in NFL historical past. We should always quantify that. He’s under common for his profession and is handled like a franchise QB based mostly on about 16 video games, if we embrace all of 2013.
neil: Yeah, the hole between his greatest 16 and worst 16 begins needs to be one of many largest ever.
Salfino: I can’t even think about the Bears dropping to the Eagles. They’re simply going to chew Philly up. The Eagles’ greatest playmaker continues to be 100-year-old Darren Sproles, who’s superb, however come on.
joshua.hermsmeyer: I can’t consider Foles with out wincing that he misplaced $1 million due to 4 snaps.
That is simply brutal.
Salfino: Foles goes to get $100 million in about three months, so I can’t really feel sorry for him.
The one different significant recreation yesterday — except for the video games that value coaches their jobs — was Colts-Titans. Anybody stunned that the Colts dominated that one?
neil: I imply, Blaine Gabbert was beginning for Tennessee, Sara
Salfino: Titans-Colts is QB wins to me. Luck vs. Gabbert. Come on. Homicide. She. Wrote.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Oh gawd not QB Winz
Give me the higher QB, and I’ll take my possibilities.
Marlon Mack outrushed Derrick Henry, so why not RB winz?
Salfino: No RB winz as a result of profitable yards per carry will get you nothing in win chance.
Josh, you and I agree broadly however simply quibble about how a lot credit score quarterbacks get within the passing recreation.
joshua.hermsmeyer: That is true.
neil: Both means, it’s been nice to see Andrew Luck bounce again from the damage and misplaced season to play nicely and lead a playoff push.
sara.ziegler: I’m nonetheless amazed by the Colts’ turnaround.
They have been at Four % to make the playoffs on Oct. 15.
Salfino: Luck must be within the MVP dialog. I perceive it’s Patrick Mahomes. However Luck has finished so much with rather a lot lower than Mahomes. Luck does seemingly have nice teaching now although. Frank Reich, who the Colts backed into, was the rent of the offseason. I feel higher than Matt Nagy even.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Luck really performed himself again into recreation form. Early on, his throws have been routinely Derek Carr brief, and by the top of the season he was principally again to the previous Luck.
sara.ziegler: So let’s flip to this weekend’s video games.
Colts-Texans and Seahawks-Cowboys on Saturday, Chargers-Ravens and Eagles-Bears on Sunday.
Which underdog has the most effective probability?
neil: Three of the Four underdogs are +2.5 per Vegas.
Salfino: Colts-Texans is the sport of the week to me when it comes to having no concept who will win. The Texans are a wierd workforce with nice strengths (QB, cross rush) and crippling weaknesses (offensive line, cross protection).
On paper, the Colts are a horrible matchup for the Texans as a result of Luck led the league in lowest sack fee as he utterly reworked his recreation to guard his well being. So sensible.
neil: Indy additionally additionally beat Houston in Houston lower than a month in the past.
Salfino: I’m going to fade the Seahawks: 25th in yards allowed per play and 31st in sack price allowed. That’s so dangerous. I can’t consider they even made the playoffs.
neil: Sarcastically, our Elo provides Seattle one of the best probability of any wild card weekend workforce. 😉
Elo tends to react strongly to current scorching streaks, for higher or worse.
Seattle has gained six of its previous seven, together with a win over Kansas Metropolis.
Salfino: In case you have Russell Wilson, something is feasible. I’ll stipulate.
joshua.hermsmeyer: I like Seattle personally. Turnovers are wildly unpredictable, and that drove their defensive Protection-adjusted Worth Over Common for a lot of the season, however they’re constructed to win shut video games like this one the place each groups seem to need to “set up the run.”
Salfino: The soccer story of the week with regards to the chess facet of the sport and training is whether or not the Chargers having skilled the Ravens offense can now shut it down. However they don’t actually do a lot on protection besides play that Seattle, straight-up fashion. So do they also have a bag of tips?
sara.ziegler: Appears unusual to me that the Ravens are favorites over the Chargers.
Baltimore is scorching proper now, however L.A. has been strong all season.
Salfino: Properly, Baltimore has had the most effective home-field benefit in soccer once you think about street vs. residence report. So LAC are up towards it.
neil: By no means underestimate the additional worth of home-field benefit within the NFL playoffs, too.
sara.ziegler: Yeah, that each one is sensible.
I nonetheless just like the Chargers. I’m being obstinate, LOL.
neil: Properly, this can be a little little bit of a counter to the QB Winz debate from above. L.A. clearly has the higher QB.
joshua.hermsmeyer: I like Philip Rivers and the Chargers as nicely. Notably if the Chargers hold Jackson within the pocket.
Salfino: No Tremendous Bowl workforce has gained a street recreation because the 2012 season. However I’ll say that the almost definitely street winners this week so as are the Colts (they win), Chargers (I can see it however don’t assume they modify defensively), Seattle (Wilson provides them an opportunity) and Eagles (no probability until Mitch Trubisky craps the mattress).
joshua.hermsmeyer: The Baltimore protection prevents completions, that’s their greatest talent. However Rivers has accomplished passes at 1.eight % over anticipated this season.
Salfino: New England actually will get examined if the Colts win. (They must play the winner of Baltimore-LAC.) If the Texans win, Houston is simply made for a simple Patriots victory within the divisional spherical.
Little fearful about how Rivers has seemed of late. However in all probability simply random variance. There’s not a lot knowledge on QBs this previous late within the season and into the postseason aside from Brady.
sara.ziegler: I’m nervous about how Rivers appears, too — a minimum of on this Mina Kimes drawing:
neil: That’s nonetheless correct.
I beloved that phase on NFL Countdown Sunday, the place they talked about Rivers’ trash speak. Which someway by no means consists of swearing.
sara.ziegler: I’ve all the time actually appreciated him. An ideal fantasy soccer QB.
Salfino: Philip Rivers is nice. A Corridor-of-Famer IMO. However unbelievably he has as many profession playoff wins as Mark Sanchez. He wants extra pelts on the wall.
sara.ziegler: Very reasonable.
Is anybody taking the Eagles over the Bears?
neil: I recuse myself.
sara.ziegler: Wait, we will’t make predictions about our favourite groups?
I’ve actually been choosing the Vikings to lose all season.
neil: I gotta hand it to you, these have been correct predictions.
neil: Versus this one:
Salfino: I feel the Bears simply crush the Eagles. This unfold is all Foles-narrative-driven, and I don’t consider in fairy tales.
sara.ziegler: Wow, Mike.
neil: Anyone choosing the Eagles in all probability does have visions of this being yet one more Bears group that acquired into the playoffs on protection with a weak QB efficiency
And promptly misplaced. However that’s not likely this group. Trubisky has been progressing.
(The protection continues to be superb, in fact)
joshua.hermsmeyer: You possibly can dink and dunk on Chicago.
Salfino: Keep in mind, Foles was LUCKY to beat the Falcons final yr. He had a ball go off a Falcon’s knee, or they in all probability lose that recreation. Then he was Cinderella, and I do not know how or why.
sara.ziegler: He did get to face the Vikings final yr — that undoubtedly helped.
joshua.hermsmeyer: If Foles might be environment friendly and wholesome, and the Eagles are affected person, I can completely think about a recreation the place Biscuit implodes and the Eagles transfer on. I feel the unfold has a few of that in it.
Salfino: I don’t consider within the Eagles protection in any respect. However I additionally don’t like how Nagy hasn’t given Tarik Cohen persistently extra touches than Jordan Howard. And the Bears are all banged up now at WR.
I agree with Josh on Trubisky, however the Bears and Nagy can’t put him able to lose that recreation. The Eagles haven’t any playmakers. Dare them to attain.
sara.ziegler: Yeah, it might be nearer than it appears. In fact, if Foles can’t play, then the Eagles will REALLY want a fairy story.
All proper, let’s wrap this up with our Tremendous Bowl predictions, so we will proceed to look ridiculous when our picks all lose.
Salfino: I’m going Saints-Chiefs, however that’s predicated on the Colts beating the Texans and giving the Patriots a nightmare matchup within the divisional spherical. It’s so public to fade the Chiefs that I’m fading the general public. Offense!
Mahomes wins MVP and Brees wins Tremendous Bowl MVP. Appears truthful.
neil: I’ve been saying New Orleans over Okay.C. for these previous few chats, and that’s nonetheless potential, so I’m sticking with it. (Regardless of the defensive considerations!)
sara.ziegler: I took the Bears final time, and now having watched them flatten my very own workforce, I in all probability have to maintain them. Bears-Chiefs, Chiefs take it down.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Chiefs-Rams rematch, Chiefs win. As a result of that might be the perfect ending to one of the best offensive season within the NFL in all probability ever.
neil: What’s the rating on that one, Josh? Is it the primary Tremendous Bowl whose rating will probably be mistaken for an Area Bowl?
joshua.hermsmeyer: 36-35 with the sport selected a 2-point conversion.
neil: Ooh, going low. I prefer it.
Take a look at our newest NFL predictions.