gfoster (Geoff Foster, sports activities editor): The wild-card weekend — the most effective weekend — is within the books, and it will be onerous to argue that it wasn’t nice. Three of 4 street groups gained. Excluding the Colts wiping out the Texans, each recreation was inside a landing. Let’s begin with the newest outcome: Nick Foles and the Eagles taking down the vaunted Bears protection in Soldier Subject. This one was nuts — I’m unsure the place to start. Is that this Eagles group beneath Foles doing it once more? Do they should order new canine masks?
Salfino (Michael Salfino, contributor): I assume we’ve got to ask critically if Foles Magic is actual.
neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): Foles has gained 4 consecutive playoff begins as an underdog. Based on ESPN’s Stats & Info Group, that’s tied for the third most ever. No. 2 is Jim Plunkett with 5; No. 1 is Eli Manning with seven.
Is Foles the Eagles’ Eli????
joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): Whew. And the Eagles misplaced the turnover battle soundly as nicely. I feel we should conclude magic.
Salfino: He did have 10 factors via 59 minutes. Foles comping to Eli is humorous since I assume he might conceivably exchange Eli.
gfoster: The Eagles have been the sloppy, mistake-filled workforce of the 2 yesterday. A few of that may be chalked as much as the Bears protection; rookie Roquan Smith made a fantastic play on one among Foles’s two interceptions. However the Philly protection was additionally struggling to cease Mitchell Trubisky within the second half, which suggests Drew Brees will tear that cross protection aside, proper?
Salfino: In the event you had informed me that Trubisky would throw for 300 yards and Chicago would get two picks and never have a turnover, I might have assured victory much more stridently than I did right here final week.
neil: (Which was fairly stridently.)
joshua.hermsmeyer: If Eagles rookie cornerback Avonte Maddox continues to attempt to leap each route, then Brees will destroy him. I’ve to assume he’ll be a lot much less aggressive after getting utterly torched by Allen Robinson although.
Salfino: You’ve a 41-point prior matchup now, too, with the Eagles clearly on the brief finish. However that was with that bum Carson Wentz.
Rex Ryan is saying proper now that Wentz has to get traded.
neil: The opposite factor was that the Eagles’ operating recreation continued to wrestle. They have been second to final within the NFL in yards per carry through the season and averaged 1.Eight yesterday. Even in as we speak’s NFL, with the operating recreation taking over much less significance, these numbers appear to be they may hang-out Philly ultimately. (In fact, the 2 mega-run-heavy playoff groups at the moment are out, so perhaps it gained’t matter!)
gfoster: I’m wondering why the Eagles have given up on Josh Adams. He felt just like the participant who sparked this turnaround, along with Foles. They provide Darren Sproles two goal-line carries once they have been on the 1?
Salfino: Sproles oddly has been a really efficient goal-line runner: Eight-for-12 goal-line changing in his profession. League common is just a little beneath 50 %. I used to be shocked that the Eagles run protection held up. I assumed the Bears would management the sport on the bottom even with Jordan Howard.
In Philly’s final assembly with New Orleans, the Saints received 174 yards from Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram on 29 carries. Plus Brees had mad effectivity.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Chicago was higher statistically on offense in each class apart from third-down conversions and red-zone effectivity. If the Bears had used Tarik Cohen extra, I feel they might have gained fairly simply.
Salfino: Cohen getting only one carry and 5 targets is a joke. I feel this was Matt Nagy’s largest mistake by far. The loyalty all yr to Howard given his manufacturing is mysterious.
neil: Josh, it was that type of merciless recreation for the Bears — these classes are actually essential to Ws and Ls however are additionally probably the most closely influenced by variance. Oh, and in addition particular groups — the post-and-crossbar particular from Cody Parkey was spectacular.
gfoster: It was blocked! Let’s depart Parkey alone.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Completely. It was constructive Eagles variance Foles Magik. Unimaginable.
Salfino: Individuals breaking down that kick on the pixel degree is fairly humorous. I assume it was blocked? Can’t we simply ask the Eagle?
neil: Solely Treyvon Hester is aware of for positive.
gfoster: He stated he blocked it. That’s what began the Zapruder film-level evaluation within the first place.
joshua.hermsmeyer: I noticed a pic of his hand within the locker room, so.
Salfino: I observe that on that final Philadelphia drive, the Bears weren’t getting there with 4 pass-rushers and didn’t attempt to get there with extra.
gfoster: Within the first recreation Sunday, we noticed the demise of Baltimore’s run-heavy offense. The gang was chanting for Joe Flacco at one level. In case you are chanting for Joe Flacco within the playoffs, you don’t need to be within the playoffs.
neil: (Until the season is 2012 — and solely 2012.)
gfoster: Did John Harbaugh make the suitable name?
neil: Nicely, what was humorous to me was that proper once they began calling for Flacco was when Lamar Jackson’s passing began choosing up.
Salfino: Has a QB who’s unproven ever deserved to be benched extra in a recreation of that magnitude than Jackson? Even with the closeout, his QBR for the sport was beneath 10.
neil: He actually didn’t full a cross between 1:07 p.m. ET and three:06 p.m. ET Sunday.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Sure. Placing Flacco within the recreation appeals to our basest soccer instincts, however there’s nothing about Jackson’s recreation that means he can’t make deep throws towards zone out of construction. His difficulty is throwing on time and on course from the pocket. A mad scramble on the finish of the sport in catch-up mode is definitely fairly well-suited to his recreation.
Salfino: I didn’t assume the Chargers would do something unique with their protection, they usually performed a Four-Four-Three, however the again seven was virtually all the time all defensive backs, together with three safeties. It appears so apparent now: Get quick guys on the sector and slower linebackers off the sector towards Jackson. However I didn’t consider going small towards a operating recreation.
Watching Flacco is hardly interesting. I might have benched Jackson to start out the second half however would have had extraordinarily low confidence that it will have labored. I had zero confidence then that Jackson would work.
gfoster: The Chargers had an excellent scheme. And that scheme solely works when you could have guys like Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram up entrance, permitting you to play all these quick defensive backs to trace down Jackson.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Not solely monitor down Jackson — however cease the run! I assumed it was superb and one thing we’ll see extra of from NFL groups sooner or later.
Salfino: Bosa and Ingram have been so disciplined and efficient all recreation. The personnel trick will get loads of publicity, however the actual story I feel was how these ends performed.
neil: One factor that additionally contributed to Baltimore’s offensive wrestle was a subject close to and pricey to your hearts, guys: play-action.
Jackson averaged 1.Zero yards per try on play-action Sunday; in Week 16 vs. the Chargers, he averaged 12.Eight.
Salfino: The Ravens use play-action to arrange the run, I feel. They play backwards.
joshua.hermsmeyer: At one level, the Ravens’ internet passing yards have been -2, so I consider it.
Salfino: That they had operating holes within the prior matchup that have been so gigantic. How has no different group ever considered this? Now that’s the blueprint. So the Ravens have an offseason to counter.
gfoster: Los Angeles now performs Tom Brady, who is actually the other of Lamar Jackson in each approach. The Chargers with Philip Rivers at beginning quarterback are Zero-7 versus the Patriots when Brady performs. Even contemplating New England’s dominance on this interval, that’s onerous to consider.
neil: Pats additionally haven’t misplaced a house recreation since Oct. 1, 2017.
They haven’t misplaced a house playoff recreation since Jan. 20, 2013.
Salfino: I assumed Rivers appeared dangerous and has principally appeared dangerous down the stretch of the season. His solely Rivers-like recreation since Dec. 2 was towards the Chiefs. Two Ravens video games hurts clearly, although. He appeared like he was throwing a weighted soccer yesterday. A 10-pound ball to 300-pound Antonio Gates.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Vegas has the Chargers as Four.5-point canine on the street, and I feel that’s a superb reflection of actuality. I feel the Chargers have an excellent shot of knocking the Patriots out — particularly if they will scheme up counters to Gronk in his dotage and Julian Edelman. Then it’s going to simply be about not letting guys like White and Patterson gash you.
Salfino: Are these actually the Patriots although? What’s their defining power? The place are they even above common? Avoiding sacks, I assume.
neil: This has undoubtedly been sort of a “down” yr by Pats requirements. But they nonetheless ranked fifth in offensive Protection-adjusted Worth Over Common and eighth general, in response to Soccer Outsiders. And two of the groups forward of them in complete DVOA are gone from the playoffs already. (Granted, one of many groups forward of them is the Chargers.)
Salfino: Man, if Cordarrelle Patterson is a serious man you need to fear about, you’re in fairly fine condition defensively.
The Patriots make all their spares on offense. No strikes although.
joshua.hermsmeyer: It simply looks like such a Invoice Belichick transfer to create a particular gameplan for him within the playoffs.
Salfino: Nothing is straightforward now for New England.
gfoster: Let’s speak concerning the Saturday video games. Who would have thought midway by means of this season that we might have TWO NFC East groups within the divisional spherical? I don’t know what to make of this Cowboys’ workforce.
Salfino: Dallas had an enormous help from Seattle offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. I flip it over to Josh. ?
neil: Oh, boy.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Somebody needed to win that recreation is all I can say.
Salfino: Schotty dusted off the Mark Sanchez Rookie Playoff Gameplan for Russell Wilson, who’s a Corridor of Famer. It was bizarre.
neil: I beloved the Seahawks’ single-minded devotion to not utilizing Russell Wilson.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Going run-run-pass on their first collection of the sport was breathtaking in its devotion to establishing the run.
neil: That one sequence the place it was like:
- Shotgun run for Three
- Shotgun run for Zero
- Shotgun run for two
- 22-yard bomb downfield
- Shotgun run for Three
- Shotgun run for two
Salfino: Dallas managed the sport, however you actually felt that the play-calling by the Seahawks was controlling Seattle.
The low-percentage passing was a narrative for that recreation, too. It’s like Schottenheimer hasn’t found out that the principles have opened up the intermediate center of the sector. That’s the assault zone now.
joshua.hermsmeyer: When Seattle lastly did get a long term from Rashaad Penny, they ran him on a sweep to the vast aspect of the sector instantly after although he was gassed from the earlier run. They misplaced 7 yards.
Salfino: Seattle made, like, eight performs on offense all the recreation.
Adverse runs are a Penny particular although. To be truthful.
joshua.hermsmeyer: When you have no really feel for passing, you higher have a really feel for the run recreation, is all I’m saying.
Salfino: Chris Carson had nothing all day, for positive. And he’s been good-to-great.
gfoster: I give credit score to the Dallas protection although — dangerous play-calling by Seattle apart. We watched this staff utterly bottle up the Saints a couple of weeks in the past. They don’t seem to be given sufficient credit score.
Salfino: Seattle’s protection had its issues, too. Permitting Dak Prescott to transform that QB draw play on the finish of the sport was insane. You need to be in search of that in that spot given the clock. And also you let him convert a third-and-14 draw the place the sector objective there’s completely meaningless since you have been down your kicker anyway.
I agree that the Dallas D could be very underrated.
joshua.hermsmeyer: I don’t assume Dallas’s protection goes to assist them a lot shifting ahead. It hasn’t helped anybody else:
gfoster: The large factor about this subsequent Dallas recreation: I nonetheless don’t know what has occurred to the Rams. They couldn’t have much less buzz getting into the playoffs — and that’s a workforce that was wanting nearly unbeatable on the midway level. Or perhaps it’s all some elaborate Sean McVay ruse?
joshua.hermsmeyer: I’ve a principle!
gfoster: Cooper Kupp damage?
Salfino: The story for the Rams now’s that their play-action recreation has collapsed. Is it groups ignoring the run menace? Todd Gurley being banged up/out? Kupp? One thing is amiss. They’re down, like, Four yards per play-action move since Week 9.
That is undoubtedly going to be a house recreation for Dallas. The Rams will run silent counts on this recreation, I’m critical.
joshua.hermsmeyer: I feel the Rams’ success could be very scheme-dependent, and typically play-callers maintain on to their greatest counters and maintain them off the tape in the event that they know they’ll make the playoffs. Principally, they need to save their good performs for when it counts. The previous few video games have been utterly totally different when it comes to personnel utilization (two tight ends vs. three vast receivers) than the remainder of the season once they have been so profitable.
Salfino: This can be a good level. It’s like how groups that know going for two is sensible don’t do it as a result of they need to save their highest-ranked goal-line performs for touchdowns.
gfoster: Ah, sure — the previous principle on Belichick. That he’s hiding his playoff scheme when toiling within the common season.
neil: I do marvel how a lot of that’s actual and the way a lot we map onto official (and even random) struggles as a method of explaining them.
Salfino: Belichick was all the time getting the highest seeds although anyway. He didn’t disguise it towards the Jets in 2010. ?
gfoster: Neil is so anti-Sean McVay love.
joshua.hermsmeyer: That’s admittedly an enormous hazard, Neil. However I all the time like an excellent concept!
Salfino: Sure, Neil’s level is sweet. The only purpose is that they’re making an attempt however groups have adjusted.
neil: I feel I really feel the necessity to counter the soccer media’s obsession with Younger Genius Play-Callers (TM).
Salfino: McVay is a generational expertise.
gfoster: Lastly, let’s speak concerning the Colts and, particularly, Frank Reich’s superior beard. And extra particularly, how a lot enjoyable will this recreation be towards the Chiefs? Looks like a 60-, 70-point affair.
neil: Are Frank Reich and Adam Vinatieri having a graybeard contest? Who will get to Santa Claus-level first?
Salfino: Reich seems to be like he conceives his gameplans in a cabin within the woods by candlelight.
Marlon Mack is sending a message to Le’Veon Bell, I assume, that the Colts are effective at RB.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Vegas actually appears to love the Colts. Okay.C. is only a 5.5-point favourite, which strikes me as very unusual. I’ll place a wager.
neil: Are they skittish about Andy Reid?
gfoster: The Colts are undoubtedly the general public favourite proper now. Kinda the other of the Rams.
neil: Reminiscences of this?
joshua.hermsmeyer: Overweighting protection, IMO.
Salfino: I agree that this line is just too low. The Colts, like Dallas, have an underrated protection. Darius Leonard is so phenomenal. He could possibly be defensive participant of the yr he’s so good. However that unfold is narrative-driven given the Chiefs’ playoff woes, I consider. It must be, like, Eight.
neil: May additionally be recency-based. Our personal Elo solely has Okay.C. -Four.5.
Salfino: Josh and I agree that offense principally dictates outcomes. And the Chiefs get a break by enjoying a staff that has not seen their offense, vs. getting San Diego.
Indy is tremendous scorching, and Elo likes that.
And Okay.C. has solely gained three of its previous six — after profitable 9 of its first 10.
gfoster: It’s power vs. power. The Colts’ safety for Andrew Luck is unimaginable, and the Chiefs get on the quarterback greater than anybody — or are these sack numbers extra a mirrored image of groups all the time passing towards Okay.C. as a result of they’re all the time dropping?
Salfino: However the Colts additionally misplaced to the Jets, let’s not overlook. They personal that too.
If the Chiefs are hoping to win the sport by attending to Luck, they’re in deep trouble. They should win this recreation by scoring 35 factors.
joshua.hermsmeyer: I’ve checked out it, and it definitely appears based mostly on the info that safety or lack thereof is extra a perform of the offensive line, so that you’d anticipate Luck to have time on this one.
gfoster: The Colts draft commerce was an A+. They get these Jets second-round picks, they usually obtained Quenton Nelson, who appears to have single-handedly turned this offensive line round. With the cap area, there’s little question that they’re going to be good for some time. (Assuming Luck stays wholesome.)
Salfino: Eric Ebron is simply an element close to the objective line. Mack is sweet however kind of one-dimensional, type of Carson-like. T.Y. Hilton is nice, however you must be capable of take out one man. Kansas Metropolis can’t surrender massive performs to Hilton and should pressure these journeyman receivers to beat them.
neil: Definitely it appears most unlikely that the Colts will be capable of replicate their profitable formulation vs. Houston, which was, “Get out to an early lead with Luck passing, then sit on it and run the ball within the second half.” You’ll be able to’t do this to the Chiefs.
joshua.hermsmeyer: lol, no
Salfino: The Colts additionally had the benefit of Deshaun Watson simply having an terrible throwing recreation. He was flagging straightforward passes all day.
Additionally, Houston is a one-man band, and DeAndre Hopkins had a shoulder difficulty but in addition was shut down of their prior matchup.
gfoster: All proper, let’s wrap it with our NFC/AFC championship predictions. I’ll begin: Chargers vs. Chiefs and Saints vs. Cowboys.
I’m not able to consider the Rams rope-a-dope concept. And I’m not able to consider that these Patriots are any good.
joshua.hermsmeyer: I see no world the place the Cowboys are within the championship.
Salfino: The Chargers appear clearly higher than the Patriots. I hope they don’t return to L.A. this week and as an alternative follow someplace on the East Coast. I can’t purchase Dallas. If the Cowboys beat the Rams, we higher put the McVay narrative in rewrite. I say Chargers-Chiefs and Rams-Saints within the championship video games.
joshua.hermsmeyer: I’m with Mike, which suggests I’m in all probability incorrect.
neil: New England vs. Okay.C. (I do know the Pats will ultimately lose a house playoff recreation, however I don’t assume it comes this weekend.)
Saints vs. Rams is the NFC title recreation shootout we’d like.
(So I’m choosing chalk! Now watch the Eagles beat New Orleans and maintain the underdog streak rolling.)
Salfino: We’re all utterly discounting Foles’s darkish magic.
gfoster: The dream of the All-L.A. Tremendous Bowl is alive! Word: Actually nobody is dreaming of this, even in L.A.
Salfino: If the Colts beat the Chiefs and the Chargers win, the AFC championship goes to be in entrance of 30,000 screaming Colts followers.
Take a look at our newest NFL predictions.