LONDON: So, it has finally arrived — the business end of any NFL season. As exciting and intriguing as the regular season can be, the playoffs always pique the interest of fans. And they always throw up gridiron of the highest quality and games that live long in the memory. Now that we know the teams that are left gunning for Super Bowl glory, Arab News offers up some predictions for this weekend’s Wild card round.
Houston Texans vs. Indianapolis Colts
We have seen this season that the Texans are perfectly set for the kind of games we see take place in the postseason. The one-score, tight affairs which always hang on a knife-edge until the very last second. The Texans have played in 11 such games during the regular season, so you fancy them to last the distance should this one go down to the wire. Their only worry will be the form of Deshaun Watson in the final few weeks.
As for the Colts, they will be thanking their “Lucky” stars that quarterback Andrew Luck has been back to his very best in 2018. Often a bridesmaid, he has come good this year and has been influential in turning around their 1-5 start. And all of the praise Luck has received has overshadowed the incredible work of the Colts' defense over the same period.
ARAB NEWS PREDICTS: Texans to edge it, based purely on home advantage
Dallas Cowboys vs. Seattle Seahawks
It was not the best end to the season for the Cowboys — they limped over the line in the end, only just pipping the Philadelphia Eagles to the NFC East title. But this Cowboys offense will be confident that they have enough to cause problems for the league’s very best, let alone an off-the-boil Seahawks. Running Back Ezekiel Elliott and rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch will be the aces in the pack for Dallas.
Seattle’s offense has been a shadow of its Super Bowl-winning self in recent years, but 2018 was a particular nadir. Not something that fills the Seahawk faithful with much hope of going deep in the playoffs. But one silver lining is that they entered Week 17 with a chance to tie the NFL record for the lowest total of turnovers (10) over a full season in league history. Russell Wilson and Co. will have to be on top form to win this one.
ARAB NEWS PREDICTS: Cowboys to seal a comfortable win and move onto the Divisional week
Baltimore Ravens vs. Los Angeles Chargers
It has been quite a remarkable second half of the season for the Ravens, who appear reinvigorated by one of the NFL’s best defenses this year. Second only to the impenetrable Chicago Bears in the league, it has been a masterclass of restricting and suffocating opposition offenses. Regular readers of this column will know we often advocate the value of defenses if teams want to win the Big Game — a strong defense and solid special teams are a vital and rare commodity in the playoffs.
This Chargers team have finally enmeshed their obvious talent with a mental resilience that was so often missing in recent years. Victories at Seattle, Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs attest to that. But they have so often started games far too slowly, and will need to be on fire from the first kick-off to the final whistle in the playoffs if Philip Rivers is to finally fulfil his potential as a QB and win the Super Bowl.
ARAB NEWS PREDICTS: Rivers to have the game of his life and kick-start a glorious run to the Super Bowl
Chicago Bears vs. Philadelphia Eagles
What a difference a year makes. The Bears finished last season second-last in the NFC with a 5-11 record. They have now produced one of the finest defensive runs in a generation (or since the last great Bears defense of 1985) and now find themselves with a genuine chance of Super Bowl glory. This Bears defensive line should be able to keep playoff games low-scoring enough for their offensive line to finish the job.
As for the Eagles, their blistering, Super Bowl-winning offense of last year has petered out and it will be the upset of the season if Philadelphia go to and steal a win. Their only hope is the clear chemistry between coach Doug Pederson and on-off QB Nick Foles, and the latter’s telepathic connection with his offensive linemen.
ARAB NEWS PREDICTS: A valiant effort from the Eagles will not be enough to stop Chicago’s defensive juggernaut rolling on