LOS ANGELES. The official 2018 National Football League regular season is in the books. After 256 games, 32 teams have been winnowed down to 12. Black Monday has come and gone. The road to Super bowl LIII (53) in Atlanta starts now. Forget the league’s latest head coach controversies. CDN’s annual NFL 2018-2019 Wildcard Preview (and Bettor’s Guide) is incoming for your betting pleasure.
Teams play all year for the right to get home field advantage or at least a first round bye. They do what it takes to avoid Wildcard weekend altogether. Yet from time to time, those supposedly unworthy Wildcard teams have run the table.
The 1980 Oakland Raiders led by Jim Plunkett became the first Wildcard team to win it all. After losing as the favorites in 1996, the 1997 Denver Broncos led by John Elway won it the hard way. The 2000 Baltimore Ravens and their ferocious defense led by Ray Lewis destroyed offenses in their path. The 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers won everything on the road. The 2007 New York Giants shocked the world. The 2011 Giants won their division but still had to play on Wildcard weekend.
Home field should matter. But every year from 1994-2008, at least one top seed went down in flames. In 2008, both NFC top seeds went down to defeat without reaching the NFC Title Game.
Wildcard teams never give up
The most important lesson of the 2018 Wildcard playoffs is to never give up. Many of these teams had losing records at critical points before turning things around.
- Colts: Started 1-5, went 9-1 the rest of the way.
- Texans: Started 0-3, won 9 straight and 11 out of 13.
- Seahawks: Started 4-5, went 6-1 the rest of the way.
- Cowboys: Started 3-5, went 7-1 the rest of the way.
- Ravens: Started 4-5, went 6-1 the rest of the way.
- Eagles: Started 4-6, went 5-1 the rest of the way.
Only the Chargers and the Bears made the playoffs without a fight to the death. For the rest of these teams, do not judge them by how they started. Look at how they finished. Bill Parcells used to say that the teams playing their best football in December were the ones who played their best football in January.
Which brings us to CDN’s NFL 2018-2019 Wildcard Preview and Bettor’s Guide
So, without further ado, here it is, out annual Wildcard Preview and Bettor’s Guide. Point spreads are provided by Oddsshark, courtesy of Bleacher Report. All listed times are Eastern.
Saturday, January 5, 2019
4:30 p.m. AFC (6) Indianapolis Colts at (3) Houston Texans (-2.5) on ESPN/ABC — We begin our wildcard preview with a contest of the cold vs the hot. The Texans have the home field and the better defense, but Andrew Luck is playing lights out football. He went on the road last week and dismantled Tennessee to knock them out of playoff contention. These division rivals split their season series. Houston has lost two of their last four games. Houston is not a cold weather city. Go with the hot hand. Upset special, Colts win outright.
8:00 p.m. NFC (5) Seattle Seahawks at (4) Dallas Cowboys (-2.5) on FOX — Early in the season, the Seahawks thrashed the Cowboys 24-13 in Seattle. The rematch is in Dallas. Ezekiel Elliott is running the ball well, but Pete Carroll has revitalized Seattle’s defense. Chris Carson is a tough running back who brutalized defenders like his predecessor Marshawn Lynch did. Russell Wilson has far more playoff experience than Dak Prescott. Wilson is also a better quarterback. The Cowboys have the home field. The Seahawks have everything else. Upset special, Seahawks win outright.
Sunday, January 6, 2019, early game
1:00 p.m. AFC (5) Los Angeles Chargers at (4) Baltimore Ravens (-2.5) — Our wildcard preview now moves to a pair of Sunday contests. The first of these games pits the LA Chargers against the Baltimore Ravens. The Chargers have a high-octane offense. The Ravens have a stellar defense. These teams met in Los Angeles two weeks ago. The Ravens defense hit them in the mouth. Trailing 16-10, the Chargers tried to mount a winning drive. John Harbaugh’s defense belted Antonio Gates, forcing a fumble that was returned for the clinching touchdown in the 22-10 Ravens victory. Now the rematch is in Baltimore. The weather will be cold. The Chargers could not get it done at home. They will not get it done against the nastiest defense in the league. Ravens cover.
Sunday, January 6, 2019, late afternoon game
4:30 p.m. NFC (6) Philadelphia Eagles at (3) Chicago Bears (-5.5) — Today’s wildcard preview wraps with a clash between a pair of veteran NFL franchises. 30 years after the infamous Fog Bowl, these teams meet again in the 2018-2019 playoffs. While the Bears won that contest 20-12, the 2001 Eagles went into Chicago and thumped the Bears 33-19.
This time, the Eagles are the defending champions, and champions do not go down without a fight. However, the Bears defense is ready for a fight. Nick Foles has bruised ribs. Khalil Mack is loaded for bear. Mitchell Trubisky has been dismissed as a game manager, but with this defense and the home field, that is sufficient. Foles was a feel-good story last year, but he is in serious pain. Wait until Mack sacks him. With Bears kicker Cody Parkey doinking field goals and extra points off the uprights left and right, that could come into play with regards to the spread. Bears win but fail to cover.
That’s it for this season’s NFL Wildcard Preview and Bettor’s Guide. Stay tuned. And let the games begin.
— Headline image: Official NFL logo. Fair use reproduction for an article on the NFL playoffs.