8 burning questions for NFL Wild Card Weekend

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Expecting one heck of a four-game playoff slate

DeMarcus Lawrence

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We’re expecting one heck of a four-game playoff slate during NFL’s Wild Card Weekend. Who could ask for more than the Seattle Seahawks going into Dallas and taking on a red-hot Cowboys team? Remaining in the NFC, the upstart Chicago Bears will look to end Philadelphia’s repeat aspirations.

There’s no shortage of intrigue in the AFC, as well. Can Lamar Jackson lead his Ravens to a home win over the Los Angeles Chargers after finishing the regular season 6-1 as a starter? And in an all AFC South tilt, two franchise quarterbacks will do battle. Which signal caller do we expect to play better?

These are among the eight burning questions heading into NFL Wild Card Weekend.

 

Andrew Luck or Deshaun Watson?

Deshaun Watson

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Assuming Luck remains healthy, this is a rivalry we’re going to see take hold for the next decade-plus. And it’s going to be a whole lot of fun. Houston heads into Wild Card Weekend having won 11 of 13. Meanwhile, the Colts have come out on top in nine of their past 10 outings. These two quarterback are the primary reasons for this success.

Luck is coming off a career-best season that saw him complete 67 percent of his passes for 4,593 yards with 39 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. It’s simply remarkable how he’s recovered from the shoulder injury that cost him the entire 2017 season.

Meanwhile, Watson has to be considered one of the best young quarterbacks in the game. He totaled 4,700-plus yards with 31 scores and nine picks despite being sacked 62 times. This is going to be an absolute blast in Houston come Saturday afternoon.

 

Can the Seahawks protect Russell Wilson?

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This is going to be the biggest key for Saturday’s wild card matchup between the Seahawks and Cowboys in Dallas. Can Seattle protect Wilson from the onslaught that promises to be the Dallas’ pass rush?

Despite his athleticism, Wilson was sacked a career-high 51 times during the regular season. He’s now been taken down more than any quarterback since entering the league back in 2012.That includes six sacks on less than 30 drop backs against Arizona in Week 17.

For their part, the Cowboys ranked in the middle of the pack with 39 sacks. They were led by a player in Demarcus Lawrence who racked up 10.5 quarterback take downs. How starting right tackle George Fant performs against Lawrence will tell us everything we need to know about this matchup.

 

Can Mitch Trubisky step up under the limelight?

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Statistically, Trubisky is coming off a tremendous sophomore campaign for the Bears. He completed nearly 67 percent of his passes for 3,223 yards and 24 touchdowns compared to just 12 interceptions. He also led the Bears to an 11-3 record in 14 starts. The issue here has been consistency and level of competition.

A five-game span against Tampa Bay, Miami, the New York Jets, Cincinnati and Green Bay saw Trubisky account for 16 touchdowns compared to just one pick. In his other nine starts, he put up an 8-to-11 TD/INT ratio. In fact, Trubisky threw for six scores and nine picks in five games against teams that finished the regular season over .500.

It’s certainly going to be interesting to see how the former top-five pick responds to being in the limelight against the defending champion Eagles. Should he come up small here, the Bears could very well be one-and-done in the playoffs.

 

Finally time for NFL to reseed the playoffs?

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We’ve seen it a plethora of times in the past. Teams with much better records forced to not only play on Wild Card Weekend, but having to head on the road to take on a team that wasn’t as good during the regular season. It might not be as prevalent this season, but one matchup certainly does come to mind.

Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers finished the regular year with a 12-4 record after winning 11 of their final 13 games. Despite this, Los Angeles heads to Baltimore this weekend in a game that starts at 10 in the morning local (California) time. It will be doing so against a Ravens team that won just 10 games and needed a Week 17 win to earn the AFC North title.

The most interesting thing here is that the Patriots (11-5) have a first-round bye. Division champions should always be guaranteed a playoff spot. That’s not really up for debate. But seeding should be based solely on regular season records. If so, the Chargers would’ve had a first-round bye and hosted a divisional round game.

 

Can Nick Foles’ magic continue?

Can Nick Foles lead the Eagles in Carson Wentz's stead?

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Foles suffered a chest injury in Philadelphia’s season-saving win over the Redskins this past Sunday. But almost immediately, head coach Doug Pederson noted that he would be good to go for the team’s wild card game against the Bears in Chicago.

This is no small thing. Postseason included, Foles boasts a 9-2 record since returning to the City of Brotherly Love back in 2017. The Eagles are 16-8 in games that Foles hasn’t started during that span.

We’re not here to debate who the best quarterback going forward between Foles and Carson Wentz might be for the Eagles. Instead, we’re highly intrigued to see if the reigning Super Bowl MVP can lead his team to another improbable Super Bowl run. It starts against a dominant Bears defense in what promises to be a difficult game this weekend.

 

Can Lamar Jackson continue shocking success?

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Baltimore seemed dead in the water with Joe Flacco under center through the first half-plus of the season. It stood at 4-5 and three games behind Pittsburgh in the loss column once this rookie took over as the starter. Since then, the Ravens have been absolutely brilliant. They posted a 6-1 mark with Jackson under center, losing in overtime to the Chiefs in Kansas City.

For his part, Jackson ended up gaining nearly 1,900 total yards with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions in his seven starts. He led Baltimore to an average of 25.1 points and 230 rushing yards per game.

Boasting a great defense and a dynamic quarterback, Baltimore heads into this week’s wild card game as one of the hottest teams in the NFL. Set to host a Chargers team that won 11 of its final 13 regular season games, it’s important that Jackson continues to play at a high level. He’ll certainly be tested against the NFL’s eighth-best scoring defense from the regular year.

 

How will Wild Card Weekend dictate the coaching market?

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A quarter of the league is now in the process of looking for new head coaches. It goes without saying that those assistants on playoff teams are going to be highly sought after this winter.

Of the eight teams playing this weekend, multiple assistants have already been linked to head coaching jobs. That includes Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, Cowboys defensive backs coach Kris Richard and Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.

It will certainly be interesting to see how these units perform this weekend and what that means for the candidacies of the assistants we mentioned above.

 

Can Dak Prescott elevate the Cowboys offense?

Dak Prescott

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After struggling through the vast majority of the season, Prescott turned it up big time during a meaningless Week 17 win over the hapless New York Giants. Sans Ezekiel Elliott, he completed 27-of-44 passes for 387 yards with four touchdowns and zero picks in one of the best statistical performances of his career.

The doubters in us will say that this came against a bad Giants team that had already given up on the season. But if Prescott somehow continues to play at this level in the playoffs, his Cowboys are going to be in a good spot.

It’s worth noting that Prescott has won 67 percent of his starts since joining the Cowboys back in 2016. He’s also 28-12 in games that Elliott plays in, including a robust 16-5 mark at home. Say what you want about the tape and Prescott’s stats, but he’s been a winner in Big D. We’ll learn first hand exactly what that means at home against Seattle Saturday night.

 

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