#6 Indianapolis Colts at #3 Houston Texans
4:35pm ET, ESPN/ABC
SB Nation blogs
Well, the playoffs are here, and we’re starting with a very interesting AFC matchup. Indy is the #6 seed, but they played this exact game in Houston in Week 14 and won, 24-21. I’d be surprised at anything that isn’t similarly close in some fashion.
On one hand, you have one of the best stories of the year in Colts QB Andrew Luck. After missing all of the 2017 season following shoulder surgery, many began to question whether or not Luck would ever even play again or if he did if he would come anywhere close to the quarterback he had once been. Not only did he have a fantastic season topping 4,500 passing yards and nearly hitting 40 passing touchdowns, but he, along with Head Coach Frank Reich, helped guide the Colts to a 9-1 finish that turned their season around after starting out 1-5. It’s a somewhat miraculous turn of events.
The Texans, though, were a bit more sure of a bet. With QB Deshaun Watson healed up from last year’s ACL injury and the Texans’ defense re-formed, Houston always looked a candidate for a strong 2018. A 0-3 start certainly looked like it could throw the Texans entirely off-course, but an overtime win in Week 4 over the Colts helped get them back on track.
This is just a great AFC South rivalry extension into the playoffs. As a neutral observer, it’s hard not to get excited for this rubber match. I’ll take the Texans largely due to a game-changer in WR DeAndre Hopkins, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Colts’ storybook season continues.
#5 Seattle Seahawks at #4 Dallas Cowboys
8:15pm ET, FOX
SB Nation blogs
If today’s AFC matchup is a contest between a Cinderella story and a sure thing made good, the NFC game is about two teams that just kind of figured things out along the way.
Many analysts considered the Seahawks headed toward a losing season in 2018 before things got going. The roster wasn’t looking good and with the Legion of Boom dead and gone, it seemed like things could go bad for Seattle. Very bad. But something happened. I’m not sure what, and I’m not sure when. But somehow, the Seahawks managed the roller coaster. Starting 4-5, they put together a 6-1 finish that included a banner win over the Kansas City Chiefs that got them back to the postseason with perhaps their weakest team since the earliest years of Head Coach Pete Carroll’s tenure.
The Cowboys were a similar story. Throughout their season, you saw the markings of a relatively unsuccessful team. A Week 1 loss to the Carolina Panthers, a Week 7 loss to their NFC East rival Washington Rivals, a 0-23 drubbing at the hands of the Colts in Week 15 and a hair’s breadth win over the five-win New York Giants to end the regular season all seem to point to a team that shouldn’t have been able to make the playoffs. But, and this is perhaps the most important data point for today, all of those were on the road. The Cowboys are the only playoff team in the NFC that won just three games on the road this year; they just looked like an entirely different team at AT&T Stadium where they pasted the Jacksonville Jaguars 40-7 and won an emotional overtime game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 14 that followed a close win over the NFC #1 seed New Orleans Saints.
So I’m rolling with that data point. The Cowboys were 3-5 on the road and 7-1 at home. Dallas’ favorite sports franchise is in the playoffs and is sure to have a rowdy home crowd backing them. Away from the confines of CenturyLink Field and the support of the 12th man, Seattle is going to find themselves in awfully unfriendly territory today. And I think that could be enough to send them home for the year.