#5 Los Angeles Chargers at #4 Baltimore Ravens
1:05pm ET, CBS
SB Nation blogs
How about this for intrigue? The fourth-seeded Ravens get to bring the Chargers to B’more thanks to winning their division despite winning two less games than LA’s second NFL son.
The Ravens are riding the benefits of one of the more obvious needed decisions in recent NFL history. Having started the season 4-4 with QB Joe Flacco, Head Coach John Harbaugh made a decision during the Ravens’ Week 9 bye to switch to rookie QB Lamar Jackson who since being handed the reins has played football like QB Lamar Jackson. Who knew? We should at least acknowledge that while the results have been obvious, the decision wasn’t necessarily as easy as it may seem. Flacco still holds favored status among Ravens fans for having guided the Ravens to their second championship back in Super Bowl XLVII. Moreover, Jackson’s required ground usage subjects him to potential peril with nearly every run. Still, he has injected a level of electricity to the offense that has helped propel them to a 6-1 finish with the only loss being an overtime loss to the #1 seed Kansas City Chiefs in KC.
The Chargers? Maybe the most interesting team in the NFL. They won 12 games based in a city that by and large isn’t interested. They’ve got perhaps the most underrated quarterback of his generation. They’ve got a talented young head coach whose early profits have been overshadowed by that of a young head coach in the same town. They have one of the most dynamic wide receivers in the NFL in Cal-groomed WR Keenan Allen. They have a pass rush. They have a secondary. They tick just about every box you’d want for a Super Bowl contender...and yet they didn’t win their division and relatively nobody cares enough for it to matter.
What a weird game. Would it have been weirder at the StubHub Center? Absolutely. Do I feel cheated for not getting as much? Sadly, yes. So what happens here? Does Jackson run for days, or can the Chargers keep him bottled up and even punish him for trying to get out of the pocket? Can old man Rivers pull off some late career heroics or is it too little, too late? Hard not to pull for the Chargers here even if they are second billing to the Rams in LA right now. Even redheaded stepchildren need love too. (They actually do not as that is the entire purpose of the metaphor)
#6 Philadelphia Eagles at #3 Chicago Bears
4:40pm ET, NBC
SB Nation blogs
Here’s the obvious game of interest for Rams fans. Should the Bears win, they’ll come to LA next weekend in the divisional round in a rematch of the Rams’ Week 14 loss in the cold confines of Soldier Field. Should Philly pull off the upset, they’ll head to New Orleans to take on the Saints while the Rams bring the Dallas Cowboys to LA after their win yesterday over the Seattle Seahawks.
It’s been a bit of a Super Bowl hangover for Philly. A 2-3 start ballooned to 3-5 which became 4-6 and seemingly left the Eagles out of the playoffs a year after winning the Lombardi. But a 5-1 run to end the season including a win on the road over the Rams helped the Eagles pick up the final seed in the NFC. Now, the Eagles have turned to Super Bowl LII hero QB Nick Foles with QB Carson Wentz out with a back injury. Could Foles repeat his magic for a second year in a row?
The Bears meanwhile are a franchise on the ascent. First-year Head Coach Matt Nagy helped turn a 5-win team from 2017 into an NFC North champion with 12 wins to their name. Second-year QB Mitchell Trubisky has looked much improved overall though his performances in December were by and large lacking. And the defense has been bolstered by the addition of one of the NFL’s best players in EDGE Khalil Mack.
This one seemingly comes down to Foles and the magic touch. The Bears look the better team on paper. And Chicago hasn’t hosted a playoff game since 2011 meaning the Second City is going to be rocking. It’s going to take something unusually special for Philadelphia to pull this off...but the dark arts are Foles’ specialty. Count him and the Super Bowl champions out at your own peril.