NFL Wild Card Weekend: Scouting Every Offense, Key Matchups, More

NFL Wild Card Weekend: Scouting Every Offense, Key Matchups, More article feature image

USA Today Sports. Pictured: T.Y. Hilton, Russell Wilson,
Melvin Gordon

  • The NFL playoffs kick off with four Wild Card Weekend matchups: Colts-Texans, Seahawks-Cowboys, Chargers-Ravens and Eagles-Bears.
  • Below are brief breakdowns of all eight teams' offenses as well as key matchups to know for fantasy and betting.

The NFL playoffs are finally here! Happy Wild Card szn!

The Houston Texans host the Indianapolis Colts to kick Wild Card Weekend off on Saturday (4:35 p.m. ET on ESPN) followed by the Seattle Seahawks-Dallas Cowboys matchup (8:15 p.m. on FOX). The action continues Sunday with the Los Angeles Chargers at Baltimore Ravens (1:05 p.m. ET on CBS), capped by Philadelphia Eagles-Chicago Bears (4:40 p.m. ET on NBC).

While it’s impossible to cover all the applicable storylines and statistics for the four wild-card matchups in one article, we can at least get an early start on what figures to be great two days of high-level football.

What follows are brief breakdowns on each team’s quarterback, backfield and receivers.

Jump to: Colts-Texans | Seahawks-Cowboys | Chargers-Ravens | Eagles-Bears

Indianapolis Colts

Andrew Luck Is Better Than Ever

There was understandably plenty of pause surrounding Luck in the early weeks of the season after failing to show great arm strength or consistency over the team’s 1-5 start.

Well, the Colts have since won nine of 10 games en route to the plays thanks in large part to Luck, who deserves serious consideration for a top three MVP spot after arguably his best season to date.

  • Completion rate: 67.3% (11th among 32 QBs with 8+ starts in 2018)
  • Passing yards: 4,593 (5th)
  • Touchdowns: 39 (2nd)
  • TD Rate: 6.1% (6th)
  • Passer rating: 98.7 (10th)
  • Fantasy points: 327 (QB5)

Luck has thrown for multiple touchdowns in all but one of his 10 career starts against the Texans.

Marlon Mack Owns the Colts’ Backfield

Mack has worked as Indy’s undisputed starting running back since returning from injury in Week 6. Nyheim Hines has stayed involved as a receiver, but Mack has managed to record at least 15 combined rushes and targets in eight of his past 10 games.

Colts backfield per-game workloads since Marlon Mack returned from injury in Week 6

Mack: 16.8 rushes, 2.2 targets, 38.7 snaps
Nyheim Hines: 4.7 rushes, 4.2 targets, 25.1 snaps
Jordan Wilkins: 1.5 rushes, 0.6 targets, 17.4 snaps

— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) January 1, 2019

The Texans Can’t Stop T.Y. Hilton

Luck has done a great job of spreading the ball around this season, but Hilton (76-1,270-6) and Eric Ebron (66-750-13) easily emerged as the offense’s top two receivers.

Hilton is set up particularly well against a Texans defense that he seems to take pleasure in torching.

T.Y. Hilton career on the road vs. the Texans

2012: 3-78-1
2013: 7-121-3
2014: 9-223-1
2015: 5-88-0
2016: 3-49-0
2017: 5-175-2
2018: 9-199-0

— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) January 1, 2019

Houston Texans

Deshaun Watson’s First Two Seasons Are Special

We knew Watson was good after he balled out in his six starts as a rookie, but this season’s performance confirmed he’s here to stay.

Deshaun Watson ranks among 140 QBs with 16+ starts during their first two seasons in NFL history

Completion rate: 66.4% (1st)
TD rate: 6.3% (12th)
QB Rating: 103.1 (5th)
Yards per attempt: 8.27 (7th)
Pass yards per game: 255 (6th)
Fantasy points per game: 21.77 (2nd)

— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) January 1, 2019

Watson achieved most of this despite being limited with rib and lung injuries since Week 5. He could be used as a runner more often in upcoming must-win games as he totaled 17 designed rush attempts in Weeks 15-17 after only 24 such rushes in Weeks 1-14 (per ESPN’s Mike Clay).

Lamar Miller Just Had a Pretty Great 2018

Miller has never quite regained his Miami magic in his three years with the Texans. Still, this season’s version of Miller was the best we’ve seen in awhile considering he set three-year highs in yards per carry (4.6) and finished as the league’s No. 10 back in total yards created (PlayerProfiler).

The Texans’ three-down back will look to rebound against a Colts defense that has held him to underwhelming 14-49-0 and 14-33-1 rushing lines this season.

Can Anybody Slow DeAndre Hopkins Down?

Watson has fed Hopkins at least 10 targets in five consecutive games and the receiver has accordingly scored three touchdowns while racking up the most receptions (42) and the second-most yards (548) among all wide receivers.

Not every top-tier cornerback has traveled with Nuk during their respective matchups, but the league’s premier contested-catch artist has burned them all regardless.

DeAndre Hopkins since 2017:

Jalen Ramsey 7-55-1, 4-80-1, 3-50-1, 12-147-0
Marcus Peters 4-52-3
Richard Sherman 8-224-1
Patrick Peterson 4-76-1
Jimmy Smith 7-125-0
Joe Haden 4-65-1
Janoris Jenkins 6-86-0
Byron Jones 9-151-0
Tre White 5-63-1
Xavien Howard 6-82-2
Josh Norman 5-56-1

— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) January 1, 2019

Seattle Seahawks

2018 Russell Wilson Is a Helluva Drug

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has brought a run-first approach to Seattle, as Wilson’s 427 pass attempts are his fewest since his second season in the league.

That combined with a career-low 67 rush attempts would seem like terrible news for the pass offense’s production, but Wilson has managed to buoy the entire group thanks to career-best marks in touchdown rate (8.2%), adjusted yards per attempt (9) and quarterback rating (110.9).

Chris Carson Is a True Workhorse

Carson (six games with 100-plus rushing yards) joined Saquon Barkley (7), Ezekiel Elliott (7), Todd Gurley (6) and James Conner (5) as the only running backs with at least five such games.

The Seahawks’ workhorse was as featured as any running back in the league in December — only Elliott (117) had more total touches than Carson (113) in Weeks 13-17.

The battle that could define this matchup might very well be the Seahawks’ sixth-ranked offense in Football Outsiders’ rush DVOA against the Cowboys’ fifth-ranked defense.

Tyler Lockett and Wilson Are Perfect Together

It’s tough to understate just how efficient the Seahawks’ No. 1 pass-game combo has been, as Wilson and Lockett have been the league’s most efficient duo since joining forces in 2015.

Most career adjusted yards per attempt among current QBs and No. 1 WRs (min 50 targets)

1. Russ Wilson, Tyler Lockett (10.95)
2. Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill (10.58)
3. Jared Goff, Brandin Cooks (10.47)
4. Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper (9.92)
5. Matt Stafford, Kenny Golladay (9.86)

— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) January 1, 2019

It’s just a shame that Wilson doesn’t target Lockett more often. The Seahawks’ overqualified field-stretcher never had eight or more targets in a game this season.

Dallas Cowboys

Dak Prescott Probably Got Amari Cooper a Nice Christmas Present

Prescott has always carried a fantasy-friendly rushing floor, joining Cam Newton as the only quarterbacks in league history with at least five rushing touchdowns in each of their first three seasons.

Still, we’ve never seen Prescott play better as a passer than he has with Cooper in the lineup.

Now Cooper gets to help Prescott overcome a Seahawks defense that has limited the Cowboys to fewer than 200 passing yards in each of their past two matchups.

The Cowboys Offense Is Ezekiel Elliott

Elliott’s enhanced receiving role made the Cowboys’ workhorse back game-flow independent for the first time in his career. The result was a career-high 381 touches, which in turn helped lead to a career-high 2,001 yards from scrimmage.

Zeke is one of only 13 running backs in NFL history to rack up at least 1,000 touches during the first three seasons of his career.

The Cowboys’ three-down back is easily the highest-projected overall player in our Pro Models for this week.

The Amari Cooper Hype Is Real

Prescott’s success with Cooper out wide has been a two-way street: We’ve  never seen the Cowboys’ No. 1 receiver play better in his four-year career.

Seahawks cornerbacks Justin Coleman (No. 44), Tre Flowers (No. 76) and Shaquill Griffin (No. 112) have received poor overall grades from Pro Football Focus.

This over/under has risen to 43.5 after opening at 41.5 as of writing (see live odds here).

Los Angeles Chargers

All Philip Rivers Does Is Throw Multiple Touchdowns

The Chargers’ fairly balanced offensive approach led to Rivers throwing 30 or fewer passes in 10-of-16 games this season, yet the 37-year-old quarterback was still one of only seven signal-callers to throw multiple touchdowns in double-digit games (13).

Of course, Rivers’ only game this season without a single touchdown pass was against the Ravens in Week 16. Baltimore boasts the league’s No. 3 overall defense in pass DVOA.

Melvin Gordon Is Expected to Play Sunday

ESPN’s Adam Schefter has reported that Gordon (ankle) is expected to play Sunday despite limping off the field in the fourth quarter of Week 17. Be sure to monitor our NFL Injury Report for Gordon’s daily practice participation as well as his estimated and official game status.

Only Todd Gurley (26.6), Saquon Barkley (24.1), Christian McCaffrey (24.1), and Alvin Kamara (23.6) are averaging more PPR points per game than Gordon (23) this season.

Chargers Receivers Have Their Hands Full

Keenan Allen’s annual second-half breakout featured at least 100 yards and/or a touchdown from Weeks 9-14, but he’s battled a hip injury and posted pedestrian 0-0-0, 5-58-0 and 4-64-0 lines over the Chargers’ past three games against the Chiefs, Ravens and Broncos, respectively.

Meanwhile, both Mike Williams (1-7-0) and Tyrell Williams (1-12-0) were shut down in the Chargers’ first matchup against the Ravens by plus-sized outside cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey (6-foot-0 and 197-pounds) and Jimmy Smith (6-foot-2 and 211-pounds). It’s not surprising that the Ravens were a top three defense in DraftKings points per game, Plus/Minus and Consistency Rating allowed to wide receivers this season (per our NFL Trends tool).

The good news is that the offense is expected to welcome back stud tight end Hunter Henry (knee) from IR. Be sure to monitor our industry-leading news feed for up-to-the-minute updates on fantasy-relevant news around the league.

Baltimore Ravens

Lamar Jackson’s Rushing Output Is Absurd

The Ravens are just seven starts into the post-Joe Flacco era and we’re already seeing something unique from the team’s run-first offense featuring Jackson, as his speed and ability to extend plays is largely unparalleled.

The rookie quarterback finished the season with 695 rushing yards, which are the third-most by any rookie quarterback in league history. Jackson obviously needs to continue to grow as a passer, but his  numbers surprisingly aren’t far off from what we saw from Flacco in 2008.

Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon Are Equally Involved in Baltimore

The Ravens boast such a run-heavy offense that they’ve been able to essentially accommodate three fantasy-relevant rushers since Dixon returned to the lineup in Week 13.

Ravens backfield since Kenneth Dixon returned in Week 13

Lamar Jackson (82)
Gus Edwards (82)
Dixon (47)
Ty Montgomery (7)

Ty Mont (14)
Dixon (7)
Gus (1)

Snaps per game:
Gus (32.6)
Dixon (26)
Ty Mont (15.4)

— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) January 1, 2019

The Ravens racked up 159 rushing yards against the Chargers during their Week 16 victory — the most yards Los Angeles had allowed on the ground since Week 7.

Can Anyone Emerge in the Ravens’ Passing Game?

The offense’s best single-game receiving performances since Jackson took over under center in Week 11 are:

  • Mark Andrews vs. Chargers: 2 receptions-83 yards-1 TD (2 targets)
  • Andrews vs. Raiders: 1-74-0 (1)
  • Willie Snead vs. Chiefs: 5-61-0 (7)
  • Snead vs. Bucs: 5-58-0 (6)
  • Andrews vs. Browns: 4-54-0 (5)
  • Snead vs. Bengals: 5-51-0 (8)

John Brown and Michael Crabtree each surpassed 50 receiving yards in five games with Flacco under center, but haven’t managed even 40 receiving yards in a game since Jackson took over.

Philadelphia Eagles

Nick Foles Is the Definition of a Boom-Or-Bust Quarterback

Foles has played 11 full games with the Eagles over the past two seasons (including playoffs). The highs have included four performances with 330-plus passing yards, but the lows have were five outings with fewer than 250 yards through the air.

The Bears’ league-best defense in overall DVOA is probably a good bet to bring out the latter version of Foles, although the Eagles have moved to 6-point underdogs after opening up at +7.

The Eagles’ Backfield Is a Mess

The Eagles have been re-organizing their backfield for most of the season due to injuries to Jay Ajayi (knee, IR) and Corey Clement (knee, IR). The latter back was lost for the season in Week 14. The Eagles have since utilized a three-back committee featuring Josh Adams, Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood in no particular order.

Eagles RBs in three games since Corey Clement (knee) was lost for the season

Josh Adams (37)
Wendell Smallwood (23)
Darren Sproles (19)

Sproles (13)
Smallwood (10)
Adams (5)

Sproles (90)
Adams (67)
Smallwood (62)

(Adams was hurt for a bit in Week 15)

— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) January 1, 2019

Foles’ Favorite Targets: Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffery

It’s tough to fully grasp Foles’ target distribution because of the moving pieces involved between his three stretches as the Eagles’ starting quarterback. His most recent three-week sample size certainly isn’t huge, but it’s clear that Ertz and Jeffery are the favorites to lead the offense in targets this Sunday.

  • Ertz (27 targets since Week 15)
  • Jeffery (18)
  • Nelson Agholor (15)
  • Golden Tate (14)
  • Sproles (13)
  • Smallwood (10)
  • Dallas Goedert (8)
  • Adams (5)

Chicago Bears

Mitchell Trubisky Has Plenty of Sneaky Upside

Trubisky posted a respectable average target depth of 9.3 yards (10th among all quarterbacks) this season. This downfield mentality combined with an average of 30 rushing yards per game helped Trubisky (4) join Patrick Mahomes (7), Matt Ryan (6) and Drew Brees (5) as the only quarterbacks with at least four games with 30-plus DraftKings points this season.

The 2017 draft’s second overall pick has been particularly dynamic as a passer at home. He’s thrown 19 touchdowns in eight home games this season compared to just five touchdowns in six road games.

Zoom: Tarik Cohen vs. Boom: Jordan Howard

Howard finished the season with nearly as many carries (250) as he had in either 2016 (252) or 2017 (276). The Bears’ early-down back tied a career-high mark with nine touchdowns and ultimately finished the season as the PPR RB20.

Meanwhile, Cohen worked as the PPR RB11 and was one of just 10 non-wide receivers to lead their offense in receptions this season. He ranked among the Bears’ top three players in targets (91), receptions (71), receiving yards (725) and touchdowns through the air (5).

Trubisky’s Favorite Targets: Who Knows

The Bears have arguably a less-defined pecking order in the passing game than any other offense in the league. Trubisky’s target distribution in 14 starts this season favors four specific receivers, with another three players staying involved.

  • Allen Robinson (19% target share with Trubisky)
  • Taylor Gabriel (18%)
  • Tarik Cohen (16%)
  • Trey Burton (16%)
  • Anthony Miller (11%)
  • Josh Bellamy (5%)
  • Jordan Howard (5%)

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