It's finally win-or-go-fishing time in the NFL, starting with the eight squads on the docket for the upcoming Wild Card Weekend.
By Saturday night, only two of the Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys will still have their Super Bowl dreams intact. Twenty-four hours later, two more bubbles will be burst among the Los Angeles Chargers, Baltimore Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears.
Here's a look at three critical matchups this weekend, along with the schedule and predictions.
Wild Card Weekend Schedule
Saturday, Jan. 5
Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans, 4:35 p.m. ET on ESPN/ABC (Prediction: Colts 24, Texans 21)
Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys, 8:15 p.m. ET on Fox (Prediction: Seahawks 20, Cowboys 17)
Sunday, Jan. 6
Los Angeles Chargers at Baltimore Ravens, 1:05 p.m. ET on CBS (Prediction: Ravens 19, Chargers 17)
Philadelphia Eagles at Chicago Bears, 4:40 p.m. ET on NBC (Prediction: Bears 27, Eagles 13)
Where to Watch: The NFL postseason and all NFL broadcasts are available through fuboTV.
Three Key Matchups
Texans Offensive Line vs. Colts Defense
The best Deshaun Watson moments often feature improvisational skills that could impress a world-class jazz musician. But part of the reason the mobile quarterback makes so many plays on the fly is that he's constantly under duress and seemingly running for his life.
No team surrendered more sacks than Houston's 62, a number that feels impossibly high given Watson's elusiveness. But this is, according to Pro Football Focus, just the 23rd-ranked offensive line in football.
Among playoff participants, only the Chargers ranked worse (30th). None of this, by the way, is news to the Colts, who dominated this matchup in the first two games.
"Houston allowed seven sacks in the teams' first meeting—matching a season high," The Athletic's Stephen Holder wrote. "Indianapolis sacked Watson five times in the second meeting. The Colts were easily able to exploit the weaknesses in the offensive line, particularly at left tackle."
If the Texans can't keep Watson upright, they at least need to buy him enough time for DeAndre Hopkins to work himself open. Hopkins hauled in 10 catches for 169 yards and a score during Houston's Week 4 win over Indy, but he managed just four grabs for 36 yards in the rematch in Week 14, which the Texans dropped on their home field.
Dak Prescott vs. Seahawks Secondary
While Seattle won't—and shouldn't—be content to let Ezekiel Elliott run free, there's only so much a defense can do against the two-time rushing champ. Elliott needed just 16 carries to tally 127 yards against the Seahawks in the Week 3 meeting.
But Seattle won that game 24-13, in large part due to its play against Prescott. His 4.94 yards per passing attempt were a season low, and his two interceptions—both hauled in by the since-injured Earl Thomas—matched a season high. Prescott was sacked five times and didn't have a receiver finish with more than five catches or 47 yards.
Of course, much has changed since. Thomas is out of Seattle's secondary (fractured tibia), while Amari Cooper is in as the explosive receiving threat Dallas didn't have the first time around.
The Seahawks' pass defense can be beaten. They had mediocre rankings in yards per game (240, 17th) and touchdowns allowed (26, tied for 14th). The question is whether Prescott is the quarterback to beat them. The hot-and-cold passer had two outings with 380-plus passing yards and another five with fewer than 200.
Eagles Offensive Line vs. Khalil Mack
As expensive as Mack is—two first-round picks in the trade, which was followed by a $141 million extension—he appears worth every penny. He's been a transformational force for Chicago's defense, not to mention the team's leader in sacks (12.5), forced fumbles (six) and fumble recoveries (two).
Those numbers should scare any opposing quarterback, but Nick Foles might have reason to be more frightened than most. He was forced off the field with bruised ribs during the Eagles' Week 17 win, and he plays behind an offensive line that allowed Carson Wentz to get sacked 31 times in 11 games. That said, Philly's front line of protection did finish the campaign on a high note.
"The Eagles ... closed out the season by facing some of the elite pass rushers in the league, notably Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald in Week 15 and Houston Texans bookends J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney in Week 16," NFL.com's Herbie Teope observed. "Foles was sacked just once in that span, courtesy of Clowney."
With Philly already facing a talent disadvantage on paper, it can ill afford to have Mack living in its backfield.
Where to Watch: NFL playoff games, studio shows and more are available through fuboTV.