Chargers (+3) over RAVENS/Under 42: Saturday’s wild-card matchups were tough nuts to crack — but they were relatively-simple equations, when compared to Sunday’s puzzles. Both sides here have been dealt one prominent, marked scheduling disadvantage — and the side which deals with its hill to climb with the greatest efficiency we expect will emerge triumphant.
For the Chargers, it’s the post time for this affair. The league has taken great pains to avoid dealing obvious scheduling hardships when arranging the start times of wild-card matchups — but in this year’s instance, with the Cowboys being dealt the Saturday-night glamour spot, and with the Bears destined to garner prime-time attention in the weekend’s other late-day drawing card, the league shrugged and slotted L.A. into the 1 p.m. kickoff time (10 a.m. Pacific Time). Packaged with the necessary travel, this is anything but easy duty.
The Bolts do derive one prime psychological advantage from their seasonal scheduling. They entertained these Ravens on the Left Coast just two weeks ago, and Baltimore came up with a hearty defensive effort to stuff Philip Rivers and friends, 22-10. Key Chargers running back Melvin Gordon gained but 41 yards on the ground on a dozen carries in that Week 16 loss — and with Gordon’s knee feeling better now than it did then, he should be able to lend greater cover for Rivers’ air forays.
There has been silly talk and hand-wringing regarding the fate of Ravens coach John Harbaugh if this season didn’t straighten out. Harbaugh is one of the top half-dozen head coaches in the league, and Baltimore is lucky to have him. Athletic rookie QB Lamar Jackson has shown to provide a considerable advantage since gaining the starting job two months ago.
Nevertheless, the Chargers have now seen Jackson’s act up close, and no doubt have sharpened ideas about how to cope with him. Quick revenge is a nifty positive factor — so long as you have the personnel to back it up and the brain power to make it work. It’s a task to take out a roughly-equal opponent twice in three weeks in this league. In a squeaker, in what could be Rivers’ last big chance:
BEARS (-6) over Eagles/Under 41¹/₂: With notable, isolated exceptions, the venerable Bears have frequently displayed a pronounced knack for converting relatively simple challenges into tall walls to scale. This seems the case here — since once it became apparent last week that the Rams were not going to curl up against the 49ers and were going to lock up the No. 2 seed in the NFC, the Bears were going to face this stubborn foe unless they prudently rested select key people and passively facilitated a Vikings win in Week 17.
The Bears chose poorly, which was imprudent, at best. So now, they’re going up against the defending champs, who beat the Rams in L.A., outfinished the Texans in Philadelphia and stuffed the Redskins to get here — behind super-sub QB Nick Foles, who has again stepped in for an again-injured Carson Wentz to drive the troops to this point.
Foles is dealing with a lingering bruised ribs issue, but he can cope and is looking to restage his lightning-striking bit for Eagles faithful. We were bullish on the synchronization of the Eagles’ personnel blend, coaching, middle management and ownership when the ’17 postseason commenced, and rode them to the title on these pages.
It’s difficult to repeat in the modern era, but Philly has a better chance to accomplish it than many a long shot (despite their horrid secondary), given they’ve gone through the sporting equivalent of a near-death experience this midseason, and are now again looking to ride Foles’ magic touch.
Bears QB Mitch Trubisky continues to develop in his second season running the Chicago offense. He isn’t quite where he needs to be yet, but he’s getting exceptional help from a cadre of capable running backs. The Bears are deadly when in position to rush it 30-plus times. Key receiver Allen Robinson (ribs) is expected to be back in harness for this, and ex-Eagles tight end Trey Burton is another key piece, rarin’ to go against his old mates. This is the toughest side call of the weekend, and a nailbiter would surprise no one, but the Bear s’ defense comes to play, and the home side is ready to take the next step.
Follow Richard Witt on Twitter: @rich_witt1