Indianapolis Colts (No6 seed) @ Houston Texans (No3 seed). Saturday, 4.35pm ET/9.35pm GMT
What the Colts need to do to win: Andrew Luck needs to change his postseason narrative. Luck’s resurgence after missing last season with injury has been a key reason why the Colts were able to sneak into the playoffs. Now he needs to change his, well, luck during the postseason. Luck has had more interceptions in the playoffs than any other quarterback since 2012 and has been generally less effective during the postseason than in the regular season.
What the Texans need to do to win: The Houston Texans need to protect Deshaun Watson. The Texans’ offensive line has been horribly porous, allowing more than 60 sacks this season, and had the worst opposing sack rate in the league. The Colts alone have racked up 12 during their last two meetings with Houston. It’s hard to score when your QB is constantly on their back.
Key player: JJ Watt, DE, Texans. It’s not often that the first-round of the playoffs features two potential Comeback Player of the Year candidates facing each other, but that’s what we’ll have when Watt is on Luck during Saturday’s contest. Watt missed most of last season with a leg injury, but has been back at full strength this year.
Prediction: Colts 17-13 Texans
Seattle Seahawks (No5 seed) @ Dallas Cowboys (No4 seed). Saturday, 8.15pm ET/ 1.15am Sunday GMT
What the Seahawks need to do to win: The Seahawks have to stop the Cowboys’ running game, which is easier said than done when it comes to containing Ezekiel Elliott. When the two teams faced each other earlier this season, Elliott had 16 carries and rushed for 127 yards but didn’t score a touchdown. The Seahawks weren’t great defensively that day, but they held on to the win. They’d take that again in a heartbeat during the playoffs.
What the Cowboys need to do to win: Can they escape the ghosts of the past? The last time these two teams met during wildcard weekend, the Cowboys played their way out of a potential game-winning field goal when Tony Romo’s botched hold on the snap sealed a 21-20 Seahawks victory. The Cowboys have had a reputation as choke artists ever since and if something goes wrong, fans at JerryWorld may start expecting things to unravel. They can’t let that get to them.
Key player: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys. Elliott is Dallas’s most dynamic player, he ran for 1,434 yards this season, the most in the league. Dallas kept him out of the regular season finale against the New York Giants, meaning that he’s well rested for the rest of the postseason. The Cowboys will lean on him hard.
Prediction: Seahawks 16-20 Cowboys
Los Angeles Chargers (No5 seed) @ Baltimore Ravens (No4 seed). Sunday, 1.05pm ET/6.05pm GMT
What the Chargers need to do to win: The Chargers need to learn from their mistakes. The Chargers lost 22-10 when they battled the Ravens just a few weeks ago. Normally one would think that would be a bad sign, but this was a learning opportunity for LA, who basically get a chance for a do-over on a much bigger stage.
What the Ravens need to do to win: Baltimore are going to want to take care of the ball. While they have improved with rookie Lamar Jackson as their quarterback, Jackson has had ball security issues. Jackson is an elite runner, but he’s still working on his pass accuracy. This wouldn’t be a huge issue if it weren’t for the fact that he’s also had 10 fumbles on the season. One costly turnover could make all the difference on Sunday.
Key player: Philip Rivers, QB. Chargers. When it comes to elite passers, Rivers is never in the same conversation as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Drew Brees even though he should be. The main reason is that he’s never even participated in the Super Bowl. This is one of his last chances, but he’s going to need to win every game on the road from here on out. Baltimore’s dominant defense is going to make for a tough challenge.
Prediction: Chargers 17-20 Ravens
Philadelphia Eagles (No6 seed) @ Chicago Bears (No3 seed). Sunday, 4.40pm ET/9.40pm GMT
What the Eagles need to do to win: Rely on Nick Foles’s magic? At this point it’s ridiculous to think that the Eagles’ backup QB can keep leading them to victory whenever Carson Wentz goes down. But, hey, it keeps happening so why not keep believing? After earning Super Bowl MVP honors last year, Foles came in for Wentz again this season and helped the Eagles rattle off three straight wins to make the postseason.
What the Bears needs to do to win: They need to play the same defense that got them here. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has been just about everything the team could have hoped for this season, but it’s never about the offense in Chicago. When the Bears win it’s because they have an elite defense, and this time around it’s no different. Bolstered by the Khalil Mack trade, Chicago’s defense is ranked third in the league and primed to turn Foles back into a pumpkin.
Key player: Khalil Mack, OLB, Chicago Bears. The Bears traded two first-round picks to the Oakland Raiders to get Mack and then gave him a six-year/$141m contract, making him the highest paid defender in NFL history. He ended the year with 12.5 sacks, 47 tackles and a handful of key takeaways. Looks like he was worth it.
Prediction: Eagles 16-21 Bears