Here’s everything you need to know for Sunday’s NFL wild-card playoff games:
Los Angeles Chargers at Baltimore Ravens
Kickoff time: 1:05 p.m. ET
Location: M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore
Line: Ravens by 2 1/2
Injuries: Wide receiver Chris Moore, offensive guard Alex Lewis and cornerback Tavon Young are all questionable for the Ravens. Chargers linebacker Jatavis Brown has been ruled out, while defensive tackle Brandon Mebane is doubtful and running back Austin Ekeler is questionable.
Three keys to the game (by Lorenzo Reyes)
1. Ground and pound: Since rookie Lamar Jackson took over the starting quarterback gig seven games ago, the Ravens have won six and transformed their offensive identity, becoming a ball-control, run-first attack. After they collected 296 rushing yards in an impressive victory against the Browns, they have averaged 229.6 yards per game on the ground in the last seven games. The Chargers are formidable against the run, ranking in the top 10 with just 105.8 yards allowed per game. Jackson’s ability to improvise off broken passing plays makes it so much more difficult to defend the Ravens attack, so Los Angeles will have to be disciplined in corralling the quarterback.
2. Haven’t we met before?: In fact, these two teams have – and the showdown came in Week 16. The Ravens posted one of their most impressive games of the year, toppling L.A. 22-10 on the road. It was a masterful performance by Baltimore’s defense, which made life difficult for Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (181 yards, two interceptions).
3. Protect the rock: The Chargers, for most of the season, had been one of the best teams at protecting the ball and limiting turnovers. In their first 14 games, Los Angeles had given the ball away just 12 times. But over the last two weeks, the Chargers have committed seven turnovers – three in their loss against Baltimore and four against Denver in the regular-season finale. In particular, it’s Rivers who has been uncharacteristically careless, with just one touchdown against four interceptions in the last two. Baltimore has an aggressive defense, but it generated just 17 takeaways (with three coming against the Browns).
Philadelphia Eagles at Chicago Bears
Kickoff time: 4:40 p.m. ET
Location: Soldier Field in Chicago
Line: Bears by 6 1/2
Injuries: Bears tight end Trey Burton was a late addition to the injury report, as he was listed as questionable with a groin injury. Meanwhile, safety Eddie Jackson also is questionable and linebacker Aaron Lynch is doubtful. For the Eagles, defensive end Michael Bennett, cornerback Avonte Maddox, offensive tackle Jason Peters and offensive guard Isaac Seumalo are all questionable, while cornerback Sidney Jones is out.
Three keys to the game (by Nate Davis)
1. Defense wins championships: Philadelphia gave the cliché merit in 2017, playing suffocating D in its first two playoff wins and getting the key stop it needed to beat New England in the Super Bowl. But the Eagles are suspect this year, ranking last against the pass before holding Washington’s Josh Johnson to 91 yards in the finale. Fortunately for them, they stop the run effectively with their talented front and could face a depleted Chicago passing attack that rarely strikes much fear into opponents under the best circumstances. But will that be enough to pull off the upset? The Bears defense is one of the best in recent memory, the first since 2006 to record both 50 sacks and 25 interceptions. OLB Khalil Mack is the star, but Jackson and Akiem Hicks are also all-pro caliber. And Chicago knows how to capitalize on mistakes, scoring six defensive TDs this season.
2. Platoon: Neither team features a high-profile ball carrier, but either could get explosive plays from its backfield. Chicago’s Tarik Cohen is a big-play threat who’s dangerous in space and more effectively deployed as a receiver. Jordan Howard does the dirty work inside. Philadelphia seems to have finally found the right combination with bruising rookie Josh Adams, reliable Wendell Smallwood and veteran Darren Sproles, who can go the distance any time and will be looking to reprise some of his old postseason heroics in what could be his final game.
3. Experience and innocence: The name of the recently completed (and brilliant) U2 tour applies nicely to these adversaries. The Eagles know what it takes to win a championship, and veterans like Foles, Sproles, C Jason Kelce, DEs Michael Bennett and Chris Long and S Malcolm Jenkins are reliable anchors who won’t fold in the face of adversity. The Bears are probably the more talented club, but QB Mitchell Trubisky, Cohen, Howard, Jackson, rookie LB Roquan Smith and many others will be making their playoff debuts. Even Mack has never tasted a postseason victory. But maybe Chicago can get pixie dust from TE Trey Burton, the former Eagle who threw the “Philly Special” TD to Foles in the Super Bowl — the kind of daring play rookie coach Matt Nagy will be more than willing to try knowing counterpart Doug Pederson won’t pull any punches, either.