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Hopeful Wild Cards
by Dennis Ranahan

The National Football League kicks off Wild Card weekend today with a pair of games and completes the four game series with two more contests tomorrow. The eight teams participating this weekend are all hopeful of a Super Bowl win.

What are their chances?

In 1975, the Dallas Cowboys were the first team to advance from a Wild Card playoff berth to the Super Bowl. That year, only four teams from each conference participated in the postseason with one Wild Card from the AFC and NFC. The Cowboys lost the Super Bowl that year to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The first team to win a Super Bowl from a Wild Card slot was the 1980 Oakland Raiders, a squad that had as good of a record as any team in the AFC that year, 11-5. Based on a tiebreaker the Raiders finished behind the San Diego Chargers in the AFC Western Division and then beat San Diego in the AFC Championship Game before downing the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XV.

In all, ten Wild Card teams have advanced to the Super Bowl, and six of them have gone on to win the NFL title game. The most recent, the Green Bay Packers, opened on the road during Wild Card weekend before ending the season with a victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.

In other words, any of the dozen teams that participate in this year’s playoffs have a chance to win it all … but a few teams in action this weekend have a lot better possibility of meeting their rival conference winner in Atlanta in quest of the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

At the head of that list is the Chicago Bears. They won the NFC North Division this season after four straight last place finishes. The Bears allowed the fewest points in the league this season, 283, and had the best point differential, 138, of any of the eight teams playing this weekend. What the Bears have working against them is a lack of playoff experience and a first-year head coach.

Two first-year head coaches have won Super Bowls, but there were special circumstances for both. Don McCafferty won Super Bowl V with the Baltimore Colts after Don Shula left one of the best squads in the league to take over the Miami Dolphins. In 1989, George Seifert won Super Bowl XXIV with the San Francisco 49ers after Bill Walsh had won the prior season and then retired.

Chicago Head Coach Matt Nagy, was not handed a club experienced at winning, but has them among the best teams in the league this year which includes a 6-0 point spread mark as a home favorite. Tomorrow, they host the defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles.

The team in the AFC with what appears to have the best chance to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LIII is the Los Angeles Chargers. They had a 12-4 mark in the regular season, two games better than their opponent this week, the Baltimore Ravens. The Chargers are forced to open on the road despite the better won/loss record because based on a tiebreaker they finished behind the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West. The Chargers meet the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium tomorrow, and the Ravens credentials for winning it all include allowing the fewest points in the AFC, just four more points on the season than the Bears.

The two teams with the best records over the past ten weeks meet today in Houston when the Texans host the Indianapolis Colts. These two teams combined for a 1-8 start to their seasons, with Houston losing their first three games and the Colts winning only one of their first six contests. But, since those uninspiring starts, the Colts are 10-1 and the Texans 11-2.

Andrew Luck has had a spectacular season after missing the 2017 season with injuries, and the Colts defense has had a great second half of the season. The Texans second-year quarterback, Deshaun Watson, is also coming off a season in which he missed the second half 2017 with an injury but has improved his play as this season progressed.

These two teams met twice during the regular season, with the Colts winning in Houston four weeks ago and the Texans downing the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium for their first win of the year in fourth week action.

The edge in this one goes to the home team based on playoff experience and against first-year head coach Frank Reich.

Qoxhi Picks: Houston Texans (-2) over Indianapolis Colts