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Just Right
by Dennis Ranahan

The Sunday Wild Card National Football League schedule includes last year’s Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles, and the team many agree has the best defense in the league, the Baltimore Ravens.

I think both those teams get eliminated today.

It would be no surprise if the Eagles lost this afternoon, they are on the road and underdogs by the most points of any of the four 2018 Wild Card matchups. Only thing is, they are playing a team that finished in last place the past four season in their division and this season are under the guidance of a first-year head coach, Matt Nagy.

Nagy has led the Chicago Bears to the NFC North Division title and a third seed in the NFC playoffs. The Bears have emerged as an NFL powerhouse with a defense that allowed the fewest points in the league, 283. The Ravens, who have the buzz of having the best defense in football, gave up four more points during the regular season. The defending champions gave up 65 more points than Chicago and scored 54 less.

In other words, the Bears were better than the Eagles this year by every conceivable yardstick that matters; points scored, points allowed and won/loss record. Still, it seems questionable that a Chicago team can be counted on to not only beat the defending champs but also cover a point spread that opened at 5½ points and has risen to 6½ points today.

Can Chicago really win here?

Maybe not.

But more importantly, the Eagles will lose this one all by themselves unless they do something no team has ever accomplished, that is win a playoff game the year after winning the Super Bowl when the season before their championship run was a losing season. Only three other teams in history have ever won a Super Bowl after a losing year, and two of them, the 1982 San Francisco 49ers and 2002 New England Patriots, failed to make the playoffs.

The other team to win a Super Bowl after a losing year was the 1999 St. Louis Rams, and they, like the Eagles this year, opened the Wild Card weekend as a road team and lost.

We can gain two historical trends from these stats, first, the Eagles don’t win today and second, the Bears are not likely to win the Super Bowl this year after having a losing season in 2017. No Super Bowl for Chicago this year, but a win today and expected point spread cover against the Eagles.

Before the Bears host the Eagles, the Ravens will open action today in a home contest against the Los Angeles Chargers. It can be argued that while the Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints, got most of the attention this year as elite NFL teams, the Chargers are the most balanced squad in the league.

No team in the AFC won more games than the Chargers this season, 12, and Los Angeles has a team led by a future Hall of Fame quarterback that has not yet punched his Super Bowl winning ticket.

Most great quarterbacks cash at least one Super Bowl win in their career. While Jared Goff of the Rams and Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs have plenty of years in front of them to get theirs, Philip Rivers is in the category with Dan Marino of a field general seemingly good enough to win one that never did.

In fact, Miami’s Marino made only one Super Bowl appearance, and that was a loss to the San Francisco 49ers to complete the 1984 season. Rivers has guided the Chargers to the playoffs six times, but has never advanced beyond the AFC Championship Game and has a lifetime 4-5 postseason won/loss record.

This is his first playoff appearance since the 2013 season, and he is guiding the best team he has ever led.

While the timing is too late for the Eagles, and too early for the Bears, it is just right for this year’s Chargers. And their drive to the title begins today with a road win over a team that beat them just two weeks ago.

Qoxhi Picks: Los Angeles Chargers (+3) over Baltimore Ravens