2019 kicks off with NFL wild card round, CFP national championship game

  • Nick Celario

Hello, 2019. I hope all of you had a fun and safe celebration of welcoming the new year.

Earlier this week, I came across a photo on social media. In it was a quote that read something like, “There are now 365 blank pages in front of you. Make it a good story.”

I’m sure 2019 will be filled with memorable stories for all of you, and I hope I’ll be the one to write about some of them.

Now, on to sports.

If you’re a fan of football, and I’m sure many of you are, then you must be pretty excited of what’s to come.

The NFL Playoffs start this weekend, then a national champ will be crowned Monday at the College Football Playoff National Championship game.

It should make for an exciting slew of games, so let’s get to it.

CFP National Championship

What a shocker. The top two-seeded teams are in the national championship game.

Both the Crimson Tide and the Tigers rolled in the CFP semifinals to get their berths in the title game. No. 1 Alabama (14-0) topped Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, 45-34. No. 2 Clemson (14-0) won in a rout over Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl, 30-3.

With the likes of Georgia, Ohio State and dare I say Central Florida (prior to the season-ending injury to QB McKenzie Milton) out of the top four, maybe the not-so competitive semifinal games prove that the CFP should expand to eight teams. But that’s a topic of conversation for another time.

Hawaii’s Tua Tagovailoa got the last word, beating Oklahoma and its Heisman winner QB Kyler Murray.

Tagovailoa and the Tide offense got to work early and took a 31-10 lead at halftime.

Murray got the Sooners within striking distance in the second half, but it was too late.

Tagovailoa was 24-27 for 318 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. Murray was 19-37 for 308 yards, two TDs and zero interceptions.

So as I, and I’m sure many, many others predicted, Alabama’s offense did put a beatdown on Oklahoma’s defense. But now, it faces much stiffer competition.

Both Alabama’s and Clemson’s offenses can put up points. The Tide average 47.7 points a game, and the Tigers average 44.3 points, according to ESPN.

OddsShark has Alabama a 5.5-point favorite over Clemson.

Both defenses are sniffling. Alabama averages 14.8 points allowed per game, and Clemson averages 13.7 points allowed.

But, Clemson will again be without starting defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence, who was suspended for the Cotton Bowl because of failed drug tests.

ESPN reported Clemson will also be without tight end Braden Galloway and offensive lineman Zach Giella. It was also reported Clemson will appeal with the NCAA.

Not having Lawrence in particular is a blow. He’s projected as a first round NFL draft pick.

But even though the Tigers’ defensive front got along fine without Lawrence against Notre Dame, I peg that it will be an entirely different story against Alabama’s offense.

So I predict Alabama, once again, will lift the championship trophy and that Tagovailoa will further cement his collegiate legacy.

NFL Wild Card Weekend

Indianapolis Colts (10-6) at Houston Texans (11-5): Andrew Luck has proven this year that he’s moved past the injuries that plagued him the last couple of seasons.

Luck has posted just over 4,500 passing yards, 39 TDs and 15 interceptions. He’s certainly carried this Colts team to the postseason.

But I get the hunch that Luck’s luck (pun intended) will run out in Houston. I think Deshaun Watson and the offense will do just enough, and the Texans defense will keep Luck at bay.

Pick: Texans

Seattle Seahawks (10-6) at Dallas Cowboys (10-6): The mid-season acquisition of receiver Amari Cooper was the game-changer that the Cowboys needed. He leads the team in receiving yards despite playing his first game for Dallas in early November.

In addition, the Cowboys are 7-1 at home, while the Seahawks are 4-4 on the road.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson will have to be near perfect for Seattle to have a chance because I feel the Seahawks’ once-vaunted defense will have a tough time containing Cooper and RB Ezekiel Elliott.

I believe the Cowboys home-field advantage will get them through.

Pick: Cowboys

Los Angeles Chargers (12-4) at Baltimore Ravens (10-6): The Los Angeles Chargers still sounds weird, doesn’t it?

Jokes aside, the Chargers become a real playoff threat. However, eyes will be on Ravens QB Lamar Jackson as he’s set to become the youngest QB in NFL history to start a playoff game at 21 years, 364 days old.

Jackson has revived Baltimore to the postseason after Joe Flacco went down to injury. Baltimore was 4-5 before its Week 10 bye. Since Jackson took over, the team went 6-1.

But I’d think experience takes over here as Jackson is set to make just his eighth career start against veteran Philip Rivers.

For Rivers, 37, this may be a last chance at an elusive Super Bowl title. I’d say the veteran QB gets the job done here.

Pick: Chargers

Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) at Chicago Bears (12-4): Here we go again.

Starting QB Carson Wentz again went down to injury and the Eagles turned to backup Nick Foles to close out the regular season.

The Eagles got three straight wins to clinch a wild-card spot, so the “underdogs” made the postseason to defend their Super Bowl title.

Will the Eagles once again ride that wave? I don’t think lighting strikes twice.

The Bears defense leads the league in interceptions with 27 and is third-best in sacks with 50. I expect this defense led by linebacker Khalil Mack to wreck havoc.

Foles etched his place in Eagles lore last season. Getting the team back to the playoffs this season further cemented that, but I don’t think Philly will go on another Super Bowl run here.

Pick: Bears

•••

Nick Celario, sports writer, can be reached at 245-0437 or ncelario@thegardenisland.com.

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