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Friday bettors guide: Quarterback matchups highlight wild-card weekend

The athleticism at the quarterback position in the NFL will be on full display in this weekend's four wild-card games.

A new generation of quarterbacks is adding a dimension to the position, something unseen since the 1940s, when the single-wing tailback dominated the game as both runner and passer.

On Saturday, Andrew Luck, the conventional drop-back passer of the Indianapolis Colts, will go against DeShaun Watson of the Houston Texans. Watson is a perfect example of the contemporary QB who can take over a game with his legs.

Saturday night it's Dallas' Dak Prescott – who is athletic but leaning toward the conventional side – against Seattle's Russell Wilson, whose elusiveness against the pass rush breaks many a defense's heart.

On Sunday comes the classic confrontation. Rookie Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens, who is perhaps the most dangerous runner at the position since Michael Vick, goes against Philip Rivers, a classic drop-back passer, and the Los Angeles Chargers.

Finally, it's a confrontation of two conventional-style quarterbacks, Nick Foles of the Eagles and Mitch Trubisky of the Chicago Bears.

Handicappers obviously expect tight games. The line on three of the four games is less than a field goal. And the over-and-under number is in the low 40s for three of the four games.

A capsule look the weekend's four wild-card matchups:

Colts (10-6) at Texans (11-5)

Kickoff: 4:35 p.m. Saturday.

The line: Texans -2.

Record ATS: Colts 9-5-1; Texans 6-6-3.

Over/under: 47 1/2.

Times over/under: Colts 9/5/2; Texans 7/8.

The scoop on the Colts: Indianapolis started 1-5 under first-year coach Frank Reich, then made a remarkable rally, starting with a win over the Bills. The Colts won nine of their last 10 to make the playoffs. The Colts lost 37-34 in overtime at home to Houston when Reich gambled and failed on fourth down from the Colts' 43 with 24 seconds left. One 24-yard pass to DeAndre Hopkins set up the winning field goal by Ka'imi Fairbairn as time ran out. The Colts won the return game at Houston, 24-21, on Dec. 9, ending the Texans' nine-game win streak. ... Marlon Mack, the Colts' leading rusher (908 yards), was not active for first game against Houston. ... Luck returned from a year off due to injury and was second in the NFL with 39 touchdown passes. He passed for 464 and 399 yards in two games against Houston. His most dangerous receiving weapon is T.Y. Hilton, who had 76 catches for an 18.7 average and six TDs. ... Eric Ebron had 13 touchdown receptions to lead NFL tight ends.

The scoop on the Texans: It seemed NFL opponents had caught up to Watson, after his brilliant debut in 2017. But after a slow start this year, the former Clemson star returned to form. He became the first QB in league history to pass for 4,000 yards (4,165) and 25 touchdowns and rush for 500 (551) in a single season, although he was sacked 62 times. Hopkins had 115 receptions for 11 TDs. He led the AFC in receptions and receiving yards. ... For all the talk about the Texans' vaunted defense, Indy gave up fewer yards per game. However, JJ Watt of the Texans was second in the league with 16 sacks.

Outlook: Judging by the two regular-season games, it would be surprising if these division rivals didn't stage another thriller decided by a field goal. It may come down to which team can control the other's best receiving weapon (Hopkins or Hilton). Texans, 30-27.

Seahawks (10-6) at Cowboys (10-6)

Kickoff: 8:15 p.m. Saturday.

The line: Cowboys -1.

Record ATS: Seahawks 10-5-1; Cowboys 9-6-1.

Over/under: 43 1/2.

Times over/under: Seahawks 9/7; Cowboys 7/9.

The scoop on the Seahawks: Wilson passed for two first-half touchdowns in Seattle's 24-13 win over the Cowboys in Week 3 but was pretty much shut down after that. ... Wilson passed for 3,448 yards and 35 touchdowns. Tyler Lockett had only 57 receptions but 10 went for touchdowns. Chris Carson is the leading rusher with 1,151 yards. ... Seattle closed fast, winning six of its last seven games with the only loss an upset at San Francisco.

The scoop on the Cowboys: Prescott passed for 3,885 yards and 22 touchdowns but the main threat for Dallas is RB Ezekiel Elliott, who won his second NFL rushing title with 1,434 yards, and caught 77 passes for 567 yards despite sitting out the season finale at the Giants. He is capable of taking over a game at any moment. ... Dallas was seventh in the league in defense (329.3) and allowed only 94.6 ypg rushing. ... The Cowboys won six of their last seven games with the only loss a shutout at Indianapolis. Late in the season, rookie tight end Blake Jarwin and wide receiver Michael Gallup emerged as reliable contributors.

Outlook: Both teams played their best at the end of the season with one inexplicable bad game for each. ... It won't be surprising to see Dallas concentrate on Elliott's running behind an offensive line with two Pro Bowlers and try to outslug the Seahawks. Cowboys, 24-20.

Chargers (12-4) at Ravens (10-6)

Kickoff: 1:05 p.m. Sunday.

The line: Ravens -2 1/2.

Record ATS: Chargers 9-7; Ravens 9-7.

Over/under: 41 1/2.

Times over/under: Chargers 8/8; Ravens 5/9/1.

The scoop on the Chargers: Opening loss to Chiefs at home ultimately cost LA the AFC West title. As disappointing as it was, second-year coach Anthony Lynn was able to straighten things out and the Chargers rolled except for home losses to Denver and Baltimore. The Chargers were a strong 7-1 on the road, including wins at Pittsburgh and Kansas City. ... Rivers had the 10th 4,000-yard passing season of his career and the Chargers got a healthy season from WR Keenan Allen, who caught 97 passes. LA overcame injury problems all season, but may get TE Hunter Henry back for the postseason and RB Melvin Gordon should be ready to go. Gordon averages 5.1 yards per carry and rushed for 10 TDs.

The scoop on the Ravens: Baltimore is the most unique team in the postseason, relying on league-leading defense (292.9) and the No. 1 rushing attack (152.6). Jackson passed for only 1,201 yards and six touchdowns, but he ran 695 yards and five scores despite not becoming the starter until Week 9. Ravens were 6-1 when he started. Baltimore's leading rusher was RB Gus Edwards, an undrafted free agent rookie from Rutgers. Another rookie, tight end Mark Andrews, had 34 receptions. Andrews had the only offensive touchdown for the Ravens in a 23-10 win over the Chargers two weeks ago.

Outlook: This looks like too tough a road assignment for the Chargers to handle, even with an experienced veteran quarterback like Rivers. Baltimore's defense and Jackson's big running plays make the difference. Ravens, 20-10.

Eagles (9-7) at Bears (12-4)

Kickoff: 4:40 p.m. Sunday.

The line: Bears -6.

Record ATS: Eagles 7-9; Bears 12-4.

Over/under: 41.

Times over/under: Eagles 8/7/1; 7/8/1.

The scoop on the Eagles: Can't help but remembering the late Buddy Ryan, who coached both franchises, and coached in the famous fog game at Soldier Field in the 1988 playoffs. ... This year's Eagles staged a remarkable closing run, winning five of the last six games, including wins over playoff-bound Rams and Texans, to get back to the postseason. This all after a 48-7 loss at New Orleans to fall to 4-6. Nick Foles, who quarterbacked the Eagles to their Super Bowl win last season, was back at the helm in the closing drive when back issues put Carson Wentz on the bench. Foles passed for seven touchdowns. Leading receiver is tight end Zach Ertz, who had 116 receptions, including eight for touchdowns. Rookie RB Josh Adams ran for 571 yards but veteran Darren Sproles, re-emerged as a weapon. ... Slumping Eagles defense reasserted itself down the stretch, led by Pro Bowl DT Fletcher Cox, who had 10.5 sacks.

The scoop on the Bears: Chicago went from last to first in the NFC North under rookie coach Matt Nagy and with second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky. The Bears went 7-1 at home, with the only loss to New England. They went 9-1 to finish, losing only to the Giants. ... With the addition of Khalil Mack (12 sacks), the Bears' defense rose to third best in the league (299.7 yards allowed) and led the league in rushing defense (80.0) and scoring defense (17.7). They were plus-12 in takeaways. Cornerback Kyle Fuller tied for the league lead with seven interceptions. Jordan Howard (935 yards) led the rushing game and speed back Tarik Cohen had 71 receptions.

Outlook: Another tough road assignment. Chicago is no offensive powerhouse, but can't see the Eagles making much headway against Mack and Co. on the road. Bears, 27-13.

Last week: Favorites and underdogs split the day 8-8 and eight games went over and eight under.

Last week's record: 13-3 straight up; 10-6 ATS.

Season's record: 131-92-2 straight up; 115-103-7.

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