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Divisional Playoff Round Predictions
Last Week’s Record: 2-2
Saturday, January 12th
(6) Indianapolis Colts at (1) Kansas City Chiefs
The Colts are winners of ten of their last eleven games including last weekend’s dominating performance against the Texans. Indianapolis’ offensive line kept Andrew Luck’s jersey clean all game and ran Marlon Mack through the Houston defense for 24 carries and 148 yards.
Indy will have to do more of the same against what might be the most exciting team in the NFL. Kansas City’s offense leads the league in yards per play and net passing yards per attempt, mostly due to the sensational Patrick Mahomes. The probable NFL MVP threw for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns, making him just the third QB to reach those numbers in the same season. Mahomes will have plenty of weapons to use against the Colts with fellow All-Pros Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill.
The Colts are exactly the kind of team that gives Kansas City trouble. The Chiefs’ defense tied for the league lead in sacks with 52, but was only 29th against the run. Indianapolis has shown they can run the ball with great success. And in the six games the entire Colts offensive line has been together and healthy as they are now, they have not allowed a single sack. The Colts are solid defensively (11th in total defense, 26 forced turnovers.) And while they aren’t on the same level as the Chiefs, the Colts have Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton, and Eric Ebron leading the 7th ranked offense.
Both the Chiefs and Andy Reid’s less than stellar playoff history has been well documented. Kansas City has won two playoff games in 47 years at Arrowhead Stadium. Indianapolis is 4-0 against the Chiefs in the playoffs including two on the road (1996, 2004, 2007, 2014.)
The Chiefs will have to show that they can stop drives. They will have to show that they are more than just a scoring machine. And while I believe what is past is not necessarily prologue, Kansas City is just 2-4 against playoff teams this season. The Colts would be wise to control the clock and keep Mahomes on the sidelines, but if they have to, they can match the Chiefs point for point. So I’m picking Indianapolis to upset Kansas City 35-31.
(4) Dallas Cowboys at (2) Los Angeles Rams
Dallas’ win against the Seahawks was the first playoff win for Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott since they entered the league in 2017. Since a week nine loss that left them at 3-5, the Cowboys have won eight of nine including wins against the Saints and Eagles. There’s no doubting the impact that Amari Cooper has had for the Cowboys offense as his seven catch, 106 yard performance against Seattle showed.
Ahead are the high powered L.A. Rams. Los Angeles had the second ranked offense, averaged 421 yards, and 33 points per game. Since Sean McVay took over as head coach, the Rams have scored 164 points in five games against the NFC East. Todd Gurley’s ailing knee should be ready to go after sitting out the last three weeks.
There’s no doubting what the Cowboys will have to do to win. They’ll feed Elliott the ball. But that means they’ll run right into Aaron Donald. If Dallas can get past that Rams’ front line, they can take on a weaker linebacking corps on the outsides. As great as their defensive line has been, the Rams have given up an average of 122.3 yards on the ground.
Jared Goff couldn’t keep his torrid pace up and struggled down the stretch. In the five December games, he averaged 228 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions. Four of those TD’s were in the season finale against the 49ers. An underrated Cowboys defense will gear up to stop Gurley. It’ll be up to Goff to be as sharp as he was to start the year.
This could be a much closer game than many think. I see Dallas making series of stops all game long, but I can’t see the Dallas offense manufacturing enough points. Todd Gurley might be stopped early, but not for four quarters. The Rams beat a tough Cowboys team 23-17.
Sunday, January 13th
(5) Los Angeles Chargers at (2) New England Patriots
New England has long been the albatross for every team in the AFC. Since Tom Brady took over as the starter in the 2001 season, the Patriots have made the playoffs sixteen times, won ten consecutive division titles, and made eight Super Bowl appearances with five titles. In home playoff games during the Brady/Belichick era, the Patriots are 10-2. They were 8-0 at home this season. They are, and have been the NFL’s gold standard for the better part of two decades.
But if there was any time to make a move on the Patriot dynasty, this might be it. After losing Josh Gordon to a self-imposed suspension, New England does not have a game breaker on offense. Rob Gronkowski has dealt with ankle and back injuries all season. As a result, the Patriots have transformed themselves into a power running team with Tom Brady more in a game management role.
That strategy could play into the Chargers’ hands. Head coach Anthony Lynn and DC Gus Bradley devised a great game plan against the Ravens last week. Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa have shown how dangerous the pass rush is. And All-Pros Derwin James, Desmond King, Adrian Philips can attack the offense in a multitude of places on the field.
New England has ended the Chargers’ season twice in the playoffs (2006 & 2007.) Philip Rivers was there for both. He’s 0-8 against the Patriots in his career. But now, he might have his most complete team around him. L.A. can play power football with Melvin Gordon or air it out with Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Travis Benjamin. And when he needs him, Antonio Gates is still there for a key third down conversion.
The story of the game will be the L.A. pass rush. A strong front four has always given Brady trouble. The Chargers have the personnel and the right scheme to attack the New England offense. Rivers will need to test the Patriots’ lack of speed in the secondary while making surgical cuts down the field. If the Chargers truly want to show that they aren’t “the same ol’ Chargers” they’ll have to slay the dragon in its lair. Los Angeles wins a tight game 27-23.
(6) Philadelphia Eagles at (1) New Orleans Saints
One thing’s for sure after this week. No matter the outcome, Nick Foles will never have to pay for a meal in Philadelphia ever again. The Eagles’ lucky charm is now 13-4 in December or later in his career including 4-0 in the playoffs. But it’ll take a more than just a lucky charm (and a deflected kick) for the Eagles to face a New Orleans team that crushed the Eagles 48-7 in November.
Philadelphia has been a great story over the past two seasons. They’re aggressive on offense. They aren’t afraid to run trick plays. The Philly Special with live forever. They’ve overcome a rash of injuries and have won six of their last seven games. And while the Eagles’ 23rd ranked defense has played better as of late, playing in the Louisiana Superdome is another thing all together.
That’s because the Saints have the most balanced offense in the NFL. Drew Brees posted a career best 115.7 passer rating with 32 TD’s and a career low five interceptions. Michael Thomas led the league with 125 catches, earning him his first All-Pro selection. The backfield tandem of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram combined for 2,357 total yards and 25 touchdowns. On defense, Cameron Jordan and Sheldon Rankins lead a good defense that had the fifth most sacks in the league.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Philadelphia won this game. Foles has the confidence of the entire team behind him and he won’t be rattled by the deafening roar he’ll face. Their offensive line has played better and they’ve got plenty of talent on defense. But the Saints are a better team from top to bottom. They can air it out or use a power running attack. They’ve got speed on defense and are great on special teams. I love the Eagles gumption and admire their resilience, but I see New Orleans ending the Philadelphia story 31-17 on Sunday.