Jan. 31, 2019
NFL Divisional Round Preview
The 2018 Wild Card Round was, for the most part, underwhelming. Three of the eight teams didn't seem to show up on gameday. The Texans and Ravens completely bombed the first three quarters of their games, and only showed glimpses at the end of the game. The Bears were more competitive, but did not meet expectations on either side of the ball. Most will only remember Parkey's miss at the end, but there were a lot more miscues from Chicago that day. Playoff football is always entertaining, but that week's potential was so much higher than the final outcome. Let's hope this week goes differently.
Much like last week, these games feel like toss-ups. You get the feeling that any of these teams can win it all for one reason or another. This doesn't always happen in the NFL playoffs, and we sure are happy when it does. Picking these games was a challenge, but it only made me more excited to watch these games unfold. Hopefully you get the same feeling reading this.
Colts vs Chiefs
Start to finish, the Chiefs have held the best offensive attack in the game, scoring 35.3 points per game. Having thrown for 50 TD's and over 5,000 yards in his first year starting, Mahomes has nearly locked up MVP honors. The Colts and Andrew Luck have not had the same year-long success as the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes, but there's no doubt that they have established themselves among the top offenses with their performance down the stretch. Offensive production starts in the trenches, and the Colts have the best pass blocking O-line in the NFL, allowing only 18 sacks all year. That has allowed Luck to do some incredible things, especially while throwing to T.Y. Hilton. These two offenses are two of the most dangerous in the game at the moment. Both QB's will likely end up with an award in a couple weeks. Mahomes should take MVP, while Luck almost certainly will take Comeback Player of the Year. But both have a different goal in mind, and they have to go through each other to get there.
It's no doubt that Mahomes has been the more dominant QB this year, but amidst the incredible performances, it's easy to forget the lack of experience. The playoffs are a different game. Historically, most QB's don't have the best of luck in their first tries in the playoffs, even many great ones. Mahomes' opposition, Andrew Luck, completed just 52% of his passes, didn't throw a TD, and had a passer rating under 60 in a 24-9 loss in his first playoff game. The greatest postseason QB of all time, Tom Brady, won his first, but also didn't have a TD to his name and his passer rating was only 70.4. This year, first timers didn't fare any better. Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, and Mitchell Trubisky all started in their first January game last weekend. All three of them lost in their home stadium. History doesn't paint a bright future for Patrick Mahomes. He could be one of the exceptions to this trend, but the odds favor experience. If the likely MVP doesn't perform, KC's in trouble.
Colts win, 31-24
Cowboys vs Rams
The Cowboys and Rams are probably the two biggest unknowns for me. Dallas has been up and down all season. The Rams had a great 13-3 season, but seemed to lose all their momentum at the end of the year. If either plays to their potential, they can beat anybody. But the question is, can they play their best ball in these big games?
L.A. comes into this game as the big favorite, but personally, I don't see it that way. Dallas has a ton of momentum. They finished the year by winning seven of their last eight. Dak Prescott put up a passer rating over 100 in six of those games. They then followed that with a playoff win, which is something Goff, McVay, and most of the rest of their team don't have. Ever since Amari Cooper was brought in, the offense began to do their fair share to support their great defense and ultimately, win football games. So yes, Dallas is a more than formidable opponent. I might even go as far to say that they're the better team here.
The Rams are great, but I think when both teams are at their best, Dallas has them beat. They clearly have the better defense. I would say Ezekiel Elliott is a better runner than Todd Gurley. I don't know that Dak Prescott is better than Jared Goff, but I'm sure that he can go toe to toe with him in a big game. The Rams would maybe be able to overcome these differences with a good home-field advantage. Unfortunately, they have none. Many people are expecting a Cowboy fan majority in L.A. this week. Dallas has fans everywhere, and a city that had no team for two decades is sure to have gained a following for "America's Team". I think the Cowboys have great chance this weekend. Their biggest obstacle might be their own inconsistency.
Cowboys win, 28-24
Chargers vs Patriots
Surprising to no one, the Patriots are back in the playoffs. Equally unsurprising, they got here with a free pass to the 2nd round. This makes nine consecutive years they've done this now. If they do it again next year, they will have accomplished this feat in every year of the 2010's. That means they play a lot of home playoff games, and going into New England and winning is among the hardest things to do in this league. They are 19-3 in the Brady-Belichick era on their own turf in the postseason. Their last home loss came in 2012 to the Baltimore Ravens. The Patriots have been the best team in the league for quite some time, and if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. Since 2011, every AFC representative in the Super Bowl has been either the Patriots or the team that beat the Patriots. They haven't felt like the same threat this year, but trust me, they are. New England is still the ultimate test in the NFL. Now it's time to meet this week's student, the L.A. Chargers.
The Chargers, with a record of 12-4, tied with their division rival, the Chiefs, for the best record in the AFC. They've done this by putting together arguably the best roster in football. That roster is led by Philip Rivers who is searching for his first Super Bowl ring of his long, borderline Hall of Fame career. For many people, that ring is necessary to put him into Canton. Even at age 37, Rivers is as good as he ever was. With time dwindling, this year with this team is probably his best chance to win it all. And fittingly so, the Patriots stand in his way.
Rivers has not fared well against New England in his career. In his seven meetings with the Tom Brady led Patriots (postseason included), he is 0-7, and the Chargers have averaged only 16.4 points in those games. However, there is a difference with this Charger team. The roster is so deep. In most of those other games, Rivers had two primary targets, Antonio Gates and LaDainian Tomlinson. This played into Bill Belichick's hands. What Belichick does best is eliminate your best playmaker. When most of your offense is based on two weapons, you're probably not going to do well against New England. Now, they have so many talented players, life will be much harder for Belichick.
Beating the Patriots at home is quite the challenge, but if there's one team that can do it, it's probably the Chargers. L.A. had an incredible road record of 7-1 this season, including wins in three of the toughest places to play, Seattle, Kansas City, and Pittsburgh. I think they're capable of adding New England to that list. Brady can put up some points on a defense with little pass rush, but I believe Rivers will finally get the best of him.
Chargers win, 34-31
Eagles vs Saints
The Saints need little introduction. Drew Brees is one of the greatest QB's the game has ever seen. Him and Sean Payton have won a Super Bowl together, and they seemed poised to win another. Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, and Mark Ingram highlight the list of weapons Brees has at his disposal. Those players pose a terrifying image for any opposing defense. The defense on their side is seldom talked about, but they are a force to be reckoned with. New Orleans doesn't allow you to run the ball, and they put heavy pressure on your QB. Playing this team in the Dome is a nightmare.
The Eagles, like last week, come into Sunday's game as the biggest underdogs of the weekend. It's almost like we've heard this underdog story before. Oh wait, we have. Last year. No one gave the Eagles and Nick Foles a chance last postseason, including me. I went 0-3 on Eagles postseason games last year, and I know other's are in the same boat. I picked against them last week again, and whiffed once more. You would think I would just give in and pick Philadelphia at some point, but I just can't do it. I can't jump on board this train. I refuse to believe that the Eagles can keep beating teams this good over and over. Yes, they are a great team, but they aren't great enough to justify this kind of success. It's not happening. They aren't beating the Saints. New Orleans is just too good. If they somehow, someway pull this off, Nick Foles deserves another statue. You know what, they should just name the stadium after him too. While we're at it, why not just change the name of the city to Folesadelphia? If Nick Foles wins this game, I am never picking against him in a big game ever again in my life.
Saints win, 34-26