Divisional Round Preview and Predictions
Wild Card Weekend lived up to the “wild” part for sure, with everything from injured kickers, both #6 seeds winning, and a double doink to end the playoff hopes of the Chicago Bears.
Before we dive into the Divisional Round games, let’s take a quick look back at what happened during the first weekend of the playoffs.
Wild Card Recap
#3 Texans – 7 vs. #6 Colts – 21
I’d like to take this opportunity to say I told you so. The Colts scored early and honestly this game was pretty much over by halftime. While the headline was Luck vs. Watson, it was Colts running back Marlon Mack who stole the show with a 148 yard, one touchdown performance. Houston didn’t get on the scoreboard until the 4th quarter, but by that point it was too little, too late. Indianapolis has now won 10 of their last 11 games, and celebrated their playoff win by immediately turning any non-Colts fans against them.
Colts are about to lose by 1000 this week.
#4 Cowboys – 24 vs. #5 Seahawks – 22
This game got off to a very boring start, and was basically a battle of the kickers until the end of the first half. It was 6-3 Seahawks until the Cowboys scored the first touchdown of the game with 24 seconds left before halftime. The turning point of the game turned out to be a 57-yard missed field goal by Janikowski as time expired in the half, but the 40-year old Seahawks kicker hurt himself on the attempt, leaving Seattle without a kicker for the rest of the game. Seattle was up 14-10, but the Cowboys got in the endzone twice in the 4th quarter. Seattle scored late to make it close, but couldn’t recover the onside kick to keep their hopes alive.
#4 Ravens – 17 vs. #5 Chargers – 23
Michael Badgley was the star of the first half in this one, scoring all 12 points scored in the first half to give the Chargers a 12-0 lead. LA extended their lead to 23-3, and it looked like Joe Flacco was about to take over for Lamar Jackson, but then the rookie quarterback figured things out late in the fourth quarter. He connected with Michael Crabtree twice to cut the lead to just 6 points, and they still had the ball late in the game with a chance to win. Yeah that didn’t end the way they wanted.
#3 Bears – 15 vs. #6 Eagles – 16
As I mentioned earlier, Chicago’s season ended with the sound of a ball clanging off the uprights. Cody Parkey actually made the first attempt, but the Eagles had called a timeout to ice him right before the ball was snapped. And as is usually the case, he wasn’t able to hit the second attempt. Now, it wasn’t entirely his fault. The ball was tipped at the line, but it was so hard to tell that Parkey was getting absolutely scorched on Twitter for a couple hours until more videos came out showing that the ball was deflected. For the Eagles, they’re rewarded with a trip to New Orleans, so hopefully next week I don’t have to talk about Philly anymore.
Overall, I went 3-1 with my picks last weekend. I got the Colts, Cowboys and Chargers, but missed with taking the Bears to beat the Eagles.
Divisional Round Preview
#1 Chiefs vs. #6 Colts
The likely MVP faces off against the hottest team in the NFL, and with the Chiefs playoff history, people in Kansas City have to be at least a little bit worried. All season we’ve heard about how good Patrick Mahomes is, and for good reason. In his first season as starter, he threw for over 5000 yards and 50 touchdowns, tying Tom Brady’s 2007 season. If this was the NBA, Mahomes would be Rookie of the Year. Like Brady throwing to Randy Moss in 2007, Mahomes was able to build those stats thanks to the help of his deep threat Tyreek Hill. Looking based on offense, the Chiefs hold the edge in every category except for 3rd Down Percentage. The defensive side of the ball, however, is a completely different story. The Colts defense is among the top half of the NFL, while the Chiefs defense ranks near the bottom.
Now, the Colts offense couldn’t score in the second half against the Texans, so there are definitely some improvements to make, but this has upset potential written all over it.
As much as I would love to watch the Patriots beat up on the Colts again in the AFC Championship 5 years after that whole “Deflategate” nonsense, I think that the Chiefs offense might be too much for the Colts to handle.
#2 Rams vs. #4 Cowboys
The Cowboys held off the Seahawks at home, but now they’ll need to go on the road to keep their Super Bowl dreams alive. Similar to the first game on Saturday, it’s a high powered offense against one of the better defenses in the league. The Cowboys put the league on notice on Thanksgiving when they held the Saints to just 10 points. The star of their defense has been rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, who finished tied for 3rd in the league with 138 tackles. Adding Amari Cooper gave a huge spark to the Dallas offense, and he’s formed somewhat of a big three with Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.
Despite spending a lot in the offseason to improve their defense, these investments haven’t translated into the top-ranked defense that the Rams were hoping for. They’re not bad, but they’re nothing special, so they’ll likely have to continue to rely on their offense moving forward, but that shouldn’t be much of an issue for a team that averaged 32.9 points per game this season.
The Cowboys are a better team than I expected this season, but the Rams have been rolling full steam ahead all season long. Similar to the Chiefs vs. Colts game, I think it’s going to be a case of an offense being too much to handle.
#2 Patriots vs. #5 Chargers
The Patriots are going to play yet another playoff game at Gillette Stadium, and the weather is looking like a typical New England winter.
Now, I’m a firm believer that football season in New England doesn’t really begin until January, but I choose to believe that I am a product of my environment. When you get a first-round bye every year, you get spoiled with not having to worry too much about those first 16 games of the season. It was kind of a down year for the Patriots, and Twitter looked for every opportunity to say that the dynasty is over, but once again everyone was wrong. However, things aren’t the way they always have been. Rob Gronkowski hasn’t been able to produce the numbers he usually does, and the retirement rumours are still there. The Josh Gordon experiment was going well, but turned out to be short-lived. Luckily, Julian Edelman and James White are still there to carry the majority of the offense.
The Chargers were quietly one of the best teams in the AFC with a 12-4 record, but because they never held the top spot in the AFC West, they spent most of the season in Kansas City’s shadow. Their offense is highlighted by Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, and of course Philip Rivers. On defense, their big names include Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram and Derwin James. Rivers has struggled against the Patriots over his career, compiling a 1-5 record including playoffs, but that lone win came in 2008 when Brady missed the whole season with a torn ACL. The Chargers were the better team for about 55 minutes against the Ravens, but those 5 minutes nearly cost them. It sounds cliche, but they’ll need to play a full 60 minutes to beat New England in Foxboro.
Give me playoff Tom Brady 100% of the time.
#1 Saints vs. #6 Eagles
Now, normally when I look at the playoffs, I cheer for the easiest path to another Patriots Super Bowl. So, you’d think I’d be hoping for the Eagles to win, but no, absolutely not. Now, I didn’t give the Eagles much of a chance in the Wild Card round. I thought the Bears were a legit contender this year, especially after beating the Rams in the regular season. But the Saints are the #1 team in the NFC for a reason, and last time these two teams played each other it showed. Back in November, these two teams played in New Orleans and the Saints came out with a 48-7 win. Before looking into that too much, the big difference between Philly then and now is their quarterback. The first time around was with Wentz as the starter, but now they have Nick Foles calling the shots.
The Saints seem to have no weakness, and Drew Brees has found a way to put together one of the best years of his career at 39 years old. If it wasn’t for the Madden-type season that Mahomes put together, Brees would be the runaway MVP. But maybe that’s a good thing, because the regular season MVP seems to never win a Super Bowl that same season anyways. Not only has New Orleans created a passing attack centred around Michael Thomas, but their running game is also one of the best in the league. Alvin Kamara rushed for 883 yards and 14 touchdowns, while Mark Ingram chipped in with 645 yards and 6 touchdowns of his own. They’ll be tested this week with the Eagles giving up the 7th fewest rushing yards per game, but Brees is in line for a big game against their 30th ranked passing defense.
New Orleans is too much for Philly to handle, and honestly at this point they have to be the favourites to win the Super Bowl. If the Eagles manage to win this game I’m going to start questioning if the NFL is fixed.