By: Brady Gardner
Last week’s Wild Card Round had it all – dominating performances, devastating finishes, and overall drama across all four games. After a highly-anticipated weekend that certainly lived up to expectations, it could be hard to imagine another week surpassing its entertainment value. However, if there ever was such a week, the Divisional Round’s slate of games might just be it.
Once again, I will be previewing each matchup, and giving my prediction for which teams will be moving on. Last week I went 1 for 4 with my picks, so hopefully my predicting heats up as the playoffs do too. Anyway, let’s get into the games!
Colts @ Chiefs – 4:35pm ET on Saturday, 1/12
To kick off the Divisional Round, the Colts will head to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs. Rarely do you see a number six seed with the amount of confidence that the Colts have, but they have earned the right to be confident. Indianapolis has pulled off 10 wins in their last 11 games, and dominated the third-seeded Texans in Houston last week. The Colts are firing on all cylinders on both sides of the ball, and seem to have no fear going into the ever-intimidating Arrowhead Stadium this Saturday.
Kansas City dazzled in the regular season, and certainly deserved the conference’s number one seed. That being said, nothing is guaranteed in the postseason, and the Chiefs have had a history of struggling in the playoffs. Head coach Andy Reid is notorious for making strategy mistakes and mismanaging the clock in January, and quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who will be playing in his first playoff game, has been inconsistent in big games thus far this year. Regular season success is one thing, but executing in the postseason is what really makes a good team great.
So, who am I favoring to win it? For a six seed against one seed, this game is incredibly difficult to predict. Indy has been picking up steam throughout the second half of the season, but the Chiefs were the conference’s best team for all seventeen weeks. This is tough, but purely because they are rested and at home, I’m taking the Chiefs. That said, I would not be surprised at all to see the Colts pull off the upset and continue their tear through the AFC. Reluctantly, Kansas City it is.
Brady’s Prediction – Chiefs 34, Colts 30
Cowboys @ Rams – 8:15pm ET on Saturday, 1/12
In Saturday’s nightcap, the Cowboys will travel to Los Angeles to take on the Rams. Dallas surprised some people (including myself) with their impressive victory last weekend against the Seahawks. Ezekiel Elliott continued his dominant running, but it was Dak Prescott who really stole the show for the Cowboys, silencing any doubts fans had about the historic franchise’s current quarterback with some late-game heroics to finish off a talented Seattle team. Dallas has won seven of their last eight, and are flying high heading into the Divisional Round.
The Rams were tripped up a bit by playoff-bound teams late in the regular season, but still held on to the conference’s second seed and a first round bye. Head coach Sean McVay and quarterback Jared Goff were respectively outcoached and outplayed in last year’s Wild Card loss to the Falcons, but it was both of their first career playoff games. However, the Rams are no longer simply a force in the making: they’re a favorite in the NFC, and are ready to make a deep playoff run this season.
As good as the Cowboys have played as of late, I just can’t see them going into Los Angeles and knocking off the second-seeded Rams. Between their explosive offense and talented defense, the Rams should be able to overpower the Cowboys and move on to the NFC Championship. The Los Angeles Coliseum should be buzzing with the return of playoff football, so I‘m picking the Rams, and I don’t think it’s going to be very close.
Brady’s Prediction – Rams 41, Cowboys 20
Chargers @ Patriots – 1:05pm ET on Sunday, 1/13
In the weekend’s only early afternoon contest, the Chargers will make the 3,000 mile journey to New England to face the Patriots. It will be the second cross-country trek for the Chargers in as many weeks, but the Bolts don’t mind at all. LA has dominated on the road this season, going 7-1 away from home in the regular season and pulling off impressive away victories against playoff-caliber competitors along the way. Last week was no different as the Chargers beat the Ravens in Baltimore, but Los Angeles did struggle to close the door on their hosts late in that game.
The Patriots got to their first round bye in unconvincing fashion, going 11-5 and gaining the AFC’s second seed only through a tiebreaker held over the Texans. Still, New England had the Wild Card Round off for the ninth season in a row, and had an extra week to get healthy and prepare for the 2019 postseason. There have been a lot of uncertainties surrounding the health of this team, including the likes of quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski, so a week off was exactly what the doctor ordered to give this team their best chance for success in January.
Of all four games this weekend, this one will probably be the closest. The Patriots have been historically unstoppable at Gillette Stadium in the playoffs, but the Chargers are red-hot and have played excellent football on the road this season. Do you trust history, or 2018 results? Call me a homer, but I’m going to have to go with the Patriots. LA won’t make it easy, but Tom Brady and Bill Belichick rarely lose at home in the postseason, at I think they’ll pull out a win in this one too.
Brady’s Prediction – Patriots 27, Chargers 24
Eagles @ Saints – 4:40pm ET on Sunday 1/13
To finish off the Divisional Round, the Eagles with fly south to New Orleans to take on the Saints. Against all odds, Philadelphia finds themselves in the NFL’s final eight. I won’t lie, I didn’t think the Eagles stood a chance against the Bears last week. Philly’s victory did require some good fortune for the Eagles as a potential game-winning Chicago field goal bounced off the uprights as time expired, but in the postseason, it doesn’t matter how ugly it was, as long as you win. Nick Foles and the Eagles live to fight another day, and are still alive to defend their Super Bowl title.
The Saints have been the NFL’s best team this season, finishing atop the NFC and dominating their competition throughout the regular season. The New Orleans defense can be stifling, but what really makes this club special is their offense, maintaining a effective balance of strong running and pinpoint passing. Quarterback Drew Brees and head coach Sean Payton have won a championship together before, and this might just be their year to go earn that elusive second ring.
I think we’d all love to see the Cinderella story of Nick Foles and the Eagles continue, but it’s hard to imagine that the first-seeded Saints would fall to a team that barely snuck into the postseason. Philadelphia does have a knack for overcoming superior opponents, but I think going into the SuperDome and beating New Orleans will be a bridge too far for the Eagles. Through their talent on the field and their experience in playoff football, the Saints should run away with this one.
Brady’s Prediction – Saints 38, Eagles 17
This is the last week of the NFL season with eight teams still in action, so enjoy the games!