The eight best teams in the league going head-to-head over one weekend with everything on the line
The divisional round of the NFL playoffs is one of the highlights of the sporting calendar, and this year’s slate is the strongest in recent memory.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS vs INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
Saturday, 12 January @22:35 CET
You wouldn’t call it the unthinkable, but the Colts heading into Houston and knocking off the 11-5 Texans last week was kind of a big deal.
Indy were superb (at least in the first half) against their bitter division rivals. Andrew Luck was lights out from the first snap, finishing with 222-yards and a pair of touchdowns in the 21-7 rout.
For the Chiefs, the biggest concern has to be stopping T.Y. Hilton. The Texans made the mistake of playing man-to-man last week, resulting in nothing more than a measly 85-yard game for the star receiver. Of course, over-committing to Hilton opens up the Eric Ebron option, leaving Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton with some decisions to make this week.
That’s easier said than done for Kansas City however, especially when you consider the Chiefs have struggled all year to stop the pass. The Chiefs ranked second in passing yards allowed during the regular season, and even with a week off, plus home-field advantage, there’s no way they can stop the likes of Hilton, Ebron, and even Marlon Mack for an entire 60-minutes.
What the Chiefs do have though, is Patrick Mahomes. We’ve already seen unexperienced quarterbacks like Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson falter in the playoffs, but this is Mahomes’ calling card in front of what should be a raucous Arrowhead crowd.
Even so, the Colts have the defence to stop the Chiefs. They forced an agile quarterback like Watson into three sacks and a pick last week, disrupting the pocket as well as silencing DeAndre Hopkins.
What’s to say they can’t do that again against Mahomes and Tyreek Hill?
|Indianapolis Colts||Kansas City Chiefs|
LOS ANGELES RAMS vs DALLAS COWBOYS
Sunday, 13 January @02:15 CET
Los Angeles Coliseum
The Cowboys were determined to make things interesting in their 24-22 win over the Seahawks last week, but for the third time in the last four years, Dallas are through to the Divisional Round.
Memories of 2016’s agonising loss to the Packers will be fresh in the mind of Cowboys’ fans, but it’s worth remembering just how different this team is. It’s also worth mentioning that by the midway point of the third quarter last week, running back Ezekiel Elliott had rushed for more yards than the Seahawks had total offence.
The Rams come into this one well-rested and ready to make up for last year’s 26-13 no-show against the Falcons. Los Angeles ranked second in the league in points-per-game during the regular season, and with a now healthy Todd Gurley to rely on, it’s no surprise to see the Rams at the shorter odds playing at home.
Dallas do have something going for them though that perhaps no other team in the NFC can attest to: defence. The Cowboys did a great job on the ground last week against Seattle, limiting the Seahawks to 73-rushing yards and the lone touchdown.
That kind of effort would go a long way against a team like the Rams, but only if Sean McVay’s side doesn’t shoot themselves in the foot first. In the final month of the season the Rams looked lost on offence, and although they blew out the 49ers and the Cardinals to close out the year, back-to-back losses to the Bears and the Eagles, two NFC playoff finalists, leaves a lot to be desired.
With a 7-1 record, there’s no denying how strong the Rams have been at home. But can they really rely on their offensive line, a unit that allowed 33 sacks this season, to keep Jared Goff upright in the pocket?
We saw how destructive the Cowboys can be when they dialed up the pressure last week against Seattle, and with Goff’s accuracy woes on full display in recent weeks, this has upset written all over it.
|Dallas Cowboys||Los Angeles Rams|
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS vs LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Saturday, 13 January @19:05 CET
This intriguing game between two classic AFC foes has New England as the four-point favourites in what could very well be their only home game of the 2019 playoffs. It’s a different feel as far as New England are concerned this year though, with many predicting the long reign of the Brady-Belichick era close to over.
First up, the Chargers will take a crack following their nail-biting win over the Ravens in the Wild Card round. Los Angeles nearly blew a 21-3 lead in the fourth quarter, but cooler heads prevailed, or should we say, Melvin Ingram’s strip-sack skills.
That’s exactly what needs to happen this week if the Chargers are to take care of the Patriots. LA, led by Ingram and Joey Bosa, need to rattle Tom Brady in the pocket, forcing him into throws which, given the state of New England’s receiving corp, should turn into 50/50 balls down-field.
As we know, the Patriots at home are a different beast. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is 0-7 lifetime against Tom Brady, and with an extra week to dial up schemes, you’d be foolish to back against Bill Belichick in this one.
For New England to win they not only need some Brady brilliance, but also a strong defensive effort. Teams like Pittsburgh paid the price when they overlooked Chargers’ wide receiver Keenan Allen during the regular season – you can bet Belichick won’t make that mistake.
|Los Angeles Chargers||New England Patriots|
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS vs PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Sunday, 13 January @22:40 CET
Mercedes Bens Superdome
Call it luck or even a miracle, Philly are right back where they started: in the underdog role and loving every minute of it.
Big Nick energy stormed Chicago last week as Foles and the Eagles held on for the narrowest of one-point wins over the Bears. It took a last second clunked field goal from kicker Cody Parkey, but you can’t discount Foles’ resiliency on the game-winning drive just two minutes prior.
Sitting pretty with the first seed in the NFC, the Saints kicked back last week knowing the path to the Super Bowl runs through them. The Saints and the Eagles did battle way back in Week 11, a game Sean Payton’s side won comfortably 48-7.
We now await the rematch, and although the Saints are well-rested, sometimes the bye week can do more harm than good. Are the Saints ready for Doug Pederson’s high-tempo offence? And just how can they silence Alshon Jeffery?
New Orleans will go into this game knowing they have the sixth-best rushing attack to rely on, but of course, it’s all about the air. The Eagles allowed the seventh-most passing yards during the regular season, and just like in Week 11, if Philly fail to double-team Michael Thomas, he’ll easily burn them for 90+ yards and some points once again.
There is one other stat worth noting though: the Eagles ranked dead last in touchdowns scored once an opposing team reached the red zone during the regular season. That, matched up against the Saints’ high-scoring outfit, could pose a few problems for New Orleans if they get off to a slow start.
|Philadelphia Eagles||New Orleans Saints|