The Wild Card weekend in the NFL brought plenty of action (maybe not offensively) and memorable moments, and now only eight teams remain standing. The Ravens, Texans, Seahawks, and Bears all saw their season fade away, and the Colts, Chargers, Cowboys, and Eagles managed to come away with victories. Here's each match-up for the Divisional Round next weekend, and who I believe will advance to the Conference Championship games.
#6 Indianapolis Colts vs. #1 Kansas City Chiefs
The Colts managed to go into Houston on Saturday and upset the Texans 21-7, thanks to stellar games from Andrew Luck, Marlon Mack and the Colts defense. That victory gives Indianapolis a remarkable 10-1 record over the past 11 games, which makes this a very intriguing match-up. As we all know, Kansas City is led by the MVP Candidate Patrick Mahomes, who threw for 50 touchdowns in his first year as a starter and All-Pro dynamic wideout Tyreek Hill. As many people also know, they lost running back Kareem Hunt after their game against the Rams (which they lost in a shootout) to an assault charge in late November, and they have an even 3-3 record since the Rams game, with losses against the Chargers and Seahawks and wins against the Ravens and twice against the Raiders (one was a seven point victory). One notable stat in this matchup is that the Colts have given up only 18 sacks the entire year, good for first in the league. They have one of the best defenses in the league, led by defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus and rookie linebacker Darius Leonard who surprised everyone this year. Kansas City, on the other hand, has arguably the best offense in the league even without Hunt, although the running game isn't elite and the feature back has changed constantly since Hunt's departure. The one weak link on this team is the defense, who has allowed the second-most yards in the league this year, as well as the second most passing yards per game. This is a great sign for the Colts and should signal a field day for players like T.Y. Hilton and Eric Ebron. Teams have shown they can beat Kansas City this year, and Indianapolis has proven they can beat playoff teams during their hot streak. It's going to be a close game, but I believe that Indianapolis will upset Kansas City and advance to the AFC Championship game.
Prediction: Indianapolis def. Kansas City: 31-28
#5 Los Angeles Chargers vs. #2 New England Patriots
The Chargers have made it back to the playoffs for the first time in the Los Angeles era, sporting an impressive 12-4 record but finishing behind Kansas City in the division keeps them as the #5 seed. They defeated Baltimore last week 23-17 in a rather boring game, but a fairly impressive game for the Chargers defense. Neither team could get anything offensively for the most part, but we know that the trio of Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon, and Keenan Allen is very fearsome (when everyone is healthy), and Mike Williams and Tyrell Williams cannot be forgotten about either. On the defensive side, the Chargers have a top-10 defense in the league led by players like Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, and rookie Derwin James has played incredible this year. On the other hand, the Patriots are once again back in the playoff picture, led by the duo of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Led by offensive weapons like James White, Sony Michel, Julian Edelman and an aging Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots averaged the 4th-most points per game in 2018, and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels does deserve some credit for this. The Patriots are also a top-10 defense in the league led by cornerback Stephon Gilmore, and they have allowed the 7th fewest points per game this season. However, one narrative sets New England far apart from Los Angeles: playoff experience. Tom Brady is the most experienced postseason player in the NFL and while Philip Rivers also has experience, the Chargers haven't beaten the Patriots since 2008, and in New England since 2005. The Chargers have an impressive team and can pull it off, especially if key receivers like Allen and Williams are able to have big days. But, New England's all-around dominance and experience will reign superior this time around, and the Patriots will advance to another AFC Championship game.
Prediction: New England def. Los Angeles: 28-20
#6 Philadelphia Eagles vs. #1 New Orleans Saints
The Eagles, led by none other than Nick Foles, not only defied the odds and made it to the playoffs, but managed to stun the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field in a 16-15 close victory. Philadelphia was able to stuff Chicago's run attack led by Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, but did give up over 300 yards passing to Mitch Trubisky, and Allen Robinson torched them for 10 catches, 142 yards and a score, which continues to show their secondary woes. Foles started the game rough but did manage to throw two touchdowns in the second half, as well as lead the game-winning drive. The Eagles are primarily a passing team with weapons like Alshon Jeffery, Golden Tate and Zach Ertz, but the running game is weak as Jay Ajayi has been out for the season. Meanwhile, the Saints proved themselves as the #1 seed all season long, as Drew Brees has had an MVP-caliber season, and the trio of Brees, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas set the league on fire. They might have the most complete team in the entire league, great aerial and rushing attacks, a great offensive line, some of the best coaching and arguably the best run defense in the league. The one glaring hole that New Orleans has is, just like Philadelphia, does not have a good defense against the past, the 4th worst in the league to be exact. They do have playmakers like Marshon Lattimore, but Philadelphia definitely has the capability to exploit New Orleans' miscues. I think the key to this game for New Orleans will be Kamara and Mark Ingram, as Kamara will have a big role in catching balls out of the backfield and Ingram on most rushing and goal line situations. Philadelphia does have a shot at winning this game, and the legend of Nick Foles could continue, but I don't see it happening in New Orleans.
Prediction: New Orleans def. Philadelphia: 31-17
#4 Dallas Cowboys vs. #2 Los Angeles Rams
Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys are back in the playoffs after missing them last year, and extended their stay by one more week after beating the Seattle Seahawks 24-22. Dallas' defense was the story of that game and continued its' surprising dominance, as Seattle's offense looked stagnant for most of the night. Dak Prescott played very well down the stretch and had some clutch plays in the fourth quarter, and Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper continued their impressive season into the postseason, each racking up 100+ yards. Dallas has had a relatively poor season in terms of passing, but Prescott has played better as of late, and is always a threat outside of the pocket with his legs. Los Angeles comes into this games fresh off a bye week, and after starting the season on a 8-0 tear they lost 2 of their last 4 games and clinched the second seed in the NFC. The Rams have one of the most high-powered offenses in the league and can kill you from any angle. If your defense can't handle the run, Todd Gurley will have a field day. If your defense can't stop the pass, Jared Goff will have no problems flinging it to Robert Woods or Brandin Cooks. On the defensive end they are led by Aaron Donald, who had arguably one the best seasons ever by a defensive player, but the Rams don't have the best defensive team. They actually have been pretty mediocre against the run this year even with their star-studded front four, giving up over 120 yards rushing per game, which must make Ezekiel Elliott very hungry. The key to the Cowboys winning this game is going to finding a way to stop Donald and the Rams' defensive line, as Dallas actually gave up the second-most sacks in the league this year which was strange as their line is usually very potent. As for the Rams, Dallas has some of the most talented young linebackers in the game in Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, and if Gurley and the rest of the Rams offense can make their day troublesome, they should walk out with a win. This is definitely a winnable game for Dallas and is a very intriguing match-up, but I believe that Sean McVay will win his first playoff game and send the Rams to the NFC Championship Game.
Prediction: Los Angeles def. Dallas: 38-32