Three of the four winners in Wild Card weekend were road teams. Will that odd trend carry over into the conference semifinals?
- Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs (-5.5): I remember the playoff game between these two a few years back, the one with the radical comeback by Andrew Luck and the Colts. I was playing pickup basketball that day and we started just before halftime. The Chiefs led 31-10 at the break and we all felt pretty confident in missing the second half of the game to get our hoops on.
I remember the shock when I went out to the car after playing poorly for a couple of hours and hearing the Colts had rallied for a 45-44 win. Apparently, Andy Reid’s Chiefs played poorly too.
This is Reid’s shot at revenge some five years later. This time it’s Patrick Mahomes throwing to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce instead of Alex Smith to Dwayne Bowe and Anthony Fasano. This time it’s in Kansas City, one of the loudest venues in professional sports and an outdoor stadium hosting a team from a comfy dome.
The Colts have had an excellent run from the 1-5 start to dominating the Texans on both sides of the ball in Houston in the Wild Card round. Give head coach Frank Reich loads of credit for figuring out what worked for his team quickly. And Reich just might know something about epic playoff comebacks of his own, too. I fear they’ll need one in this game.
Chiefs 36, Colts 27
- Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams (-7): I’ve been riding the “Rams peaked early” wave too long to stop surfing it now. But it’s true. The team has not been the same since losing Cooper Kupp at wide receiver. Having Todd Gurley banged up hasn’t helped, either. Since their Week 11 bye, the Rams have topped 400 yards of offense just once after hitting it in eight of the nine weeks leading up to then.
A declining offense meeting a very good defense, one which can handle both the run and the pass; Dallas finished 5th in yards per attempt defense on the ground and tied for 8th in yards per completion in the air. Their linebacking corps is as versatile as any in the league, and Demarcus Lawrence is a difference-maker at DE.
The Rams are favored for a reason, of course. They went 13-3 and have a legit MVP candidate in the middle of their defense in Aaron Donald. But the Cowboys are as well-equipped as any offense to handle Donald. Zach Martin is arguably the league’s best right guard, and center Joe Looney is tough to beat in one step. Even though a road team hasn’t won on Saturday in the Divisional Round since 2011, the Cowboys are the pick here.
Cowboys 27, Rams 24
- Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots (-4): Can Philip Rivers finally beat the Patriots in a playoff game? It's something the Chargers QB has never done.
Of course it has been 12 years since he last got a chance. Bill Belichick’s Patriots put an end to very promising postseasons after the 2005 and ‘06 campaigns, and Rivers played poorly in both. The grisly tale from the box scores, courtesy Pro Football Reference:
Note that those games were close. If Rivers and the Chargers offense performed better, they stood very good chances of winning.
That is still the case in 2019. Los Angeles brings a balanced team on both sides of the ball to New England. Other than the occasional coverage overrun by the pass defense, there really aren’t any big holes or weaknesses for Belichick to exploit mercilessly, as he is wont to do.
And that’s the thing. Normally with the Patriots, you can look at them versus their opponent and point to a matchup or two where they definitely have a big advantage. Other than Tom Brady being a postseason demigod, and James White being a great receiver out of the backfield, it’s hard to see where the Patriots have advantages over this Chargers team. Even LA’s special teams appear out of their long-running funk, with Michael Badgley missing just twice in 22 FG attempts.
Picking the Patriots means faith in the historical context of both teams and their QBs. One features one of the greatest winners in NFL history, the other is led by someone known for the playoff yips. New England has arguably the best head coach in NFL history on the sideline, playing at home. Los Angeles has a second-year head coach in Anthony Lynn leading a team that nearly gave away what should have been a dominating victory in Baltimore last week to a rookie QB who posted negative passing yardage into the second half.
In short, I think the Chargers can win and probably should expect to win. But I can’t pick them until I see them win. It’s not you, it’s me, Los Angeles…
Patriots 20, Chargers 18
- Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints (-8): I really want to like the Eagles here. The defending champs once again appear blessed by the fates after escaping Chicago with a win on a tipped field goal attempt that doinked off two uprights, upsetting the Bears. Nick Foles rallied the team nicely and they finally got some significant return on their midseason trade investment in wideout Golden Tate. Those are all real things and important things to factor into the forecast.
Unfortunately for them, this game is in New Orleans. The Saints do as good of a job as any team at dictating the game in their own building. Outside forces don’t typically penetrate into the Superdome easily.
The biggest matchup advantage in the Xs and Os also favors New Orleans. Drew Brees throwing to Michael Thomas against a patchwork set of Philadelphia cornerbacks is a major problem for the Eagles. If they devote too much safety help to Thomas, Brees is more than happy to beat them with a healthy dose of dynamic Alvin Kamara out of the backfield. I don’t see Foles and the Eagles being able to keep up, try as valiantly as they might.
Saints 30, Eagles 17