NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round picks
The Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs gets under way this weekend! Last week’s Wild Card Round of the NFL playoffs was full of excitement, with the Colts, Cowboys, Chargers and Eagles keeping their Super Bowl hopes alive. This week they’ll have their toughest test yet, having to go up against the top two seeds in their conference. Can any of these Wild Card teams upset their Divisional Round opponents and move on to the Conference Championship game? Let’s find out who our team is picking to win every game in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs, as well as break down the key matchups of the games.
Divisional Round NFL Playoffs
Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs (Saturday)
If any of the games in the NFL playoffs has shootout potential, it’s this game. Why? For starters, we get to see two of the elite QBs in the NFL go at each other. Patrick Mahomes threw for over 5,000 yards and 50 TDs during the regular season. He set multiple NFL records on his way to a 12-4 record, number one overall seed in the AFC and what is likely an MVP season. On the other side, we get to see Andrew Luck, who had arguably the best season of his NFL career after making his return from injury.
The Colts feature the number 10 defense in points allowed per game. Being led by rookie LB Darius Leonard, the Colts’ defense has been one of the main reasons why this team was able to turn their 1-5 start into a 10-6 record. However, this week the Colts face a new challenge they may not have faced all season long. How are they going to cover WR Tyreek Hill? Last week the defense held WR DeAndre Hopkins to five catches for 37 yards, but Hill has a different game than Hopkins. I’m not sure the Colts have faced a guy with Hill’s speed all season long. Hopkins averaged 13.7 yards per catch this season. Tyreek Hill averaged 17.0 yards per catch. If the Colts leave one guy on Hill, he could easily run past them for a long TD at any moment. If they double cover him, it’ll leave other guys like TE Travis Kelce with more room to work.
How the Chiefs’ defense plays against Andrew Luck will play a large part in the success the Chiefs have in Mahomes’ first playoff game as a starter. The Chiefs ranked 24th in points allowed per game, giving up an average of 26.3 points. Patrick Mahomes and the offense have been heavily relied upon to overcome the poor defensive play this season, but that type of play can get you in trouble in the NFL playoffs. For the Chiefs to win this game, both the offense and defense will have to start hot. It’s likely the offense will play well, but will the defense help them out?
Another key factor in this game, as it is in any game, is turnovers. While Mahomes threw 50 TDs this season, he also threw 12 INTs. Luck threw 39 TDs, but also threw 15 INTs. Giving the ball back to either of these QBs could quickly change the game. In addition to turnovers, protecting these QBs will come into play. Both the Chiefs and Colts were top five in protecting their QBs this season. Luck was sacked just 18 times, while Mahomes was sacked just 26 times. Which defense will get more pressure on the opposing QB and force them into the turnovers they can’t afford to have?
Surprisingly, the majority of us are going with the Colts over the Chiefs. Maybe that has to do with the fact that young QBs in their first playoff start haven’t done well. If there’s any young QB who can overcome that though, it’s Patrick Mahomes.
Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams (Saturday)
Not really surprised to see all of us picking the Los Angeles Rams to win this game. The Dallas Cowboys are 3-5 on the road this season. Now they play a road game in the NFL playoffs. However, you can put an asterisk next to that road record. While the Cowboys were 3-5 on the season, they went 3-1 on the road after acquiring WR Amari Cooper. Before his addition, they were 0-4. We know they’ve been a different team since Cooper came to town. If you want to add another asterisk to their road record, you could do so because of where this game is being played. Yes, it’s a home game for the Rams, but the Cowboys hold their training camp in Oxnard, CA, which is about an hour away from Los Angeles. That means there will be a lot of Cowboys fans at this game. It’s anticipated there could even be up to 40-50% Cowboys fans.
You know what? Forget the records! This is playoff football! This game will come down to which stars step up when the bright lights are on. Let’s start with the two most exciting players in this game, RBs Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott. For the Rams to consistently move the ball against the defense of the Cowboys, they’ll have to find a way to get Todd Gurley going. It’s easy to see Gurley having a great game on the ground, but there are a few things standing in his way.
One of those things is the fact that the Cowboys boast the number five rushing defense in the NFL. They gave up an average of 94.6 rushing yards during the regular season. They’re coming off a game in which they held the number one rushing attack of the Seahawks to 73 yards. The Rams hold the number three rushing attack, but you know the Cowboys aren’t afraid of it. The Rams must find a way to get Gurley going on the ground early if they want to win this game. If they don’t, it’ll put the game in the hands of Jared Goff, who we’ll get more into soon. That’s exactly what the Cowboys want.
For the Cowboys, their road to victory goes through Ezekiel Elliott. He helped the Cowboys control the game against the Seahawks with his 137 rushing yards. He’ll likely have to have a similar amount of rushing yards for the Cowboys to win. This game seems perfect for Zeke to do so, as he’s going against the number 23 ranked rushing defense of the Rams. They gave up an average of 122.3 rush yards per game. Dallas controls games by feeding Zeke, so what do the Rams need to do? Find a way to shut down Zeke and make Dak Prescott beat them.
That brings us to the QBs. Jared Goff and Dak Prescott are both in their third NFL season. Dak Prescott just got his first playoff win last week, while Jared Goff doesn’t have a playoff win yet. In Goff’s lone playoff game to this point in his career, he was pretty bad. He completed just 53.3% of his passes for 259 yards, one TD and a passer rating of 77.9. Now let’s compare that to Dak Prescott’s playoff performances. He’s 1-1, but he barely lost one of those games in a shootout with Aaron Rodgers. In two playoff games, Dak has completed 64.8% of his passes for 528 yards, four TDs, two INTs and a passer rating of 94.1. Dak has shined in his two playoff moments in his early career, while Goff hasn’t. With both RBs expected to perform well, the game could come down to whichever young QB performs better.
Based on the stats above, I wanted to go with the Cowboys to win this game. The Cowboys fan inside me wants to pick them so bad, but I went against that because of the next fact I’m going to share. The Cowboys haven’t been to the Conference Championship game since they won the Super Bowl in 1995. The NFL playoffs haven’t been kind to them since then.
Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots (Sunday)
This game features a shocking stat I recently came by. Philip Rivers has never beaten Tom Brady. Not once. Rivers has gone against Brady seven times, but doesn’t have a single win against him. So what could be different about the eighth time?
For starters, this could be the best team Philip Rivers has ever had. They were tied for the best record in the AFC with the Chiefs, which unfortunately meant they had to play an extra playoff game instead being in the spot the Patriots occupy. Rivers has everything he needs to make a Super Bowl run on this team. He’s got a running back who can consistently run the ball well. Not only can his RBs run the ball, but they’re weapons as receivers too. Rivers has the playmakers at WR to make plays down the field and in the red zone. He’s got an offensive line that can protect him. Perhaps most important of all, he’s got a playmaking defense who can create extra opportunities for the offense. That sounds like everything he needs to finally beat Tom Brady.
Tom Brady and his Patriots went 11-5 and still earned the number two seed in the AFC, but they looked like one of the worst Patriots teams we’ve seen in the Brady era. There’s just something about them that wasn’t the same. Regardless of how the Patriots played in the regular season, you know they’re going to take everything and throw it out the window. This is the playoffs. This is a different game. It’s a game the Patriots have dominated over the last forever amount of years. At least that’s what it feels like.
This game could honestly go any which way you could imagine. Both the offense and defense for both teams are so closely ranked, it’s hard to pick a team based off their numbers. The Patriots scored an average of 27.2 points per game, while the Chargers scored an average of 26.8. That’s a 0.4 difference. Defensively, the Patriots gave up an average of 20.3 points per game, while the Chargers gave up an average of 20.6. That’s a 0.3 difference.
When it came down to it, my personal pick for this game wasn’t based on the numbers. Rather, it was based on my gut feeling. My gut feeling told me the Chargers are going to win, finally giving Rivers a win over the G.O.A.T. I’ve picked the Chargers, but it would not surprise me at all to see the Patriots win this game. How many times have we seen the Patriots make their way through the NFL playoffs? A lot. Nobody would be surprised if they do so again this season.
Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints (Sunday)
Boy oh boy were the Eagles lucky to make it this far! A missed (blocked) kick off the upright to seal the victory over the Bears. Talk about coming down to the wire. Congrats to the Eagles for winning that game, but now they have to play the Saints, in the Superdome. This is one of the toughest places to not only play in, but win in. Can the defending Super Bowl champs pull off another upset and keep their chances of winning back-to-back titles alive?
Not if Drew Brees and the Saints have anything to say about it! In case you didn’t know for some odd reason, Drew Brees is one of the best QBs in the league. He led the NFL in completion percentage, setting a new record (74.4%), while also leading the NFL in passer rating this season (115.7). While Drew Brees has been one of, if not the best QB in the NFL this season, he’s going to have his hands full against a sneaky good Eagles secondary.
I say sneaky good because the Eagles ranked 30th in passing yards given up per game (269.2). That ranking looks terrible, but here’s where the sneaky good comes in. The Philadelphia secondary allowed an average passer rating of 93.4 to opposing QBs. That ranks 15th in the NFL, which is average, but a 93.4 passer rating is below the league average. If this secondary can find a way to hold Drew Brees to a passer rating of 93.4 or worse, they’ve got a legit chance to win this game and keep going in the NFL playoffs.
In addition to the Eagles holding Drew Brees to a below average passer rating, the Eagles will need QB Nick Foles to have a great game to continue their run in the NFL playoffs. They were able to squeeze out a win with Foles being average, but I’m not sure they can get away with it in this game. They were able to overcome a young Mitch Trubisky last week, but this is Drew Brees. Give him the ball two extra times like Foles did to Trubisky last week with his two INTs, and Brees will make them pay.
The majority of us have the Saints beating the Eagles to advance in the NFL playoffs, but don’t think the Eagles are going down easily. This Eagles team is hungry to not only defend their championship, but win another one. There’s a good chance this game comes down to the very end.
Now that you’ve seen who we’re picking to win every Divisional Round game, let us know who you think will move on in the NFL playoffs and why by leaving a comment in the comments section below!