NFL Playoffs – Divisional Round Preview
January 11, 2019
The first weekend of playoff action has finished, but we’ve already been treated to some great action. Wild Card Weekend certainly lived up to its name with plenty of upsets, last-minute drama and, of course, some wonderful football. The Dallas Cowboys very nearly lost out to the Seattle Seahawks in a thrilling 24-22 encounter, though they’ll count themselves lucky they managed to grab the win in the end.
Some of the other big boys weren’t so lucky though, with the Philadelphia Eagles running out 16-15 winners against the Chicago Bears and the Indianapolis Colts putting on a real show in their 21-7 victory over the Houston Texans. Finally, the LA Chargers beat the Baltimore Ravens in another exciting tie that finished 23-17 to the visiting team. With the Chargers, Eagles and Colts all advancing, three of the four possible wildcards have made it through, which means it’s all for the taking now.
Next up is the divisional round, where eight teams will battle it out, all hoping for a chance at Super Bowl glory. Let’s take a look at the playoff picture and see who is in the frame to advance to the next stage.
Kansas City Chiefs vs Indianapolis Colts
These two teams met in the Wild Card round back in 2014 and now they’re facing each other again. That game lasted long in the memory as the Colts made a stunning comeback against Kansas City, clawing back from a 28-point deficit to beat their opponents. Fans will certainly be hoping for more of the same and, as far as opening fixtures go, this is about as good as it gets.
The Colts aren’t favourites but they still have a solid chance of going through. They’ve got plenty of quality in the side and play at a deadly pace. They run the ball just as well as anyone across the divisions. Their offensive line doesn’t lack power and the physicality there could prove to be a nightmare for the Chiefs. Add to that a quarterback who reads the game incredibly and can pick out players at will – you have a frightening proposition for the Chiefs.
Even though the Colts have been systematically dismantling every team in their path in recent months, they shouldn’t underestimate the Chiefs. Their final four games weren’t the best, a 2-2 record with one overtime win, but with a week to prepare for such a big game they could easily turn all that around. They’ve got the passing and skill needed to win the Super Bowl, let alone this match, so they should win if they bring their A game.
Dallas Cowboys vs Los Angeles Rams
The Rams host the Dallas Cowboys in what could be the pick of the bunch in the divisional rounds. Home advantage might aid them in their search and they go into the tie as slight favourites. Los Angeles were the highest scorers in the NFC, with a lethal average of 32.9 per game as well as leading in total offence at 42.11 per game.
Running back Todd Gurley has been central to the Ram’s attack, recording a whopping 21 touchdowns in a mere 14 games, and he looks set for a return to the line-up after missing the last two games of the regular season with a knee injury. C.J Anderson is another who could influence the game with his incredible rushing and having recorded two scores in his last two games. Their defence is solid as well and it will be no small task for the Cowboys to break through it.
That said, the team from Dallas are no pushovers and they have stars of their own. Amari Cooper has brought a different dimension to the team with Cowboys picking up a fair few wins since his arrival. His burgeoning partnership with NFL rushing leader Ezekiel Elliot, in particular, has impressed, working well with the space afforded to him by Cooper’s play. The proof of his impact is in the numbers, Dallas have scored 27-plus points in five of the last eight with Cooper serving as the focal point. They’ve definitely got the talent to do some damage, but the Rams have been sensational and, considering their dominance at home, should rack up another win here.
New England Patriots vs Los Angeles Chargers
Another cracking match-up here between serial Super Bowl winners, the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Chargers. The Patriots are the favourites, having remained unbeaten at home and showing some breath-taking form. They’ve averaged 33 points at the Gillette Stadium and have conceded just 17.9. Compare this to their road form where they’ve averaged 21.6 and conceded 24 and you can see why home advantage could play a big part.
When looking at the squad, one name stands out from the rest. Tom Brady will be counted on not just for his individual exploits, but his ability to marshal the offence and guide them towards victory. He’s joined by other stars like James White and young upstarts such as Sony Michel, the rookie who’s had six touchdowns in just eight games. White was incredible in the regular season, having led the Pats in receptions at 87 and receiving scores at a total of seven. Brady will be constantly looking for White and, if he can capitalise, he’ll surely have an influence.
Nothing is ever certain though and the Chargers will go into the match confident in their abilities as a squad. Their offence has been a nightmare for teams to handle at times and rank sixth in the NFL for pints at an average of 26.8 per game. This is in no small part down to quarterback Philip Rivers, an NFL veteran who is having a stellar season, having totalled 32 touchdowns. Rivers might also be able to make use of the space afforded to him by the Patriots’ expansive style of play and has struck gold in his link-up play with Keenan Allen. The two have been one of the best-receiving combos in the entire NFL, catching 97 passes in total. They’ve certainly got the potential to do well if all cylinders are firing, but with the ridiculous amount of quality in the Patriots squad, I expect Tom Brady and co to run out convincing winners.
New Orleans Saints vs Philadelphia Eagles
When Philly last went to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in November, they were on the wrong end of a 48-7 thrashing. In a match of such magnitude, the result should be a little more even this time, though New Orleans are still the clear favourites. In that previous contest, the Saints essentially neutralised the Eagles tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. While both teams have developed since then, Philly still heavily rely on Ertz and Goedert so, if the Saints can stop them once again, we could see a similar level of domination.
They’ve got some real quality in their ranks as well, with world-class talent across the field. Much will be asked of Drew Brees who has been on fire this season, recording an NFL-record 74.4% passing completion as well as adding 32 touchdowns for his team. This has earnt him the top quarterback rating in the league, an astounding 115.5. Michael Thomas will also be expected to make the most of a failing Eagles defence. All in all, the top-seeded team with home advantage are about as clear favourites as you can get.
That’s not to say the Eagles are totally outmatched. Their hopes of getting anything from the game all rest on last year’s Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles. While he hasn’t recaptured those heights this year, his postseason form has been solid and he played a major role in Philly’s upset against the Bears having scored two second-half touchdowns. There is a large gap between the sides, one that the Eagles probably won’t be able to negotiate. However, their Super Bowl-winning runs last year shocked the world, so they do have it in them. For me though, I can’t see past a heavy Saints win.
That’s it for the divisional round fixtures, though stick with us as we’ll be covering both the championship rounds and Super Bowl itself. Will it go to a familiar face, or could one of the underdogs steal the crown?
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Cyrus has been writing about sports and many other topics for major publications over the past five years. Now working in digital marketing, he spends his days arguing over football and dreaming of his beloved Manchester City winning the champions league.