NFL Game Picks: Divisional Round
It has already been an exciting postseason, as the first round of playoffs has brought plenty of drama with it. Besides the 14-point blowout that began wild card weekend, every game was decided by a touchdown or less. With the NFL’s cream of the crop going head-to-head in the divisional round, there should be plenty more excitement this weekend. Without further ado, let’s look at what’s in store for round two.
No. 6 Indianapolis Colts (11-6) @ No. 1 Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)
Often times, these No. 1 vs. No. 6 divisional round matches seem one-sided, but that isn’t the case here. Although the Kansas City Chiefs have been the AFC’s top squad for nearly the entire season, Andrew Luck and the upstart Colts have made plenty of noise on their path to the postseason. They’ve only suffered one loss since mid-October, and last week’s stomping of the Texans in Houston proves that they’re ready to play with the big boys. The Kansas City Chiefs will certainly be one of their toughest test yet.
Offensively, it’s clear that the Chiefs have the advantage thanks to likes of Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and MVP frontrunner Patrick Mahomes. You can never count the Colts out, however. Andrew Luck is slinging the ball, and with the likes of Marlon Mack and T.Y. Hilton on his side, he’s got his fair share of weapons as well. As for the defense, the advantage goes to the Colts. Just a year ago, Mahomes and company would have had no problem picking apart the Indianapolis defense but with rookie of the year candidate Darius Leonard in command, even the high-flying Kansas City offense has reason to be scared.
The result of this game may come down to the deciding factor of last week’s wild-card game: defensive pressure. Houston was unable to put any kind of heat on Luck because of the Colts have NFL’s best offensive line. Kansas City has a little bit more help offensively than Houston, but the defense must step up in order to prevent the upset. With the home-field advantage the Chiefs have the edge, but don’t be shocked if the Colts end up in the AFC title game. Expect this one to come down to the wire.
The pick: Kansas City 31, Indianapolis 30
No. 4 Dallas Cowboys (11-6) @ No. 2 Los Angeles Rams (13-3)
Dallas did exactly what they needed to do against Seattle during their wild card matchup. The defense completely shut down Seattle’s deep run game, holding the Seahawks to just 73 rushing yards on 24 attempts. The Cowboys offense put the ball in the hands of its best player, Ezekiel Elliott, 26 times for 137 yards and a touchdown. Perhaps the defense could have put more pressure on Russell Wilson and the passing attack, but with the home victory there’s not too much to nitpick at.
Now, the stakes are raised intensely. As good as the Seahawks were, the Rams are even better. The Rams find themselves at an advantage as the game will be played in Los Angeles. Todd Gurley is likely to return for Saturday’s game, taking the edge away from Dallas’s rushing attack. As for the passing game, Dak Prescott has looked sharp in the second half of the season. When Jared Goff is having a good day, however, that’s hard to beat too. The Dallas secondary certainly can’t let the likes of Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks get behind them the way Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett did last week, or else Los Angeles may be strutting away with the win effortlessly.
The key to victory here is to halt the ground game. As good as Prescott and Goff can be, Gurley and Elliott are reliable superstars. The best offensive strategy should be putting the ball in their hands whenever possible. Dallas’ defense certainly plays the run better and the rookie Leighton Vander Esch is a major part in their success. Don’t count out the Rams, though. With the home crowd and a slight advantage offensively, the Rams should be the favorites. For the Cowboys, as long as they do what they’ve been doing since mid-November, this will be a fight to the finish at the Coliseum on Saturday night.
The pick: LA Rams 26, Dallas 20
No. 5 Los Angeles Chargers (13-4) @ No. 2 New England Patriots (11-5)
In a divisional round stacked from top-to-bottom with exciting matchups, this could be the best of the bunch. Foxborough is a difficult place for road teams to win, but if anyone can do it, it’s the Chargers. Los Angeles has a 9-0 road record this season. That being said, it’s never a good idea to count out the Patriots, who have hosted a divisional round game every season for nearly the past decade. As long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are at the helm, New England always has a chance.
It’s odd to think but Los Angeles may have the advantage in the passing game. As good as Brady is, Philip Rivers has been even better this season, especially with Keenan Allen and a solid receiving corps at his disposal. On the ground, the Patriots may have a bit more depth, but if Melvin Gordon is 100 percent, he’s a difficult force to stop. As for the defense, the Chargers win once again. Melvin Ingram terrorized Lamar Jackson all last Sunday and he can do it to Brady too. Of course, Brady is far more experienced than Jackson, so he’ll handle the pressure better, but even the all-time greats can crack.
On paper, Los Angeles has nearly every advantage, so what’s preventing this one from being a total blowout? Quite simply, reputation. The Patriots have been regarded as the NFL’s top team for the past two decades and with the way Belichick instills discipline in his players, the Patriots always have a shot at victory no matter the matchup. Considering the situation, New England likely needs Brady and company to step up once again in order to stymie Ingram, Joey Bosa, Derwin James and the Chargers defense, but that’s always a realistic possibility. In fact, New England enters this one as the favorite. In the end, Los Angeles may be too much to handle, but the Patriots won’t be an easy out. The victor may be decided in the final minutes.
The pick: LA Chargers 27, New England 22
No. 6 Philadelphia Eagles (10-7) @ No. 1 New Orleans Saints (13-3)
Yep, they’ve done it again. It’s unbelievable to think but, under Nick Foles, the Eagles have found some magic once more. Of course, it took a missed 43-yard field goal from Chicago’s Cody Parkey for Philadelphia to get here. Though Foles and the Philadelphia offense didn’t exactly have their best outing of the season, 16 points was all that was needed to advance. Giving the Eagles some credit in these past four weeks, they’ve defeated tough competitors and legit Super Bowl contenders in the Texans, Rams and Bears.
If the Eagles want to have a chance of reaching back-to-back Super Bowls, they need to defeat the mighty Saints in New Orleans. The Saints’ only home losses all season came in week one, as the team found its footing, and in week 17, when most of the starters were rested. Going into New Orleans and winning against a full-strength squad is one of the most difficult tasks any team can achieve. Last time, it didn’t work out so well for the Eagles, as the defending champions were walloped 48-7 in the Superdome in November. The injured secondary got torched by Drew Brees and company, and considering they allowed Mitchell Trubisky to put up 303 yards last week, not all that much has really changed.
As expected, New Orleans comes into this one as the heavy favorite, but can Philadelphia pull off the massive upset? It’s unlikely but it’s possible. Due to the nature of the Saints’ electric offense, it’s unlikely Philly will win this one through defensive power. If anything, Foles and the offense will need to succeed in matching Brees and company step-for-step. It is the NFL, so anything is possible. Ultimately, New Orleans should advance, but would it really be a huge shock if the Eagles do the unthinkable for the millionth time? We’ll find out on Sunday.
The pick: New Orleans 33, Philadelphia 21
DJ Bauer is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.