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Previewing And Predicting The NFL Divisional Round

Jason Huber
January 10, 2019 - 11:21 pm
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We enter the NFL Divisional Round of the playoffs following a Wild Card Weekend that was full of defensive games. The lack of offense makes this coming week even more intriguing because of the high-flying offenses coming off a bye week. New Orleans, Los Angeles, Kansas City and New England host the Divisional Round games to set up a weekend with the potential for some iconic games.

Here are my preview and picks for this week's games.  

Last week's record: 3-1

NFC Divisional Round:

January 12 at 8:15 p.m. ET, Fox

No. 4 Dallas Cowboys (11-6) @ No. 2 Los Angeles Rams (13-3)

It's a battle of the run-game in Los Angeles. A rested Todd Gurley will face head-to-head with arguably the second-best running back in the league, Ezekiel Elliott. Gurley and Elliott were first and third respectively in total rushing yards this season. 

Clinching the second best record in the NFC following a 9-0 start to the season and a dominant offensive regular season averaging 33 points per game, the Rams will be well rested after receiving a bye last week. Jared Goff leads the charge at QB with offensive weapons everywhere from Gurley to wide receivers Brandin Cooks, Josh Reynolds, Robert Woods and even running back CJ Anderson, who was signed three weeks ago with Gurley injured. Anderson rushed for over 100 yards in both spot starts. 

Dallas is one of the hottest teams in the league and is coming off a tight battle with the Seahawks. The Cowboys have won eight of their last nine and are looking to advance to the NFC Championship Game for the first since 1996 when they won the Super Bowl. 

The Rams are heavy favorites under second-year head coach Sean McVay and have broken multiple offensive records this season. 

It'll be a tough test for Dallas, but the Cowboys defense has improved every week and they haven't allowed 30 or more points since Week One against the Giants.

With the Rams averaging over 30 points per game, Goff will need to break out of a recent slump and not turnover the ball. He recently threw six touchdowns in a five-game stretch. 

Dallas' strong secondary can cause a problem for Goff, but the if the Rams play anything like they have all season, it may not matter. 

Defensive tackle and likely Defensive Player Of The Year Aaron Donald will apply plenty of pressure on Cowboys QB Dak Prescott and will provide a huge test for a Cowboys offensive line that has struggled a lot throughout the season. 

This matchup will focus on the battle between Gurley and Elliott, but in the end, I think it could come down to Goff vs. Prescott. But I'm taking the more prolific offense here. 

Prediction: Rams 28 Cowboys 20

January 13 at 4:40 p.m. ET, FOX

No. 6 Philadelphia Eagles (10-7) @ No. 1 New Orleans Saints (13-3)

The reigning Super Bowl Champion Eagles seemed to have found the magic that led them to a Cinderella run last year with an upset win over the Bears thanks to a doinked Chicago game-winning field goal, but they'll have to go through New Orleans to keep it going.

In Week 10, the Eagles were spanked by the Saints 48-7 and it looked like Philadelphia was heading in the wrong direction. 

This week is hopefully different for the Eagles.

As one of the most complete teams in the league, Drew Brees had an MVP-like season with Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Taysom Hill and Michael Thomas as his offensive weapons. The Saints come off their bye week as the best bet to win the Super Bowl. 

You can't doubt the Nick Foles-led Eagles, though. Foles once again proved to be a clutch postseason QB last week against Chicago with a late-game drive that put Philadelphia ahead.

New Orleans defense has improved gradually as the season went on and the Eagles offense really didn't find any momentum until late in the game at Chicago last week. 

The blowout win for New Orleans earlier in the season was the only loss that Philadelphia had by more than seven points and Drew Brees and co. have shown signs of weaknesses since. That includes a 13-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

Philadelphia will need to have one of the most magical games of Nick Foles career to keep up with the Saints offense. The Saints run a plethora of trick plays with WR/QB Taysom Hill and seem to consistently find no-name players in the end zone. 

Philly does have the league's best red zone defense but New Orleans is sixth in scoring in the red zone.

It's difficult to doubt Foles since he continues to prove us wrong, but I can't see Philadelphia beating New Orleans in the Super Dome. 

Prediction: Saints 24 Eagles 13

AFC Divisional Round: 

January 12 at 4:35 p.m. ET, NBC

No. 6 Indianapolis Colts (11-6) @ No. 1 Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)

These two teams have become very familiar with each other in postseason play. Most recently in 2014 when the Colts completed the 2nd largest postseason comeback ever to eliminate the Chiefs. 

Indianapolis also eliminated Kansas City in 2006, 2003 and 1995. So history isn't on the Chiefs side. 

Head coach Andy Reid has made the Chiefs an annual playoff contender but he made a big move this offseason when he traded QB Alex Smith to replace him with the 2017 No. 10 overall pick Patrick Mahomes as the starting quarterback.

Mahomes has lit the league on fire and will likely win the Most Valuable Player award. Mahomes became the third player ever to throw for more than 50 touchdowns, helped Kansas City average 34 points per game and has become one of the best QBs in the league.

Losing running back Kareem Hunt midseason and eventually cutting him due to domestic violence, the Chiefs have used Spencer Ware and Damien Williams at running back. Ware suffered a season-ending injury three weeks ago leaving Kansas City with Williams and Charcandrick West at RB. 

It seems the loss of Hunt has caused more of a problem than they expected with two losses in their final three games of the year. 

Indianapolis continues to be the hottest team in the league with 10 wins in their last 11 games and has a big opportunity to expose the Chiefs 31st ranked defense. 

Andrew Luck and Marlon Mack have helped the Colts offense average 28 points per game since Week 7 and the Colts defense shut down Deshaun Watson last week in the Wild Card Round. 

A big problem for Kansas City will be pressuring Luck with the lack of defensive weapons, but the recent return of Eric Berry in the secondary could help the passing defense. They also have a strong pass rush with Chris Jones and Dee Ford. 

Indianapolis ran for over 200 yards against Houston and Kansas City's defense has proved to be weak against the run.

Yes, the Chiefs defense is electric, but they haven't looked the same since losing Hunt. 

They do still have Pro Bowl wide receiver Tyreek Hill and Williams has shown explosiveness in Hunt's absence. Oh, I forgot about tight end Travis Kelce who finished the year with the most yards in a single season ever by a tight end. 

While the Colts will create a challenge, the Chiefs slide by with their offense.

Prediction: Chiefs 33 Colts 27

January 13 at 1:05 p.m. ET, CBS

No. 5 Los Angeles Chargers (13-4) @ No. 2 New England Patriots (11-5)

In probably the most intriguing game of the Divisional Round, Tom Brady and the Patriots will host Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers in a battle of two future Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks. 

Rivers is 0-7 all-time versus Brady and the Patriots are looking to make their eighth straight AFC Championship game and third Super Bowl in a row. 

This year, the Patriots and Brady finally looked vulnerable. New England fell to the third seed in Week 14 after a crushing loss to the Steelers and Dolphins, but won their final two games against Buffalo and the Jets to win 11 games and receive their 10th straight bye week in the playoffs.

Many have said the Chargers are the most complete team in the playoffs. Los Angeles is the fifth seed but they went 12-4 this season and got the best of Baltimore's strong defense last week in the Wild Card Round. 

The biggest weak spot for the Chargers is their run defense and New England has used the duo of James White and Sony Michel to make for the games where Brady hasn't looked like the old Tom Brady. 

Brady will be facing a strong Chargers pass rush led by Melvin Ingram, though, and Brady needs to find his usual playoff magic. 

While the Chargers will have tight end Hunter Henry returning after missing the entire season, New England hasn't lost a home playoff game since 2013. 

Philip Rivers has one win against the Patriots which took place in 2008 when Brady was out with a torn ACL.

Rob Gronkowski has looked as he is ready to retire and has become basically inept on offense. For New England to keep pace, they'll need big games Cordarrelle Patterson, Michel, White and Julian Edelman. 

Josh Gordon is no longer on New England's roster, leaving a big gap as a secondary receiving threat. White has continued to step in that role.

Los Angeles is hoping Melvin Gordon can be fully healthy for this game. Gordon went down with an injury at the beginning of the Chargers Wild-Card Game but returned later on. 

Gordon scored a touchdown but only managed to rush for 40 yards.

With the weather likely to be cold, Los Angeles could try and keep the ball out of Rivers hands a good bit and rely on Gordon and the run game. 

New England is the obvious pick here, but I really think this is the year the Patriots can't make it work. I may look at back at this next week and admit I was wrong, but the Chargers are a complete team and have been waiting for this matchup all season.

Prediction: Chargers 24 Patriots 21 

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