Eight teams. Four games. We’ve reached the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs with four sensational quarterback battles. The bye weeks are over and it’s time to determine which four teams will advance to the conference championships.
Andrew Luck and Patrick Mahomes threw 89 combined TDs and the pair of MVP candidates are poised for a shootout. Philip Rivers has never beaten Tom Brady and he’s sick of losing to the Patriots. Nick Foles will see if he can keep up the magic down in NOLA against Drew Brees and the Saints. Dak Prescott has become a one-man wrecking crew for the Cowboys, while Jared Goff is at the helm of a high-octane offense.
#6 Indianapolis Colts (11-6) vs. #1 Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)… Saturday game. The Colts are 5-point dogs. The top seed is finally getting down and dirty after the Chiefs rested up last week. The Colts destroyed the Houston Texans in the Wild Card game. Andrew Luck has been crushing everyone in his path the last 11 weeks, but now he takes the Colts on the road to meet the Chiefs, who are 7-1 at home. Can the upstart Colts defense slow down the Chiefs enough to make it a close game? It’s not easy being the Chiefs at Arrowhead. Plus, Andy Reid has a redonkulous record (20-4) when he has an extra week to prepare for a team. This Divisional Round matchup features two of the top quarterbacks in the AFC. Patrick Mahomes threw 50 touchdowns in his first year as a starter, but now he faces his first playoff game. Andrew Luck will win Comeback Player of the Year, but he should be considered for MVP all things considered. The Chiefs have a porous defense, so Luck should light them up. This one will be a shootout. I know they always say teams play better defense in the playoffs, but I have a feeling the winner of this shootout will be the team that can put up 50 points first. At 57 points, this is the highest total in the playoffs this week.
#4 Dallas Cowboys (11-6) at #2 L.A. Rams (13-3)… Saturday game. The Rams are a touchdown favorite at home in L.A. The total is 49 points. The Cowboys held off Russell Wilson and the Seahawks to advance to this round. The Rams had a bye week with the #2 seed and had a welcome opportunity to rest RB Todd Gurley. With Jared Goff looking like a different QB in the wake of Cooper Kupp’s knee injury, the Rams will need a monster postseason from Gurley if they want to take down the championship. The bad news for the Rams is that the Cowboys have a Top 5 defense against the rush in terms of DVOA. The Rams have the worst rushing defense in the NFL and allow 5.1 yards per carry. That’s great news for Zeke Elliott. If the Rams can slow down Elliott and shut down Prescott’s new BFF Amari Cooper, the Cowboys will be in for a long night. Then again, the Rams would love a shootout. They can win one of those, but a defensive slog favors the Cowboys. Sean McVay seems way slicker than Jason Garrett, which means he’ll figure out a way to dictate the pace of the game to his liking.
— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) January 6, 2019
#5 LA Chargers (13-4) at #2 New England Patriots (11-5)… Sunday game. The Chargers got screwed by the NFL for a second week in a row with another early game on the East Coast. The Pats opened as a 5-point favorite but now it’s only -4. In the Wild Card, the Chargers went into Baltimore and beat the best defense in the NFL. It wasn’t pretty, but they gutted out a win. The Chargers won 9 out of their last 10 games on the road, but now they visit the Pats in Foxboro, where they went 8-0 this season. The Patriots had a bye week, which gave Belichick the Great an extra week to do his homework and pinpoint every weakness. In terms of DVOA, the Patriots have an average defense. But if you give Bill Belichick two weeks to prepare, he’ll come up with a formidable game plan to beat you. The total is 46.5, which is lower than you’d think for these two teams. Then again, the Pats are like 42-10 in cold weather games over the last two decades. That’s an insane stat, but the Chargers play in balmy Southern California when every day the temperature is perfect. WR Josh Gordon will be missed this game. The Pats offense is not as explosive as it once was, and Brady has one less deep target to exploit. If Gronk looks anything like his old self, the Chargers will be in trouble. No mas Gronk, and the Chargers can steal a win from the Pats. By the way, feeling a little old? This game marks the oldest QB battle in playoff history with 78 combined years around the sun. Rivers is the young buck here at 37, while Brady is an ancient 41 (his Brazilian witch doctor does amazing things with his skin!).
#6 Philadelphia Eagles (10-7) at #1 New Orleans Saints (13-3)… Sunday game. The Saints are 8-point favorites. It took a double-doink from Bears kicker Cody Parkey to propel the Eagles into this spot. They are playing on borrowed time. Sure, Nick Foles is 7-0 in elimination games over the last two seasons. Will his streak finally end in New Orleans? The Saints secured the #1 seed and rested everyone last week. They crushed the Eagles in Week 11, but the birds are a different team now and have a different QB at the helm. The Saints boast a Top 5 run defense in terms of DVOA and the Eagles have zero running game. It will be up to Nick Foles and lots of Doug Pedersen trickery if the Eagles expect to keep pace with Drew Brees and the powerful Saints offense. The Saints have the sickest RB tandem in the playoffs with Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. The last time the Saints held the #1 seed, they ran the table and won the Super Bowl. With that in mind, Drew Brees smells another Super Bowl. It reeks more than Bourbon Street the morning after Fat Tuesday. The Eagles have been defying odds but all good runs come to a crashing end. Wouldn’t be the last bender that ended in the gutter in NOLA. The total is 50, but it feels like it should be higher.
Pauly McGuire is a writer specializing in sports betting. He’s covered the NFL, NBA, college basketball, MLB, and the Olympics for numerous outlets. He’s the former co-host of the Everything Is Bettable podcast with Jesse May. You also might remember Pauly as the creator of the Tao of Poker blog. He was a partner in one of the first daily fantasy sports sites, Fantasy Sports Live.