Scott Shapiro's NFL Playoff Selections and Analysis- Sunday's Divisional Round
The second doubleheader in the National Football League divisional round playoffs gets rolling at 1:05 p.m. EST on Sunday. Much like with Saturday’s twin bill, I am going to attempt to buck the trend of favorites doing well in this round by backing the two dogs.
Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots -4.0 (1:05 PM EST)
Betting against the Patriots in home games where they are favored by 7 points or less has been a poor strategy over the last three years, but that is exactly what I am going to do in the early game on Sunday in Foxborough.
New England won the AFC East with ease again in 2018 to earn yet another bye into—and home-field advantage in—the divisional round, but I am not convinced that this group is as strong as the teams we have seen over the past several years. Sure, the Pats still possess the duo of quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick and were undefeated in Gillette Stadium, but tight end Rob Gronkowski is no longer a dominant force and they lost wide receiver Josh Gordon when he was suspended for violating the terms of the league’s substance abuse policy in mid-December.
Overall, this Patriots team just appears too slow and a bit past their prime despite posting 11 wins. It will certainly not surprise me if they win on Sunday, but I think they are ripe for the picking this weekend as a quality football team comes to Massachusetts.
The Chargers will be playing their third game in a row and fourth in five weeks, so it is not an ideal spot for Anthony Lynn’s squad, but this is not your typical NFL team. They have little home field advantage playing temporarily in Dignity Health Sports Park and have won eight of nine games on the road after beating the Ravens in Baltimore last Sunday. The amount of travel is certainly concerning, but they simply have a more talented roster than the Patriots in 2018.
I do not expect either team to score a ton of points in this one, but I expect Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa to get regular pressure on Brady and hold down a Patriots offense that I expect to struggle to put the ball in the end zone. I will take the points despite Philip Rivers 0-7 record in games against the Patriots when Brady has started.
Pick - Los Angeles Chargers +4.0
Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints -8.0 (4:40 PM EST)
New Orleans enters the divisional round as the favorites (+225) on BetAmerica to win the Super Bowl in large part due to having home field advantage in the NFC. The Mercedes-Benz Superdome is no doubt a very difficult place to beat the Saints as the Eagles found out on November 18th when they were pummeled by Drew Brees and company 48-7. That result is certainly tough to swallow for those of us willing to back the Eagles, but this is a much different Philadelphia team. Furthermore, the revenge factor in the NFL is an angle that tends to work more often than not during the course of a normal season.
The Eagles defense has not been particularly strong in the secondary this year, but they have improved some over the last several weeks. Their better play has a lot to do with a defensive front that has carried Philadelphia’s defense throughout the tail end of the season. While I do not expect the Eagles to be able to completely stop the high-powered Saints attack, I do anticipate them keeping them well below the 48 points they posted in their first encounter.
The biggest difference in this matchup though should be with the Eagles offense. Carson Wentz is the more talented of the Eagles’ signal callers, but Nick Foles seems to fit this team better for whatever reason. The veteran quarterback has done a great job of getting the ball of out his hands quickly and has spread the ball around much better than Wentz did when he was at the helm.
Wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey was invisible at times during the middle part of the season after returning from injury including just 4 catches for 33 yards in the blowout in November, but he has become the go-to-guy down the stretch. Additionally, Foles has incorporated rookie tight end Dallas Goedert into the mix as well as midseason acquisition Golden Tate who caught the game winning touchdown last Sunday in Chicago. This version of the Eagles offense should present a much greater challenge for a Saints defense that has been great against the run, but has struggled to stop the pass. Their ability to use the short and intermediate passing game to move the chains should allow Philadelphia to stay in this game barring turnovers.
It is always scary playing against the Saints in the dome, but I expect the Eagles to score in the mid-twenties and hang in there with the NFC’s number-one seed.