Scott Shapiro's NFL Playoffs Selections and Analysis- Saturday's Divisional Round
After a Wild Card round that was kind to those who backed underdogs, another great slate of playoff games is on tap this weekend in the National Football League.
History suggests that relying on dogs to get the job done in the divisional round both outright or against the number can be a dangerous endeavor, but I think this season is unique. In years’ past, the majority of top seeds come into the playoffs playing their best ball, but I am not sure that is the case with any of the Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints or Los Angeles Rams. Instead, the lower-seeded teams come in with the momentum, and I am taking the points in both Saturday contests.
Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs -5.5 (4:35PM EST)
The Kansas City Chiefs may have won 12 games during the regular season and earned the top seed in the AFC, but they were done no favors when the Colts beat the Texans last Saturday afternoon. Now a team that throughout most of 2018 was a heavy choice to make the Super Bowl has to take on the hottest team in football in the first of four divisional round games this weekend.
Kansas City led the league in scoring this year behind likely Most Valuable Player winner Patrick Mahomes, but their defense has been a disaster all season long. The Chiefs gave up 132.1 yards per game on the ground (27th in the NFL), 5.0 yards per carry (31st in the NFL) and 273.4 yards per game through the air (31st in the NFL). They will have their hands full on Saturday against red-hot Andrew Luck and a balanced Colts offensive attack.
The Chiefs have been poor overall on defense, but they have been able to get to the quarterback, which certainly has helped thwart their opponent’s ability to punch the ball in the end zone at times. However, Chris Jones, Dee Ford and the rest of Kansas City’s pass rush is likely to struggle to get serious pressure on Luck since the Colts possess one of the league’s best offensive lines.
It is hard to imagine Indianapolis not moving the ball both through the air and on the ground, so it will be on Mahomes and his top weapons, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill to match the Colts attack, which is certainly possible. That being said, Indy’s “D” has plenty of speed and their zone defense limits big plays through the air, which the Chiefs thrive on. In fact, they have given up just four 40+ yard pass plays this season, good for second best in the NFL.
In general, the Chiefs have been tough to beat in Arrowhead Stadium, but for some reason that has not been the case in the playoffs where Kansas City has not won a postseason contest in 25 years. This includes recent losses at home to the Titans in 2017 and the Steelers in 2016.
I am not fully convinced that the Chiefs will face an early exit yet again in front of one of the league’s most passionate fanbases, but I feel confident that this game goes down to the wire at the very least.
Pick- Indianapolis Colts +5.5
Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams -7.0 (8:15pm ET)
Much like the Chiefs there was a point in the 2018 season where the Rams were heavily favored to represent their conference in Super Bowl LIII, but they have not looked like the same team down the stretch. Los Angeles was able to win two straight games to close out the season, but those came as double-digit favorites against the Cardinals and the 49ers. Perhaps they will be ready to get back to their best efforts after getting a week to rest, but their offense has not been the same since losing wide receiver Copper Kupp to a torn ACL in mid-November.
Their recent two performances against playoff caliber opposition are difficult for me to look past. They got manhandled in Soldier Field on December 9th, and instead of bouncing back with a big effort at home against Nick Foles and the Eagles they got pushed around yet again. They lost 30-23, but the score does not quite do justice as they were down 17 points heading into the final quarter.
Dallas has not been the same team on the road as they have at AT&T Stadium winning just three of eight games away from home. However, it is not as if the Coliseum is one of the more imposing home field advantages in the league. Furthermore, much like Eagles fans did a few weeks back, I expect “America’s Team” to be well represented in Los Angeles on Saturday night.
If the Cowboys are able to bring their “A” game with them on the road they matchup extremely well against the Rams. They should be able to get pressure on Jared Goff with a talented front four and their linebackers are definitely amongst the league’s best, which should allow them to hold their own against star running back Todd Gurley. Couple that with Ezekiel Elliott facing a rush defense that gave up 5.1 yards per carry during the regular season and you have another underdog that has every reason to hang in there and make this a game from start to finish.