NFL's final eight take center stage in divisional playoffs. Here's a preview of the divisional round.
And then there were eight.
On Saturday, January 12, the Kansas City Chiefs (12-4), who won the AFC West and secured the No. 1 seed in the AFC, will host the Indianapolis Colts (11-6) at Arrowhead Stadium to kick off the Divisional Playoffs (NBC, 4:35 PM ET). That night in primetime (FOX, 8:15 PM ET), the Los Angeles Rams (13-3), who won the NFC West and own the No. 2 seed in the NFC, will host the Dallas Cowboys (11-6) at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
On Sunday, January 13, the New England Patriots (11-5), the AFC East champions and the AFC's No. 2 seed, will welcome the Los Angeles Chargers (13-4) to Gillette Stadium (CBS, 1:05 PM ET). The NFC South-champion New Orleans Saints (13-3), who own the NFC's No. 1 seed, will host the defending Super Bowl-champion Philadelphia Eagles (10-7) at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (FOX, 4:40 PM ET) to conclude Divisional weekend.
Three of the eight remaining teams -- the Cowboys, Colts and Chargers -- are new teams in this year's playoff field. There were a total of seven new playoff teams in 2018 and since 1990 -- a streak of 29 consecutive seasons -- at least four teams have qualified for the playoffs in every season that were not in the postseason the year before.
Last week, the Colts and Eagles both advanced as the No. 6 seed in their respective conferences. The Colts and the Eagles look to become the first No. 6 seeds to reach the Conference Championship since 2010, when both the Green Bay Packers and New York Jets advanced.
In the AFC, the Chargers (13-4, No. 5 seed) and the sixth-seeded Colts are both still alive. If both teams win in the Divisional Playoffs, it would mark the first Conference Championship game ever between a 5 and 6 seed since the 12-team playoff format began in 1990.
Colts (11-6) at Chiefs (12-4)
This is the fifth playoff meeting ever between the two and the first since the 2013 playoffs when the Colts beat the Chiefs, 45-44, on Wild Card Weekend (January 4, 2014). The Colts lead the postseason series 4-0 and, including the postseason, Indianapolis holds a 16-9 advantage in the all-time series.
The Colts defeated the Houston Texans 21-7 last week to advance to the Divisional Playoffs. Quarterback ANDREW LUCK passed for 222 yards with two touchdowns and running back MARLON MACK rushed for 148 yards and a score in the win.
The Chiefs won the AFC West division title for the third consecutive season, the longest streak in team history. Quarterback PATRICK MAHOMES became the second player in NFL history with at least 5,000 passing yards (5,097) and 50 touchdown passes (50) in a single season, and wide receiver TYREEK HILL set a single-season franchise record with 1,479 receiving yards.
Mahomes, who led the NFL with 50 touchdown passes, and Luck, who ranked second with 39 touchdown passes in 2018, have the most combined regular-season passing touchdowns (89) among any opposing quarterbacks in a playoff game in the Super Bowl era.
With Mahomes and Luck ranking first and second in regular-season touchdown passes, Saturday will mark the fifth time since 2002 that the top two passing touchdown leaders from the regular season will face off in the postseason.
Prediction: Chiefs 35 - Colts 24
Give credit to the Colts for a good run at the end of the regular season and a convincing road playoff victory over the Texans last week. The Colts are a good team, but this year's Chiefs are far better and for once I don't expect the Chiefs to choke. Mahomes is the real deal and will come out blazing.
Cowboys (11-6) at Rams (13-3)
This is the ninth postseason meeting between the teams and the first since the 1985 NFC Divisional Playoffs, which the Rams won 20-0. The Cowboys lead the all-time series 17-16, including the playoffs, and have won three of the past four meetings.
The Cowboys defeated the Seahawks 24-22 last week on Wild Card Weekend and earned their first postseason win since the 2014 season (January 4, 2015 vs. Detroit in the Wild Card round). Quarterback DAK PRESCOTT passed for 226 yards and had two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing), including a one-yard touchdown run with 2:08 remaining in the fourth quarter. Running back EZEKIEL ELLIOTT had 169 scrimmage yards (137 rushing, 32 receiving) and a touchdown last week and has at least 125 rushing yards in each of his first two career playoff games.
The Rams, who won the NFC West in consecutive seasons for the time since 1973-79, enter the postseason as the NFC's No. 2 seed. Los Angeles led the conference in total offense (421.1 yards per game) and scoring (32.9 points per game) this season, while running back TODD GURLEY led the NFL with 21 scrimmage touchdowns and ranked fourth with 1,831 scrimmage yards. Defensive tackle AARON DONALD (20.5 sacks) won the 2018 Deacon Jones Award, given annually to the NFL leader in quarterback sacks.
Dallas has 35 playoff wins and can tie the Pittsburgh Steelers (36) for the most playoff victories all-time with a win over the Rams.
Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who led the NFL with 1,434 rushing yards in 2018, rushed for 137 yards and a touchdown in Dallas' Wild Card Weekend victory over Seattle. Elliott has recorded at least 125 rushing yards in each of his first two playoff appearances and can become the fourth player in NFL history to record three consecutive postseason games with at least 125 rushing yards.
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who led the NFL with 20.5 sacks and earned the 2018 Deacon Jones Award as the NFL's sack leader, became the 11th different player since 1982 to record at least 20 sacks in a single season.
With a Rams win on Saturday, Donald would join Pro Football Hall of Famer LAWRENCE TAYLOR (1986) as the only players to record at least 20 sacks and advance to the Conference Championship in the same season since 1982.
Prediction: Rams 24 - Cowboys 13
Ok, so the Rams defense is not the best against the run and they are facing Ezekiel Elliott - the NFL's top rusher this season. But all that will do is keep the score low and the game close. Elliott will rack up some impressive numbers this week and the Cowboys will win the time of possession battle, but the Rams will advance.
Chargers (13-4) at Patriots (11-5)
This is the fourth postseason meeting between the teams and the third career playoff matchup between Chargers quarterback PHILIP RIVERS and New England quarterback TOM BRADY, with the Patriots winning each of their first two postseason meetings.
New England leads the all-time series 24-15-2, including the playoffs, and has won each of the past four games.
The Chargers defeated Baltimore 23-17 last week to advance to the Divisional Playoffs. Running back MELVIN GORDON rushed for a touchdown and rookie kicker MICHAEL BADGLEY converted five field goals, the most made field goals in a single postseason game since the 2016 season (Pittsburgh's CHRIS BOSWELL, six on January 15, 2017).
The Patriots won the AFC East division title for the 10th consecutive season and surpassed Dallas (nine from 1975-1983) and Indianapolis (nine from 2002-2010) for the most consecutive seasons in NFL history with a playoff berth. Quarterback TOM BRADY is the NFL's all-time postseason leader in games played (37), wins (27), completions (920), passing yards (10,226) and touchdown passes (71), and tight end ROB GRONKOWSKI has 12 career playoff touchdown catches, tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer JOHN STALLWORTH (12) for the second-most in postseason history.
New England has 34 postseason victories and can surpass the Green Bay Packers (34) for the third-most playoff wins all-time.
Brady, who will be 41 years and 163 days old on Sunday, and Rivers, at 37 years and 36 days old, combine for a total of 28,688 days old, the oldest combined age by opposing starting quarterbacks in a postseason game in NFL history.
Prediction: Chargers 27 - Patriots 17
Brady and Belichick are an impressive 12-2 in the Divisional Round, but the Chargers are the better team this season. The Chargers defense will bend but not break against Brady and the Patriots offense, while Rivers will come up with some big plays on offense
Eagles (10-7) at Saints (13-3)
The teams will meet in the playoffs for the fourth time with New Orleans holding a 2-1 advantage. In their last postseason meeting, the Saints defeated the Eagles 26-24 in the 2013 NFC Wild Card round (January 4, 2014). Philadelphia, which leads the all-time series 17-14 (including the playoffs), fell to New Orleans earlier this season, 48-7, in Week 11.
The Eagles recorded a 16-15 victory over Chicago in last week's Wild Card showdown and are looking to become the first back-to-back Super Bowl champions since the 2003-04 Patriots. Quarterback NICK FOLES completed the go-ahead two-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver GOLDEN TATE with 56 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of last week's victory. Foles has won four consecutive postseason starts, including being named the MVP of Super Bowl LII last season.
New Orleans won the NFC South division title for the second consecutive year for the first time in franchise history and were one of three teams to average at least 30 points per game (31.5) this season. Quarterback DREW BREES set an NFL single-season record for completion percentage (74.4) and led the league in passer rating (115.7) in 2018, while wide receiver MICHAEL THOMAS led the NFL with 125 receptions and set a franchise single-season record with 1,405 receiving yards.
Foles, who has the highest postseason passer rating (105.2) in NFL history, and Brees, who ranks fifth with a 100.7 passer rating, are two of five quarterbacks to have a passer rating of 100 or higher in the postseason (minimum 150 attempts).
Foles (69.8 percent) has the highest postseason completion percentage in NFL history (minimum 150 attempts) and Brees (65.9 percent) ranks fifth.
Prediction: Eagles 34 - Saints 30
Full Disclosure: I am not some wishful-thinking Eagles fan
The Saints are the NFL's best team this year. Simply stated, they are superior to the Eagles in every facet of the game. Plus the Saints are motivated by the bad taste of last year's shocking 29-24 playoff loss to the Vikings. There's no way the Saints lose to the Eagles.
But you know what they say in the NFL "About on any given Sunday ..."
This is a crazy prediction and counter to any reasoning and logic. After all, everyone and there mother is picking the Saints. But as much as I reason and what everybody else is predicting, my gut is telling me the Eagles are going to win.
There's just something magical about Nick Foles and the Eagles.
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