Can road teams replicate last week’s success?
The playoff bracket for the 2018 divisional round is set. However, the NFL will be hard pressed to top one of the greatest Wild Card weekends in history. The Chiefs, Patriots, Saints and Rams punched their tickets to the divisional round when they secured first-round byes. The Colts, Chargers, Cowboys and Eagles joined them with wins last weekend.
It was a perfect storm of circumstances that led to three road teams winning and the fourth, the Seattle Seahawks, losing by two points to the Dallas Cowboys. The four division winning teams in the wild-card round — the Texans, Cowboys, Ravens and Bears — started four quarterbacks with only one combined game of playoff experience, and they faced off against four veteran quarterbacks who have all been to conference championship games or Super Bowls.
In the end, the postseason-tested veterans, Andrew Luck, Philip Rivers and Nick Foles all led their teams to road victories and the only other quarterback with playoff experience, Russell Wilson, came up two points short.
Here's a first look and some short thoughts as to the Divisional Round match-ups.
No. 6 seed Indianapolis Colts at No. 1 seed Kansas Chiefs — Saturday at 4:35 p.m.
After earning the #1 seed in the AFC, the Chiefs should feel good about hosting a divisional playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium, perhaps the loudest venue in the NFL. They shouldn't feel as good about the fact that they're playing the hottest team in the league. I also doubt the Colts will be intimidated by the playoff atmosphere in Kansas City. They certainly weren't bothered by the crowd in Houston. Again, this game features a QB with playoff experience, Andrew Luck, versus the vastly talented, but untested Patrick Mahomes. Kansas City opened as 5-point favorites and after a brief move up to -6, the money showed for the underdog and the line is back down to 5.
No. 4 seed Dallas Cowboys at No. 2 seed Los Angeles Rams — Saturday at 8:15 p.m.
My initial reaction once I saw the match-ups for the second weekend of postseason action was that, out of the four teams that had first-round byes, the Rams were the most likely to be upset. Stopping Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys' rushing attack in the divisional round will be a tough task for LA's shaky run defense. And considering Dallas is the opponent, we'll see which club is actually the "home team" come Saturday night. Even with running back Todd Gurley likely to return to the Rams’ lineup, the Cowboys seem to have found some momentum winning 8 of their last 9 games. The opening line on this game was the LA Rams, minus 7 points. It dropped a half point initially, but has climbed back up to 7.
No. 5 seed San Diego Chargers at No. 2 seed New England Patriots — Sunday at 1:05 p.m.
Much has been made about the Patriots' success when they get a first-round bye in the playoffs. For their first postseason game this year, they draw a Chargers team that finished with a better regular season record than they did. The Chargers were blowing out the Ravens in the wild-card round…until they weren't. It came down to the wire, but Los Angeles, which finished in a tie for the best record in the AFC this season, took care of its business in Baltimore. My belief is that New England will get seriously challenged in this one and I would not rule out the outright upset. The Patriots opened up as 4 1/2 point favorites, but money showed immediately for the West Coast underdogs and the line at press time is down to a solid -4.
No. 6 seed Philadelphia Eagles at No. 1 seed New Orleans Saints — Sunday at 4:40 p.m.
I drew two conclusions when the Saints demolished the Eagles in November. First, New Orleans was a Super Bowl contender and second, Philadelphia's chances to defend its Super Bowl title were done. I got one out of two right. The Saints remain arguably the best team in football and the Superdome remains arguably the toughest NFL venue in which to play. But the Eagles are bringing their inexplicable playoff magic to New Orleans for this divisional round. Good luck sussing out exactly how they keep winning playoff games with bullpen ace QB Nick Foles. The Eagles are heavy underdogs against the Saints, but I expect them to put up a bigger fight than the debacle at the Superdome a couple months ago. Still, the Eagles magic stops here. For some reason, the oddsmakers opened the Saints as 10-point favorite here. But that line quickly plunged to 8, and the bookmakers I talk to say they're close to going down to 7 1/2.