…so the top two seeds in each conference will be playing in their respective championship games. What a novel idea! Let’s dive right in…
Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans (-3.5)
Both teams spent the better part of the 2018 season scoring a ton of points, but also giving up their fair share of points to boot. Both had a few hiccups toward the end of the regular season. Both are currently 14-3. Seems to be a lot of similarities, no?
Both QB’s, Drew Brees of the Saints and Jared Goff of the Rams, didn’t exactly light it up down the stretch either. Brees had good numbers last week, but if Alshon Jeffery didn’t let that pass go through his hands, there was a very real possibility that we aren’t even talking about New Orleans today. Goff didn’t seem to do much last week against the Dallas Cowboys, but he really didn’t need to, since the team ran for like 600 yards.
The Saints handed the Rams their first loss back in Week 9, 45-35. So what happens this week? Welp, the point totals seem about right for one thing.
I’m not sure C.J. Anderson is going to continue to run as wild as he has been since he surfaced with the Rams. But he might since he hasn’t played much this year overall. Todd Gurley is Todd Gurley. And of course, the Rams are plenty explosive in the passing game. I know, so are the Saints.
Does having Aqib Talib in this game turn the tide for the Rams? Well, he’s only one guy. And LA spent a ton on top defensive players the last offseason yet still gave up plenty of scores all year long. But having Talib available shouldn’t hurt them, I guess I can say that much.
I really don’t have any riveting analysis of this game, to be quite truthful. It should be fun to watch. Indoors, plenty of big plays. And all that. My gut is telling me the road team wins this though.
Los Angeles Rams 34, New Orleans 31.
New England at Kansas City (-3.5)
Another rematch in this one, as the Patriots beat the Chiefs 43-40 in Foxborough back in Week 6. And KC had Kareem Hunt back then. But the Pats also had Kenjon Barner too. So that evens it out.
All kidding aside, the Chiefs still have plenty of weapons without Hunt. And more importantly, will be playing at home. Thanks to the Patriots not being able to tackle on a final kickoff against Miami. But we don’t need to revisit that now. As Bill would say, “it is what it is”.
That “minor” detail though? HUGE. Arrowhead is a tough place to play. For anyone, but also historically for the Patriots, no matter what kind of season it was for them.
I was surprised to see that Travis Kelce only had 61 yards in that Week 6 game. The Pats have a lot of trouble covering tight ends. That number could (should?) spike this week. Hunt had over 100 yards receiving in that game, so there will probably be more targets for Kelce anyway.
Wouldn’t shock me if the Pats blanketed (or tried to) Kelce and Tyreek Hill and maybe even force them to run the ball with Spencer Ware and Damien Williams more, while also maybe sprinkling in a few Patrick Mahomes scrambles. I really don’t know what the hell NE is going to do…that KC offense scares the bejesus out of me…especially against a very average Patriot defense.
KC’s D? Not so great really. But getting Eric Berry back and having Justin Houston available in this one when he didn’t play in the first game won’t hurt them. They have some dudes that can get to the quarterback. Sure, Tom Brady can get the ball out quick. But still…
The weather? Pffffft. Don’t see much effect. If original forecasts of single digits held true, I may have given the Pats a little bit of an edge there. But the mid-20s and no wind? Business as usual.
Wildcards? Two that I can see. One, how will Mahomes play in a game that means something? He cruised through the regular season. Then the Indianapolis Colts were so bad last week, that game pretty much didn’t count. Now? We will see. I’m guessing he is fine. But you never know.
Second wild card? Andy Reid. Yup. There is a track record. Inevitably, he will exhibit poor clock management. That is a given. But what else will happen? Maybe this is the year he overcomes that though.
I suppose there is a third wild card: the Patriots doing the whole “no one believes in us” nonsense. All of that is completely silly. But they’ve been known to use lesser things as motivation.
End result? I hope I’m wrong. But that stupid Miami kickoff return basically will play a big part in ending the Patriot season. Arrowhead will be too much to overcome. But the fact is, the Chiefs simply have the better team, as much as it pains me to say it.
Kansas City 31, New England 27.
Week (against the spread): 2-2
Week (straight up): 4-0
Season (against the spread): 145-119
Season (straight up): 169-95
Not a banner Wild Card week, though I will say if Seattle fails on their last two-point conversion, then the Blowhard picks that score exactly…and covers. Although if Sebastian Janikowski is available, they probably kick the point there…though we still cover.
I know, who cares?
In any event, seems like we have a pretty good slate coming up this weekend. Looking at the point spreads, however, it appears that Vegas doesn’t seem to think so. And we know Vegas has a pretty good idea on what they are doing.
Another interesting note: When is the last time the New England Patriots had the lowest spread among the teams participating in a playoff weekend? Is this accurate? Perhaps. But again…that’s why they play the games.
Indianapolis at Kansas City (-5.5)
There are a lot of people out there that think the Colts are going to win this game. All of a sudden Indy is the “best team in the AFC”? Huh?! The Colts are on a nice run, no question. But let’s not get carried away, please. I’ll point back to their schedule and mention once again that it wasn’t exactly a Murderer’s Row they played down the stretch. Sorry to beat a dead horse here. Not to mention the fact that they should have walloped the Texans last week. Yeah, I guess they kind of did beat them pretty good. But they probably should have won more like 42-7 instead of the 21-7 they did win by in the end…especially the way they started.
The Chiefs went 3-3 down the stretch, coach Andy Reid’s postseason struggles are well-documented, their defense stinks and will yet again be without Eric Berry, not to mention Kareem Hunt thankfully ain’t walking through that door. But KC is at home and had a week off. Indy has that stud Darius Leonard on defense, but how good really is that D? They shut down Houston? Yippee!! I’m not buying into the hype. Though of course, I will be rooting for Indy, cuz if the Colts and Patriots win, the AFC Championship will once again go through Foxborough. Just not seeing it though.
Kansas City 38, Indianapolis 27.
Dallas at Los Angeles Rams (-7.5)
Like the Chiefs, the Rams sputtered a bit at the end, going 2-2 to end the season. And like the Colts, we feel like the Cowboys are getting waaaaaaay too much love out there. Kind of feel the same way about this game as I do Chiefs/Colts. This version of the Rams doesn’t necessarily have any kind of (good) playoff track record. But they’ve had a week off, are at home and probably are in a better situation health-wise…especially with Todd Gurley supposedly ready to go full speed. Looks like most of the injured Cowboys will suit up, but we will see how much some of them can give. A big game from Ezekiel Elliott would keep the potent Rams offense off the field and go a long way to giving the ‘Boys a chance. Not out of the question. But that being said, the Rams can score quickly…and often, so a big game from Zeke may not really matter. That’s pretty much the way I’m leaning.
Los Angeles Rams 31, Dallas 20.
Los Angeles Chargers at New England (-4.5)
Tough road for the Chargers this postseason. Finishing tied for the best record in the AFC, but losing the AFC West division tiebreaker to the Chiefs, dropping them to the #5 seed. Then they have to travel cross country to Baltimore in Round 1. Then once again traveling cross country to New England for Round 2. LA won in the Wild Card round, can they win in the Divisional Round? Absolutely! Are we picking them? You’ll see.
The Chargers took a 23-3 lead last week in Baltimore with about 9 minutes left in the game when they then inexplicably let the Ravens back in the game. To the point where Baltimore had the ball close to midfield with less than a minute left. With at least a little bit of a chance to go ahead as the clock approached zero. The Ravens ran for less than 100 yards in the game after going the last half of the season seemingly averaging double that. Lamar Jackson was HISTORICALLY BAD. Seemed like a good opportunity for John Harbaugh to (reluctantly) go back to playoff-tested Joe Flacco and he declined. Sure, the Chargers got conservative. But this was a second AFC Wild Card game that should have never been in doubt after the way it started.
We’ve been through it all year, that the Patriots are not the juggernaut this year that they have been for years. But take the repeated cross country travel above. The Patriots being at home, and being undefeated this year. (Yes, I know the Chargers are 8-1 on the road. Impressive, no doubt. But this is Gillette, in January, in the playoffs. Different animal). Weather? Perhaps. A warm weather team coming into the cold. Could have some effect.
Ultimately, I believe it will be a close game. LA sacked a mobile Lamar Jackson seven times last week. So how many times can they get an immobile Tom Brady? Yeah, Brady will be more prepared than Lamar to combat that pass rush so he won’t get sacked nearly as much. BUT, he sure as hell will probably be pressured just as much. If Julian Edelman doesn’t have butterfingers, perhaps the real Gronk shows up and maybe someone like Phillip Dorsett has a career game so the Pats can put some points on the board and make that pressure irrelevant. More than likely though, the Patriots try to run the ball…and maybe even too much. I suppose that would cut down on the sacks anyway.
Here’s what I’m thinking…it wouldn’t be surprising if it came down to the Chargers kicker, Michael Badgley. It’s been no secret that LA has had their share of issues with their kicking game in recent years. They think Badgley has been a pretty good solution. He’s been good. But remember that Sunday Night game against the Steelers about a month ago? Didn’t he miss a 39 yarder with no time left? Then a Steelers penalty gave him another chance. Then a missed 34 yarder followed. Then…another Steeler penalty. He did hit the 29 yarder to win it…but that’s quite a route.
What is he going to do if it comes down to a kick like that? In Gillette? In the playoffs?
My guess? Two words: Billy Cundiff.
New England 23, Los Angeles Chargers 21.
Philadelphia at New Orleans (-8.5)
I’m extremely hesitant to pick against Nick Foles these days. Isn’t everyone? Yeah, yeah, yeah, if Cody Parkey could hit a kick, we wouldn’t even be talking about Foles this week. But he’s here and we need to talk about it. Even though Foles threw a couple of bad picks last week, he also brought them down for the go-ahead score with less than a minute left in regulation.
So does this “Saint Nick” magic mean that the Eagles have a chance this week in New Orleans? Well, sure. But even though the Eagles have won 6 of their last 7 and seem to be on a similar run like last year which led to a Super Bowl, I believe this is where it comes to an end. You know what game was right before the 6 of 7 run? A 48-7 loss to these same Saints in the same place where they will play on Sunday. Of course, the Eagles are not the same team now as they were at that point in the year. But New Orleans was 13-3 this season…13-2 if you don’t count the last game of the year in which they mailed things in. In a recurring theme, they are at home and have had a week off. Drew Brees should be a little refreshed. The game won’t be as ugly as the mid-season one. But I suppose there is a chance it could be.
New Orleans 34, Philadelphia 17.
Week (against the spread): 1-3
Week (straight up): 2-2
Season (against the spread): 143-117
Season (straight up): 165-95
So this time we will reference the debacle in Miami. I know, this game has been rehashed over and over again. But let’s do it again!
*There isn’t any question that Rob Gronkowski should not have been on the field for the final miracle play. It simply wasn’t a Hail Mary situation. I’ve never really been much of a fan of putting an offensive guy on the field for a defensive play like that anyway.
Taking Devin McCourty off the field in that situation seemed a little bizarre as well. Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson or one of the lineman may have been a better choice. Devin should have been on the field for sure…despite the fact that he really hasn’t been real good this year.
But I believe people are missing the bigger issue here: the replays I saw showed a few guys kind of standing around apparently waiting for another player to make the play. Missed tackles. Bad angles. And all that. That type of play should pretty much NEVER work. There were personnel decision issues, sure. But the play should have never gotten to Gronk in the first place.
*Stephen Gostkowski can have a tendency to miss kicks in key situations. And that was the case again Sunday. But people calling for his head are being unreasonable. That was the FIRST extra point he missed this year. And he’s only missed a handful of field goals this season. He has been a pretty successful kicker in this league for a long time. Especially considering the elements he has to kick in often at home.
He’s no Adam Vinatieri, I grant you this. But have you seen the kickers in this league? And how many bums are parading around out there? I’ve said it a million times before, there are only 32 kicking jobs in the NFL. How come the league can’t find 32 decent kickers in the entire world? Mystifies me. Off the top of my head, there are a handful of kickers over 40 in the league now (Vinatieri, Matt Bryant, Phil Dawson, Sebastian Janikowski…I think these guys are all 40 plus, but if not they are close enough. And there may be others). There are no younger guys that can take these guys’ jobs like what happens at every other position on the field?
If you are one that wants Gostkowski out of town, be careful what you wish for.
*Tom Brady brain fart at the end of the first half. All I can say is…wow. I never in a million years would have thought I would ever see something like this. Incredible that he didn’t throw it away. Not to mention he missed a wide-open Chris Hogan in the end zone the play before. I honestly think THIS play had more of an impact on the game than anything else. They score a TD there and the Pats are up 34-21 at the half (or 33-21 if Gostkowski misses the point after, which I am sure some are thinking here). The complexion of the game may have changed significantly if the Pats get this touchdown. Not enough is being made of this, I can tell you that much.
*The defense. Letting a 412-year-old Frank Gore and a career special teamer in Brandon Bolden carve you up for 152 yards on 14 carries is laughable. Heat or no heat. Letting an eminently mediocre and also hobbled Ryan Tannehill have an almost perfect quarterback rating is a joke. I can’t even talk more about this unit.
*Running game. A pretty uneventful 20 carries for Sony Michel. The guy seems decent. But I am still waiting to see what made him a first-round pick. I actually like Rex Burkhead. But he was invisible. I know Brady is hurt or banged up or whatever you want to call it. And you want to protect him a bit. But if the running game is not working, go to what works. And that was the passing game, for the most part. And it usually is the passing game that works. Has been for a long time. Just do it.
That’s enough…let’s move on…
Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City (-3.5)
The Chiefs beat the Chargers by 10 in Week One…a long time ago. The winner of this game probably has the best chance at winning the AFC West as well as locking up the #1 seed in the AFC. KC has been a little pedestrian in recent weeks. But the Chargers just barely beat the Bengals and their backup QB. KC has scored 105 more points than LA, but they also have given up 81 more. Eric Berry is supposed to be back, but will it matter? I’m trying to figure out a way to pick the Chargers and I’m not sure why. But with the game in Kansas City, I think we are going that route.
Kansas City 34, Los Angeles Chargers 28.
Week (against the spread): 9-7
Week (straight up): 8-8
Season (against the spread): 112-96
Season (straight up): 129-79