The NFL playoffs continue this weekend with the divisional round. This is always my favorite weekend and it has given us some of the greatest and most iconic moments in playoff history. The “Epic in Miami,” the “Immaculate Reception,” “Dez Caught It,” the “Tuck Rule,” Steve Smith’s walk-off in double-overtime and the “Minneapolis Miracle” are just some of the incredible moments and games that have come from this round in the playoffs.
This year’s divisional round looks to be no different with four games that all have interesting matchups to watch.
The first game of the weekend is the Indianapolis Colts at the Kansas City Chiefs. Like I mentioned in my column last week, the Colts come in hot. They are 10-1 in their last 11 games after a 1-5 start to the season. The stability on the offensive line and strong play by their young defense, including Darius Leonard leading the NFL in tackles, gives the Colts one of the most balanced teams in the playoffs. The Colts beat the Houston Texans last Saturday 21-7. The Colts dominated for much of the game and advanced against their divisional rival. Andrew Luck had an MVP-caliber season and would have had a good shot to win the award if it wasn’t for the quarterback he is up against.
The Chiefs enter the game as one of the NFL’s premier offenses. Patrick Mahomes has been incredible this year, throwing for more than 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns. He joined Peyton Manning as the only two QBs in NFL history to do both in the same season. Mahomes, Manning and Tom Brady are the only quarterbacks to have 50 or more touchdowns and a 5,000-yard season and he joins Brady, Manning, Dan Marino, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Matthew Stafford as the only quarterbacks to throw 5,000 yards a season. The supporting cast of Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce helped elevate the Chiefs to an explosive unit with 26 points being the lowest total the team had all season.
But one cannot talk about the Chiefs’ offensive success without touching on the defensive struggles. Kansas City finished 31st in yards allowed with only 130 yards from tying the Cincinnati Bengals at No. 32. The Chiefs and Bengals are the only teams that averaged giving up 400 yards this season. But the playoffs can change things. The 2017 Minnesota Vikings set a new NFL record for conversion percentage on third down. The Vikings were allowing conversions on only 25.2 percent of third downs during the regular season. In a 38-7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship, the Eagles were 10-for-14. Yikes. Another example of a defense playing unlike their regular season counterparts is the Colts. The 2006 Colts allowed at least 100 yards in all 16 regular season games. In the playoffs, the Colts shut down the Chiefs (more on that in a minute), Ravens and Patriots to under 100 yards. Only one team went over the century mark and it was the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl.
The Chiefs could follow in the footsteps of the Colts and turn it around. Saturday would be a great place to start with Luck coming to town. It will be the fifth time the Chiefs and Colts square off in the playoffs with the four previous all leaving their mark in Chiefs’ history. First was the 1995 season where Lin Elliot missed three kicks in a 10-7 loss. The two teams met again in the 2003 season after Kansas City locked up a 13-3 season thanks to a stellar offense and special teams, but like the 2018 team, the defense was the weakest link. The two met and neither team punted all game in another Colts’ win. They would meet again three years later in the 2006 season. Like I mentioned above, the Colts allowed at least 100 yards rushing in every game. The Chiefs entered with Larry Johnson rushing for more than 1,700 yards, which was the second-most in 2006. In the playoff game, the Chiefs’ offense was shut down. Johnson rushed for 32 yards on 13 attempts. The Chiefs failed to get a first down until the second half and only accumulated 126 total yards in a 23-8 loss. The two teams would not meet again until 2013. The Chiefs jumped out to a 38-10 lead early in the third quarter. It looked like the Chiefs were going to get a win in a blowout. But the Colts outscored the Chiefs 35-6 in the final 28 minutes of the game to have the second-largest comeback in playoff history.
Saturday’s game can finally be the chance for the team to put these demons to bed, which I think the Chiefs will do in a shootout. Kansas City will finally win a home playoff game in Patrick Mahomes (and my) lifetime.
The playoffs continue after the Chiefs’ game when the Dallas Cowboys travel to the Los Angeles Rams. Dallas won last week 24-22 over Seattle. The Cowboys’ defense has been one of the league’s underrated units this year and finished seventh in total defense. The Cowboys have the statistically best defense from the regular season still in the playoffs after Baltimore and Chicago lost. Their task is not simple traveling to face the Rams. Along with the Chiefs, the Rams had an incredible offense this season, finishing less than 100 yards behind Kansas City in total yards. The Rams and Chiefs were incredible for much of the season, including their Monday night thriller in November. The team stumbled late against the Eagles and Bears, but the Rams’ offense still should give Dallas a challenge. The return of Aqib Talib has also strengthened this team with the former all-pro returning from injury after missing eight games from Week 4-11. The defense struggled in his absence and has been better for the most part since his return. But the Rams’ struggles against the Bears and Eagles will allow Dallas’ defense to shut down the Rams and advance to the NFC Championship Game.
Sunday’s action kicks off with the New England Patriots hosting the Los Angeles Chargers. The Chargers, like the Colts, are one of the most balanced teams in the playoffs with a strong offense and defense. Playmakers on both sides of the ball allowed them to shut down the Ravens for much of the game before a late surge nearly cost the Chargers a win. The Chargers moved on for a matchup with Tom Brady and the Patriots. It seems like every season people think we are at the end of the Patriots’ dynasty. They open the year with a loss or two and drop a divisional game, usually at Miami, but still find ways to take the AFC East and a playoff bye. The team has also participated in every AFC Championship game since 2011 and 11 times since 2003. This year’s team looks to continue that trend after multiple struggles in the regular season. But the signs of regression by this offense and Brady are starting to show more and more. All five losses came against teams not in the playoffs, including a 26-10 loss to the Lions and 34-10 loss to the Titans. It is hard to pick against this team, especially at home in the playoffs, but I would not be surprised if this is the last time we see the Patriots get a first-round bye. Brady’s play hasn’t fallen off a cliff yet like Peyton Manning’s final season, but he also is starting to look more like a 41-year-old quarterback. I think the Chargers have too much on both sides for New England to advance and it will only be the second time since 2003 that a Super Bowl will not feature Brady, Manning or Roethlisberger.
The final playoff game of the weekend will be the Eagles at the New Orleans Saints.
The Eagles snuck in the playoffs thanks to the surge after Nick Foles took over for an injured Carson Wentz at quarterback and the Minnesota Vikings offensive woes to continue and upset the Bears 16-15 thanks to Bears’ kicker Cody Parkey hitting the upright for the sixth time this season in a missed kick to seal the Eagles’ win. Their opponent will be the Saints. New Orleans enters the game tied with the Rams for the league’s best record at 13-3. The Saints snagged the No. 1 seed over the Rams from their win in a head-to-head matchup in Week 9. The Saints dropped their opener to the Buccaneers before winning 10 straight, including the Rams’ win and a 48-7 domination of the Eagles, the largest margin of victory over a defending Super Bowl champion in league history. The team struggled in a Thursday night clash against Dallas in a loss and in a Monday night win against the Panthers. Besides that, the Saints’ offense continued the trend under the Sean Payton and Brees era of being one of the league’s best. While the offense was not the same passing machine that the Chiefs were, New Orleans’ consistency put up points for much of the season. Brees may not have had a 5,000-yard season, but the quarterback still had a record year with numerous records set. Like the previous meeting between the two teams, the Saints’ offense will be too much for the Eagles and New Orleans will advance to set up a Saints-Cowboys and Chiefs-Chargers conference championship weekend for a trip to Super Bowl 53 on the line.
Luke Peterson is the sports editor for the Leavenworth Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org