It’s Divisional Championship weekend in the NFL, which means we’re only a week or so from knowing who’ll be facing off in this year’s Super Bowl in Atlanta. Let’s take a look at this week’s games to try and figure out who’ll be going at least one step closer.
Indianapolis Colts @ Kansas City Chiefs (Saturday 21:35)
The first game of the weekend is arguably the most intriguing. The main focus will be on the two quarterbacks. Chiefs signal caller Patrick Mahomes has had a season for the ages, becoming only the third quarterback ever to throw 50 touchdown passes in a season.
Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are the others to have done it, which puts into perspective just how big the achievement is.
Andrew Luck, meanwhile, finished the season the second most touchdown passes among all quarterbacks on the year. Considering he’s come back from a shoulder injury which cost him more than a year of his career and managed a touchdown total which would have topped the stats in 2 of the previous 3 years, it could be argued that his accomplishment is as impressive.
It’s not a two player game though. The Chiefs were the highest scoring offense in the NFL this season because they have so many weapons. Tyreek Hill’s speed makes him almost impossible to cover, Travis Kelce is one of the NFL’s most dangerous tight ends and peripheral receivers like Sammy Watkins & Damien Williams have come up big when needed. It’s creativity which sets Kansas apart from other teams though. Always coming up with inventive ways of getting the ball into their playmakers’ hands, they’re difficult to predict and even more difficult to stop. The Colts have made it this far by playing a style not many thought they would be capable of. They have an elite quarterback and have been an almost impenetrable offensive line to protect him (allowing a league-low 18 sacks all season).
He’s been complimented with a rushing attack the likes of which the Colts haven’t had for a long time, and they’ve shown in the past few weeks they can play a hard-nosed on the defensive side of the ball too. Throw in the speed of TY Hilton at wide receiver with the size and strength of Andrew Luck’s favourite tight end Eric Ebron (2nd in the league with 13 touchdown catches in the regular season, plus one in last week’s playoff game) and you have the perfect recipe for a shootout.
As good as the Colts D has been of late, nobody has been able to slow the Chiefs down this year. They scored 26 points or more in every game this season and a bye week last week will have allowed them to rest up. Whereas the Colts had a must win game in Week 17 and an ultimately straightforward game on the road last week. Expect a lot of points in this one. Patrick Mahomes is special and Andrew Luck is an elite quarterback who should be able to put enough points on the board to keep this one competitive.
Prediction – Chiefs win 33-27 (Over 57.5 Total Points – 10/11)
Dallas Cowboys @ LA Rams (Sunday 01:15)
The “early” game should feature a lot of razzle dazzle, but don’t expect the same from this one. Arguably the two best running backs in the league face off in what could develop into a bit of a slugfest. Cowboys running back Ezekiel “Zeke” Elliott finished the season as the NFL’s leading rusher, with 1,434 yards. This honour would likely have gone to the Rams’ Todd Gurley had he not missed out on game time in the dying weeks of the regular season through injury, after his team had secured a playoff spot.
The Cowboys’ entire gameplan will be based around Elliott.
They’re a run-first offense, often to the dismay of their fans, but it works. They might fancy themselves to run all over the Rams this week, as their defence allowed the most yards per rush in the NFL this season. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is also as much of a threat on the ground as he is passing and can’t be ignored slipping out of the pocket and picking up yards with his legs. The late season addition of Amari Cooper means teams can no longer plan for a one-dimensional approach from the Cowboys, as focusing entirely on stopping the run could allow their star wide receiver to break free for huge gains. If there’s a player in the league you would like to have on your defence though, it’s Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald. With a league leading 20.5 sacks this season to go along with 59 tackles, he alone is enough to make Dallas think very carefully about how they approach the game.
Despite the rushing prowess of Todd Gurley, who at one point this season was on pace for a record setting season in terms of touchdowns scored, the Rams are equally as dangerous through the air. They lost up and coming receiver Cooper Kupp earlier in the season to injury, but that hasn’t slowed them down. Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks each had 1,000 yard seasons, guys further down the depth chart like Josh Reynolds and Gerald Everett have proven themselves good enough to land a big play when called upon, and Todd Gurley has been good for an average of 40+ receiving yards per game.
The Cowboys boast a top 5 defence against the run. That coupled with the fact that Todd Gurley is coming back from some time off with a knee injury could be enough to stop him from having a huge game, and enough to keep the Cowboys in it. If they fall behind though, they may need to abandon their philosophy of running the ball as often as possible. LA should have enough weapons to make that happen, and I can see them eventually getting on top after a close opening to the game.
Prediction – Rams win 30-20 (LA Rams -6.5 – 3/4).
Odds are provided at time of writing, please check your betslip to confirm they have not changed before betting.