2019 NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round Preview

Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams

Headley – Yes, the Cowboys are hot and yes, they have the formula (a great defense and an effective run game) to pull off the upset in L.A. but the Rams have been waiting for this opportunity since getting beat at home in last year’s playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons. Sean McVay and company should be ready to avenge last year’s defeat with a healthy Todd Gurley. Last week the Seahawks played right into the Cowboys hands with a predictable run heavy offense, however McVay is one of the most aggressive play callers that will have the Cowboys on their heals. I expect the Rams to be hitting on all cylinders offensively which will eventually take the Cowboys out of their ball control offense and force Dak Prescott to beat them with his arm. Give me the Rams by more than a touchdown.

Drew – I love it when the strengths of opposing teams lie on the opposite sides of the ball, Dallas defense vs Rams offense. Which means something has to give and that give is Dallas’ offense namely the run game against the Rams defense specifically their defensive line. Whomever wins that battle will win this game. The Rams have a lot of talent period. But on the defensive side of the ball I feel it’s a collection of talented and inconsistent individuals rather than a cohesive unit that plays up to its potential routinely. Considering that the defensive coordinator is Wade Phillips I imagined the Rams defense would be much more sound. Being susceptible to the run this year as well as last year I believe will be the undoing of the Rams. Remember Ndamukong Suh was brought in to solidify that run defense… “I’ll take Dallas and that defense for $600 Alex!”

Juice – The talking heads seem to like Dallas in this matchup and the Cowboys have quite a bit going for them such as: Demarcus Lawrence > Rob Havenstein, the Rams allowing a league worst 5.1 yard per carry, and this being a quasi-home game for Dallas. That being said the L.A. Rams are 7-1 at home this season and I’m anticipating an all-out-effort from Los Angeles to stymie the Cowboys’ running game. Wade Phillips will dare Dallas to throw it. Speaking of matchups I’m taking the Rams’ collective pass defense led by Aaron Donald against the Cowboys’ passing game, which may be without Cole Beasley. Expect Amari Cooper who has been exactly what the “Dak” has ordered to see a lot of former AFC West combatant Aqib Talib. In seven career games facing Talib (and Chris Harris), Cooper has averaged 4/39/.03. Brian Schottenheimer is no Sean McVay so Dallas won’t be able to count on ineptitude from the opposing coaching staff. I believe a bevy of pre-snap motion, play-action, misdirection and a willingness to throw on first down will challenge and confuse the fast-flowing Dallas defense. I expect this game to be decided by one score but I’m picking the Rams to win.

Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs

Headley – This should be an exciting football game with two quarterbacks that can sling it all over the field. Andrew Luck wants to get the ball out of his hands quickly while Patrick Mahomes likes to get outside the pocket and take shots down the field. The key will be each defensive lines’ ability to take away the opposing quarterbacks comfortability. The Chiefs need get pressure on Luck quickly and hope their defensive backs can make plays on the back end. The Colts have to do their best to keep Mahomes in the pocket and get home with their 4 defensive linemen. The Chiefs are the favorites but you can’t count out a team that has won 10 of their last 11 games.

Drew – This is a complete team in the Colts playing arguably the most dynamic offense in the league, certainly the most dynamic quarterback in the league in Patrick Mahomes. Chris Ballard has done wonders with this team and has made all the right moves and hires. But looking back at the Colts schedule (Jets, Titans, Patriots, Ravens, Giants, Bengals, Jags, Texans, Cowboys, Dolphins, Raiders, Bills, Redskins and Eagles) they haven’t played an offense anywhere close to the Chiefs and what they bring to the table. Andy Reid has had a track record of being basically unbeatable when given time off to prepare and this may be no different. I am sure Reid recalls being up 28 points against the Colts and Luck before during the playoffs and how that turned out. That was with Alex Smith at the helm in Indy with that added bonus of Andy Reid turning into Andrew Reid, calling silly cute plays at the wrong time or abandoning what has or is still working for whatever reason. Having Mahomes may cancel out the Andrew Reid effect and keep Andy Reid on course.

Juice – The Colts are white-hot heading into Arrowhead and a healthy number of “experts” are anticipating an upset of the 1st seed Chiefs but Indianapolis will have to weather the initial scripted onslaught Andy Reid has been preparing for the past two weeks because when it rains it pours. To do so the Colts must (1) possess the football; (2) disrupt the timing of Kansas City’s passing game and (3) apply pressure without blitzing.

The first point of emphasis is fairly self-explanatory. Despite the Chiefs’ quick strike ability, the more time KC’s offense spends on the sideline, the more opportunity Indy’s potent offense led by Andrew Luck and a stellar offensive line has to pick apart a susceptible Chiefs defense designed to play with a lead. Next on the Indy “to do list” is forcing Patrick Mahomes to hold the football. On pass attempts of less than 2.5 seconds this season Mahomes is completing 70% of his passes and has a 25:1 TD-to-INT ratio. On pass attempts of 2.5 seconds or more Mahomes is only completing 51.6% of his passes and and threw 11 of his 12 interceptions this season. This means disguising coverage and re-routing receivers. Last but certainly not least is keeping Mahomes in the pocket and applying pressure without blitzing. All bets are off if he escapes the pocket. The illustration below represents what pressure from the down-line can do to ANY quarterback, particularly a young quarterback whose only apparent weakness in the friendly confines of Andy Reid’s offense is post snap recognition when confined to the tackle box.

NFL Playoffs
Pro Football Focus

Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots

Headley – Philip Rivers is 0-7 all-time against Tom Brady including 0-2 in the playoffs. I remember that tough playoff loss by the Chargers at home when Marlon McCree fumbled on his interception return which led to an improbable comeback by the Patriots. I personally believe that this year’s Chargers is Rivers’ best team since that heart breaking loss. The Chargers can run the ball, pass the football, stop the run and defend the pass. There are few weaknesses on this Chargers team but just like in that 2007 loss, they will be facing the GOAT’s Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. The Patriots are far less talented than the Chargers but Belichick and Brady can never be counted out. I expect the Patriots to utilize all 3 of their running backs early and often. The way to attack that Chargers cover 3 defense is to get the ball to the backs out of the backfield. The Chargers need to game plan against that and avoid being out-coached by the illustrious Belichick.

Drew – I think this may have been the worse match-up for the Patriots that could have taken place. With what the Chargers do on defense predominately playing dime like no other and being able to stop the run as if they were in a base 4-3 or 3-4 with linebackers instead of defensive backs I just don’t see the Patriots being effective against what is coming their way. Gronk is aging rapidly and not creating the separation of yesteryear and I believe any of those defensive backs in the Chargers secondary can cover any wide receiver or running back coming out the backfield or lining up in the slot. New England on the other hand I’m sure feels different about this and most likely has a match-up or two they will aim to exploit whether it be attacking a specific player or a particular area in the Chargers’ zone defense. Accompany that with a solid run game is the only way I see New England winning this contest outside of the unpredictable turnover or two. Truthfully this is Philip Rivers’ time. The “Bolt Curse” has ended.

Juice – For years the New England Patriots have been lauded for tailoring their game plan for each unique opponent as opposed to only being able to win in a solitary fashion. If last week’s Wild Card win over the Baltimore Ravens isn’t evidence enough that the 2018-19 Los Angeles Chargers can do the same, think again. Anthony Lynn, his coaching staff and the more talented Chargers roster have been finding different ways to win all season. Traditionally a Cover 3 defense, I expect the deep Chargers secondary to play a health percentage of man-to-man challenging what I believe to be an over-matched Patriots receiving corps; instead of allowing Tom Brady to simply take what the defense gives and systematically pick apart zone coverage. The Patriots won’t roll over but there aren’t enough play-makers defensively to stop Los Angeles’ multi-faceted offensive attack. Philip Rivers is due, I think the Chargers can hold up against the run, and I expect the Bolts to win. I know it’s dangerous betting against Brady and Belichick particularly at Foxboro, fortunately I’m not putting my money where my mouth is.

Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints

Headley – It’s hard to root against what Nick Foles has done over the last two seasons but beating the Saints in the Super Dome is a tall order. The Eagles are a much different team with a new starting quarterback but they attempted this task in Week 11 and got a 48-7 beat down. Let’s take a look back on what went wrong and what needs to happen for the Eagles to pull off this upset and continue to ride the Foles Magic. Carson Wentz threw 3 interceptions. The Eagles cannot afford to turn the football over and give the high-powered Saints extra possessions. The Eagles had 12 carries. In order to keep that high-powered offense off the field the Eagles will need more than 12 carries. 0 sacks 0 turnovers. The Eagles need to pressure Drew Brees and either get him on the ground or force him to pass it earlier than he likes to cause turnovers. Last but certainly not least, stay healthy. The Eagles had a plethora of injuries in the game including all-pro center Jason Kelce. They need all hands on deck to knock off the Saints.

Drew – I said it in the CPGM recap of the Eagles at the Bears Wild Card match-up, the Bears lost that game because they did not get the ball to their most dynamic player, not because the Eagles were a better football team. I know that Eagles front seven is one of the best in the league but I ask you this. Is the Eagle defense better than last year’s defense at this point? Would the Eagles have beaten the Saints last year instead of the Vikings? Cause we damn sure know it would’ve been a better game! The Saints offensive line is one of the best in the league and the fact that Ted Ginn Jr. is back and healthy adds the field-stretching dimension New Orleans has missed for most of the season. Ginn’s speed will put that Eagles secondary to the test. Folks are talking about Nick Foles and what the Eagles will do with him and Carson Wentz. Well, no worries Eagles fan, Brees and crew will put your mind at ease by beating the Philly and doing it handily.

Juice – This matchup will be a lot more competitive than the 48-7 contest earlier this season and I expect a shootout despite both teams’ respective front seven being able to take games over. The Saints’ offense has been pedestrian by their standards over the last month or so but Drew Brees is typically other-worldly in New Orleans and Sean Payton won’t make the same mistake Matt Nagy made by not getting his most explosive player (Tarik Cohen) a healthy number of touches. So expect a lot of Alvin Kamara. You could argue that when comparing the offensive lines in this contest it’s a push but therein lies the advantage playing in the Super Dome provides. As much as I would like to see the “Foles Magic” continue and the Carson Wentz v. Nick Foles debate rage on the Saints are simply a cut above everyone else when playing at home. Give me the Saints.