Aaron Donald, Allen Hurns, Amari Cooper, Andy Reid, CJ Anderson, Cole Beasley, Cooper Kupp, Dallas Cowboys, Ezekiel Elliott, Indianapolis Colts, Jared Goff, Kansas City Chiefs, Kareem Hunt, LA Rams, Ndamukong Suh, NFL, Patrick Mahomes, Sean McVay, Tavon Austin, Todd Gurley
Now we have all the teams that are left in the competition playing it is time to look at the Saturday games.
Indianapolis Colts (6th) @ Kansas City Chiefs (1st)
The Kansas City Chiefs have been the talk of the NFL all season thanks to their high powered offence and the play of Patrick Mahomes in his first full season. Mahomes threw fifty touchdown and only twelve interceptions as he account for five thousand spectacular yards. We’ve had no look passes, differing arm angles and regular how did he do that plays, which have made Reid’s offensive scheme hum. This has been helped by the glut of talent the Chiefs have at the skills positions, and although there was a wobble after they cut running back Kareem Hunt after video of his assault of a woman in a hotel surfaced (because TMZ are better at investigating these incidents than the NFL are), the Chiefs finished the season with two thirty points games. The worry for the Chiefs is that their offence may match their overall ranking of first by DVOA, and their special teams are ranked second, but their defence is ranked twenty-sixth and so whilst they went 12-4, they have had to win a lot of shoot outs.
There are other problems though. One is that the Chiefs home playoff record has not been good, and whilst they will hope to overturn that this weekend, it would not exactly be a surprise if Mahomes shows some nerves early in the game. They welcome a Colts team who went on the road to beat their divisional rivals last week and come into this game with good form and great offensive and defensive lines. The other problem I want to mention for the Chiefs is that their defence was bottom of the league in rush defence by DVOA, and so whilst the Colts are not especially great at running the ball, they don’t have to be. I don’t have strong feeling on who is going to win this game, but I am really looking forward to seeing it as I think it could be spectacular given the Chiefs offence skill and defensive problems. I could see the Arrowhead crowd getting nervous if the Chiefs don’t get off to a good start and I do think an upset is possible. I’m not going to call it as a home teams in the divisional rounds have been won of the safer bets of the playoffs recently, but it definitely could happen.
Dallas Cowboys (4th) @ LA Rams (2nd)
The LA Rams may have suffered a disappointing Wildcard loss last season in Sean McVay’s first year, but they built on that momentum and hit the ground running this season. The offence was as scary as anyone’s up to their week twelve bye. Injury has hampered them a little since then, and one of the big questions going into this game is just how healthy is Todd Gurley. However, the signing of CJ Anderson helped them right the ship at the end of the season, and if Jared Goff’s form has dipped since the Rams lost Cooper Kupp they have done enough to be seeded second in the NFC. On the other side of the ball, Aaron Donald has had a formidable year as arguably the leagues best defensive player, but things have never quite gelled for all of the free-agents they have brought in and so whilst the offence is second in the league by DVOA, the defence is nineteenth. This is still better than the Chiefs, even if it is a similar formula and they may run into similar problems against the Cowboys as I see the Chiefs having with the Colts.
The Cowboys were the only home team to win in the Wildcard round and take their own formula to face the Rams. This starts with an offence built around Ezekiel Elliott running the ball and increasingly catching the ball out the back field. The addition of Amari Cooper has opened up defences for the Cowboys, but losing Allen Hurns last week to a nasty dislocation/broken fibula will hurt the passing game as will the niggles Cole Beasley and Tavon Austin are dealing with. However, the Rams defence has struggled against the run, only ranking twenty-eighth by DVOA despite the presence of Donald and Ndamukong Suh in the middle of the defensive line. The Cowboys formula of running the ball could definitely work in this game. Meanwhile the Cowboys defence has looked pretty good as well and finished the season ranked fifth in rushing defence by DVOA. If they can limit the Rams effectiveness in running the ball and not over commit to the play fakes of the Rams then they could well sneak this game and you know the Cowboys fans will likely be well represented in the Coliseum this Saturday. I lean to the Rams in this one, but I can make a formula for the Cowboys to win this game.
Close games have been a feature of this season. We could well have two of them today!