Can you feel it, folks? The change in the air? The butterflies in your stomach? The way that time stands still? How much extra beer and pizza and wings you can consume? It’s Winning Time. The Wildcard Round is nice and all, but the Divisional Round is where legends are born. This is where the America’s Game episode really gets going. This is where dreams start to become reality, or, more commonly, where the Patriots crush other teams’ dreams. This is the Divisional Round, and it’s going to be good.
Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs (-5)
The two Saturday games may prove quite tricky for the uninformed. It’d be so easy to overreact to last week or to overreact to the overreaction to last week. Which underdog is hot and which just happened to win last week? Which favorite just had a small blip and which one legitimately stinks? The answer to all of these questions (and more) is both. The Colts are red hot. Won 10 of 11. Dragged themselves into the top five in weighted team DVOA. Their defense is built to contain and frustrate explosive offenses, which, believe it or not, is something the Chiefs have. The Colts have living, breathing NFL players at running back and offensive line, which means they can take advantage of the Chiefs putrid run defense and shorten the game. It’s Patrick Mahomes’s first playoff game and Andy Reid is the coach and it’s the Chiefs at home. If the Colts get an early lead there are going to be so many tightly clenched buttholes in Kansas City that they’ll be able to set up a tightly clenched butthole convention (it’s late, okay?). And five points for a home favorite with one of the best offenses in league history is not that much at all. The universe is DYING for everyone to pick the Colts. It’s too perfect. The only thing seemingly favoring the Chiefs is the fact that home playoff teams are 43-21 in the Divisional Round since 2002. The only problem? In that timespan, the Chiefs are 0-2 as a home team in the Divisional Round and haven’t won a home playoff game period since 1993. That’s impossible. It’s just too much, man. Just think about which team you’d want to be backing if everything was going wrong- unflappable Andrew Luck and Frank Reich? Or green Pat Mahomes and good ol’ Andy Reid and decades of Chiefs anti-juju? I would feel pretty dumb for picking the Colts on the road if they didn’t cover. I would never forgive myself if I got caught in the Andy Reid trap again.
Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams (-7)
This is almost a mirror image of the Colts-Chiefs game. High-flying home favorite that, at one point, was threatening to redefine what offense means but has gone cold facing a team tailor-made to go on the road and beat a superior team. The only real difference is that the Colts can keep up offensively. The Cowboys, even against a bad defense, will probably top out at 24 points. I don’t think they keep the Rams under 24 at home. Cowboys D is good, it’s not that good. This is actually kind of a fascinating game for the league office. Are they rooting for the most popular and valuable franchise in North America? Or are they rooting for the future of the league? Because if Boy Wonder Sean McVay goes one and done again? All those recent hires look a little less shiny. I think this is set up too perfectly for an NFC East NFC Championship Game. The universe won’t allow that. Dallas covers, Rams win.
Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots (-4)
Close your eyes. I want to envision this scene: Gillette Stadium. It’s freezing cold with blustery winds. Snow everywhere. There’s a football game going on, but it’s hard to really tell. Nothing’s really happened. No offense to speak of either way. It’s a low-possession, high-pressure game. One mistake ends the season. Everything comes down to pure grit and balls and mental toughness. Now imagine Phil Rivers winning that game over Tom Brady. Couldn’t do it? Me neither.
Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints (-8)
Listen, the Saints are the better team. No one would deny that. But this is out of my hands. There are some takes you want to late on rather than early, and picking against Nick Foles is one of them. I’ll believe the magic is gone when I see it.