Welcome to the installment of our 2018 NFL Playoffs roundtable! As I was last week, I’ll be joined by six of my esteemed 5th Down Fantasy colleagues in providing keys to victory in each of this weekend’s four NFL playoff matchups, and we’ll put our names on the line with game predictions. You can add your voice as well by answering or Twitter polls for each game, which are embedded below.
What a blast the Chiefs and Colts game is shaping up to be. Anyone that remembers the clash between these two teams from the 2013 playoffs knows it as one of the better playoff comebacks in recent history. Down 31-10 going into halftime, the Colts rallied to outscore Kansas City 35-13 in the second half to seal an unthinkable victory (45-44) in Arrowhead. The man that authored that comeback was Andrew Luck, and he’s coming back for the sequel this weekend.
If you’re a fan of power running games and great line play, then the Rams-Cowboys is the matchup to watch. In a clash of two of the leagues top rushing offenses, these teams will unleash two of the brightest young stars in the league (Todd Gurley/Ezekiel Elliott). The winner of this contest will be the team that most effectively stops the run and adjusts best on offense if and when their plan A is thwarted.
Come Sunday, ww have the West Coast gunslinger and MVP candidate Philip Rivers facing the man many refer to as the G.O.A.T. in Tom Brady, followed by a matchup featuring the resurgent Eagles facing their biggest test of the entire season against a Saints team that left them in the dirt just weeks ago.
No. 6 Indianapolis at No. 1 Kansas City, 4:35 p.m. ET
4 of our 7 experts have the Colts upsetting the Chiefs on Saturday. Who you got?
— 5th Down Fantasy (@5thDownFantasy) January 11, 2019
I was thoroughly impressed with the Colts’ performance last weekend in dominating the Houston Texans. However, the Chiefs’ offense will present much more trouble on offense than Houston. The Colts will be able to score effectively, but I don’t believe they’ll be able to go score for score with Mahomes and the Chiefs. Kansas City, benefitting from home-field advantage, should be able to move the ball much more effectively than what we saw against Indianapolis last weekend. I like the Chiefs in a high-scoring affair to move on to the AFC Conference Championship. Chiefs 38, Colts 30. – Joe Buttgereit
My goodness, what a matchup. Patrick Mahomes vs. Andrew Luck. It doesn’t get a whole lot more exciting than that for the playoffs. If the Chiefs want to win this one, they’re going to need to do a few things right on defense. The offense will take care of itself (although sustaining drives would go a long way toward winning this one.) The defense needs to keep the Colts from getting out to a fast start, thereby letting the Arrowhead crowd stay in this. This will be easier said than done, particularly with the way the Colts offensive line has been playing. But this Colts offensive line hasn’t seen much competition this year that compares with what the Chiefs’ front can do. I think the Chiefs finally get over the hump in the playoffs. Chiefs 38, Colts 31. — Nate Davis
I’m going with Indy to upset Kansas City for the same reason I chose the Colts last week: they’re the more complete football team from the top down. The Chiefs have an incredible roster of talent including a Top 10 WR in Tyreek Hill, a Top 3 TE in Travis Kelce and the MVP favorite in Patrick Mahomes, but they lack a defense that can get this Colts offense off the field. The Chiefs defense is predicated on sacking the quarterback and creating pressure with Chris Jones/Dee Ford and Justin Houston up front. The Colts have the perfect counter-attack for that approach, utilizing Quinton Nelson, Anthony Costanzo and the rest of their offensive line that slowed down J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney last week. That being said I don’t think either defense will have a great game, and I think we’ll see a shoot out similar to the aforementioned 2013 contest with the Colts balanced attack and better coached defense prevailing. Colts 37, Chiefs 34 — Derek McCauley
No team wants to run into the AFC’s 6th seed right now, but the Chiefs have no choice. The Colts are in cruise control right now, having lost only once in 11 weeks and on Saturday against the Texans they scored on their opening 3 drives to tuck the game away very early. For me, the Colts’ offensive line is the key to this matchup, and I think they will be able to bully the Chiefs’ defensive line and open up lanes for Marlon Mack to attack and allow Andrew Luck’s passing game to flourish as well. Colts to win. — Colin McDonnell
The Colts and Chiefs are both in the top five in offensive points scored per game this season. These offenses both feature top tier quarterbacks, a game changing receiver, and the top two touchdown-catching tight ends. All these things considered, there will likely be a lot of points on the board at the end of this game. Though I think two things I did not mention, time of possession and third down defense, may be the difference in the game. I feel that the Colts are better equipped to run the ball against the Chiefs defense, keeping the ball away from their explosive offense. I also feel that the Colts are more capable of making stops on third down than the Chiefs in a game where holding a team to a field goal will feel like a victory. They will run the ball effectively and make a few vital third down stops, ultimately giving them the victory in Kansas City. Colts 37, Chiefs 31. — Joshua Mutters
This matchup features the #1 and #5 scoring offenses from the regular season; however, I actually believe that Kansas City’s defense will be the story of this matchup. The Chiefs are 31st in total yards and passing yards allowed per game this season, but a quick look at the home/road splits reveals that the Chiefs have actually played the pass pretty well at Arrowhead. Their opponent PYPG drops from 325.0 to just 223.8 and 12 of the team’s 15 INTs have come at home. Furthermore, the Chiefs led the league with 52 sacks this season, giving them as good a chance as anyone to topple the unsackable Andrew Luck along with the Colts’ Cinderella season. Chiefs 31, Colts 27. — Paul Patterson
I really feel that every game this weekend is going to competitive, but arguably the best will be the red-hot Colts facing off against the Mahomes show. And if you like offense, this should be your game, even Vegas is predicting an over-under of 57. To me, this comes down to the Colts’ ability to get off of the field and control the game with Marlon Mack. With their offensive line fully healthy, controlling the line of scrimmage is very much a possibility. The Chiefs will have to overcome their recent playoff woes and that has not been easy for them. It will start with getting Tyreek Hill involved early and often. Kansas City may have a ringer in Patrick Mahomes but ultimately, I see this game being close. I will take the upset and pick the Colts in a shootout. Colts 36, Chiefs 34. — Garrett Thomas
No. 4 Dallas at No. 2 Los Angeles Rams, 8:15 p.m. ET
4 of our 7 experts like the Rams to move past the Cowboys on Saturday night. And you?
— 5th Down Fantasy (@5thDownFantasy) January 11, 2019
The Rams haven’t been the juggernaut we came to expect early in the season. They’ve been beatable lately and have a lot of question marks surrounding their team. After starting the season 8-0, they’ve gone just 5-3 since, and 2-2 in the last four games. The Cowboys are certainly the hotter of the two teams, going 8-1 in their last nine games including their win over Seattle last weekend. Playing excellent defense, especially against the run, and taking care of the ball on offense has been formula on this run. I expect Dallas to do everything in their power to contain Todd Gurley and put the ball in the hands of Jared Goff to beat them. I like the Cowboys pulling off a second straight postseason upset. Cowboys 24, Rams 23. – Joe Buttgereit
This Cowboys defense is just about the last thing the second-seeded Rams wanted to see this week. The Cowboys have the talent to shut down every facet of this Rams attack, just like they did against the Saints earlier in the year. This game will come down to a few factors. Firstly, Sean McVay needs to come out firing with a solid game plan. That game plan absolutely must include a heavy dose of Todd Gurley. This Rams offense never gets to another gear without a successful outing from Gurley, outside of that magical Kansas City game back in Week 11. If the Rams struggle against the Cowboys defense, this game will be over before it even gets going. I trust Sean McVay here, especially with some solid time to rest up and plan. Rams 31, Cowboys 24. — Nate Davis
I’m leaning toward the Rams slightly in this one because I believe Sean McVay will come prepared with an array of exotic offensive packages to fool Dallas’ young linebackers. On the defensive side of the ball the Rams will rely on Aaron Donald to neutralize Elliot and place Dak Prescott under duress for most of the contest. On the flip side the Rams will have their hands full trying to defend DeMarcus Lawrence on the edge. In a matchup of two teams with above average (but not great) quarterback play and great running games I will go with the more innovative head coach, and that’s McVay by a landslide. Rams 31, Cowboys 24. — Derek McCauley
If Dallas could have hand-selected a team to play right now it would be the Rams. They give up 5.1 yards per rush and Zeke is a machine that will not be stopped by this Rams defense. Meanwhile, Todd Gurley is the heartbeat of the Rams offense, but is he fit? The Rams will need him to be against the Cowboys defense, who just shut out the league’s best rushing offense. I see the Cowboys ability to run the ball on the Rams as the key to this game. Remember, when Dak Prescott throws less than 30 times a game, the Cowboys win. He will be able to pick his moments and avoid Aaron Donald. Cowboys to win. — Colin McDonnell
This game features the top three running backs in the league in yards per game. C.J. Anderson tops that list with only two starts, then Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley follow, with a much larger sample size of course. Accordingly, I think both teams will have some success running the football in this game, making it a close one throughout. Dak Prescott had a solid game at home for the Cowboys in the wild card game, using his legs in a couple of big moments to seal the win. Throughout the season, he has struggled a bit more on the road with a rating of 85.6, compared to 109.5 at home. This obviously made the team less successful on the road, posting a 3-5 record. I think their road struggles continue this week when Aaron Donald and company keep Prescott from converting big plays to give the Rams the victory. Rams 27, Cowboys 24. — Joshua Mutters
Obviously the Cowboys deserve credit for taking out Seattle last week, but atrocious play-calling on the part of the Seahawks played a major role in the outcome of that game. Despite Dallas allowing just 3.8 YPC this season, despite trailing for much of the 2nd half, and despite Russell Wilson having great success through the air, Seattle insisted on handing the ball off again and again and again. I expect Sean McVay to come up with a more creative game plan that spreads the ball around and keeps the Cowboys guessing. Rams 28, Cowboys 17. — Paul Patterson
This game will be intriguing for many reasons, one being the crowd factor: Dallas hosts their training camp out in Oxnard, California, and local Dallas reporters are forecasting a healthy Cowboys turn out. The passing game could be the biggest differences between the two teams and if Dak Prescott continues his history of clutch play, that gap may narrow. For Dallas, they are going to have to move the ball slowly and methodically, as they do well in games they win. In addition, Dallas’ defense will have to contain Todd Gurley to keep the Rams’ veridical passing-game in check. As for the Rams, if their offense can control the line of scrimmage, which will contain Ezekiel Elliot, they will be in good shape. But in the end, I see the Cowboys going to their first NFC Championship in over 20 years. Cowboys 26, Rams 24. — Garrett Thomas
No. 5 Los Angeles Chargers at No. 2 New England, 1:05 p.m. ET
Just 1 of our 7 experts thinks the Patriots will keep their home win streak alive against the Chargers. Who do you think will win?
— 5th Down Fantasy (@5thDownFantasy) January 11, 2019
We all know the history. Philip Rivers is 0-7 against Tom Brady-led teams, 0-2 in the playoffs. Tom Brady is 19-3 in the playoffs at home. The pick is easy, right? Not so fast. This New England team hasn’t dominated like it has for much of the past two decades. In fact, if it wasn’t for a very weak division, they may not be hosting a playoff game. The Chargers, on the other hand, have been dominant. It’s not everyday you see the away team in a divisional round game with a better record than the team with the bye. That’s the case here. Los Angeles is ranked in the top three in both offense and defense and should have their way with New England’s defense this weekend. The Chargers can win a shootout in nice weather or they can win sloppy in poor conditions. They’re built on running the ball and rushing the passer; the perfect formula for January football. Chargers 24, Patriots 16. – Joe Buttgereit
There’s not a sense of invincibility around this Patriots squad like in years past. That being said, Foxborough is still a daunting place to play in January. The Chargers need to bring their A game to this, even though Brady no longer has the arm strength to make throws when moved off his plant foot. For the Patriots, they need to keep a clean pocket for Brady and establish the run early. If they can start forcing some patented Philip Rivers mistakes in this game, it’s going to be another postseason party in New England. This game’s a toss-up for me, but I’ve seen enough from both teams to finally pick an opposing team to win in Foxborough. Chargers 28, Patriots 24. — Nate Davis
The Patriots walk into the cozy confines of Foxboro undefeated in the regular season at home (8-0), a record that includes victories over three other AFC playoff teams (Chiefs/Colts/Texans). While their offense hit more speed bumps than usual this season, the Belichick-ian machine continued to march it’s way to another AFC East crown and the franchise’s ninth-straight first round bye. The Chargers come into this contest looking like bonafide road warriors on a mission after dashing the dreams of Lamar Jackson and the Ravens last weekend. This Chargers team is the perfect test for New England’s home dominance because it’s a team that quite frankly plays a road game every week. Even when the Chargers are home they’re routinely welcomed by opposing fanbases taking over the stands of their miniature soccer stadium. They’re a team that’s used to adversity at all times, in all venues, and because of that they’ve become a hardened, no nonsense football team down the stretch. The the X-factor for this matchup is DROY candidate Derwin James. In just his first year James has already established himself as one of the most versatile safeties in the league, and he is the reason I’m picking the Chargers to hand New England their first home loss of the season. Chargers 28, Patriots 24. — Derek McCauley
The Patriots, at home, in a Divisional playoff game. Ring any bells? Bill Belichick always seems one step ahead. How many times have we heard this is the end of an era? But time and time again they prove everyone wrong. While the Patriots unpredictable play calling this year will be the issue for the Chargers in this matchup, but this well-balanced Chargers team does have the tools on both sides of the ball to stuff the Patriots. Sticking my neck on the line, this IS the end of an era. Chargers to win. — Colin McDonnell
This is a matchup that features two old timers at quarterback, at least by NFL standards. I expect solid play from both Rivers and Brady in this matchup and it should be a great game to watch. We all know how difficult it is for visitors to win at Foxborough, where the Patriots are 8-0 this season. It seems to get even more difficult in the playoffs, where they have been ridiculous during the Brady/Belichick era. Brady has 27 playoff wins, which is more than twice as many as the Chargers have in the history of their franchise. With all of that said, I think this Chargers team has the components to challenge the Patriots. These Chargers are now 8-1 on the road this season, including a great defensive effort in Baltimore last week. They are a very well-rounded team that ranked as the eighth scoring offense and eighth scoring defense in the NFL this season. The Chargers pass rush is improving at the right time, as Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are now playing confidently. I see this as the difference in the game as the Chargers will pressure and sack Brady more than the Patriots will Rivers, allowing the Chargers to pull off the road upset. Chargers 30, Patriots 24. — Joshua Mutters
The Chargers will have to play a near-perfect game to beat the Patriots in Foxborough, but, unlike in years past, I do believe we’ve seen some chinks in New England’s armor. On defense, the Chargers will rely on all-pros Desmond King and Derwin James to limit Edelman, Gronkowski, and White underneath and in the slot, while Casey Heyward will do battle with Chris Hogan on the outside. On the other side of the ball, the Chargers have to avoid turnovers and do a better job in the red zone than they did last week. This scrappy L.A. team has already won nine games on the road this season. Can they make it ten? Chargers 24, Patriots 20. — Paul Patterson
No team has won more games than the Chargers, dating back to the middle of last year, and I partly believe that the Patriots are as vulnerable as they have ever been. For the Chargers, they will face an easier defense than last week in Baltimore, but we know Bill Belichick will have his team ready to play. Limiting Melvin Gordon is obviously the biggest factor for New England, but we know that Philip Rivers can take over games, quickly. For New England they will have to move the ball on the Chargers’ defense consistently, and get the ball out quick. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram lead this defense and its rushing attack and we know that consistent pressure has always given Tom Brady issues. Will this be the end of the Brady-Belichick dynasty? I have it living another week. Patriots 24, Chargers 17. — Garrett Thomas
No. 6 Philadelphia at No. 1 New Orleans, 4:40 p.m. ET
5 of our 7 experts think the Saints will finally end the Eagles’ run. How do you see it?
— 5th Down Fantasy (@5thDownFantasy) January 11, 2019
Nick Foles waved his magic wand again. Although he didn’t light up the stat sheet in their win over the Bears, he did enough to keep his team in it, and threw the game-winning touchdown on 4th and goal as the clock was winding down. This week will be a different animal. Unlike the Bears, the Saints will score points. It will be very difficult for Philadelphia’s battered defense to control this New Orleans offense. Drew Brees was near perfect in dismantling the Eagles in a 48-7 win earlier in the season; throwing for 363 yards and four touchdowns. I don’t quite see that big of a blowout coming this weekend, but I think the Saints will take care of their business rather handily. Look for Cam Jordan to disrupt this game from the onset likely matching up with battered left tackle Jason Peters. Saints 31, Eagles 17. – Joe Buttgereit
I wrote the Eagles off last week at Soldier Field, but Nick Foles made whatever deal with the devil he’s made, and here we are. I apologize to Eagles fans everywhere. That being said, as good as that Bears team was, they’re nothing compared to what comes next. The Saints in the Superdome is the tallest order of any team in the playoffs. For the Eagles to keep the magic alive, they need to do a few things perfectly. Firstly, shut down Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas. If you’ve got the clamps on them, you can go after Drew Brees. If you don’t, he’ll just hit the hot route no matter how often you blitz him. On offense, establish some semblance of a ground attack and get the ball to Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz in a hurry. On the other side of the ball, the Saints just need to do what they’ve done all year: shut down opposing teams’ run games and simply outscore the opponent. I think the Saints take this one. Saints 31, Eagles 21. — Nate Davis
- The Eagles secondary has grown up fast over the past month.
- The Eagles defensive front 7, led by Fletcher Cox is playing with their tails up and are very aggressive.
- The Eagles have Nick Foles slinging it around without a care in the world. I don’t know what it is, but you just sense that he will get it done.
Eagles to win. — Colin McDonnell
Since being blown out by the Saints in Week 11, the Eagles have rallied to a 6-1 record, scoring close to 28 points per contest and allowing just 21 points against. The champs walk into the Superdome nearly double-digit underdogs to face down one of the greatest of all time in Drew Brees, a lethal rushing attack (Kamara/Ingram) and one of the best WRs in the league in Michael Thomas. For their record the Saints the went 4-2 following that Week 11 contest against Philadelphia. They dropped a meaningless Week 17 game to the Panthers, but their second loss was a wake up call to all other NFC playoff contenders. The Saints Week 13 loss to the Cowboys displayed a blueprint on how to break down the Saints offensive attack. Dallas’ blend of a smash mouth rushing attack and excellent pressure tackling from their front 7 stymied Brees for nearly the entire game. That blueprint is nearly identical to the one you’ll find if you go back and watch the Eagles-Bears game from last weekend. I’m almost certainly a homer in some respects, but I believe in the magic around this Eagles team with Foles under center. It won’t be pretty, and it may even be unorthodox, but when the smoke clears I think this team will find a way to win. Eagles 30, Saints 27. — Derek McCauley
Nick Foles and the Eagles proved me wrong last week as they were able to pull out a tough victory in Chicago thanks to the tipped/missed Cody Parkey field goal that we have all now seen. Foles led the Eagles on an impressive scoring drive that ultimately won the game against the stout Bears defense. Aside from the solid receiving performance from Allen Robinson, the Bears could not seem to get anything going on offense for most of the game. I do not think that will be the case for the Saints on Sunday in New Orleans. I expect the Saints receiving corps, led by Michael Thomas, to give the Eagles secondary problems throughout the game resulting in a 3+ touchdown performance from Drew Brees. The Eagles will make this one much closer than the 48-7 beating they took in week 11 but will fall just short of matching the Saints. Saints 34, Eagles 27. — Joshua Mutters
A lot has changed since the Eagles were blown out 48-7 by the Saints in Week 11. Nick Foles is starting at QB, Darren Sproles has returned, and there are new starters in the secondary. Still, I have a hard time believing that the Saints are going to lose this one at home, where they’re averaging a ridiculous 37 PPG. For the Eagles to win, they would have to find a way to pressure Brees consistently, which no team has been able to do this season. Saints 30, Eagles 24. — Paul Patterson
The most lopsided matchup this week goes to Philadelphia at New Orleans. Nick Foles has been nothing short of amazing for the Eagles, who are also getting Fletcher Cox back and that will surely help limit the Saints’ running-duo. However, keeping New Orleans off of the field will not be solely dependent on the line of scrimmage, it will also depend on the secondary. This is where Doug Pederson has really has earned his paycheck, because this injured and decimated secondary unit is now a functional NFL secondary, which is a big reason they have been winning. The Saints have every ability to win this game. If Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram are able to operate at will, the Eagles will not stand a chance. But for Drew Brees, he will have to confuse the Eagles’ secondary and get the ball out quick. From the second that the gates open at the Superdome in New Orleans, the crowd will be electric. The home fans will have the Saints juiced enough for them to pull out this victory easily. Saints 31, Eagles 17. — Garrett Thomas