NFL Playoffs 2019: AFC, NFC Schedule, Bracket Predictions for Divisional Round

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2019

NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 18:  Michael Thomas #13 of the New Orleans Saints flexes his muscles after a big catch during a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 18, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Saints defeated the Eagles 48-7.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

We're down to eight teams. In the divisional round, wild-card winners will meet the clubs that earned a bye week. There's a good mix of favorites and squads hitting their strides at the right time.

In terms of streaks, backup quarterback Nick Foles has won four consecutive playoff games as a starter, dating back to the Philadelphia Eagles' Super Bowl run last year. Who's going to eliminate the defending champions? Perhaps the league's top regular-season team with an MVP candidate under center.

The Indianapolis Colts will tell you a rebuild doesn't have to take multiple years. After finishing 4-12 last season, this club started the year 1-5. Now, they're going up against the Kansas City Chiefs for a spot in the AFC Championship Game. It's a group that's equipped to pull off another upset.

Is this a down year for the New England Patriots? We'll find out when they play the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday at Gillette Stadium. If the Patriots lose, it would be their first time missing out on the AFC Championship Game since the 2011 postseason.

We'll delve into the four divisional-round matchups and project a winner for each game.

             

Divisional Round 

AFC: No. 6 Indianapolis Colts at No. 1 Kansas City Chiefs Chiefs; Saturday, Jan. 12 at 4:35 p.m. ET on NBC, FuboTV

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - DECEMBER 30:  Quarterback Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs in action during the game against the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium on December 30, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Colts have won 10 of their last 11 contests. While the spotlight shines on quarterback Andrew Luck, the defense has held three opponents to single-digit scoring totals within the last six games. Against the Houston Texans, cornerback Kenny Moore II had a stellar showing, logging five solo tackles, an interception, a sack and two pass breakups.

The Colts' young impressive defensive group will have its hands full with wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. The two pass-catchers could place a lot of pressure on the safeties downfield.

Hill averages 17 yards per reception; he's a threat after the catch and on deep throws over the top. As a big body (6'5", 260 pounds), Kelce's awareness and positioning allow him to move the chains in the passing attack.

Luck has someone similar to Hill in wideout T.Y. Hilton as the speedy wide receiver is capable of stretching the field, averaging 16.7 yards per catch. Tight end Eric Ebron has recorded 14 touchdown receptions, including one against the Texans during Wild Card Weekend. We'll likely see a back-and-forth scoring fest between the two clubs, but the Chiefs win with the ball in their possession on the last drive.

Prediction: Chiefs 34, Colts 31

                

NFC: No. 4 Dallas Cowboys at No. 2 Los Angeles Rams; Saturday, Jan. 12 at 8:15 p.m. ET on Fox, FuboTV

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 30: Head coach Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams points to the field after a touchdown in the second quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on December 30, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Pho
John McCoy/Getty Images

Earlier in the season, the Los Angeles Rams established themselves as a favorite, starting the year 8-0. They ran over some bumps in the road during the second half of the term. Wideout Cooper Kupp went down with a torn ACL in Week 10, quarterback Jared Goff's production has dipped following a Week 12 bye and running back Todd Gurley missed two games with knee inflammation. 

Because of the injuries and blips in offensive production, the Dallas Cowboys have a fair chance at pulling off an upset. Although Gurley is expected to play, we don't know about his workload. He's also going against a unit that held the No. 1 ground attack to 73 yards in the last contest with the Seattle Seahawks. 

Goff must test the Cowboys' pass defense, particularly in matchups against running backs and tight ends. Dallas allows a combined 106.8 receiving yards per game to players at those positions, per Football Outsiders. Tight ends Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett haven't been consistent contributors to the Rams passing attack, but they could have big games Saturday. As one of the best pass-catching tailbacks in the league, Gurley may have a larger impact as a receiver than a ball-carrier.

The Cowboys should pound the ball with running back Ezekiel Elliott, as the Rams are the 23rd-ranked run defense. Wideout Amari Cooper could experience difficulties breaking free from cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. Both cover men are familiar with the fourth-year wide receiver, dating back to their battles in the AFC West. As an Oakland Raider, Cooper matched up against Peters (a former Chief) and Talib (a former Bronco).

Cooper's inability to spread the defense will likely shrink Elliott's running lanes. Poor production on the ground would lead to a Cowboys loss.

Prediction: Rams 27, Cowboys 20

               

AFC: No. 5 Los Angeles Chargers at No. 2 New England Patriots; Sunday, Jan. 13 at 1:05 p.m. ET on CBS, FuboTV

Steven Senne/Associated Press

The Chargers put together one of their strongest performances for the first 51 minutes of their wild-card game, but a 23-3 blowout turned into a 23-17 nail-biter in about seven minutes. Still, head coach Anthony Lynn's group avenged their Week 16 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. They'll see a tough challenge Sunday against a team that's undefeated (8-0) at home this year.

On paper, the New England Patriots pass defense seems like a weak area, but the unit hasn't allowed 230 yards since Week 12. In the last five outings, they've faced the Minnesota Vikings' and Pittsburgh Steelers' potent passing attacks.

The Chargers have all the weapons to compete with the Patriots, but Philip Rivers' recent play pops up as a red flag. He has struggled in his last four contests, throwing three touchdown passes and six interceptions.

New England probably benefitted from rest more than any other team on a bye week because of the wear and tear on quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski. If their connection doesn't produce big numbers, expect running back Sony Michel to shine on his playoff debut. 

The Patriots will remain perfect at home during this campaign and advance to their eighth consecutive AFC Championship Game. 

Prediction: Patriots 28, Chargers 23

             

NFC: No. 6 Philadelphia Eagles at No. 1 New Orleans Saints; Sunday, Jan. 13 at 4:40 p.m. ET on Fox, FuboTV 

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - DECEMBER 23: Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints celebrates during the first half against the Pittsburg Steelers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 23, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Ima
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Never count out a champion. The Philadelphia Eagles racked up enough points against the Chicago Bears' No. 1 scoring defense to stay alive. Foles' performance had some warts. He threw two interceptions, one in the end zone, but the 29-year-old signal-caller engineered a go-ahead scoring drive late in the fourth quarter.

While defensive tackle Treyvon Hester deserves credit for tipping Bears kicker Cody Parkey's field-goal attempt, Philadelphia has clearly rediscovered a spark with Foles under center. The New Orleans Saints can't overlook Philadelphia even though the first meeting ended in a 48-7 blowout in favor of Sean Payton's group.

Facing the No. 1 run defense with a subpar rushing offense, the Eagles must rely on their aerial attack. Foles has to consistently move the ball through four quarters. New Orleans averaged 34.1 points per game at home this season.

We'll probably see a seesaw matchup with crucial offensive plays, but the Saints' skill players, wideout Michael Thomas, running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, overwhelm the Eagles in the passing game. 

Prediction: Saints 35, Eagles 31

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