A fiery finish to NFL regular season has always shown the potential to propel teams on a lengthy postseason run.
Will the 2019 NFL playoffs see another underrated team carry its momentum all the way to the Super Bowl? Only time will tell, but the overlooked crowd is off to a good start.
The four Wild Card Weekend winners all entered the playoffs on big upward swings. The three road victors—the Los Angeles Chargers, Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles—all went 4-1 during the month of December. The lone team to hold serve at home, the Dallas Cowboys, posted a 7-2 record over November and December.
Continuing that success won't be easy, as each heads out for a road date with a top-two seed this weekend.
After laying out the divisional round schedule and predictions below, we'll spotlight three of the weekend's biggest storylines.
All times ET
Saturday, January 12
Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs (4:35 p.m., NBC)
Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams (8:15 p.m., Fox)
Sunday, January 13
Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots (1:05 p.m., CBS)
Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints (4:40 p.m., Fox)
In addition to the broadcast networks, all playoff games can be viewed on FuboTV.
Chiefs 34, Colts 30
Rams 27, Cowboys 17
Chargers 31, Patriots 27
Saints 31, Eagles 20
Good and Bad News on Kansas City's Injury Front
Let's kick this off on a positive note—explosive receiver Sammy Watkins could be available after playing just once since suffering a foot injury in Week 9. While he's been a limited practice participant this week, ESPN's Adam Teicher characterized Watkins as appearing "on course to play."
That could be a big lift to a Kansas City attack that stumbled a bit—by its own elite standards, at least—down the stretch.
"The Chiefs have filled in for Watkins with Chris Conley and Demarcus Robinson but have been less dynamic offensively without him," Teicher wrote. "The Chiefs scored just under 38 points per game in the 10 games that Watkins played and just more than 31 in the six that he didn't."
Now for the downer—after being limited Tuesday, Eric Berry was a non-participant Wednesday. It's unclear if this was a maintenance thing (he's only played twice all season) or the result of a setback, but either way, it feels a bit ominous.
While the Chiefs have been forced to learn to live without him, they could really use the five-time Pro Bowler to shore up their secondary against Andrew Luck and Indy's ignitable passing attack. Kansas City allowed the second-most passing yards this season. During Berry's last healthy campaign (2016), the Chiefs finished 18th in the category.
All Eyes On Amari Cooper
The Cowboys may feel Amari Cooper has already justified his trade cost. While Dallas may not enjoy being without a first-rounder in the upcoming draft, it also knows it went from being a 3-4 team without Cooper to a 10-win club that added at least one playoff victory.
That said, Cooper's previous success hardly means the pressure is off his shoulders now. It's possible he'll feel more than anyone on Dallas' roster this weekend.
Now, that's not going to mesh with all the coverage you'll see on Dak Prescott (as per usual), Ezekiel Elliott (going head-to-head with Todd Gurley) or the Cowboys offensive line (and how they'll try to handle Aaron Donald). But Cooper could be as critical as any of them, especially if the Rams can make this a shootout.
He's the most dynamic receiver on this roster at full strength, and it's nowhere near that right now. Allen Hurns is gone with a broken ankle. Cole Beasley is battling an ankle sprain. Tavon Austin has dealt with a groin injury for more than half the season.
In other words, the Rams will surely lock in on Cooper and probably do so with some familiar faces. He could get a steady diet of former AFC West foes Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. Name recognition aside, though, it's possible to beat this defense through the air. L.A. allowed 31 passing touchdowns this season, tied for seventh-most in the NFL.
Philip Rivers' Legacy
The stat sheet treats Philip Rivers as a no-doubt Hall of Famer.
He has top-10 career rankings in completions, yards, touchdowns and passer rating. He's been named a Pro Bowler eight different times, and he has orchestrated 26 fourth-quarter comebacks (tied for 13th-most) and 30 game-winning drives (tied for 17th).
But there's one thing missing from his resume, and its absence may overshadow the rest in the eyes of Hall of Fame voters: playoff success. He's never reached the Super Bowl and only once made it out of the divisional round. He's played just 10 playoff games in 15 NFL seasons.
One can debate how much of that is actually on Rivers, but that may not matter. Quarterbacks might be judged on team success more than any position in any team sport.
So, it's possible Rivers still needs a signature moment to plot his path to Canton. He'll have the opportunity this weekend, fittingly against Tom Brady, an obvious Hall of Famer whom Rivers has never defeated. Considering the stakes, Rivers' age (37) and the strength of the Chargers, it's possible this is his last good chance to capture that elusive postseason success.
"If he can't beat the Patriots now, with a very good Chargers team, there's no guarantee he'll have another shot to get this deep in the playoffs," Yahoo Sports' Frank Schwab wrote. "It's not crazy to believe we'll look back years from now and realize that Sunday's result was the difference in Rivers being a Hall of Famer or not."