It's playoff time! The NFL field is slowly being whittled down as we inch closer to the Super Bowl.
Just eight teams remain in the hunt and this week, the Herald's Christopher Reive and Radio Sport's Alex Chapman, Nigel Yalden and Marc Peard share their thoughts on which four teams will be standing after the Divisional Round.
If you missed last week, see how we went here, otherwise dive in below.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Indianapolis Colts @ Kansas City – Sunday 10.35am
In terms of big name defensive players, the Colts don't have much to write home about. Yet, since week seven, they've allowed the fewest points in the NFL. That tight defence is going to really be the key for Indy if they're to match up with what, let's be honest, is one heck of a fun offense. Patrick Mahomes has been incredible this year. The player being called the Steph Curry of the NFL has this season slowly revolutionised the quarterback position with ridiculous passes and runs. That's led to the Chiefs scoring a whopping 565 points this season.
Prediction: Chiefs offense will be too good.
CR: Safe to say the cornerbacks and safeties on both sides are going to get plenty of work in this game. With Patrick Mahomes and his Colts counterpart Andrew Luck among the top five passers at the position; you can expect the ball to spend plenty of time in the air. Luck will have to be smart about his play though, with the Chiefs defence the best in the league at getting to the quarterback. Colts running back Marlon Mack could be the difference in this one. The Chiefs have struggled at times against opponents' ground game this year, and Mack is coming off a 148-yard performance in Wildcard Weekend.
Prediction: Colts upset the Chiefs in a high-scoring affair. Marlon Mack scores multiple touchdowns.
MP: It's the top seed in the AFC (Chiefs) vs the hottest team in the AFC (Colts). No quarterback pairing in the post season has biffed more touchdowns than these two gun slinging studs. So do we ride the hot-handed Andrew Luck and his over performing defence? No. We back the MVP hopeful Patrick Mahomes in his playoff debut in front of a heaving home crowd at Arrowhead Stadium.
Prediction: Chiefs by 7.
NY: I just like the way the Colts have been going about their work in the latter half of the season and, as much as I have always liked watching the teams that Andy Reid has coached, I have trust issues with coach Reid when it comes to the playoffs, hence I going with the Colts, in particular their defence, to spark the upset
Prediction: Colts win on a last second Adam Vinatieri field goal.
Los Angeles Rams vs. Dallas Cowboys @ Los Angeles – Sunday 2.15pm
Five weeks ago, this match-up would've arguably been a cake walk for LA. But somehow since losing to the Chiefs they've been very average, going 3-2. On paper though, you'd say this should be a comfortable Rams win. However the Cowboys have Ezekiel Elliott, who Dallas should look to use to exploit a defence which allows more than five yards per carry. How Gurley bounces back from the knee injury will be key. His workload (1,831 yards) and touchdown success (21!) will be the difference for the hosts.
Prediction: If Gurley fires, Rams win. If not, the Rarere Cowboy dance continues.
CR: This is going to be a big test for the Rams defence. Offensively, these two are well matched: they've both got one of the league's best running backs, some dangerous options at wide receiver and a quarterback who is hard to stop when he's in the zone. The Cowboys will go into this one as the outsiders, but their defence is stingy, allowing just 329 yards per game through the regular season. But while they make the opponents work for field position, the Rams defence is one of the best at picking off passes. This will be a game of fine margins – an errant throw or a fumble could decide it.
Prediction: Rams sneak through with a three-point win; Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliot both score touchdowns.
MP: Nothing makes me more nervous than a late season slump and the Rams hit the skids in a big way late in the season - I'm pretty sure I could run for a hundred yards on the Rams defence. That being said, they have had a long time to take a hard look at what's going wrong and while I expect an improved performance, it won't however be enough to stop the ever impressive Cowboys offense.
Prediction: Give me 'Dem Boys' by 3.
NY: As solid and efficient as the Cowboys were in beating the Seahawks, they won't have the benefit of criminally negligent play-calling from their opposition tomorrow as they did last weekend. This should be a tight, fun encounter between to evenly matched teams; the difference will be coaching/play-calling & with head coach Sean McVay leading that area of the game, it gives the Rams a decided advantage over the Cowboys.
Prediction: Rams win as Cowboys coach Jason Garrett sets a new NFL record for claps per minute in a playoff game.
New England Patriots vs. Los Angeles Chargers @ New England – Monday 7.05am
Ugh, now the tug of war between head and heart begins. Surely making this about numbers solves this though right? Right?! Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is 0-4 in Foxborough and 0-7 vs the Pats when Tom Brady starts. However, this season, when the numbers really matter, LA went 7-1 on the road, including last week against the Ravens. To turn that around though, the Pats are unbeaten at home this season. I really want to find a way to not take New England. I really do. They have been so average and so underwhelming, but this is when Brady tends to shine. The difference in this game is going to be the pass rush. How do the Chargers manage the likes of Julian Edelman and let's be honest, a broken Rob Gronkowski.
Prediction: I hate myself for it, but I'll go Pats to come from behind and win by 3. Either that or they capitulate and I get borderline abusive texts from my colleagues.
CR: The Patriots are the annual benefactors of being part of the league's weakest division – the New York Jets haven't made the playoffs since 2010, while the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills have each made the playoffs once in the last decade. But while they've been unconvincing through most of the season, don't count them out. Tom Brady knows how to win and they've shored up what was a sketchy defence. That said, I think the Chargers will have too much firepower for the Pats and being on the road won't be enough to stop them.
Prediction: Chargers win by six points or more. Tom Brady gets sacked at least twice.
MP: The AFC road always seems to go through New England doesn't it? Picture this - the Patriots have had a 9 years in a row with a first round bye.... isn't that ridiculous in a sport that prides itself on an even playing field with draft picks and trades. I like the Chargers this season though; I like them a lot. Yhey have a tidy enough defence with plenty of threats and a trusty offence that has found good form at the right time of the year.
Prediction: Give me the Chargers by 1.
NY: I'm going to waste your time with a long winded diagnosis of this game. I don't like the Patriots; never have, never will and I hope the Chargers absolutely crush them!
Prediction: My dislike of the Patriots will not change throughout the course of this game.
New Orleans Saints vs Philadelphia Eagles @ New Orleans – Monday 10.40am
Really Philly?! Really?! You're still here stinking up the place?! The Saints are rightly so the Super Bowl favourites, as is quarterback Drew Brees for MVP. They also boast the number two rush defence and play in a dome. Should be simple right? Yet the Eagles are still in this, mainly thanks to quarterback Nick Foles just being a freak and winning nine of 10 starts.
Prediction: Saints should win comfortably, but let's be honest, Nick Foles will probably try sneak the Eagles home again - New Orleans in a tight one.
CR: First let me vent my frustrations that the Chicago Bears are not in this match. What looked set to be a can't-miss showdown between one of the league-leading defences and a lead-leading offence is now simply a question of how much the Saints win by. Credit where credit's due – it was a hell of a play by the eagles to get fingers on Chicago's attempted match-winning field goal, but the Saints will be far too good for them in this one.
Prediction: Saints win by 10 or more. Alvin Kamara scores the first touchdown; Drew Brees throws for 250+ yards.
MP: The Eagles go no further; you will not be saved by a late missed field goal this week. The Saints, behind MVP favourite quarterback Drew Brees, will put up a big score this week at home. The Saints are a well rested and determined team who know the clock is ticking on Drew Brees and his ability to win another Super Bowl. This is the season they will at least make the big dance.
Prediction: Saints win by 13.
NY: There are certain inter-conference match-ups that make you wish teams from the same conference could meet in the final game &/or series of the NBA/NFL/MLB/NHL season and this is one of them. These two teams match up really, really well and suspect it could take more than the allotted one hour of regulation play to decide it. I still think the Saints are the team to beat this post-season and as such back them to get the job done.
Prediction: Two big plays in the closing moments by Drew Brees gets the Saints home.
Christopher Reive (3/4)
- Colts, Rams, Chargers, Saints
Alex Chapman (2/4)
- Chiefs, Rams, Patriots, Saints
Marc Peard (2/4)
- Chiefs, Cowboys, Chargers, Saints
Nigel Yalden (1/4)
- Colts, Rams, Chargers, Saints