Four of the final seven games of the 2018 NFL season will take place this weekend, and the home teams are favored by between four and eight points in each of those games. And while only five of the last 20 divisional playoff games have been won by road teams coming off wild-card victories, the reality is all four of these road ‘dogs have a serious shot at pulling off upsets on Saturday and Sunday.
Three reasons why the Indianapolis Colts can beat the Kansas City Chiefs
1. The Chiefs are snakebitten: They’re 1-4 in playoff games under Andy Reid, they’ve lost six consecutive playoff games at Arrowhead dating back to 1994, and they blew a 28-point lead to Andrew Luck and the Colts in the playoffs just five years ago.
2. Patrick Mahomes is making his first career NFL start: And it’s coming against a defense that has surrendered a league-low 15.5 points per game since Week 7. Mahomes might be the MVP, but he isn’t exactly immune to mistakes, and fellow young stars Jared Goff, Deshaun Watson, Mitchell Trubisky, and Lamar Jackson all recently struggled in their first career playoff starts.
3. The Colts match up well with the Chiefs: Indy just rushed for 200 yards against the league’s top run defense in terms of DVOA. Now, it faces the league’s 32nd-ranked run defense in that category. And while the one thing the Chiefs do well on defense is record sacks, Luck had the lowest qualified sack rate in the league this season.
Four reasons why the Dallas Cowboys can beat the Los Angeles Rams
1. The Rams struggled late in the year, while Dallas is on fire: Goff just wasn’t the same quarterback in December, and he really hasn’t been right since losing reliable target Cooper Kupp to a season-ending knee injury in November. It doesn’t help that running back Todd Gurley hasn’t been healthy, either. Meanwhile, the Cowboys have lost just once since receiving a wake-up call in a weird Monday night loss to the Titans in Week 9. They’re rolling on both sides of the ball.
2. The Rams went 2-3 against fellow NFC playoff teams during the regular season: Their only victories came by tiny margins over the Seahawks, who Dallas just beat in the wild-card round. The Rams feasted on bad opponents, but against teams that were 7-9 or better they went 6-3 with an average margin of victory of 0.5 points.
3. The Cowboys are 8-1 at home and 3-5 on the road, but this might feel like a home game: After all, Southern California is basically the Cowboys’ second home. They have a huge fan base throughout the country, while the Rams are still re-establishing themselves in Los Angeles. This game wasn’t sold out early in the week, and the peeps at Vivid Seats expect nearly a third of the L.A. Coliseum crowd to be pro-Cowboy.
4. The Cowboys match up well with the Rams: They have the league’s best running game, while Los Angeles ranked dead-last in the NFL with a 5.1 yards-per-rush average on defense. They have a strong enough offensive line to at least keep Aaron Donald in check some of the time, and a defense that manhandled Seattle’s No. 1 running game should be able to limit Gurley’s damage — putting a hell of a lot of pressure on the shaky Goff.
Four reasons why the Los Angeles Chargers can beat the New England Patriots
1. The Chargers travel extremely well: They’re 9-0 when getting on a plane this year, and under second-year head coach Anthony Lynn they’re 7-2 when traveling to or beyond the Eastern time zone. The only losses came by one score each last season against the eventual AFC championship participants Jacksonville and New England. Since putting up a fight in that matchup with the Pats at Gillette Stadium, L.A. has gotten better and the Patriots have seemingly regressed.
2. The Patriots haven’t been themselves: Tom Brady’s numbers declined immensely as the 41-year-old finally started to show his age in 2018, while Rob Gronkowski is sadly a shell of his former self. New England won just four of its last seven games, while the Chargers are 12-2 in their last 14 outings.
3. Everyone knows the key to beating Brady and the Pats is to get a natural pass-rush without blitzing: And that’s exactly what Gus Bradley’s defense was tailor-made to do. Melvin Ingram is on fire, and Joey Bosa is a beast. That talented Bolts D has given up an AFC-low 17.4 points per game since the start of October
4. Read the Vegas tea leaves: This marks only the second time in the last 14 years the Pats have been favored by four or fewer points at home in the playoffs. The only other occasions? A 33-14 wild-card loss to the Baltimore Ravens back in 2009.
Three reasons why the Philadelphia Eagles can beat the New Orleans Saints
1. Nick Foles: The guy has been spectacular in four consecutive playoff victories dating back to last year, and he’s the highest-rated passer in playoff history among 74 quarterbacks with at least 150 attempts.
2. While the Eagles have won six of their last seven games, the Saints offense has disappeared: A unit that averaged an NFL-best 37.2 points per game during the first 12 weeks of the season scored just 19.0 points per outing in the last five weeks of the year. The Saints have performed well defensively, but so have the Eagles despite injuries in the secondary. In fact, Philly has easily taken care of Aaron Donald, J.J. Watt, and Khalil Mack in the last four weeks. Don’t underestimate Jim Schwartz’s fierce wide-nine defensive front.
3. The Eagles appear to be pissed that the Saints may have piled on in their lopsided regular-season meeting:
Jason Peters on how he felt after the Week 11 Saints loss: “They ran up the score. We wanted them again, we got them again. This time, we comings. It’s not going to be the same outcome.” #Eagles
— Zack Rosenblatt (@ZackBlatt) January 7, 2019