I’m not going to waste any time getting to the picks and predictions for the Divisional Round of the 2018-19 NFL playoffs. To be honest, I just watched the Celtics get throttled in Miami, and now I’m too bummed to write anything long and drawn out.
But before I get to the picks, allow me to say this real quick:
Just like Bill Simmons, the founder and CEO of The Ringer and one of my biggest inspirations as a sports writer, my goal every January is to go 11-0 against the spread in the NFL playoffs. It’s the ultimate, unattainable dream; something that I strive for every January even though I’m terrible at picking games against the spread (the biggest reason why I never actually bet any money on NFL games — I’d be broke and living on the street after just one season).
With that being said, how did I kick off the playoffs during the Wild Card Round last weekend? I went 1-3 against the spread, only correctly picking the Colts to cover in Houston. I came close with the Dallas-Seattle game, until Russell Wilson decided to hit J.D. McKissic with a seven-yard touchdown in the final two minutes, then added a two-point conversion to make it a two-point game and cover the 2.5-point spread.
And that was just on Saturday. On Sunday, I took both the Ravens and the Bears at home — just in time for Lamar Jackson to crumble under the playoff spotlight against the Chargers, and for Cody Parkey to double-doink the Bears right into the offseason. Not a very good week for me.
So, since I’m currently 1-3 and the 11-0 goal is out the window until next year, AND because every single one of this weekend’s games feel like they could be very close and tightly-contested, I’m going all in on the underdogs to cover this weekend.
You heard me correctly. There are four games, and I’m picking four underdogs. What have I got to lose at this point? My season is already shot.
And now, for the Divisional Round picks…
(Home teams in caps, and lines courtesy of OddsShark.com)
Colts (+5.5) over CHIEFS
Kansas City is the more talented team. The Chiefs had nothing short of a stellar regular season. Patrick Mahomes is the most electric quarterback in football, and will soon win the MVP award after just his first season as a starting quarterback in the NFL. Offensively, the Chiefs have what can be considered one of the league’s best supporting casts, with guys like wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. Additionally, Kansas City has arguably the league’s best home field advantage at Arrowhead Stadium, which is as loud of a venue as any.
And yet, you will be hard pressed to find a Chiefs fan that feels supremely confident in their team getting a win on Saturday. Kansas City’s defense is giving up 26 points per game, ninth most in the NFL. Andrew Luck, Marlon Mack and the red hot Colts, having won an incredible 10 of their last 11, have to be licking their chops.
Prediction: Colts 34, Chiefs 30
Cowboys (+7) over RAMS
It’s easy to look at the 2018 Cowboys on paper and only think of the names that immediately jump out at you: quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott, and wide receiver Amari Cooper. All three guys had pretty good seasons while wearing the Cowboy blue this year, but the biggest reason why Dallas won the NFC East and is considered a Super Bowl threat is because of their lethal defense.
No performance stands out more this season than when the Cowboys held Drew Brees and the Saints to just 10 points in Week 13, defeating New Orleans 13-10 at Jerry World. In last weekend’s wild card matchup, the Cowboys held the Seahawks, the NFL’s best rushing team in 2018, to just 73 yards.
If the Cowboys were playing this game at home, they would win and advance to their first NFC Championship Game since 1995. At AT&T Stadium, that defense seems nearly unbeatable, and Los Angeles has struggled on the road against good defensive teams.
At the L.A. Coliseum, however, Jared Goff will get the better of the Dallas defense by making a couple of really big throws late in the game. The Cowboys will put up a fight, but the Rams will survive and advance.
Prediction: Rams 23, Cowboys 21
Chargers (+4) over PATRIOTS
Don’t get me wrong; the Patriots are 8-0 at Gillette Stadium this year, and I don’t believe Tom Brady is packing it in after just one playoff game.
However, New England’s defense is too vulnerable for them to blow the Chargers out of the water this weekend — especially when Los Angeles is 8-1 in road games this season, including last week’s wild card victory in Baltimore. It’s a Foxboro tradition for the Patriots to play a cakewalk game in the divisional round, but that won’t be the case this year.
As I wrote earlier this week, Philip Rivers is playing for his legacy. He’s probably a future Hall of Famer, but he has never been able to win big games when it matters. That’s why this game is so intriguing; it may very well be Rivers’ last opportunity to prove the doubters wrong and show that he’s not a choker.
In the big picture, though, the Chargers are still playing Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at Gillette Stadium. When they are at home, they almost always find a way to win. It will be close, but they will find a way to get it done one more time.
Prediction: Patriots 20, Chargers 19
Eagles (+8) over SAINTS
Betting against Nick Foles in the playoffs is officially gambling suicide.
Last week, in a playoff game the Eagles should’ve lost to the Bears, Foles threw the go-ahead touchdown to Golden Tate with about minute left, and then Cody Parkey sealed Chicago’s fate by kicking the ball off both the upright and the crossbar (a game that will forever live in infamy as the Double-Doink Game). Once again, another heroic victory for Philly’s folk hero of a backup quarterback.
In late-season and postseason games, with Foles at quarterback, Philadelphia catches so many breaks that it just can’t lose. That’s why, as much as my mind tells me that the Saints should run away with this divisional game at home, I just can’t bet against Foles somehow, miraculously getting it done AGAIN.
The only thing I can picture is this: There is 1:30 remaining in the game, and New Orleans just took a four-point lead. Now, Foles is getting the ball back with 90 seconds on the clock, and everybody inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome is quaking with fear because they just know something insane is about to happen.
That’s what the Nick Foles experience has become, and I still don’t think I can believe it.
Prediction: Eagles 27, Saints 24
Last week: 1-3