After a wild opening round of the NFL postseason, don’t be surprised if things get even crazier in the divisional round.
For one, Nick Foles is still in the playoffs, and as we’ve all seen over the past year, pretty much every game he plays in ends up being crazy. The Cowboys are also still alive and this is a big week for them, because if they can beat the Rams, they’ll advance to the NFC title game for the first time since the 1995 season.
Although playoff games are nearly impossible to predict, we’re going to try and do it anyone by making eight bold predictions for the divisional round. Here’s how it’s going to work: Since there are four games on the schedule this weekend, we’ll be making two bold predictions for each game.
Remember, these are bold predictions only. If you’re looking for actual game picks, feel free to click here.
With that in mind, let’s get to the bold predictions.
Eight Bold Predictions for the Divisional Round
Indianapolis at Kansas City, 4:35 p.m. ET (NBC)
Bold prediction: Patrick Mahomes doesn’t throw a touchdown pass
These are called bold predictions, so we might as well start as bold as possible. After becoming just the third player in NFL history to throw at least 50 touchdown passes in a season, the prediction here is that Patrick Mahomes follows up his history-making regular season by throwing exactly zero in this game. During the 2018 season, there was only one game where Mahomes threw zero TD passes and that came against an AFC South team. In Week 5, the Jaguars defense won the battle with Mahomes (they kept him from throwing a TD pass) but lost the war, because the Chiefs won the game anyway, 30-14.
The Jags only gave up 17 TD passes the entire season, which was the second-best number in the NFL. Of course, the Colts weren’t too far behind that. During the regular season, Indy only surrendered 21 TD passes, which was tied for the third-best showing in the league. One other thing to keep in mind here is that this is Mahomes’ first playoff start and quarterbacks tend to struggle in their first start. Since 2013, quarterbacks have gone 4-15 in their first postseason start, which includes a record of 0-3 this year (Mitchell Trubisky, Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson all lost). That being said, of all the predictions on this list, I would rank this as the one most likely to blow up in my face.
Bold prediction: Colts score a season-high in points
If the Chiefs have one huge weakness going into this game, it’s their defense, which could end up being a huge problem. For one, the Chiefs surrendered 273.4 passing yards per game this season, which ranked 31st overall in the NFL (ahead of only the Bengals). Andrew Luck’s mouth has probably been watering this week at the thought of going up against Kansas City’s defense.
Even if the Chiefs somehow miraculously fix their problem in the secondary, their defense also gave up 5.0 yards per carry on the ground in 2018, which again, ranked 31st overall in the NFL (ahead of only the Rams). The Colts offense is probably going to have lot of confidence walking into Arrowhead Stadium, which means this game could turn into a shootout. To top their season-high in points, the Colts would need to score 43. Their highest number during the regular season was 42, which came in a 42-28 win over the Raiders back in Week 8.
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Dallas at Los Angeles Rams, 8:35 p.m. ET (Fox)
Bold prediction: Ezekiel Elliott rushes for 200 yards
Ezekiel Elliott gets a dream matchup this week and that’s because he gets to go up against a Rams defense that can’t seem to stop the run. During the 2018 season, the Rams gave up 5.1 yards per carry, which was the worst number in the NFL. The Cowboys will go into this game fully aware of that number and it won’t be surprising at all if Elliott gets 25 or more carries after a season where he finished as the NFL’s leading rusher with 1,434 yards.
If Elliott does hit the 200-yard mark, he would become just the fourth player ever to pull that off in a divisional playoff game. Coincidentally, two of the other three running backs to accomplish the feat did it while playing for the Rams, and one came in a Rams-Cowboys game. In January 1986, Eric Dickerson rushed for 248 yards in a 20-0 divisional playoff win over Dallas. During the 1975 season, Lawrence McCutcheon rushed for 202 yards in a win over the Cardinals. The only other running back hit the 200-yard mark in the divisional round was Ryan Grant, who did it with the Packers in January 2008.
Bold prediction: This game goes to overtime
The Cowboys should probably give some blood pressure medication out to everyone in Dallas before this game, because watching the Cowboys play in 2018 hasn’t been for the faint of heart. Of the Cowboys 17 games this season, including the playoffs, 13 of them have been decided by one score. The Cowboys also had two games go to overtime this year, which was tied for the second-most in the NFL (The Browns led the league with four overtime games). Basically, the Cowboys always seem to play in close games.
A big reason the Cowboys never get blown out is because of how the team is built. The defense has been rock solid this year, which makes it difficult to score a lot of points on them (The Cowboys only surrendered more than 30 points one time in 2018). Also, the offense loves to run the ball, which keeps the clock running, which means their opponent is getting fewer possessions, which means fewer opportunities to score. Not counting the Super Bowl, the NFL hasn’t had a playoff overtime game since the 2015 season, marking the longest span the NFL has gone without a playoff overtime game in more than 20 years (There were no OT games between 1994 and 1997). It seems like we’re due for an OT game and the Cowboys seem like the best chance for that to happen.
Sunday, January 13
Los Angeles Chargers at New England, 1:05 p.m. ET, CBS
Bold Prediction: Keenan Allen breaks the AFC divisional playoff record for most receptions
If you’ve ever watched the Chargers play, you may have noticed that there are certain games where Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen get so locked in that Rivers pretty much throws every single one his passes toward his star receiver. In 2018, there were five games where Allen had 10 or more targets, including the Chargers 33-30 win over the Steelers in Week 13 when Allen caught 14 passes for 148 yards. In that game, he was the target on 19 of Rivers’ 36 passes (Allen’s 14 receptions was tied for the third-highest total by any player in the NFL in 2018).
The AFC Divisional record for receptions in a game is 13, and coincidentally, that record is also held by a Chargers player. In January 1982, Kellen Winslow had 13 catches during a wild 41-38 overtime win over the Dolphins. Bills running back Thurman Thomas matched the record in January 1990 during a 34-30 loss to the Browns. With cold weather expected this Sunday in New England, the Patriots might not be expecting the Chargers to come out throwing the ball, which is exactly why it might makes sense for L.A. to do it.
Bold prediction: Rob Gronkowski catches two touchdown passes
If this were any other season, this probably wouldn’t be too bold of a prediction, but in 2018, this qualifies as bold, because Gronk just had one of the worst years of his career. If Gronk were to catch two touchdown passes against the Chargers, that would nearly equal his touchdown total from the entire 2018 season (He caught exactly three touchdowns during the regular season).
If you watched Gronk play in 2018, it was pretty clear why he was mulling retirement after the Super Bowl last season and that’s because his body seems to be pretty beat up after taking a pounding from NFL defenses for nine straight seasons. The advantage for Gronk going into this game is that the Patriots had a bye week during the wild-card round, which means Gronk got an extra week to recover from the beating he took in 2018. The prediction here is that a refreshed Gronk scores at least two touchdowns against Chargers, although it won’t be easy, because L.A.’s defense only surrendered five touchdown passes to opposing tight ends all season.
Philadelphia at New Orleans, 4:40 p.m. ET (Fox)
Bold prediction: Nick Foles throws two more TD passes than Drew Brees
If we’re going to make bold predictions here, we might as well make one about Nick Foles, because at this point, any prediction involving him basically has a 50 percent chance of happening no matter what that prediction is. If this game turns into a shootout, the only way the Eagles are going to be able to stay in it is if Foles goes off, and there’s no reason to think that can’t happen. In the NFC title game last year, Foles threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns. He also threw for 373 yards and three touchdowns against the Patriots. If Foles can hit the four-touchdown mark against the Saints, he’ll have a chance of making this prediction happen. Although Brees is known to put up big numbers, he sometimes loses touchdown passes to his running backs — Alvin Kamara Mark Ingram — who are able to run it in from nearly anywhere on the field.
Bold prediction: This will be the highest-scoring game of the divisional round
The last time these two teams met, the Eagles only score seven points, but we can go ahead and throw that result out the window, because Nick Foles wasn’t the quarterback in that game. If we’ve learned one thing about Foles over the past 12 months, it’s that you should never bet against him, and although the Eagles are a huge underdog in New Orleans, there’s no reason to think that Foles can’t go touchdown-for-touchdown with Drew Brees and the Saints offense.
There were only eight games in the entire NFL this season where two teams combined for 80 or more points and the Saints played in three of them. As for Philly, two of the Eagles three highest-scoring games of the season came with Foles as their quarterback. The prediction here is that this is the highest-scoring game of the weekend, slightly edging the Colts-Chiefs game. And just in case you’re wondering, the most points ever scored in a playoff game is 96, which happened during the 2009 season when Cardinals edged the Packers 51-45 in overtime.