NFL Divisional Round preview: Picks for each game as postseason continues

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady can lift his team to an eighth consecutive AFC title game with a win Sunday.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady can lift his team to an eighth consecutive AFC title game with a win Sunday. Photo Credit: Abrams ComicArts

No more free passes in these NFL playoffs. This weekend’s Divisional Round matchups feature the league’s elite eight, all playing for the right to vie for a conference championship next weekend.

Among the remaining league powers are both teams from last year’s Super Bowl: the Eagles and Patriots. Additionally, both Los Angeles teams are two wins away from meeting in the big game; the city didn’t even have an NFL team as recently as 2015.

Read on for a glance at each matchup, as well as predicted winners.

Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs (4:35 p.m. Sat.)

Not long ago, Andrew Luck was the hot young quarterback poised to take over the league. He was on the verge of doing so before several seasons of shoulder trouble hampered his progress. Now, he’s back to his old self and leading a surging Indianapolis team that can give any opponent problems.

His Kansas City counterpart, Patrick Mahomes, is everything Luck was expected to be. He tossed 50 touchdowns and surpassed 5,000 yards through the air in his first season as the Chiefs’ starter.

But K.C. has a long history of postseason disappointment, and they lost momentum with a 3-3 close to the season. Still, the Chiefs (12-4) possess enough firepower to outgun the visiting Colts (11-6) and reach their first AFC Championship Game in 25 years.

Pick: Chiefs

Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams (8:15 p.m. Sat.)

Perhaps the team with the most balance on both sides of the ball, the Rams (13-3) are just as capable of shutting out opposing offenses (Week 2 against the Arizona Cardinals) as they are posting more than 50 points (Week 11 against the Chiefs). Possessing perhaps the league’s top running back, Todd Gurley, and NFL sack leader, Aaron Donald, goes hand in hand with that.

But don’t sleep on Dallas. The Cowboys (11-6) could ride running back Ezekiel Elliott to victory and take advantage of one of Los Angeles’ weaknesses. It worked in last week’s 24-22 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

The odds aren’t in the Boys’ favor here. The Rams possess too much talent throughout the roster, and they should assert their dominance in Los Angeles with a convincing victory.

Pick: Rams

Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots (1:05 p.m. Sun.)

The other L.A. team won’t be in SoCal. Just the opposite; the Chargers (13-4) will visit freezing New England one week after holding off the Ravens in Baltimore. While playing in the cold is no picnic, quarterback Philip Rivers has proved he can win in such climates.

The Patriots (11-5) faced a relatively smooth road to the No. 2 AFC seed. However, they beat the Colts and Chiefs in consecutive weeks in October, asserting they remain a force in the conference. Still, all-time great QB Tom Brady began to look quite mortal as December wore on.

If the Pats are to reach their eighth consecutive AFC title game, they’ll need vintage Brady to overcome a talented Chargers defense. Regardless, look for Los Angeles to outfox coach Bill Belichick and New England in an upset.

Pick: Chargers

Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints (4:40 p.m. Sun.)

The Saints (13-3) are juggernauts at home. Quarterback Drew Brees, in an MVP-level campaign, led his team to a 6-1 record in New Orleans this year — he sat out the season finale. When he led the franchise to its first Super Bowl title nine years ago, they won a pair of home games to get to that point.

Philadelphia, the reigning champs, dramatically knocked off the Bears in Chicago last weekend to set up the matchup. If the last two years have illustrated anything, it’s that these Eagles (10-7) cannot be counted out. 

If any team is going to march into Louisiana and steal one on the road, it’s this underdog Philly group. But, with Brees perhaps on the path to leave the game on top, it’s going to take more than a scrappy bunch to detail this train. New Orleans should cruise.

Pick: Saints