NFL Divisional Round Game Previews

Last week in the game previews, I also gave some game predictions. Although I thought deep down inside the Cowboys would win, I didn’t pick them because they’re the NFC equivalent to the Patriots* – we can’t stand them. The other game I got wrong was the Bears. That was a shocker. Not so much the loss, but not using Khalil Mack to get after an injured Nick Foles.

This week, let’s take a look at the divisional rounds. Every once in a while, two teams face off that the seeding is wanky, this year there are two – the Colts and Chargers. Both had early losses which landed them here and while on paper, usually you’d want to face a 5 or 6 seed, in these two cases, not so much.

SATURDAY

6 Seed Colts (10-6) vs 1 Seed Chiefs (12-4) 4:35 NBC

Referee Crew

John Hussey ref crew

No Walt Anderson for any team this weekend, so they should be cheering (except he is an alternate for this match-up so pray no one gets sick). Offensively, these teams aren’t that far off, especially if you look at the last month, not the first. Defensively, they’re worlds apart.

On offense, you have the veteran QB vs the newbie and the better defense vs the putrid. What Kansas City has going for them is home field advantage. Arrowhead stadium is LOUD. Arrowhead will be cold, snowy/rainy and miserable. Arrowhead on a good day for an outdoor team is a struggle, for a traveling dome team, it’s got to be counted as a 12th and 13th man.

I did see the Colts were outside practicing a little bit in their own nasty weather, so at least they’re trying to get ready. However, this will be their first snow game and it can’t be ignored. In poor conditions, throwing is usually kept to a minimum and the run game rules. This is where Indianapolis can gain some ground, their rushing attack was mediocre; however, over the last month, Marlon Mack and co have turned it on, while KC without Hunt has lost a lot of ground.

If teams go to the air, it’ll be up to the best defensive scheme and I don’t see KC’s man working well when trying to cover guys in a tough to see sky and slippery field.

This is bad news for KC who is ranked 29th with 19 rushing TD’s allowed and 132 yards per game. Indy is ranked 10th with 12 TDs and slightly over 100 yards. Marlon Mack was the leader last weekend in yards, plus he had a TD. This isn’t a good match-up for KC who would’ve had a chance to cream the Ravens or Texans.

Obviously, when it comes to Total points scored and TDs thrown, the Chiefs are leading with 50 TDs and 35 points per game, with Indy in second having 39 TD’s and 27 points per game. However, Luck’s short game is better than Mahones and that will be a big deal this week.

An area Kansas has better defensive stats is in the sack department with 52 compared to Indianapolis’ 38. However, the Colts have allowed a league low of 18 sacks, so something has to give. Mahones was sacked 26 times. When it comes total defense, Indy is 11th, and 10th in points allowed (21.5). KC is 31st in total and 24th in points allowed (26.30).

When it comes to defending the pass, Mahones may have a long day, Indy is tied for third in only giving up 21, but KC is 22nd with 30. As far as stopping the run, the Colts are 10th allowing 12 TD’s and the Chiefs are 29th with 19. The question is, what happens when a team that is tied for third least passing TD’s meets a team that is first in throwing them? KC gains 35 points a game, but Indy allows 21.

Indy gains 27 a game, while KC allows 26.  In bad conditions, will Mahones with Travis Kelce in the short (safe) passing game do slightly better than Andrew Luck and Eric Ebron? No one on the Colts defense can keep up with Tyreek Hill, but in a bad weather game, nature may even things out by negating the deep pass and his chance to streak away for a score.

I like the chances of Indy’s DL vs Mahanoes’ OL more than KC’s vs’s Indy OL. This game will come down to the run game and defense in bad weather – that’s Andrew Luck and Marlon Mack with some doses of TE’s. More than anything though, in a tight clash, I’m not sold on Andy Reid and his clock management skills.

4 Seed Cowboys (10-6) vs 3 Seed Rams (13-3) 8:15 FOX

Referee Crew

john parry referree crew

I don’t watch a lot of NFC games and never seek out the Cowboys, but since the NFL has anointed them, I’ve watched enough to know that the Rams have two jobs if they want to win: stop Zeke and protect Goff.

Dak Prescott needs everything perfect to win, remove one item and he can’t carry this team and I don’t think Jason Garret can, either. I’m not so sure Jared Goff is all that great with missing pieces, either, so this match-up should be a fun defensive one to watch.

Can Wade Philips and his squad draw up some plays to confuse Dak and keep him in the pocket? Prescott on the run is pretty good, in the pocket against good coverage? Not so much, his passes become wild too much of the time.

Not to mention, he’s among the worst for sacks being his fault (56 of them!). Dallas’s front seven is pretty dang good and could see them giving Todd Gurley fits, which in turn will force Goff to throw more. In a throwing match-up, I’ll take the Cali dude, his 10 more touchdowns and better accuracy.

Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliot should be the stars of the game…or why one team loses because whichever defense shuts down the run game, wins. The Rams give up more yards than Dallas, but they’re tied in scores allowed at 22 a piece. To be honest, I’m not sure if that’s due to LA’s goal line stance or teams decided to throw in the red zone instead since they stunk at defending passing TD’s. Maybe getting Aqib Talib back in form will help (please).

Meanwhile, Dallas has allowed ten less, so this will be a clash that LA could find itself on the wrong side of. However, when it comes to interceptions, the Rams are killing it and that is very bad news for Prescott. He’s pretty safe with the ball, but this could force him to be more cautious which means a slower release and more chance for sacks.

IF LA can keep him contained. LA has 41 sacks which could equal a very bruised Dak. A better defense facing a better passer on one side with a worse quarterback and worse defense on the other side. This could even out the passing side and as I said above, becomes a run game duel. If that’s the case, I’ll take the team with better rushing stats, more sacks and more interceptions.

SUNDAY GAMES

5 Seed Chargers (12-4) vs 2 Seed Patriots* 1:05 CBS

Referee Crew

ron torbert ref crew

My dearest Ron, America begs on its knees for you to go against every stat in New England and please call a fair game. Amen. The snow Patriot* fans were hoping for isn’t coming. The weather forecast shows sunny and around 25. Not ideal for a warm weather team, but there won’t be winds, so that helps.

Based on the weather, we should see both sides play fairly close to what we’ve seen on offense. My guess is both quarterbacks will play a bit cautious as turnovers will be in their mind. Tom Brady‘s arm lacks the juice it once had, don’t get me wrong, he can still make deadly throws, but he’s tossing far more, what was that?, balls than before.

As far as Philip Rivers, he’s a gunslinger at heart. Taming that (like we saw vs the Ravens) will be a game plan I’m guessing. Let their better defense and close run game lead the way. While NE* does have more yards, their yards per carry are lower and the touchdowns are only two more than LA’s no doubt due to the absence of Melvin Gordon. I’d say these two are about equal in this department.

When it comes to passing, both teams are also very close. Rivers has three more touchdowns. Where the two differ is LA’s offensive line is offensive, they’ve allowed 34 sacks and unlike in places like Houston and Dallas, it’s not on him, they just aren’t good.

That is the key for NE* (in a fair called game), abuse the OL. Of course, the same is true for Brady*, not that his OL stinks, they don’t, but he struggles when pressure is his face. LA has two really good pass rushers, but Gus Bradley will need to find creative ways with some stunts to send them through the A and B gaps, not just the C’s. Or send Joey Bosa up the middle with Melvin Ingram screeching around the edge. Whatever it takes to disrupt Brady*. Rivers is better used to pressure in his face, so for him, they’ll need to actually sack him.

The key to this game is turnovers. The Chargers haven’t been very good in the differential, but the Pat’s have been and maybe last week was a trial run of how much LA can get away with without passing. Anyway, as I wrote, both QB’s are pretty close with Rivers a tad better. Including last week, they are 8-1 on the road and that’s huge. If they make it to the Super Bowl, that will weigh heavily in their favor no matter who they face. The Saints would be the worst though.

The Chargers have 38 sacks, 13 interceptions, have given up 23 passing TD’s, 228 air yards and 11 rushing. New England* has 30 sacks, 18 interceptions, allowed 29 passing TDs, 246 air yards per game and seven rushing touchdowns. In total, NE* gave up 2 more TD’s. This also is close.

Overall, the Chargers are ranked 9th in defense to the Patriots’ 21st, but when it comes to stopping scores (not including kicking ones) they’re really close. Only .3 per game separates them. We’re talking 4 points for the season.

HOWEVER, when you look at their DVOA’s, the Chargers are better – DVOA takes into consideration the teams they played. With all this said, it’s going to be a close game. Hopefully, LA learned last week that if you’re ahead a bunch, don’t take the foot off the gas and NE* is the most lethal to pounce when a team does.

If LA plays a clean game, limits mistakes and pressures Brady* all game they win. If they commit dumb penalties, they lose, that’s how close these teams are.

6 Seed Eagles (9-7) vs 1 Seed Saints (13-3) FOX

carl cheffers ref crew

This game does have the right ranking, the Eagles are the worst of the NFC teams that got in and the Rams, the best. Even so, it’s tough to say this will be a blow-out only because Philadelphia has a way of doing the impossible.

In my predictions above, I picked the most balanced teams to win. Going with that again. The Saints are far and away a better team; however, when it comes to scores against them, Philly isn’t that far behind.

Against the pass, both defenses stink. I can see Drew Brees and Nick Foles having a bunch of air yards. To note though is the Saints have given up eight more passing touchdowns. This game is inside and that will help Foles.

When it comes to stopping the run, New Orleans is a little better, that might not matter much, both teams are keeping offenses under 100 yards. Where the Saints have the run away stats is for that – the run. 26 rushing TD’s, 126 yards a game and 4.3 per rush.

That’s the game right there. If the Eagles can’t stop the run, they’re done. The Eagles are only averaging 98 yards a game, so there’s no break out chance for them in this category – they’re facing a decent run stop team.

If the Eagles want to win, they’re going to need to pass and pass often. When it comes to TD’s they only have four less. They may need to pass because of time of possession. If the Saints go with the run heavy game with short passes, they’ll use up the clock.

To counter that, Philly will need to run more hurry up unless they score first. If they can get a TD up first, now they can be more balanced, but with only 12 rushing touchdowns, not sure how.

Since this game is in the Saints’ dome, crowd noise will make the Eagles go silent snap count and I’m not so sure about that success because getting the defensive line to jump will be tougher. Little things like that will matter. I’m going with the run game and Drew Brees.

NFL Wild Card game predictions.

NFL Wild Card game predictions
Here it is, the first week of playoffs and while the Jaguars aren’t in it, the best teams, are. Instead of doing an AFCS game preview, this will replace that with my NFL Wild Card game predictions.

SATURDAY 4:35 ESPN

6th Seed Colts (10-6) vs 3rd Seed Texans (11-5)

This is a home game for Houston, they have a better record and therefore should get the nod. I disagree. Indy has a better offense, slightly better defense, much better passing and about even rushing.
In the cold of January, that rushing stat would be worrisome, but the Texans play in a dome, as do the Colts. Which means, passing and defense is what will matter more – for this game.
Houston’s defense only allows 19.8 points a game, while Indy gives up 21.5. Against QB’s, Houston is 13th and Indy 16th in total QBR. I look at this number because it shows how they did in allowing completions. The real eye opener though is how many each allowed in passing TD’s and for Indy it was only 21, for the Texans is was 28.
The Colts score 27.1 a game and the Texans 25.1.
Against the rush, Houston is third in TD’s allowed, while Indy is 10th. Both teams have the same interceptions, but Houston has five more sacks. Since the Colts have protected Luck the best in the league, the big advantage goes to Indy since Deshaun Watson has been creamed the most.
Away teams tend to do far worse in the playoffs than the home teams, usually it’s because the home team earned it by being better. In this case, Indy got off to a slow start because they have a new head coach and had a rusty QB. Both are now clicking. I chose Indy by 6.

8:15 FOX

5th Seed Seahawks (10-6) vs 4th Cowboys (10-6)

Lord, I don’t like Dallas and can’t be objective when looking at stats. Nine is the number that matters. That’s how many rushing TD’s Seattle has allowed. In the red zone, they’re keeping teams out of the end zone.
Dallas’ offense is wrapped around Zeke Elliot and the run game. Take him away and stick a dagger in their heart, their defense be damned.
Seattle allows one more point a game than Dallas and that’s coming from the pass. They’re not great against it, but when it comes to tossing them, they’ve got Dallas beat by 13 TD’s.
Dallas has to find a way to keep up in scoring in order to win. They lag by 5 points per game, hence nine is the key. Nine means the Seahawks have had games with zero rushing TD’s allowed. Do that vs Dallas and you’ve got a big win for Seattle.
In my subjective view point, Seattle plays bend don’t break defense while Dallas plays more flashy, that can get them into trouble. And FYI, Seattle has more rushing TD’s than Dallas. 15 to 13. My prediction, Seahawks by 7 because Dak Prescott will be strip sacked.

SUNDAY 1:05 CBS

5th Seed Chargers (12-4) vs 4th Seed Ravens (10-6)

LA has a big thing going for them, they travel well. 7-1 to be exact which means they aren’t afraid of playing in loud stadiums, plus they have shown time changes don’t bother them, either. In their first match-up, offensive penalties killed them. This is an area to see if it was cleaned up – it’ll go to coaching.
The Chargers have to stop the run, which they’re not bad at, but they’re going to need to be great. Baltimore is number 3rd at the run TD’s, so not a good match-up.
Against the pass, Baltimore is second in QBR and LA is 9th. Both teams on total defense is top ten. Offense is where the gap is.
When it comes to points on the board, LA has scored almost twice as many TD’s. So, this game is about slowing Rivers through the air and stopping the Ravens on the ground. Kind of funny that rivers run on the ground and ravens fly through the air but each team is the reverse. Yes, I’m goofy.
In January (outside), the run game and defense, win. No one is really talking up the Charger’s run game, but they have three less TD’s than Baltimore and more yards per carry and that’s with Melvin Gordon missing time. Both defenses have given up 11 rushing TD’s.
Baltimore keeps points to 17.9 a game while LA scores 26.8. Baltimore is scoring 24.3, while LA gives up 20.6. Based on just this, LA wins by a FG in a slug fest.

4:40 NBC

6th Seed Eagles (9-7) vs 3rd Seed Bears (12-4)

The Eagles are the feel good team this season, once Nick Foles came in and won. The difference between this season and last is one, teams have now seen enough of him in this offense to know him and two, da Bears.
When it comes to consistency, I’ll take Foles over Mitch Trubisky, but Matt Nagy has found a way to scheme around him and it works. Plus, Chicago has 50 sacks. I don’t think Nick or that OL is ready for Khalil Mack.
Where the two teams are equal is on defending the pass for the score. Both have allowed 22. This opens the door for the quarterbacks to have a decent day provided they don’t get creamed, first. However, Chicago has intercepted the pass an amazing 27 times, needless to say, that’s very bad for Foles. His mental game must be on high alert.
Foles’ total QBR is ranked lower middle, Trubisky is ranked third. Which shows he makes plays even in his inconsistency and that’s what matters. Not to mention, Nick has bruised ribs – against a team with 50 sacks. I’m not seeing a happy ending for the fairytale.
Philadelphia has done better as the season wore on, their defense found its legs, but they’re not a top team and on the road in Chicago, I predict da Bears by 14. This is my one blow-out game.

The thing is…why the Jacksonville Jaguars may not draft a quarterback.

why the Jacksonville Jaguars may not draft a quarterback

Most of us would LOVE a shiny new toy at quarterback, one the franchise can have for twenty years. Of course, that’s my gut and heart wishing…then the cold-hearted logic side of the brain kicks in and throws icy water all over the happy party. There are three (or four) reasons why the Jacksonville Jaguars may not draft a quarterback.

First, none of the rookie candidates are setting the world on fire. One could say Dwayne Haskins is the most well-rounded and best choice; he’s the right size, accurate, mobile, and played for a top school. But then, so have a slew of other college QB’s who didn’t pan out. The main reason: they often don’t need to call plays in a huddle, be a leader, diagnosis defenses…exhibit the mental side of the game that makes the difference.

This leads to why drafting quarterbacks is difficult. A franchise should have a guy who is methodical, can march his team down the field, played against defenses that are tough, and played in a pro-system because it shows he can handle a huddle. He must make pinpoint throws and lead his receiver.

Let’s say this guy is found so everything is peachy now, right? Not really. A franchise must also have a good offensive line AND a run game, because no matter how smart the rookie is, the NFL will be faster than what he knows and that requires time to think and help to carry the load.

Without that, you have a guy more focused on avoiding getting hit instead of reading defenses and working on his pocket presence.

Next, does he have the right scheme and coaches? Does the general manager and the coaches want the same things and are on the same page? Often quarterbacks drafted high aren’t busts, they merely landed on teams where the above answers were “no”.

Coaching is Everything.

To keep this brief, let’s jump to a biggest factor that seems to be overlooked by those weighing in: weapons.

Jacksonville doesn’t have any – skill positions on offense that can give a rookie quarterback confidence to make iffy throws because his tight end or wide receiver has good hands.

The Jaguars ranked first in dropped passes. Some of that can go to the passer, but some of it is lack of talent. That must change, Jax has to draft guys with good hands, including a running back that can catch.

The logic could be: “Great, let’s draft a quarterback plus the above and have them grow together!” Sounds perfect in theory. However, the reality is, WR’s and TE’s rarely, and I mean rarely, do well as rookies. The reason is because of the stem route, and the best way for rookies to grasp that is a veteran signal caller.

(If you want to learn more about stem routes and why they’re so important, click the link.)

If Dede Westbrook and a slew of rookies is all he has, he’s going to be in a tough spot. It’ll be the blind leading the blind. We saw that already with Blake Bortles, Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee.

A good veteran quarterback can help receivers and tight ends get better. They know the playbook well, know defensive schemes, often know the players they’re facing. He can give tips to his guys, be their guide on the field. That won’t happen with a rookie QB.

Rookies are at the mercy of his OC and his center. Yes, the center. I’ve written two articles about the OL, one simple and one more detailed. You can find them under offense. The entire Jaguars OL went down this season, leading to all the backups playing. IF the OL can stay healthy all season, a rookie QB will be ok in that department; if not, he’s in big trouble.

The Jaguars, knowing they need a slew of help on offense, may choose to sign a veteran and develop the skill guys so that in a year or two they can draft a quarterback into a team that has experienced players to help him. This would show that Dave Caldwell learned a lesson.

The flip side could be sign (pay) for veteran skill players and draft the rookie. The downfall to that is…the Jaguars will have a new offensive coaching staff.

For the future, it might be best if this new staff has a vet under center that they don’t need to babysit while they work on rookies. Doing this will set up the future so when they draft, that guy has a smooth functioning offense, one easier to learn behind.

  • a rookie needs a good OL
  • weapons
  • coaching stability
  • vets to help him learn

Until all those boxes are checked, the Jacksonville Jaguars may not draft a quarterback.