I’m back again for another week of playoff football. And for those of you who read last week’s column and thought I’d gone soft, this week’s offering has a bit more bite.
As I predicted, there were upsets galore in the first week of this year’s playoffs. The LA Bolts and Indianapolis wins did not surprise me. Dallas and Dak Prescott impressed me, and Nick Foles-led Philly just refuses to lose playoff games. All in all, it made for an interesting and entertaining weekend of football. For this week, I’m expecting at least one more big upset, but I wouldn’t rule out more, as some of these underdogs looked really sharp last week, while the top teams look very beatable. For my money, this weekend’s slate looks like it has a lot to offer. So here’s hoping for more great action, and less garbage officiating like we saw in the LA/Baltimore game (early frontrunner for worst officiated game of the postseason).
And now, this week’s picks:
Indianapolis at Kansas City
Patrick Mahomes is THE great story of this season. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching him play, his attitude is refreshing, his smile, infectious. He is, without a doubt, the MVP this season, so take your nostalgia-tour-Drew-Brees-MVP talk and shove it. Unfortunately, Mahomes plays for Kansas City, a franchise I despise. Drafting Tyreek Hill, so shortly removed as it was from the Jovan Belcher tragedy, was a prime example of an NFL team valuing athletic talent above all else. The Kareem Hunt fiasco reinforces the idea that something is seriously wrong with the culture surrounding this franchise. Racist chanting and gesturing by tens-of-thousands of racists, a staple of KC home games, is unpleasant to say the least (And I don’t want to hear weak-ass arguments like “It’s just good clean fun,” or “It’s not meant to be offensive,” or “But it’s tradition.” It’s disgusting.). Also, and this is a personal thing, I’m sick of everyone in sports media suddenly talking about Andy Reid like he’s a genius almost entirely because Mahomes has proven to be way better in only his first year as a starter than anyone could have predicted. That’s the NFL for you, though, enjoying the product always seems like making a deal with the devil for me.
OK. Rant over.
This should be a very entertaining game. Mahomes vs. Luck, two great QBs playing fantastic football, is a showdown that is not to be missed. Both of these offences are capable of piling up the yards and the points. KC will have an advantage playing at home in arguably the loudest stadium in the league. That’s where the advantages end, though. Indy’s defence is better overall than KC’s, and will give Mahomes and Co. a stiff test. Indy’s LBs in particular will be crucial in nullifying Travis Kelce. The one thing that KC does well on defence is rush the passer, but as we saw last week, Indy’s OL has little trouble handling elite pass rushers. In the end, Indy’s defence, and the running of Marlon Mack, will be the edge they need to outlast KC. Winner: Indianapolis
Dallas at LAR
LA loaded up on skill players in the offseason, and looked to be poised to steamroll the opposition this season. However, they’ve shown some cracks along the way, as some of those new acquisitions have underperformed. Also, and of particular concern, is the fact that Jared Goff folds like a card table when he’s pressured.
So, here comes Dallas.
Dallas has the skill, depth, and speed on defence to handle elite offensive talent, as we saw in their defeat of New Orleans. They will give LA’s offence all it can handle. Offensively, Dallas is more than capable of winning any game that their defence manages to keep close, with Ezekiel Elliot, Amari Cooper, and a talented OL.
They key player in this game is Aqib Talib. Healthy, he’s good enough and physical enough to neutralize Amari Cooper. However, Talib has shown a propensity towards injury this season, and if he has to leave the game for any length of time, or if Dallas finds ways to get Cooper matched up against talented but undisciplined Marcus Peters, Cooper will run wild.
It’ll be competitive game, but I think that LA’s offence, if it leans on Todd Gurley, will be able to do just enough to dispatch Dallas. Winner: LAR
LAC at New England
We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Proud New England, coming off an up-and-down season, looking vulnerable, welcoming a seemingly superior challenger to Foxborough for a playoff tilt. Is this it for the Pats?
Could be. The Bolts are strong on both sides of the ball. They run the ball well. They have good receivers. Philip Rivers is playing some of the best football of his career. And their defence is deep and talented. This is a team that is built to give the Pats trouble.
I don’t expect quite as dominant a performance from LA’s D this week. They’re not facing the gimmicky, doomed-to-fail Baltimore offence. New England’s offence is based on planning and execution. Tom Brady will need to rely heavily on Julian Edelman, James White, and Gronk. Getting rid of the ball quickly, taking short, low-risk gains, will neutralize LA’s pass rush. Key to this will be avoiding offensive penalties; starting drives in yardage holes will lead to disaster, and the Pats have shown a lack of discipline at times this season.
I’m really looking forward to this game. The Pats will be ready. I know Rivers is good to go. I wonder how the rest of the Bolts’ players will respond to the pressure of a playoff game in cold Foxborough, though. It’s a tough call, but it’s hard to pick against Belichick’s squad at home. Winner: New England
Philadelphia at New Orleans
In last season’s playoffs, I was a perfect 0-3 picking against Philadelphia, as I’m sure many were. One week in, and I’m already 0-1 this year. I’ve about given up trying to understand how this team ticks. I only know that they’re crazy to let Nick Foles go and keep Carson Wentz. Anyway, I’m picking against them again this week, for two reasons. One, because New Orleans should beat them. Two, because I can’t stand Sean Payton or Drew Brees, and I hope that the Foles magic mixes with the cosmic magic of me picking against Philly to produce an upset. You know, quantum physics. Winner: New Orleans