In a week many consider the best of the NFL season, the top seeds from each conference are in action against formidable opponents. In Saturday's contests, the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) take on the Indianapolis Colts (11-6) who were victorious over the AFC South Champion Houston Texans last week.
The Dallas Cowboys (11-6) won their first playoff game in four years, surviving a scare from a tough Seattle Seahawks squad. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot head west to take on the second-seeded Los Angeles Rams (13-3).
Who: Indianapolis Colts (11-6) vs. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)
When: Saturday 4:35 PM EST
The Indianapolis Colts offensive line was able to weather the Houston Texans pass rush and as a result were able to move the ball up and down the field at will on their way to a 21-7 victory on the road. Andrew Luck was 19 of 32 for 222 yards and two touchdowns, he also rushed for 29 yards on 8 carries. Most importantly, the Colts offensive line did not render a sack. The timely running of Marlon Mack kept the Texans front seven on their heels. Mack rushed for 148 yards on 24 carries and a score. Rookie head coach Frank Reich constructed a successful game plan which of neutralized rush ends Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt. Luck connected with reciever T.Y. Hilton five times for 85 yards. Tight end Eric Ebron continued his outstanding season with another touchdown reception. Second and third receivers Dontrelle Inman and Chester Rogers combined for 8 catches for 99 yards respectively, and a touchdown. The Colts offense line will need a repeat performance against the Chiefs. Giving Mack more targets in the passing game and winning the time of possession could pay dividends.
The Colts' secondary was able to hold Texans All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins to 37 yards on five receptions. Quarterback DeShaun Watson was able to rush for 76 yards when things broke down, but still managed to bring him down for three sacks. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes doesn't pose the same running threat as Watson, but is dangerous when he leaves the pocket and able to buy time as his shifty receivers work their way open.
Despite the overwhelming success of quarterback Patrick Mahomes, it's been a challenging season for the Kansas City Chiefs. After a 9-1 start, the Chiefs lost a memorable shootout against the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football, but the loss paled in comparison to what was on the horizon.
Second year All-Pro running back Kareem Hunt was released by the team after video was released of him shoving and kicking a woman after a confrontation outside of his hotel room last February. Since Hunt's release, the Chiefs are 3-5, losing two of their last three contests.
The Chiefs backfield is a platooned unit of Spencer Ware, Charcandrick West, Damien Williams and Darrell Williams. The plus of playing in an Andy Reid coached offense is running backs see as many targets as receivers and passes out of the backfield are just as good as a run. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill has the capability to turn a screen pass into an 80-yard score or pop the top on the secondary thus opening the door for tight end Travis Kelce. Hill and Kelce have accounted for 2,800 yards and 22 receiving scores in the regular season. The offense gets a boost as Sammy Watkins is scheduled to play after battling nagging injuries for most of the season. If the Chiefs can get solid production out of the backfield, it opens things up for Mahomes to find Hill and Watkins downfield.
Defensive ends Allen Bailey and Chris Jones are sack leaders on a Chiefs defense that gives up way too many yards across the board. Linebackers Dee Ford, Justin Houston and Reggie Ragland will be busy trying to contain Ebron and Mack. Cornerback Kendall Fuller and safety Ron Parker are counted on not to let Hilton and Rogers into space.
Five years ago, Andrew Luck orchestrated the NFL's second greatest playoff comeback as he brought the Colts back from a 38-10 deficit against the Chiefs. The Colts went on to win 45-44 in the AFC Wild-Card round at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Weather could be a factor with additional snow in the forecast. The running back by committee approach works for Reid who has several options in the backfield if the game becomes a sledding match. Losing Hunt has slowed the offense down which could be a blessing in disguise, since the defense gives up its share of points. Andrew Luck has the ability to dissect a defense as porous as the Chiefs if he's given time. If things are close, Colts placekicker Adam Vinatieri is a Whitewalker in cleats when the game is on the line.
Prediction Chiefs 34 - Colts 28
Who: Dallas Cowboys (11-6) vs. Los Angeles Rams (13-3)
When: 8:15 PM EST
In last week's 24-22 Wild-Card victory over the Seattle Seahawks, Dak Presott rose to the occasion in what can be considered a coming of age game for the third year signal caller. Precott was 18-27 for for 233 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Trade deadline acquisition Amari Cooper pulled in 7 catches for 106 yards. But it was 26 bruising carries by Ezekiel Elliot leading to 137 yards and a touchdown that paced the Cowboys offense. The receiving corps suffered a huge loss as Allen Hurns suffered a horrific ankle injury early in the contest. Tavon Austin, Cole Beasley and Michael Gallup are shifty and could be effective if placed in the right situations. There may be some cohesiveness building at the right time between Prescott and tight end Blake Jarwin. Jarwin has caught 28 passes in the Cowboys last seven contests (only four previously) including three last week.
The Cowboys offensive line was at its best as they were able to attack the Seattle front four. It may be best to do more of the same against the Rams defensive which features interior studs Aaron Donald and Ndomukong Suh who are capable of disrupting a game on their own. If Elliot is having success early the Cowboys must adjust the game plan around him.
Leighton Vander Esch will have his hands full keeping up on the whereabouts of Rams running back Todd Gurley. The Cowboys ranked fifth in rushing yards allowed, but Gurley is a different story. Randy Gregory, Demarcus Lawrence and Jaylon Smith need to find a way to pressure Rams quarterback Jared Goff who was only sacked 33 times in the regular season. A consistent pass rush is necessary for a marginal Cowboys secondary to have a chance against Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods.
The Rams offense has lost some luster as the season wore on, but remains one of the NFL's most explosive units. Todd Gurley returns to the backfield after missing the last two regular season games. Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods have 2,400 receiving yards between them. While their touchdown production doesn't jump out at you their ability to get the Rams offense in the red zone for Gurley to really be effective cannot be overlooked. They should have some downfield success against a suspect Cowboys secondary that has gained confidence heading into this contest.
Jared Goff averaged 219 passing yards in the month of December after averaging well over 300 since September. Nine of Goff's 33 sacks occurred in the final month of the season. If it sounds like rust might be a concern heading into this game against a confident Cowboys squad, it definitely is. The Cowboys feel as though they have the defense to stifle a Rams offense that has struggled since defeating Kansas City in Week 11.
Aaron Donald is the key to the Rams overall success today. If the Rams offense struggles Donald, Suh and linebacker Cory Littleton have to be at their disruptive best. Marcus Peters, Sam Shields and Aquib Talib are all healthy and prepared to contribute. The concern here is the Rams run defense which is 23rd in yards surrendered on the ground.
The Rams scored 30+ points in 12 games this season (T-most in NFL). The Cowboys allowed 30+ points once this season (Fewest in NFL).
Since 1970, only Terrell Davis (142.5) averaged more rush YPG in the playoffs than Ezekiel Elliott (131.0).
This as close as it gets to being a home game for the Cowboys who have a huge following in the Los Angeles area. The Rams defense has to be aware of Prescott's ability to leave the pocket on scripted bootlegs. The Rams are coming off a bye week facing a confident and hungry Cowboys team. I don't know if the week off was beneficial to them.
Prediction: Cowboys 30 - Rams 26