Skip to main content

NFL Divisional Round game picks: Who will make the final four?

Try finding a quartet of games that is superior to pro football's lineup this weekend. We'll wait.

This year's Divisional Round represents the pinnacle of the sport, with all four matchups offering something unique and enticing.

Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs: The Comeback Player of the Year front-runner (and a former future star) faces the Most Valuable Player front-runner (and the NFL's brightest star). Luck-Mahomes is a playoff duel that could recur for years to come.

Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams: These franchises intersect at so many points. Cowboys OC Scott Linehan used to be the Rams' head coach. L.A. DC Wade Phillips used to be Dallas' head coach. The Cowboys were built by front office architects Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt, who both previously worked for the Rams. And this game features a heck of an RB matchup.

Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots: Despite the fact that these two franchises were part of the AFL's original eight in 1960, this will be only the fourth playoff meeting between them in 59 seasons. The Patriots have made it to an incredible seven straight AFC title games, but this L.A. group will be their strongest challenger in the Divisional Round since 2010 -- the last time they didn't reach Championship Sunday.

Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints: The most poised backup quarterback in the NFL -- perhaps ever -- meets the most prolific quarterback ever. And this is the only Divisional Round game that's a rematch from the regular season, with Philly looking to white-out its ugliest loss in years.

Like I said, each game's an absolute gem, giving this four-pack the potential to rival the most entertaining playoff weekends in league history. Like, say, 2014's Divisional Round, which featured an exhilarating Ravens-Patriots classic on Saturday, and the #DezCaughtIt game on Sunday. You know what? Dez caught it.

On to your thoughts ...

You know fans are spoiled when they are ashamed of their football team -- their 11-5 football team.

Who doesn't love ice cream? We all scream.

Doug Pederson faces as stiff a challenge as he did in last year's Super Bowl, as the 2018 Saints are every bit as strong as the 2017 Patriots (probably stronger). You will find my pick on that game -- as well as the others -- below. Send your picks: @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Elliot Harrison went 2-2 on his predictions for Wild Card Weekend, bringing his record for the season to 177-81-2. How will he fare in the Divisional Round? His picks are below.


1:05 p.m. ET (CBS) | Gillette Stadium (Foxborough, Mass.)

The rematch of the 2007 AFC Championship looks different. Then again, it kinda doesn't. The quarterbacks are the same. The Bolts again come in as wild cards, featuring a formidable rushing attack, a la the '07 group with LaDainian Tomlinson. The key difference being that Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler are healthy (or at least healthy-ish), unlike LT on that overcast day 11 years ago. And yes, Philip Rivers has both ACLs intact this time around.

Rivers loves delivering the ball to his running backs -- on early downs in order to make third down more manageable AND on the money down itself -- as evidenced by Gordon/Ekeler's 89 combined catches. Also notable: Gordon averaged 9.8 yards per catch and Ekeler posted 10.4, both excellent marks for running backs. Those robust figures speak to both backs making defenders miss, as well as Anthony Lynn's staff getting them out in the open field through scheming. We're not talkin' checkdown, none-yard-out crud. This is where the Bolts could put New England's defense in arrears. Let's be straight here: This New England team isn't near the quality of the 2007 group, particularly on the defensive side of the ball (with less veteran leadership being a factor), while the offense misses its closest Randy Moss equivalent, Josh Gordon. What this 2018 group does have is running backs -- in spades. This position group is where the Patriots, like the Chargers, present issues for their opponents. Sony Michel is healthy, and -- provided he hasn't hit the proverbial rookie wall -- should be a central figure in the game plan. Rex Burkhead, too. James White x2. The latter will catch 10 balls if Bolts DC Gus Bradley is too aggressive with his 'backers. Not to mention, Tom Brady will get the ball out fast enough to frustrate Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. Can he will another championship game appearance out of this iteration of the Patriots?

4:40 p.m. ET (FOX) | Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans)

When these two teams faced off in New Orleans two months ago, the Eagles played their worst game in recent memory, getting blown out of the Superdome, 48-7. This rematch feels like when you failed freshman geology in college, then took it again as a junior to expunge it from your GPA. (Not that I did that or anything.) According to all the pundits lurking out there in the football ether, Nick Foles is the difference between then and now. Does the lanky QB make tackles or cover RBs out of the backfield? No. But you can't dismiss the fact that Jim Schwartz's guys are competing like they have something to compete for, playing every down with a sense of urgency. This can be seen on pro football's most urgent down: The Eagles have allowed opponents to convert just 12 of their 47 third-down attempts over the last four games (which, fortunately for Foles, happens to be the time period when he's retaken the reins). From an expanded view, Philadelphia has allowed 18.9 points per game since getting decimated in New Orleans back in Week 11. The Eagles also own a whopping plus-10 sack differential during this span. For every sack, there is pressure. And every hit on the QB rattles him a little more. The Eagles are making life much more difficult for opposing passers than their own.

So, since Philly was destroyed handily in the Big Easy, the Saints have just sat on their butts, right? Not exactly. Sean Payton has kept his team motivated, even when things haven't gone swimmingly (SEE: that Thursday nighter in Dallas). Under the radar, however, is the fact that New Orleans has brandished its own brand of championship defense. From Week 10 to Week 16, Dennis Allen's unit allowed just 14.6 points per game. Cherry-picking stats? No. In Week 17, Payton rested starters in a blowout loss to the Panthers. The previous seven games, his team was fighting for the right to host this very game I am writing about. Put another way: Folesmania has somehow diminished the accomplishments of the top team in football -- specifically when it comes to a defense that, like the Eagles, spun the 2018 narrative on its axis after allowing 48 points to a red-and-pewter LSD trip in September. For all the matchup problems Drew Brees and his offensive mates present, it's the less-considered side of the ball that delivers the W. Not because Foles will be overcome by the moment or the crowd noise, but because the Saints' defense won't be out on the field all game. Payton will run the ball, unlike Philadelphia's opponent last week.


4:35 p.m. ET (NBC) | Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City, Mo.)

Can the Chiefs' pass rushers get to Andrew Luck? That might determine the outcome of this football game. Unless, of course, Patrick Mahomes continues his Tecmo Super Bowl tear through the league. The dude is shredding defenses in a Marty Friedman Megadeth manner, having joined Peyton Manning in the ultra-exclusive 50-touchdown/5,000-yard club (a development that'll probably foreclose the dream of Drew Brees winning a late-stage MVP). Yet, if Mahomes were to hiccup -- as so many of the great quarterbacks have in postseason debuts -- then the outcome could rely on the ability of Chris Jones and Dee Ford to collapse Indy's pocket. For the record, those two have tallied the most sacks (28.5) and pressures (118) among all pass-rushing duos this season. Getting into a track meet is not the way to go for Indy. Don't give those K.C. rushers a chance to tee off. This should, in fact, be a Marlon Mack game. The Colts' lead tailback eclipsed 900 rushing yards during the regular season despite appearing in just 12 games (10 starts), averaging 4.7 per carry. And he's fresh off his fifth 100-yard effort of this campaign, having piled up 148 yards on just 24 carries (6.2 a pop) in the Colts' wild-card win at Houston. There is no reason to try and go toe-to-toe with Mahomes' rubber-band arm in a shootout.

Arrowhead's inarguably one of the NFL's toughest road venues, and while I don't expect crowd noise to completely flummox Luck, home-field advantage doesn't hurt in this tight a matchup. Going with the home team.

8:15 p.m. ET (FOX) | Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Los Angeles)

You can't beat Cowboys-Rams, underneath the lights on Saturday night, at football's most historic stadium. Talk history, talk Dallas-Los Angeles. These two franchises played in the postseason eight times from 1973 through 1985, splitting those games 4-4. The last matchup at the L.A. Coliseum, however, was back in the 1978 NFC Championship Game, and it didn't play out too well for the home team. The Cowboys' defense simply wouldn't let the Rams off the mat, spiking an unimaginative Ray Malavasi offense 28-zip. Dallas safety Charlie Waters played like a man possessed.

Well, this Sean McVay offense is all things imaginative. The way the Rams get Todd Gurley out in space, creating one-on-ones for the dynamic tailback ... The windows they open for the premier intermediate thrower in the business, Jared Goff ... And the opportunities dialed up for all parts outside, even the little-known Josh Reynolds. Thus, Leighton Vander Esch might have to make like Waters, playing all over the field -- staying with Gurley out of the backfield, as well as getting enough depth in his drops to disrupt skinny posts, deep slants and Goff teardrops in between layers of coverage. My colleague Maurice Jones-Drew feels McVay will go up-tempo, so that Dallas DC Rod Marinelli cannot rotate linemen. Perhaps. But if Goff starts slowly, like he did in multiple December games, the 2018 Dallas rushing offense might not let L.A. off the mat, either. The Rams must thwart Ezekiel Elliott, or else they won't have enough possessions to impose their offensive will. Especially if Scott Linehan wakes up and realizes how talented a runner his QB can be. Great matchup.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content