The Wild Card Round of the NFL playoffs proved to be exactly that: Wild. The Dallas Cowboys were the only team to snag a home win, edging out the Seattle Seahawks by two points, while the Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Chargers, and Indianapolis Colts all took road wins against the odds.
Now, the big boys come into play, those who have had a week to rest and prepare, setting up a closely contested Divisional Round. In the AFC, Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs edge the ratings, while the New Orleans Saints are tipped to win it all by many outlets and pundits. But, which team seemingly has the easiest route to Super Bowl LIII?
AFC Boasts Some Dark Horses
One of the most intriguing matchups of the Divisional Round is the Chargers against the New England Patriots. The reigning champions playing host to the Los Angeles team has earned them the nod from many experts, but the Chargers have quietly become a very strong road team. This season, whenever the Chargers have had to fly to a game – including their Wembley bout with the Tennessee Titans – they’ve come out on top. Their only road loss came to the Rams just up the highway.
With momentum on the road, enhanced by their win in Baltimore in the Wild Card Round, this may be Philip Rivers’ best chance at finally adding a win to his 0-7 career record against Tom Brady. Backed by mastermind head coach Bill Belichick, the Patriots are never out of a game in the playoffs; they could be 21-3 down at half-time and still be worth backing in-play to come back and win – as they did at Super Bowl LI. Whichever of these two teams moves on will prove to be a tough ask for the winner of the other matchup.
This season, Mahomes has been a sensation, making history as only the second NFL player to throw for 5,000 passing yards and 50 touchdowns in a single season. Now, the sophomore is expected to take his team all the way to the Super Bowl. But he’ll need to overcome a remarkably resilient Indianapolis Colts defense, which has been a huge factor in the team surging back into the playoffs. He’ll also need to hope that his defense can hold back a resurgent and healthy Andrew Luck.
NFC Is There For The Saints
It looks as though the NFC has been laid out on a plate for the Saints, who hold a home-field advantage throughout the next two rounds. While Nick Foles is already having another special postseason, New Orleans has made the Superdome a fortress with six wins bookended by a bizarre Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a cameo appearance for Teddy Bridgewater in Game 16 to the Carolina Panthers. Within these games lies an obliteration of the Philadelphia Eagles to the tune of 48-7.
Seeing as the Saints have convincingly defeated all three of their NFC Divisional Round foes in the regular season at home, there’s little support against the Saints going all the way to the Super Bowl. An interesting storyline that will emerge in the next round will be the battle between the running back, with Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott facing off before one will try to out-pace Alvin Kamara in the Conference Championship.
While this postseason has the potential to unreel some very surprising results, the NFC side looks set to be dominated by the New Orleans Saints. In the AFC, however, the running is tight, with all four teams able to outwit their next opponent to progress.