A look at each divisional matchup this weekend
With ‘Wild-Card Weekend’ over, there are a great slate of games as the NFL playoffs move onto the divisional semifinals.
The Freak really enjoyed last weekend’s action, but was baffled at some of the coaching decisions, especially in the Eagles-Bears’ game.
Chicago head coach Matt Nagy made a critical time management mistake near the end of the game. The Eagles had first-and-goal inside the Bears’ five-yard line with just under two minutes remaining, and Chicago, having three timeouts, was up 15-10.
Nagy decides not to call a timeout after the Eagles’ first-down play, which allowed the play clock to run down another 35 seconds. He used timeouts on both the second- and third-down plays, and after the Eagles’ fourth-down touchdown there were 58 seconds left on the clock – and the Bears were down 16-15.
Tarik Cohen had a great return to the Bears’ 42-yard line with about 50 seconds left on the clock, but there should have been at least 1:20 if Nagy had used a timeout earlier. With this additional time, the Bears could have ran at least two more offensive plays, and made the final field-goal attempt under 40 yards, which greatly improves the kicker’s success rate.
All these teams have a quality-control coach, whose main job on game day is to help with time management, timeouts, replay and penalties. Chicago’s QC coach should have been yelling in Coach Nagy’s headset to take a timeout on the Eagles’ first play. If that would have happened, we would be talking about the Bears this week, not the Eagles.
Colts (11-6, road 4-4)
vs. Chiefs (12-4, home 7-1)
Will Andy Reid be able to get that thousand-pound gorilla off his back against the hot Colts?
Can he manage the clock in the fourth quarter with the game on the line?
These are the big questions that will be answered at Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday. Nothing but a Super Bowl berth is acceptable for the Chiefs this season.
The Colts, on the other hand, are on a roll and can beat the Chiefs, but there is something about a dome team playing a cold-weather road game in January that always scares The Freak.
However, Pat Mahomes has never played an NFL playoff game, and didn’t play any big games in college. That will be a factor early in this game.
This is the toughest game of the week to pick as Andrew Luck looks like that top-five quarterback he was a couple of years ago, and Indy has a very underrated defence. The Freak has a gut feeling the Colts are going to win.
There were 89 touchdown passes by these two quarterbacks during the regular season, and you can bet that the scoreboard will get a workout. The Colts win 35-31.
Cowboys (11-6, road 3-5)
vs. Rams (13-3, home 7-1)
Only one home team won last weekend, and it was Dallas. However, the Cowboys are a totally different team on the road.
Now the game is in Los Angeles, and this is like the Cowboys’ second home. Don’t be surprised if there are just as many Dallas fans in the stands.
The keys for L.A. will be shutting down Ezekiel Elliott, and running the ball with Todd Gurley to set up its play-action game. Cowboys’ fans now believe the Rams can’t stack the box with eight with Amari Cooper on the team.
However, Rams’ corners Marcus Peters and Ahib Talib played in the same division against Cooper for three years, and Peters only gave up seven catches and Talib only one. Aaron Donald needs to show up and be the best defensive player in the NFL, just like his contract is paying him.
This will be close, but the Rams pull it out 27-21.
Chargers (13-4, road 8-1)
vs. Patriots (11-5, home 8-0)
Is this the end of the Patriots’ dynasty?
Don’t put the fork in them just yet, but a good football team like the Chargers knows they have a decent chance to beat this edition of the Patriots in the playoffs. The Chargers are 8-1 on the road, and are really 8-0 outside of their city – they lost a road game to the Rams – and they even won across the pond in London, England, so don’t give The Freak any of this 10 a.m. game-time stuff for the Chargers.
If that’s the case, they must be a morning team then after their performance in Baltimore.
Perhaps Gronk is just a shell of his old self, the Pats’ receivers don’t scare anyone and Brady is getting too old, but they have the experience to be in this game to the end, and Coach Belichick had two weeks to prepare.
However, Philip Rivers doesn’t have a torn ACL this time around playing the Pats in the playoffs, he’s no rookie who might be intimidated by playing a playoff game in Foxboro and his team knows how to win on the road.
This is a tough game to pick, but The Freak likes the Bolts on the road in an exciting upset 24-23.
Eagles (10-7, road 5-4)
vs. Saints (13-3, home 6-2)
Head to head
Week 11: Saints 48-7
Can the Eagles do it again on the road, this time in New Orleans?
Well, they have a more seasoned quarterback in Nick Foles under centre this time around, and the Philly D is playing better. However, the Saints are almost unbeatable at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, plus they are well rested after key starters sat out the last regular-season game and also having a bye last week.
The Saints’ D is underrated, and offensively the Eagles don’t have an answer at corner to cover Mike Thomas. If they decide to double him, look out for Alvin Kamara to have a huge game.
Philly tackled really well in Chicago, and if they have any chance, they need a repeat performance like that and a no-turnover game by Foles. In the end, this isn’t the Bears’ offence – this is Drew Brees behind a great O-line, who throws the ball with precision accuracy to anyone wearing a Saints’ uniform.
The Philly run ends in New Orleans, and the Saints march into the NFC Championship game.
John Turner is a Summerside school teacher and coaches youth football. His column appears every Saturday during the NFL season. Feel free to e-mail questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.