There’s no shortage of storylines coming out of the AFC Divisional Round this weekend. Philip Rivers, alongside one of the better Chargers teams he’s ever had, will try to get over the hump and stop Tom Brady from reaching his 8th straight AFC Championship Game. Meanwhile, in Kansas City, a pair of QBs who combined for 89 TD passes this year will square off as a 6 seed tries to usurp the odds on favorite. Let’s look at how these teams got to where they are, before diving in to some predictions. (Hoping I can keep the AFC streak alive- fellow writer Matt Branigan nailed the AFC picks last week during Wild Card weekend)
Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots
Chargers: Finished 12-4, and placed second in the AFC west. Beat the Baltimore Ravens in Wild Card weekend to advance to the Divisional Round.
This is about the most even matchup on paper as you’ll find in these playoffs. You beat the Patriots by pressuring the quarterback, and the Chargers can do that with the best of them. But Tom Brady is 7-0 in his career against the Chargers, so history (for whatever it’s worth) sides with New England. The Pats are 8-0 at home this season. The Chargers are 8-1 on the road. The Pats have lost only once in the Divisional Round following a bye week under Tom Brady. Something’s gotta give.
The Chargers are a slightly better team overall (primarily because of that stingy top-10 defense) but Brady and Bill just don’t go one-and-done in the playoffs, especially when the game is held in Foxborough. Expect the Chargers defense to give Brady all he can handle and then some, but also expect Belichick and Josh McDaniels to have used the bye week to scheme up a way to break through offensively (my guess, via a LOT of James White). The Pats ek out the win in the end after a tightly contested one-score contest.
Patriots 20, Chargers 17
Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs
Chiefs: Finished 12-4, and first in both the AFC West and the conference overall. They also secured a first round bye in the playoffs.
Colts: Finished 10-6, and second in the AFC South. They took care of the Houston Texans in Wild Card Weekend to move on to the Divisional Round.
The likely MVP in Patrick Mahomes going up against the game’s hottest QB at the moment in Andrew Luck. This is the kind of battle that would bring even the most casual fans to their feet.
The Colts are winners of 10 of their last 11 games, and basically manhandled the division rival Texans in the Wild Card game. The Chiefs more or less limped back to the barn in the regular season, losing 3 of their last 5. But they had the bye week to rest up, and could expect the return of defensive back Eric Berry and wide receiver Sammy Watkins to bolster an already star-studded roster.
This game is going to be a shootout. No doubt about it. The question then becomes, what is more likely: the Colts defense stopping the Chiefs offense, or the Chiefs defense stopping the Colts offense? As bad as the Chiefs D has looked this season (only the Bengals gave up more yards per game), I think they will be able to keep Luck and company in check just enough to let Mahomes take them over the top. At the end of the day, if Sammy Watkins is the third option for an MVP-caliber QB, it’s going to prove just a little to much for an average Colts defense.
Chiefs 38, Colts 33
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This one is a classic.