After two stunning playoff weekends, we have reached the semi-finals. We have already seen the Patriots, Saints and Ravens exit, which were three of the top five teams in terms of Super Bowl odds, thrilling comebacks and epic finishes. Now we are the Championship Round with two very different matchups. On the AFC side there is the number two-seeded Chiefs hosting the Cinderella-type story six-seeded Titans, while the NFC will be decided by the two squads who had been coming off a bye week. These are also two rematches from the regular season. While the Titans pulled off the upset and enter as a touchdown underdog once again, the Packers were blown out in San Francisco mid-season and are now looking for revenge in the Bay.
We have reached the second stage of the playoffs, leaving us with the NFL’s version of the Elite Eight. We have already seen both the reigning Super Bowl champs and a 13-3 Saints squad leave the tournament due to upsets at home and if it wasn’t for an epic collapse by the Bills in Houston, we would have seen all four division champs kicked out already. However, now the four teams coming off a bye will be well rested to take on those aspiring contenders. The bookmakers have three of those home teams favored by at least a touchdown, with the Seahawks being the only ones to keep it really close, but as we have seen plenty of times, the playoffs have different rules and there always seems to be one surprise outcome in this round. I looked at each matchup and who has the advantage at every offensive and defensive position. In the column underneath I also mentioned if anything stood out to me with special teams and/or coaching.
The holidays can be quite stressful and you don’t always get to put in as much work as you would like, so I couldn’t put out a fully detailed article this week the way I usually do. However, I wanted to take the time to at least give a little preview for the first round of the NFL playoffs.
Therefore I took a look at what I think are the biggest matchup advantages for each Wildcard game. This doesn’t automatically that the team who has the upper hand in that particular matchup will win the whole game, but it could easily end up being the decisive factor, depending on how things turn on. Here they are:
Obviously there are no actual division title games in an isolated fashion the way we have them in college, but instead things just fell into place for these rivals to potentially play for the divisional crown in their head-to-head matchup over these last two weeks of the regular season. At this point all of those teams have played their rivals already once, so it will be interesting to look back at those prior meetings, but we also want to take a look at how everybody has fared throughout the rest of the year and how they will match up schematically as well as personnel-wise. There are three of those games in week 16 and another two in week 17, with one matchup for each week that will also need some other things to happen in the additional week to be decisive in that matter.
After 256 regular season games and three weeks of thrilling playoff action, we are just about one week away from the big game. We have seen young superstars emerge, some teams ascending from the ashes while others fell off badly, historic offensive numbers being put up and two electrifying Conference Championship games ending in controversial manner. However, after all the drama we have seen over these last five months, we end up with the Super Bowl favorites from the preseason squaring off on February the 3rd. On one side we have the Patriots, who have dominated the league, making it to the final game in half of the last 18 seasons, and on the other is a team in the Rams that went 4-12 just two years ago and hasn’t made it there since 2001. That was when these two squads faced off against each other, featuring the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ under MVP Kurt Warner as two-touchdown favorites against the defensive-minded Pats with some first-year starter at quarterback named Tom Brady. With New England winning the game on a last-second field goal, this launched one of the (if not the) greatest dynasties in American Sports history, led by what is widely considered the best quarterback-head coach combination ever, while the Rams would go on to win just two playoff games until this season. Here we are 17 years later – the most dominant team in the NFL over that stretch facing off against a young bunch in the L.A. Rams that many look at as the most talented squad. Jared Goff as the youngest quarterback ever to start a Super Bowl versus the oldest one in Tom Brady. The youngest head coacher ever to start a Super Bowl in wonderkid Sean McVay against the old master in Bill Belichick. The Rams versus the Patriots Part II.
Heading into Championship Sunday I looked at these two matchups and how things might play out. Instead of trying to preview one of them and pointing out schematic advantages and disadvantages like I did a week ago, I decided to present one X-factor for each team on offense and defense respectively. I believe these are truly the four best teams in the league when I combine players and coaching. There might have been more talented teams on paper, but when I look at these four head coaches and their staffs I think we are blessed with some of the very best play-callers and guys who excel at preparing their troops. So which players for each of them, who don’t usually play a primary role, could be key factors on Sunday?
Now in his 15th season in the NFL, Philip Rivers has started 218 straight games, recorded over 55000 passing yards and almost 400 touchdowns. He has made the Pro Bowl eight times, beaten basically every quarterback record in Chargers history and even seen them move cities. However, there is one thing he has never been able to do – beat Tom Brady. In eight total games versus the Patriots, Rivers’ only win against them came in 2008, when Matt Cassel replaced an injured Brady. And I don’t want to make this all about the quarterbacks, but these two guys have been the constants in that matchup for more than a decade now and so I thought the title makes a lot of sense. The Bolts finished the 2018 season tied for the best record in the AFC at 12-4, but with the Chiefs holding tie-breakers over them, they entered the postseason as a Wildcard team and already had to go on the road to beat the Ravens in Baltimore. Now they once again travel up to New England, where the Patriots are being questioned once again but still have one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time under center. What might be different this time around? Rivers has the best team surrounding him since they went to the conference championship game over ten years ago. Will he finally slay the dragon?