Photo: Patrick Mahomes
Source: David Eulitt / Getty Image North America

Top-seeded Chiefs will have to fend off the surging Colts to secure their first home playoff win in 25 years

The Kansas City Chiefs will host the Indianapolis Colts in Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday to kick off the AFC Divisional Round of the 2019 NFL Playoffs. These teams last met in the postseason in 2014, resulting in one of the greatest comebacks in playoff history.

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The slightly favored Colts managed to erase a 28-point second-half deficit in that game to score a dramatic 45-44 victory over the visiting Chiefs. Saturday’s matchup is setting up to be another high-scoring affair with two high-powered offenses poised to put plenty of points on the scoreboard. Only this time around, the Chiefs are the favored home team, and the expectation is a closely contested shootout for four quarters.

The Chiefs (12-4) capped off a dominant regular season in similar fashion with a 35-3 victory over the Raiders to secure the AFC West title and No. 1 seed in the playoffs. They also earned the luxury of sitting out last week’s Wild Card Round with a bye. That should pay dividends for the well-rested home team. It also bodes well that Andy Reid is 20-4 all-time as a head coach when coming off a bye week. What doesn’t bode well is Reid’s 11-13 record all-time in the postseason, including a 1-4 with the Chiefs.

After a 1-5 start, the resurgent Colts enter Saturday’s game with a record of 11-6. Under first-year head coach Frank Reich, Indianapolis has won five in a row and 10 of its last 11, including a 21-7 road victory over AFC South rival (and champion) Houston in the wild-card game. The Colts now look to carry that momentum against Kansas City, who is 7-1 at home this season. Indianapolis is just 5-4 on the road, although the Colts have won their past three such contests, beating the Texans (twice) and Titans. More importantly, the Colts are 4-0 against the Chiefs in the postseason and Kansas City’s is in the midst of a six-game home losing streak in the playoffs, a stretch that goes back to 1996.

AFC Divisional Playoff: Indianapolis at Kansas City

Kickoff: Saturday, Jan. 12 at 4:35 p.m. ET

TV: NBC

Spread: Chiefs -5.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City’s explosive passing game

It’s no secret why the Chiefs led the NFL in total yards (425.6 ypg) and scoring (35.3 ppg) during the regular season. Mahomes has been a force to be reckoned with, and in 2018 no NFL player has been more fun to watch. In addition to Mahomes’ 5,097 passing yards, the MVP front-runner and first-team All-Pro selection became just the third player in NFL history to throw for 50 touchdowns. And he’s doing this in his just second season, first as the starter, in the NFL. Of course, it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of a standout receiving corps, led by fellow first-team All-Pro selections Travis Kelce (103 rec., 1,336 yds., 10 TDs) and Tyreek Hill (87, 1,479 yds., 12).

On Saturday, Mahomes and company will be paired against a young Indianapolis defense that has come a long way since the beginning of the season, thanks in large part to the emergence of All-Pro rookie linebacker Darius Leonard (league-leading 163 tackles). Leonard and the Colts limited a dangerous Houston offense to just seven points and 322 yards last week. But they have a much bigger challenge in front of them — trying to slow down Mahomes and the Chiefs’ high-octane passing attack.

Indianapolis finished the regular season in the middle of the pick in pass defense, allowing 237.8 yards per game. The Colts also gave up more yards (1,194) to opposing tight ends than any other defense in the league. And they have not faced a tight end better than Kelce all season. In addition to the already daunting task of keeping tabs on Kelce and Hill, Indianapolis’ secondary may also have to contend with the return of speedy wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who has missed the last six games because of a foot injury. That’s a tall order.

2. Indianapolis’ running game

Most of the hype surrounding the Colts’ offense heading into Saturday’s playoff game centers around Andrew Luck and a potent passing game. And for good reason as Indianapolis boasts the seventh-ranked passing attack in the league (278.8 ypg), and Luck’s 39 touchdown passes in the regular season were good for second behind only Mahomes’ 50. However, it could be the running game that pays the biggest dividends against Kansas City.

Despite ranking just 20th at 107.4 rushing yards per game, the Colts’ ground game has been hitting on all cylinders of late. Last week, they ran for 200 yards against Houston’s third-ranked rushing defense, led by a franchise playoff-record 148 rushing yards from running back Marlon Mack. It marked Mack’s third 100-yard game in the last four weeks, two of which came against the aforementioned Texans and the Cowboys (fifth in the NFL in rushing defense).

The Chiefs finished 27th in that department, giving up 132.1 yards and an NFL-worst five yards per carry. This certainly bodes well for Indianapolis. Another reason the Colts need to have success running the ball is that it would them to control the clock and limit the number of possessions for Mahomes and Kansas City’s quick-strike offense.

3. Kansas City’s pass rush vs. Indianapolis’ offensive line

No one can argue that the Chiefs’ defense is good. However, they have shined in one area on that side of the ball. No other defense in the NFL had more sacks during the regular season than Kansas City’s 52. That effort was spearheaded by defensive end Chris Jones’ 15.5 sacks, with Pro Bowl linebacker Dee Ford (13), and Justin Houston (9 in 12 games) also getting in on the action.

Meanwhile, no offensive line has fared better in pass protection than the Colts’, which is a welcome sight after this being a persistent issue throughout Luck’s time in Indianapolis. A standout line led by All-Pro rookie guard Quenton Nelson has surrendered a league-low 18 sacks in 17 games. That includes last week’s dominant effort in shutting out J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and the rest of the Texans last week.

There are plenty of intriguing matchups worth paying close attention to in Saturday’s playoff showdown, but none are more compelling than the matchup between the Chiefs’ pass rush and the Colts’ offensive line. One of these groups will have to come out on top, and It could be a major factor in determining the outcome.

Final Analysis

There are a few reasons to like the underdog Colts on Saturday. For starters, history is not exactly on the Chiefs’ side in this matchup. They are 0-4 all-time in playoff games against the Colts, they are an abysmal 0-6 in home playoff games over the last 25 years, and their head coach has a long history of coming up short in the postseason. We also can take into consideration that the Chiefs are just 3-2 since releasing star running back Kareem Hunt, and that two of those wins came against the lowly Raiders. And last, but certainly not least, is Kansas City’s much-maligned defense, whose only saving grace is a stellar pass rush that might just meet its match in the form of an equally talented Indianapolis offensive line.

But this will mark the Colts’ third straight road game while the Chiefs are coming off of a bye. Arrowhead Stadium is one of the top home-field advantages in the NFL, and Kansas City took full advantage of that, going 7-1 in the regular season. And despite Kansas City’s (and Andy Reid’s) past struggles in the postseason, the Chiefs now have something, or should we say someone, they didn’t previously — Patrick Mahomes as a starting quarterback.

Indianapolis should keep it interesting with Andrew Luck leading a well-balanced offensive attack to go along with a much-improved defense. However, the Colts’ offense will be hard-pressed to keep pace with Mahomes and company. Andy Reid and the Chiefs should finally get over the playoff hump at home to advance to the AFC Championship Game courtesy of a close, hard-fought, victory.

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Posted in NFL, Top Fantasy Picks

NFL Divisional Playoff Preview

The NFL Divisional Playoff match-ups are set and every game will be a rematch from the regular season.

NFC Matchups

In the NFC, it’s the Packers visiting the Cowboys, and the Seahawks on the road to face the Falcons. The often overlooked Falcons have quietly gone about their business this season and clinched the No. 2 seed in the NFC.  They differ from previous years in that it seems they may finally have a reliable defence to go along with their potent offence.  If the Falcons want to make others take note and earn respect they will have to get past the Seahawks. Seattle coming off a less than stellar regular season did manage to win the NFC West with relatively easily by beating the Lions 26-6 in the NFC Wild Card Game.  The big question here is whether Russell Wilson can find consistency in his game, and can the Seahawks defence get past its injury issues and stop the high flying Falcons offense?

The Green Bay Packers are the hottest team in the NFL right now after winning their seventh consecutive game Sunday, defeating the New York Giants 38-13 in the Wild Card.  After a slow start, the Packers offence got going in the second half after ending the first half on a hail mary touchdown from Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb.  The Packers hope to continue their hot play and upset the top-seeded Cowboys next Sunday.  The Cowboys are favorites, but they are going to have to depend on rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott to beat the Packers and advance to the NFC Championship game.

AFC Matchups

In the AFC, it’s the Texans looking to play the roll of spoiler as they travel to Gillette Stadium to face the favored Patriots. The Patriots begin their run toward a fifth Super Bowl title with a home game Saturday night.  Not many seems to think the Texans can even keep this game close, let alone come up with the upset. After all, lets not forget that the Patriots blasted the Texans 27-0 earlier this year with their third string QB.  Now with a healthy, rested and focused Brady back under center it is hard to fathom anything but a lop sided Patriots win.

Many believe the Steelers may be the most dangerous team in the postseason, and they will get a chance to prove it Sunday at Arrowhead when they face the Chiefs.  Earlier this year the Steelers punished the Chiefs 43-14.  Will the Steelers defenseThe  continue to shine, and will big Ben’s ankle be ready for the Chiefs pass rush?

Which teams will prevail to play in the Conference Championships on January 22nd?  Make sure to jump in on all the NFL Divisional Playoff action at Fanpicks.com where we always offer you multiple ways to win.

Posted in NFL

NFL Divisional Round Stacks to look out for

 

Its hard to pick your stacks in the divisional round as almost all of the 8 teams remaining has a top 8 defense.  The matchup in the divisional round are

 

Kansas City @ New England

 

Green Bay @ Arizona

 

Seattle @ Carolina

 

Pittsburgh @ Denver

 

The weak link as far as pass defenses goes is clearly Pittsburgh.  The only reason they have made it this far is by relying on their offense with most of their games being very high scoring shootouts.  Last time Denver played Pittsburgh this year Emmanuel Sanders caught 10 passes for 181 receiving yards and a receiving touchdown while Demaryius Thomas had 5 catches for 61 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns.  And this was with Brock Osweiller at quarterback and not Peyton Manning, who will be back and starting in their Divisional Playoff.  Peyton, Sanders, and Thomas is the most predicable value stack of the weekend, which like always risks high ownership.

 

However, Denver still lost this game as Antonio Brown had a gigantic fantasy day with 16 catches for 189 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns.  Pittsburgh has a lot of question marks with health going into this game with Deangelo Williams out, Big Ben questionable with a shoulder injury, and Antonio Brown with a concussion.  Despite the strength of the Denver defense, if Ben and Brown are healthy going into this game, they always have the potential for huge fantasy value.

 

In my opinion, anything could happen with the Seattle Carolina game.  This is a matchup of the two top ranked teams in the playoff and is one most would probably like to see wait until the Superbowl.  While arguably the top 2 defenses, their offenses are just as explosive.  A Wilson/Baldwin or Newton/Ginn(Questionable)/Olsen stack is a nice contrarian stack that may end up profitable in a NFL Daily fantasy tournament.

 

The Patriots and the Chiefs game should be a low scoring victory for the Patriots, although Tom Brady may put up some big numbers.  However, it is always a crapshoot who to stack Brady with since he spreads the ball out so much (the same could be said about Rodgers or Manning this week).  That leaves Carson Palmer, who may be able to have a big day considering Kirk Cousins was able to put up over 300 passing yards in their loss against the Packers in the wild card round.

 

The top stacks are Manning/Sanders, Newton/Olsen, Wilson/Baldwin, and Palmer/Fitzgerald.  The edge in my mind goes to Palmer and Fitz but anything can happen in the playoffs, and Palmer has less experience here than many of the other Quarterbacks (Brady, Rodgers, Manning, Wilson, Roethlisberger)

Posted in NFL