What experts are predicting for the NFL divisional round games

There's confidence in Kansas City and New Orleans, but Cowboys-Rams is a toss-up

Patrick Mahomes NFL Chiefs
In this Dec. 30, 2018, file photo, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws a touchdown pass to wide receiver Demarcus Robinson, unseen, during the second half of an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders, in Kansas City, Mo. –The Associated Press

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New England football fans’ hearts and minds are zeroed in on the Patriots’ divisional round playoff game against the Los Angeles Chargers this Sunday, but there are three other important games this weekend to keep an eye on. On Saturday, the Colts visit the Chiefs to duke it out in the AFC’s other divisional match-up, and the Cowboys and Rams fight for a spot in the NFC Championship in prime time. Sunday, after the Patriots game, the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles head to New Orleans to continue their title defense.

Here’s how some experts see the three non-Patriots games playing out this weekend:

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Indianapolis Colts (11-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (12-4): Saturday, Jan. 12, 4:35 p.m. Eastern 

Ryan Wilson, CBS SportsChiefs (-4.5) edge it out over the Colts. Wilson says Andrew Luck will keep up with Patrick Mahomes every bit he needs to, especially if Mahomes gets off to a slow start as he did last week, but he ultimately has the NFL’s best offense prevailing at home. “The Colts are one of the most exciting teams in the playoffs. Again, it sounds nuts — they started 1-5! — but have been red hot ever since, and have now won 10 of their last 11, including last Saturday’s thorough dismantling of the Texans. That game got out of hand early — it was 21-0 in the second quarter — but the Chiefs’ offense isn’t the 21st-ranked unit in the league, it’s No. 1.”

Sporting NewsChiefs over Colts. Both Tadd Haislop and Vinnie Iyer see the Colts’ running game, led by Marlon Mack, giving Kansas City fits. Ultimately, they see it as Patrick Mahomes’s game to win. “This feels like a ‘last possession wins’ game, and Mahomes will begin his playoff legend with a successful game-winning drive.”

Zach Buckley, Bleacher ReportClose game, but Chiefs will come out on top. “The Chiefs cruise at speeds the Colts rarely ever hit. Kansas City averaged an NFL-best 35.3 points per game; Indy only reached 35 points three times all season. This feels like too much Patrick Mahomes, too much Travis Kelce and too much Tyreek Hill for the Colts to keep up.”

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Neil Paine, FiveThirtyEightYou guessed it: Chiefs win. Nate Silver’s NFL prediction model, Elo, gives Kansas City a 66 percent win probability over Indianapolis. That number rises to 68 percent in their more experimental version of Elo, which adjusts based on each team’s starting quarterback. While both Luck and Mahomes are great quarterbacks, FiveThirtyEight kept the consensus that Mahomes will win this matchup.

Dallas Cowboys (11-6) at Los Angeles Rams (13-3): Saturday, Jan. 12, 8:15 p.m. Eastern 

Ryan Wilson, CBS SportsCowboys 24, Rams 21. “If Dallas’ offense can lean on Ezekiel Elliott (the Rams’ run defense ranks 28th, according to Football Outsiders), control the clock, and keep Dak Prescott from having to win it by himself, they can win.”

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Sporting News: Cowboys (+7) win. Haislop and Iyer agree here, too, that Dallas has the edge over Los Angeles. They like running back Ezekiel Elliot’s chances against the Rams’ run defense. Haislop also noted that Dallas has a strong fan base in Southern California, too, and could have a large part of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Crowd on its side this Saturday. “There’s a strong chance the Rams will feel like the away team in their own stadium, even in a playoff game.”

Zach Buckley, Bleacher ReportRams 27, Cowboys 17. Buckley thinks the statistics favor the Rams too heavily in this one. “Some will see upset potential here with the Cowboys presumably peaking at the right time (8-2 since November) and the Rams wobbling a bit down the stretch (3-2 in December). Here’s why we don’t—L.A.’s plus-143 point differential was third-best in the entire league; Dallas’ plus-15 mark was worst among all playoff teams and two that didn’t make the final cut.”

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Neil Paine, FiveThirtyEightRams win. FiveThirtyEight’s Elo model gives Los Angeles a 66 percent win probability. The road to that win, according to writer Neil Paine? Running the play-action pass, which the Rams saw great success with most of the regular season.

Philadelphia Eagles (10-7) at  New Orleans Saints (13-3): Sunday, Jan. 13, 4:40 p.m. Eastern

Ryan Wilson, CBS SportsSaints 28, Eagles 21. Wilson points out that New Orleans and Philadelphia played in Week 11 and the Saints had their way with the Eagles, winning 48-7. Philly went 6-1 after that loss, but Wilson is not sold they’ll prevail in the rematch, especially given how closely the Eagles squeaked by Chicago last weekend.

Sporting News: Saints (-8) win, and it won’t be that close. Iyer and Haislop agree again – Philadelphia’s Super Bowl defense run ends this weekend. Haislop: “Before the season, SN picked the Saints to win Super Bowl 53 on the basis of their complete roster. The offense is loaded. The defense is stacked. The special teams are sound. And, oh yeah, the QB is the NFL’s all-time passing yards leader. The apparent magic of a Foles-led Eagles team in the postseason can only take them so far. The Saints, especially at home, are simply too good.”

Zach Buckley, Bleacher ReportSaints 31, Eagles 20. For Buckley, New Orleans is all-around a better quality team. “The Saints have been breathing easy for the last two weeks; the Eagles just sweated out a one-point victory clinched only by a blocked field goal. New Orleans is more rested, better balanced and playing in a place where it’s almost unbeatable. This is the weekend’s heaviest favorite for a reason.”

Neil Paine, FiveThirtyEightSaints win. Elo has New Orleans at a 64 percent win probability. Paine, though, is paying close attention to the similarities – and differences – between the Eagles’ magical Super Bowl run last season and the situation they find themselves in one year later, with Foles stepping in at quarterback again. Ultimately though, it’s hard to back Philadelphia in this one. “But for all the Foles mania, it remains to be seen if Philadelphia’s defense can slow down Drew Brees and the Saints’ offense,” Paine writes.