The Divisional Round was very similar to the Wild Card game. The first three games were mostly controlled by the winning team from the beggining, while the final game once again was a thriller involving Nick Foles and the Eagles. Let’s take a closer look at the divisional round by identifying some winners and losers from it.
Winner: New England Patriots (Won 41-28)
Once again, people forgot how dominant the Patriots really were. New England was a modest four point favorite over the Chargers at home, and even then a majority of analysts picked against them. The Patriots responded by proving to be on another level than their 12-4 opponent, something that is not easy to do. It was a classic story of Tom Brady perfection in the playoffs, as the 41 year old completed 34 of his 44 pass attempts for 343 yards and a touchdown with a QB rating of 106.5. He was complimented by a strong rushing attack that averaged 4.6 yards per carry and rushed for 155 yards while rookie Sony Michel ran for three scores. James White also had 15 receptions out of the backfield for 97 yards, which is simply unheard of, while Julian Edelman had 9 catches for 151 yards. With White and Edelman serving as threats to create yards after the catch with Michel running wild, no team can run zone defense on Brady and expect to have a chance. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, New England held Phillip Rivers to a 49% completion percentage and held the Chargers to 1.9 yards per carry. The Patriots had the ball for 17 minutes more than the Chargers, and that’s what they’ll do with a strong running game and a fundamentally sound defense. It’s going to be tough for them to win at Kansas City against a hot Chiefs team this Sunday, but if anyone can do it, it’s them.
Loser: Philadelphia Eagles (Lost 20-14)
The Eagles had it right in the palm of their hands, literally. Philadelphia led 14-0 heading into the second quarter, and had multiple chances to put the game away early. Instead, the let the Saints crawl back, and found themselves in a 20-14 deficit late in the 4th quarter. Due to some New Orleans penalties, Philadelphia was past the Saints’ 30 yard line right before the two minute warning, when Alshon Jeffrey dropped a wide open pass that fell right into the hands of corner Marston Lattimore, sealing the Eagles’ fate. While many will point to that specific play as to why Philadelphia loss, this was a choke job by the entire team. Despite starting out strong, Foles finished out with just a 58% completion percentage with 201 yards and two interceptions, the first one a momentum shifter that proved costly for the Eagles. They couldn’t establish the running game, rushing for just 49 yards, and none of their top playmakers could get consistently involved. Meanwhile on defense, Philadelphia allowed Michael Thomas to catch 12 passes for 171 yards, allowed 137 rushing yards, and let Drew Brees get into his rhythm. They allowed too many third down and long conversions, which is a huge reason why the Saints held the ball for 15 more minutes than them. The Eagles couldn’t stop New Orleans on a pivotal fourth and goal and allowed a fake punt all on the drive that cut their lead to 14-7, and couldn’t make a big play when it mattered most. This isn’t the end of the world for the Eagles, who are still a very talented team that made it this far despite being hit extremely hard with the injury bug. Still, they threw away an easy opportunity to advance to the NFC Championship Game, and that will stay with them and their fans the entire offseason. What a disappointing ending for Foles, who likely has played his last game as an Eagle.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs (Won 31-13 vs IND)
Similar to the Patriots, the Chiefs were a home favorite that people seemed to forget how dominant they were, as many picked the underdog Colts to win outright this past weekend. Instead, Kansas City put this game away by the first quarter and made sure to make that majority who picked against them look foolish. The story of this game was not an offense that once again put up over 30 points and had four rushing touchdowns against a stout front seven, but rather their defense. All season long, the Chiefs defense has gained the reputation as the worst in football. However, they didn’t look so on Saturday, as they held Andrew Luck and a potent offense to just 13 points. Luck, an MVP Candidate, had a QB rating of just 78.8 and was pressured constantly despite the fact that the Colts have arguably the league’s best offensive line. The Chiefs also didn’t allow a single third down conversion and allowed about half the first downs that their offense gained. Now, this isn’t a dominant unit by any means – they still allowed 6.2 yards per carry – but if it plays anywhere like this moving forward while their offense continues to flourish, no one is beating this team. We’ll see if this defensive performance was a fluke next week with the Patriots coming to town, and all eyes with be on Patrick Mahomes to come through and win this game where the torch may be passed.
Loser: Los Angeles Chargers (Lost 41-28 at NE)
We’ve already covered this game from the Patriots’ point of view, but let’s quickly discuss it from the Chargers’ point of view. Once again, Phillip Rivers failed to come through when it mattered most. His 49% completion percentage was atrocious, and he looked clueless the entire game, though it didn’t help that they had to abandon the running game after falling behind so early. The reason for that? The defense that was supposed to end the Patriots dynasty. Los Angeles failed to adjust from their zone coverage scheme defensively, so it should come as no surprise that the Patriots scored on their first four drives and had 35 points by the half. Tom Brady ranks last against the blitz, yet the Chargers didn’t blitz at all. This was embarrassing all around, from the terrible game plan to the even worse execution. Los Angeles is still a talented team, but it’s not going to get much more talented than this. It doesn’t look like a Rivers-led Chargers team will ever get over the hump, not after this debacle.