The divisional round of the NFL playoffs have arrived; this round is many people’s favorite because we are down to the true contenders but there are still four games over the weekend. Each game has compelling narratives surrounding it and entertaining players to watch. But there are specific playoff storylines that stand out, one in each game. Here is the biggest storyline in each playoff game:
Indianapolis Colts @ Kansas City Chiefs
Biggest Storyline: Can the Chiefs overcome their home playoff woes?
This game has many big playoff storylines, including Patrick Mahomes’ first playoff start, Andy Reid’s clock management struggles and Andrew Luck’s comeback. However, the biggest one is about if the Chiefs can overcome their recent run of playoff misfortunes. Kansas City has not been close to success in the playoffs for the last 25 years. Over their last ten playoff appearances, they have gone one-and-done in the postseason a staggering nine times. What makes it worse is that during that period, the Chiefs have had six home playoff games, ALL of which they have lost. The last time Kansas City won in the postseason at Arrowhead Stadium, a 37-year-old Joe Montana was their starting quarterback.
Of their last nine one-and-done playoff losses, four have actually been to these same Indianapolis Colts. In the most recent one, back in 2013, the Chiefs held a 28 point lead in the second half, but Andrew Luck led a comeback for the ages, bringing the Colts to victory.
Today, five years later, Andrew Luck will walk into Arrowhead Stadium with Andy Reid and the entire KC fan base looking for revenge. Their 23-year-old Patrick Mahomes, a first-year starter, put up video-game numbers with over 50 touchdowns and 5,000 passing yards. However, none of that matters right now. All that matters now is that Mahomes, along with Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and others, led the Chiefs to their first home playoff victory since Montana’s brief stint with the team.
Dallas Cowboys @ Los Angeles Rams
Biggest Storyline: Cowboys set to end their hiatus from the NFC Championship Game?
Tavon Austin’s first visit to the Rams since leaving? That’s cool. What about Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips coaching in the postseason against Jason Garrett, his successor as Cowboys head coach? That’s interesting too. But the biggest headline in this game is clearly that Dallas has possibly their best opportunity to make their first NFC Championship Game since 1996. Since that year when the Cowboys completed the task and won their last Super Bowl, Dallas has won three total playoff games including last weekend over the Seahawks. While they have played in the divisional round a couple of times, this may be their best second-round matchup of the last 20 years.
In their last three divisional games, the quarterbacks Dallas has faced are Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Rodgers again, and Brett Favre. Rodgers’ Packers teams handed the Cowboys and their fans heartbreaking losses. Favre’s Vikings weren’t so cruel; they destroyed Dallas 34-3. Unlike this year’s version, though, those Dallas teams had some of the NFL’s worst defenses.
This year’s rendition of the Cowboys defense ranks number six in points allowed. They are also facing quarterback Jared Goff in his third year in the NFL and only his second playoff game. They are facing a seemingly banged-up Todd Gurley who missed his last two games of the season. And their stud running back Ezekiel Elliott, along with a great run-blocking offensive line, will face the Rams’ league-worst run defense, at least in terms of yards per rush attempt. This may be the Cowboys best opportunity in a while to make the NFC Championship game.
Los Angeles Chargers @ New England Patriots
Storyline: Can Philip Rivers help the Chargers slay their ghosts and finally overcome New England?
While football is certainly about much more than quarterbacks, the media frequently pits quarterbacks against each other like they are playing one-on-one. This is certainly the case for Philip Rivers and Tom Brady in this week’s Patriots/Chargers matchup. Philip Rivers is 0-7 all-time against Brady, including the 2007 AFC Championship Game when Rivers played through a torn ACL. (Although some people don’t remember that or the fact that LaDainian Tomlinson left in the first quarter with an MCL sprain)
The Chargers have a great team all around, save for a subpar offensive line. On paper, they should certainly be able to overcome this year’s New England Patriots. This season is potentially Rivers’ best chance to improve his legacy. As of now, history will remember him as one of the greatest quarterbacks to not have Super Bowl ring. But no player, especially quarterback, wants to have that caveat next to their legacy: “Never a Super Bowl champion”
Rivers specifically, though definitely want a championship. He is one of three quarterbacks from his draft class that will probably make the Hall of Fame. The other two, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning, have two Super Bowls. In addition, Drew Brees, who the Chargers let go to make room for Rivers, is now a Super Bowl champion and clear NFL legend. If the Chargers beat the Patriots, Rivers will have a great chance at winning a ring. If he is able to claim that championship, the Chargers will have the hardware to back up their choices: both in making that draft-day trade for Rivers and in letting Brees go.
Philadelphia Eagles @ New Orleans Saints
Storyline: How far will Nick Foles magic’ carry the Eagles?
This is the most subjective of all the playoff storylines. But what Foles has done for this Eagles team, both this year and last is sensational. When he came in last year after a devastating Carson Wentz ACL tear, most thought the Eagles’ season was done. But not only did Foles hold the team together, but he also was the reason Philadelphia won their two biggest games of the season. This year when he took over, the Eagles were 6-7 and on the fringe of playoff elimination. But he has taken this team on a magical ride with four straight wins, leading them to this moment, the divisional round.
It’s not crazy to say that the winner of this game should be considered the favorite to win the Super Bowl. The Saints are an incredible challenge to overcome, especially considering Week 11’s 48-7 blowout of Philadelphia. But this Eagles team is different from that one, even outside of Foles replacing Wentz. The team looks inspired; part of that is that it rallies around Nick Foles. The Eagles are definitely an underdog, but they should not be counted out in this game, which should be much closer than Week 11’s. If Foles’ magic continues, he will get paid this offseason, whether by the Eagles or another team.
Featured image by DBX Network
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