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Saturday, 12 January 2019

NFL Divisional Round Play Off Picks 2019 (January 12-13)

The NFL Play Offs continue this weekend in the final Saturday of the 2018 season when the Divisional Round is played.

Next week both Championship Games will be played on Sunday and two weeks after that we will see the Super Bowl and that means tensions are raised with teams now sensing an opportunity to win a ring.

All four Divisional Round Play Off games sees the home team favoured to win and all by big margins too, but the underdogs have been in fine form for twelve months in the Play Offs. These trends never last forever, but I am hoping there will be more of the same this weekend during the Divisional Round.


Indianapolis Colts @ Kansas City Chiefs Pick: We are down to the final eight teams in the NFL as the run towards the Super Bowl picks up steam with the beginning of four games from the Divisional Round of the Play Offs.

This looks like it has the potential to be a very special game when the Indianapolis Colts (11-6) go back on the road to take on the Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) who finished with the Number 1 Seed in the AFC. All roads go through Arrowhead, but the Chiefs and Andy Reid have to overcome previous Play Off heartbreaks if they are going to progress to the Championship Game as is expected.

Patrick Mahomes is going to be the key for the Chiefs if they are going to win the Super Bowl and the young Quarter Back has stated that he is not worried about the Kansas City Play Off history as he wasn't involved in the negative results. However the fans will be edgy considering the Chiefs have had such a poor record in the post-season.

The fact that Kansas City are hosting arguably the hottest team in the AFC does not help and the Indianapolis Colts were dominant winners in the Wild Card Round when beating AFC South Champions Houston on the road. As the Number 6 Seed the Indianapolis Colts won't host a Play Off game, but they are playing with the confidence of having a host of wins behind them and the Colts also have Andrew Luck playing at close to his best from the Quarter Back position which could be all-important when it comes to a potential shoot-out.

It won't be all down to Luck's arm though as he will likely lean on Marlon Mack and the running game which was so effective in the win over Houston in the Wild Card Round. Mack should be ready to have another very good game in this one as Houston have struggled to contain the run for most of the season and won't be able to commit men to the line of scrimmage knowing how good Luck can be throwing the ball around.

Eric Berry's return has helped the Kansas City Secondary, but it looks like he won't be available for this game which makes it very difficult to know how the Chiefs are going to stop Indianapolis moving the ball in this one. Turnovers may be the biggest danger for Andrew Luck and his Offense, but he should have a clean pocket for much of this game and I can see Luck having a very big game as the Colts move the ball up and down the field both through the air and on the ground.

Mahomes has proven to be someone who can thrive in a shoot-out and he has the mentality of thriving rather than wilting in that situation. However this is a first start in a Play Off game which is always a different challenge to the regular season.

It does feel like this game is going to be on Mahomes' arm because the Colts Defensive Line can be very good at playing the run and the Kansas City Chiefs have not quite looked right there since Kareem Hunt was cut and Spencer Ware was injured.

Even then I would think Mahomes will have success in this Play Off game with the talent he has at Receiver and his own ability to find big plays. The Colts can get some pressure up front, but Kansas City should be able to give their Quarter Back time and Mahomes can also scramble and make plays on the run about as well as anybody in the NFL.

This does feel like a game where both teams will be able to move the ball Offensively, but I like the Colts balance and I think they can find a cover with the points they are being given. First time Quarter Backs in the Play Offs are just 4-16 against the spread as home favourites and Andrew Luck has the experience to put Indianapolis in a position to win this.

You can't ignore the fact that Andy Reid teams have lost their last four games when favoured at home in the Play Offs, while Kansas City are just 1-4 against the spread in their last five at home. Indianapolis have covered the spread in their last seven games against a team with a winning record and I do like the road underdog in this one.


Dallas Cowboys @ Los Angeles Rams Pick: There may have been some reservations about two teams moving to Los Angeles in the NFL with the feeling that they would not be supported in the City of Angels, but both are in the Divisional Round of the NFL Play Offs and that should mean there is some excitement building. It is the Los Angeles Rams (13-3) who will get to play first this weekend as they host the Dallas Cowboys (11-6) and the Rams are looking to succeed where they failed last season.

It was Wild Card Weekend when the Rams were beaten here by the Atlanta Falcons twelve months ago so there may be some nerves as the team gets set to host this Play Off game. Investment in the summer was made in a bid to get Los Angeles over the edge and anything less than a Super Bowl appearance may be considered an underachievement for them.

Playing a team who have won eight of their last nine games including coming through a Play Off Round is never easy, but the Cowboys have to show they can compete effectively on the road. In 2018 they had a losing record on the road and Dallas are a team with a poor Play Off record over the last twenty-five years which suggests they have plenty to prove too.

Football is not played on paper, but you can't ignore how well it feels like the Dallas Cowboys will match up with the Los Angeles Rams.

Offensively the Cowboys are a team built to run the ball and it is impossible to gloss over the fact that the Los Angeles Rams gave up 5.1 yards per carry over the course of the season. Wade Phillips is a fantastic Defensive Co-Ordinator, but stopping the run has been an Achilles Heel for the former Dallas Head Coach and Ezekiel Elliot should be able to pick up from where he left off against the Seattle Seahawks on Wild Card Weekend.

The Rams Defensive Line does have some big time players on it, but they have to find a way to slow down Elliot who will be leaned on to control the clock as well as keep the Cowboys in third and manageable spots.

From there Dak Prescott, who has dismissed worries about an injury that may limit his ability to scramble, should also be able to make some plays. Amari Cooper could be covered up in the Secondary, but other players can step up for Prescott as long as Dallas are not stuck in third and long spots where they are simply not built to convert consistently.

Ezekiel Elliot is one of two big name Running Backs playing in this Divisional Round game as Todd Gurley looks to be healthy having missed the last couple of games in the regular season. Gurley has been a huge reason the Los Angeles Rams have been as effective Offensively as they have been, but running against the Dallas Defensive Line has proved to be a big challenge for many teams throughout the season and instead his biggest impact may come as a pass catcher coming out of the backfield.

Sean McVay is the kind of Offensive mind who will look to get Gurley going one way or another, but he will also ask Jared Goff to make some deep plays from the Quarter Back position. Goff tends to be well protected and the Dallas Secondary has given up some big plays, although the absence of Cooper Kuup continues to hinder the Rams from really coming back on track Offensively.

In saying that I do think the Rams will have some successes moving the ball too, but this still feels like too many points for the home team to be getting.

There are some trends that go against both teams but Jared Goff is just 4-11-1 against the spread in his career when playing against a team with a winning record. This season that number is 0-3-1 against the spread and this is a Rams team that tends to be dragged into close games.

In this case I expect the Cowboys to run them into a close game and I will take the points with the road underdog here.


Los Angeles Chargers @ New England Patriots Pick: The schedule for the NFL Play Offs have not really been any help at all to the Los Angeles Chargers (13-4) who are once again in the early Eastern Time slot on Sunday in the Divisional Round. A reminder has to be given that this is essentially  10am start for the Chargers who had to play in the same time slot when they met the Baltimore Ravens on the East Coast during Wild Card Weekend, although it didn't prevent them from winning the game.

It was a tough battle against the Ravens, but the Chargers were deserved winners and now they have had to do a lot of travelling ahead of another meeting with the New England Patriots (11-5) in the post-season. The Chargers actually finished with a better regular season record than their hosts, but that counts for nothing in the Play Offs and Philip Rivers has never led his team to a win over the Patriots when Tom Brady has been at Quarter Back.

A big negative trend goes against the Chargers too which adds to the worry about this early kick off for the West Coast team. Any team that is playing a third consecutive road game in the Play Offs are just 20-37-2 against the trend in that game.

I have already picked the Indianapolis Colts to cover in that dynamic and I do think the Los Angeles Chargers can be the second team to overcome the trend. I can't help but be concerned that this early kick off coupled with all the recent travelling could leave them short, but Los Angeles should be looking to play hard for Captain Brandon Mebane who is back with the team in the week where his seven week old daughter passed away having had complications from her birth.

The Chargers have to go back to basics if they are going to win this and that means running the ball effectively and challenging the New England Defensive Line which has had problems for most of the season. Some of the recent Chargers numbers running the ball have been affected by the fact they played a strong team like the Baltimore Ravens twice, but Melvin Gordon is set to go and I would imagine there will be a big dose of the Running Back fed to the Patriots to try and open things up for Philip Rivers.

In recent games the Quarter Back has not been at his best, but he has been efficient and Rivers will feel he has the Receivers to make plays against the Patriots Secondary. There have been signs of improvement from New England on the back end of their Defensive unit, but it could mean a lot of one on one coverage if the Chargers are able to run the ball as they can.

There is some more concern with how many people have tried to draw a line through the New England Patriots and that makes this team dangerous. I have learned to never write them off, although there have been signs that the Brady era is very much closer to an end than it ever has been before.

Tom Brady has been playing with an injury by some accounts, but the Quarter Back's experience in the post-season can't be dismissed. It has been more of a struggle with Josh Gordon's off-field issues ending his season and Rob Gronkowski looking like a shadow of his former self, but New England are very tough to beat here in Foxboro and I expect them to have prepared very well through the Bye of the Wild Card Round.

The Patriots have a strong run game of their own which can make things much easier for Brady and leaning on Sony Michel, James White and Rex Burkhead could be the way to go. It has to be said that the Chargers Defensive Line is an under-rated one and they have shown they can play the run very well, but this week they will be respecting the Quarter Back and that may mean a few more holes up front to be exploited.

I would expect Brady to have success throwing the ball, but the key to beating this Quarter Back in Play Offs past has been the ability to get pressure on him that does make Brady a touch jittery in the pocket. The Los Angeles Chargers have a very strong couple of Defensive Ends in Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa who can cause havoc up front and both will need to have a big game just to get Brady thinking about where the pressure is coming from.

That could be the key for the Los Angeles Chargers in trying to upset the odds and winning another tough road game on the East Coast.

The Chargers do have a miserable 0-4 record against the spread in their last four games against the New England Patriots, but they were very competitive in a loss here last season. Both teams have some very strong trends to lean on, but I think getting more than a Field Goal for Los Angeles is just appealing enough to be backed here.

It might need a backdoor cover and a clean game from Rivers to do that, but the Chargers are playing with confidence and belief and they do look capable of upsetting the odds for a second week in a row.


Philadelphia Eagles @ New Orleans Saints Pick: You can't deny the feeling the Philadelphia Eagles (10-7) have to have after somehow coming through three games as the underdog to win the Super Bowl last season and continuing in that vain this time around. Maybe there really is some magic around Nick Foles who has been little more than a functional Quarter Back around the NFL before re-signing with the Philadelphia Eagles and turning into a player that won't let his team be beaten in the Play Offs.

The Eagles needed a big intervention at Soldier Field on Wild Card Weekend as a tipped Field Goal hit the post and the crossbar before rebounding back into play and helping Philadelphia edge out the Chicago Bears as another significant underdog. That is the case again in the Divisional Round as the Eagles face the daunting task of returning to the SuperDome where they were embarrassed in the regular season.

Now they have to deal with a well-rested New Orleans Saints (13-3) team who finished with the best record in the NFC which means they have home field advantage for as long as they remain in the Play Offs.

Key players were also given Week 17 off so there is perhaps some question as to whether the Saints are a little rusty facing a team who have essentially been playing Play Off Football for a number of weeks now.

Four wins in a row for the Eagles have come during a time when they were an underdog of 6.5 points and 13.5 points on the road and revenge is on the minds of the players who feel like New Orleans ran up the score. Nick Foles also didn't play in the regular season game and he has performed well enough for the Eagles to really believe he can make the difference despite the blow out nature of the first defeat.

Much of the pressure is going to be on Foles because the Eagles are going to have a very hard time running the ball against this Saints Defensive Line. Philadelphia really haven't found a consistent source of success on the ground anyway, but facing the Saints should only underline the point and that means the Quarter Back will have to drop back and look to make the big throws through the air.

Last week Foles made two errors with Interceptions, although only one of those was truly down to a poor decision on his part. He will feel his Offensive Tackles can at least give him time to make his throws, but both Jason Peters and Lane Johnson will be tested by the Saints' Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport who have been very good at getting to the Quarter Back for much of the season.

New Orleans will feel the Secondary have also been playing well enough to make some key stops through the air and it might be down to the Eagles Defensive unit to step up if they are going to knock the Saints off.

In recent games the Philadelphia much vaunted Defensive Line have stepped up their play and that has made it very difficult for teams to establish the run with consistency against them. Even the Bears had some problems so that will be a concern for the New Orleans Saints whose win against the Eagles in the regular season was sparked by the success that Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram were able to have on the ground.

Both players will still be leaned on this one and Kamara in particular is a big threat catching the ball out of the backfield. That may be a way to open things up on the Offensive Line, but New Orleans won't back away from the Eagles and Sean Payton will keep the Defensive unit as honest as possible.

The Eagles Defensive Line will also look to disrupt things up front with the strong pass rush they have been able to establish through four men. That is important for Philadelphia as it means they can drop more men into coverage and just challenge a New Orleans passing game which has not been playing at the level they were earlier in the season.

Drew Brees is still Drew Brees though and stopping the Saints completely is going to be very difficult, while the Eagles allowed Mitchell Trubisky to make some key throws through the air last week. Injuries in the Secondary haven't helped, but that makes even more important that the top players on the Defensive Line make things as awkward as possible for the Saints up front.

Philadelphia are in the same spot as the Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Chargers and that is playing their third consecutive road game inside the Play Offs where teams are 20-37-2 against the spread. The Eagles also have a poor 1-4 record against the spread in their last five games against the New Orleans Saints and I don't buy the 'magic' around a team who have had their fair share of luck in their last four Play Off games.

It is almost unimaginable that the Saints win by the margin they did in the regular season, but they should be well rested and I expect Drew Brees to have just enough time to carve up a banged up Philadelphia Secondary. In a shoot out I can't help but think Nick Foles makes a couple of big mistakes and that can see the Saints cover.

New Orleans have won all five Play Off games at home with Drew Brees at Quarter Back and those have come by an average of 11 points per game so I will look for the Saints to cover here and break what has been a strong run for the underdogs in the Play Offs over the last twelve months.

MY PICKS: Indianapolis Colts + 5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Dallas Cowboys + 7 Points @ 2.00 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Los Angeles Chargers + 4 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
New Orleans Saints - 8 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)

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