NFL Divisional Weekend 2018
After the successes of the away sides in the wildcard round, things returned to normal with all the home sides winning leaving us with the top two seeds from each Conference meeting in the Championship games next week. The AFC games were pretty one-sided, however, both of the NFC games were surprisingly competitive, both settled by eight points.
AFC Match Ups
Kansas City Chiefs 31 Indianapolis Colts 13
The Indianapolis Colts comfortably rolled past the Houston Texans last week, however, in the second postseason away game, they were clearly second best to the Chiefs, who were 17-0 up before the Colts even managed a first down. Even the solitary score in the first half was the result of special teams play with the touchdown coming from a returned blocked punt. Any realistic chance they had of making this a game disappeared late in the first half when the usually reliable Adam Vinatieri missed a 23-yard field goal, which would have sent them in only two scores down. The Colts did manage to score 1st in the second half, however, it really wasn’t Adam’s day as he missed the extra point to leave the score at 24-13. Kansas City put the finishing touches to the game with another touchdown late in the fourth quarter to lead the final score at 31-13.
In what was billed as a battle of the quarterbacks neither really shone with Andrew Luck being held to 203 yards passing while Patrick Mahomes despite racking up 278 yards passing didn’t throw a TD pass. The Colts were even more anaemic on the ground with only 87 yards rushing. The Chiefs will now welcome New England in another match up which will be dominated by QB comparisons, although the coaching battle between Bill Belichick & Andy Reid will also be intriguing.
New England Patriots 41 LA Chargers 28
In another battle of probable future Hall of Fame Quarter Backs, Tom Brady improved his record against Philip Rivers to 8-0 in a surprisingly comfortable win. Both teams scored on their opening drives, however the Charges ended up punting on the next four possessions, allowing New England to run up a 35-7 lead at the half. LA punted on their opening possession in the second half and when New England added a field-goal on the next play any hope of a comeback effectively ended. The Charges added a couple of touchdowns including one in garbage time to make the score look more respectable than it actually was.
Stats wise New England dominated putting up 498 yards of offence, with Tom Brady throwing for 343 yards of this. However the game was largely won on the ground, with Sonny Michelle picking 129 yards of rushing, and three touchdowns. By comparison the charges only managed to pick up 19 yards rushing and their star running back Melvin Gordon was held to a season low 15 yards, although as consolation he did manage to score a touchdown.
Sonny Michelle is having a rookie season to remember and was the first rookie running back to score a postseason touchdown for New England since 1998.Tom Brady has now had an incredible 15 300+ yard games in the postseason, the nearest to this is Peyton Manning who had nine.
New England are now 9-0 at home this season, however their away record has not been as good but will be interesting to see how they cope with the freezing temperatures which are forecast at Arrowhead this weekend.
NFC Match Ups
New Orleans Saints 20 Philadelphia Eagles 14
Fifteen minutes into this game, it looked like Nick Foles was going to continue his magic as the Eagles were 14-0 up and looking the better team. However after this ugly start New Orleans shook the rust off and put forward one of the most dominant defensive performances of the season as the Saints stormed back for what in the end was a fairly comfortable win.
Nick Foles, who was probably played his last game for the Eagles led them downfield to score in the opening drive, and after the Saints punted on their first possession scored again this time on one-yard rush.The Philly offence amassed 151 yards on these two plays, but only managed an additional 99 in the rest of the game.
The Saints had a nightmare start with Drew Brees throwing an interception on the first play, however late in the first quarter the defence stepped up, picking off a pass and Drew Brees was able to capitalise on this short field to pull the score back to 14-7. They added a field goal with six seconds left in the first half, and late in the third quarter took their first lead of the game when Brees threw his second TD pass. Philadelphia punted on their first three second-half possessions, and although the Saints added another field-goal to make it 20-14 when Will Lutz missed one from 52 yards with 3.03 left on the clock it looked for one moment like Nick Foles was going to pull it out of the bag again. The Eagles needing a touchdown to win it got down to the Saints 27 yard line only For Nick Foles to throw his second interception of the game, which allowed the Saints to run out the clock.
Overall the Saints ran out deserved winners, they did test a couple of times going for it on fourth down however after the opening few minutes the ground game and there defence took over. Drew Brees finished with 283 yards passing, while Nick Foles only managed to add 50 yards to his total following the two early touchdowns. The Eagles were equally lacklustre on the ground only mustering 49 yards total.
The Saints will now host the LA Rams in the Conference Championship Game, a rematch of their week nine meeting which the Saints won 45-35. A similar scoreline either way would be great for the neutrals this weekend.
LA Rams 30 Dallas Cowboys 22
The LA Rams quite literally ran the Cowboys out of town in this one with both CJ Anderson and Todd Gurley racking over a hundred yards rushing, and all three of the touchdowns came on the ground. Although the game featured two of the top up-and-coming quarterbacks in the NFC this was largely billed as a duel between two of the games top running backs in Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott, however Dallas struggled massively against the Rams defensive front and only managed 50 yards rushing in the entire game.
The Rams opened the game with a field-goal, and on their opening play Dallas scored the only passing touchdown of the game to take a lead which they held into the second quarter, before another field-goal and two touchdowns gave the Rams a commanding lead going into the half. The Cowboys did look like they would make a game of it briefly in the second half when Elliott ran in a 1 yard touchdown and a two-point conversion got them back within one score, however The Cowboys eschewed along field-goal attempt to end the third quarter, instead going for it on fourth down, and the Rams went on to put the game away with a touchdown on the ensuing drive. Dallas did get back to within eight points with 2:11 left, however the Rams were able to run out the clock to advance to the Conference Championship.
There were no turnovers in the game, and very few penalties, however the main takeaway was that Jared Goff looked a little shaky and inexperienced, and if they’re going to have any chance of winning in the Superdome this weekend he will have to play a whole lot better.
So there we have it the cream has rose to the top with the number one and two seeds in each conference making the finals, and both games having interesting connotations, with two guaranteed Hall of Fame quarterbacks taking on young pretenders, and the clash of some of the best coaches in the game.