Saints vs Eagles

Saints vs Eagles: Saints coach Sean Payton dismisses the premise that the Eagles could derive extra motivation from the widespread perception that New Orleans ran up the score on them when they met in November.

“My question would be: We’re all playing hard in these divisional playoff games, right?” Payton began, referring to Sunday’s rematch in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs. “Are you going to play harder” because of a perceived slight?

Still, Payton expects a more competitive affair than the Saints’ 48-7 blowout of the Eagles on Nov. 18, which gave Philadelphia the dubious distinction of becoming the first reigning Super Bowl champion to lose by that wide a margin in the following regular season.

The Eagles (10-7) appeared to be sinking fast when their loss in New Orleans dropped them to 4-6. But they’ve rallied to win six of seven since, including a road victory against the Los Angeles Rams that helped New Orleans (13-3) capture the conference’s top seed.

“They’ve kind of been in a playoff role really going back to those games, needing to win to get in,” Payton noted. “So it’s impressive.”

Now the Eagles, who opened as 10-point underdogs this week, can ruin the Saints’ Super Bowl dreams with a second straight road upset.

“We’re looking forward to it,” Eagles tight end Zach Ertz said. “We’re a completely different team than we were seven weeks ago. I don’t think the team that showed up on that Sunday is even remotely close to the team that we are right now.”

Such a lopsided loss in New Orleans could have resulted in finger-pointing and a fractured locker room, Ertz suggested. Instead, Ertz said, “It was a rallying point for our season.”

The Eagles survived last week’s wild-card round with a 16-15 victory in which quarterback Nick Foles – who’s won four straight starts since taking over for injured starter Carson Wentz – engineered a late scoring drive capped by a fourth-down touchdown pass. And that only stood up after Chicago kicker Cody Parkey’s “double-doink” miss on a field-goal attempt that hit both the upright and crossbar in the final seconds.

Philadelphia likely will need more offense in the Superdome, where the Saints averaged 37 points in Drew Brees’ seven home starts before the record-setting QB got a rest day during the club’s anti-climactic regular-season finale.

“I assume they’ll come in as motivated as ever. Just like we’re going to come in as motivated as ever,” Brees said. “Just two really good teams about to play in a playoff game.”

Some other story lines surrounding the third Eagles-Saints playoff clash since Payton and Brees joined forces in New Orleans in 2006.

STARTING FAST

The Eagles have won 19 straight games when they score in the first quarter, including 7-0 this season. They scored on a field-goal drive last week in the first quarter. It’ll be even more important to score early against the high-powered Saints. New Orleans is 5-0 when leading after one quarter, 9-0 when leading at halftime and won eight times by double-digit margins.

“We are starting the games better now over the last six, seven games,” Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. “Defense is doing a really good job getting off the field early in the game. We’re able to get the lead.”

Coach Doug Pederson has deferred the kickoff to the second half whenever the Eagles have won the coin toss. Perhaps he’ll reconsider if he wins the toss this week.

RESTED SAINTS

Several prominent Saints players haven’t played in more than two weeks. Brees, who completed an NFL single-season record 74.4 percent of his passes, and dynamic running back Alvin Kamara, who had 1,592 yards and 18 TDs from scrimmage, were both healthy scratches in Week 17.

Meanwhile, two starting offensive linemen who’ve been nursing injuries – left tackle Terron Armstead (chest) and right guard Larry Warford (knee) – both sat out the regular-season finale.

“Our O-line being healthy, back to pretty much 100 percent, guys are just excited, rejuvenated and ready to play,” Kamara said.

Armstead has yet to confirm he’ll be ready, but he practiced this week and said with a smile, “I feel good about Sunday.”

DUMP-OFFS

Both teams are adept at using running backs as receivers. Kamara (81 catches, 709 yards) is New Orleans’ second-leading receiver behind Michael Thomas. Mark Ingram also has been effective on screens for New Orleans.

Meanwhile, the Saints anticipate the Eagles to look for former Saints running Darren Sproles, who, like Foles, did not play in the previous meeting.

“Darren has got incredibly good instincts on setting up some of these screens,” said Payton, who employed Sproles similarly from 2011-13. “Quite honestly, we haven’t been as good this year as we have in other years in that area, but a lot of it depends on the opponent you’re playing.”

PROVEN PROTECTION

Although All-Pro defensive linemen Aaron Donald (20½ sacks), J.J. Watt (16) and Khalil Mack (12½) combined for 49 sacks this season, they were all held without a sack against Philadelphia.

An offensive line featuring All-Pro center Jason Kelce, Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks and tackles Lane Johnson and Jason Peters has held up well against their best competition. Their latest challenge features Saints end Cameron Jordan (12 sacks) and tackle Sheldon Rankins (eight).

“Any time that we hear a lot about our opponent, especially the guys up front, it just seems like our guys have really embraced that opportunity and embraced the challenge,” Pederson said.

Having Peters and Johnson at the tackle spots allows Pederson to let those guys man-up against opponents’ premier pass-rushers instead of using tight ends on double teams.

“As a play caller it makes it a little easier because they are playing well, and they are controlling the line of scrimmage,” Pederson said. “The more guys you can put into a route, obviously, more opportunities for completions.”matchups
By Luke Johnson, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune | Posted January 13, 2019 at 06:00 AM
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Do or die season has arrived in New Orleans.

With a tremendous regular season, the New Orleans Saints put themselves in position to play at home throughout the postsesason. The first test will be a hot Philadelphia Eagles team that has won six of its last seven.

To advance, the Saints will need to disrupt the player who has been driving Philly’s late-season rush, slow down the NFL’s top receiving tight end (again) and prove that the New Orleans voodoo is stronger than the one the Eagles have been riding the last two seasons.
Saints defensive line vs. Eagles offensive line
New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) pressures Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) in the third quarter during the game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints at the Superdome on Sunday, December 23, 2018. (Photo by Michael DeMocker, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)
Saints defensive line vs. Eagles offensive line

One of the hallmarks of the Chicago Bears defense this season was its ability to get after the quarterback. With Khalil Mack leading the charge as one of the NFL’s best pass rushers, the Bears were one of four NFL teams to record 50 sacks this season.

In the wild card game last week against Philadelphia — at home, no less — Mack was shut out and the Bears managed to bring down quarterback Nick Foles just one time.

Protecting its quarterback was a problem for Philadelphia earlier this season, but lately it has been a strength. After allowing 35 sacks in the first 11 games, the Eagles have allowed only seven sacks in their last six games.

Considering Philadelphia’s dependence on its pass offense (its leading rusher, Josh Adams, gained 511 rushing yards this year) it would seem to be imperative to the Eagles chances to keep that play up against the Saints.

But it won’t be easy for the Eagles to go a second straight week, especially considering the run the Saints defense was on.

Since Week 10 (not counting the postseason), the Saints have recorded an NFL-leading 32 sacks, six more than the next closest team. That pass rush has played a key role in the Saints limiting opposing quarterbacks to an 87.8 rating, and opponents are scoring just 16.9 points per game in that span.

Keep it going against Philadelphia’s resurgent offensive line, and that is a massive swing in New Orleans’ favor.
Eagles tight end Zach Ertz vs. Saints coverage
New Orleans Saints cornerback Eli Apple (25) breaks up a fourth down pass to Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz (86) during the game between the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints at the Superdome on Sunday, November 18, 2018. (Photo by Michael DeMocker, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)
Eagles tight end Zach Ertz vs. Saints coverage

Zach Ertz had the most prolific pass-catching season by a tight end in NFL history, hauling in 116 passes this season to top the record former Cowboys tight end Jason Witten set with 110 catches in 2012.

It wasn’t just volume either. Ertz had five 100-yard games this season, falling one shy of matching the NFL’s single-season record for a tight end (shared by Tony Gonzalez, who did it twice, and Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, who did it in 2016).

“He’s an extremely talented player,” said Saints coach Sean Payton. “He has great hips, he has great route savvy. He can catch it in awkward positions. There’s a real good feel that exists between he and Nick (Foles).”

The 2018 season was a smashing success for Ertz. Which makes what happened against the Saints in Week 11 so intriguing.

New Orleans clamped down on Ertz, limiting him to two catches (on three targets) for 15 yards. All of those figures were season lows.

Can the Saints do it again? It’s possible. The New Orleans defense has done many things well on the defensive side of the ball this season, and one of them has been keeping opposing tight ends in check.

Opposing tight ends caught just 55 passes against the Saints (third lowest in the NFL) for 626 yards (fourth lowest in the NFL). Only 58.5 percent of passes thrown toward tight ends were completed, the second lowest mark against any team in the NFL.
‘Dome Field Advantage’ vs. ‘Foles Magic’
New Orleans Saints fans including Larry Rolling after the game against the Carolina Panthers at the Merecedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018. (Photo by David Grunfeld, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)
‘Dome Field Advantage’ vs. ‘Foles Magic’

Here are two numbers to consider: The Saints have never lost a home playoff game under Sean Payton (5-0), and the Eagles have won four consecutive playoff games with Nick Foles as the starting quarterback, one of which was Super Bowl LII, in which Foles was named the game MVP.

One of these things has to change Sunday in the Superdome.

Foles has been a remarkable story for the Eagles in this second go-round as team savior. He made the cover of “Sports Illustrated” this week after leading the Eagles to an upset road win against the Bears under the headline “Again?!”

Almost all Foles has done the last two seasons is win. Two separate injuries to Carson Wentz have made the Eagles turn to Foles for 12 starts, and the Eagles have won 10 of those games, four in the playoffs.

And it’s not like Foles has simply been carried by his teammates. His 105.1 career playoff passer rating is the best in NFL history, minimum 150 attempts.

Eagles vs Saints

Eagles vs Saints : Saints coach Sean Payton dismisses the premise that the Eagles could derive extra motivation from the widespread perception that New Orleans ran up the score on them when they met in November.

“My question would be: We’re all playing hard in these divisional playoff games, right?” Payton began, referring to Sunday’s rematch in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs. “Are you going to play harder” because of a perceived slight?

Still, Payton expects a more competitive affair than the Saints’ 48-7 blowout of the Eagles on Nov. 18, which gave Philadelphia the dubious distinction of becoming the first reigning Super Bowl champion to lose by that wide a margin in the following regular season.

The Eagles (10-7) appeared to be sinking fast when their loss in New Orleans dropped them to 4-6. But they’ve rallied to win six of seven since, including a road victory against the Los Angeles Rams that helped New Orleans (13-3) capture the conference’s top seed.

“They’ve kind of been in a playoff role really going back to those games, needing to win to get in,” Payton noted. “So it’s impressive.”

Now the Eagles, who opened as 10-point underdogs this week, can ruin the Saints’ Super Bowl dreams with a second straight road upset.

“We’re looking forward to it,” Eagles tight end Zach Ertz said. “We’re a completely different team than we were seven weeks ago. I don’t think the team that showed up on that Sunday is even remotely close to the team that we are right now.”

Such a lopsided loss in New Orleans could have resulted in finger-pointing and a fractured locker room, Ertz suggested. Instead, Ertz said, “It was a rallying point for our season.”

The Eagles survived last week’s wild-card round with a 16-15 victory in which quarterback Nick Foles – who’s won four straight starts since taking over for injured starter Carson Wentz – engineered a late scoring drive capped by a fourth-down touchdown pass. And that only stood up after Chicago kicker Cody Parkey’s “double-doink” miss on a field-goal attempt that hit both the upright and crossbar in the final seconds.

Philadelphia likely will need more offense in the Superdome, where the Saints averaged 37 points in Drew Brees’ seven home starts before the record-setting QB got a rest day during the club’s anti-climactic regular-season finale.

“I assume they’ll come in as motivated as ever. Just like we’re going to come in as motivated as ever,” Brees said. “Just two really good teams about to play in a playoff game.”

Some other story lines surrounding the third Eagles-Saints playoff clash since Payton and Brees joined forces in New Orleans in 2006.

STARTING FAST

The Eagles have won 19 straight games when they score in the first quarter, including 7-0 this season. They scored on a field-goal drive last week in the first quarter. It’ll be even more important to score early against the high-powered Saints. New Orleans is 5-0 when leading after one quarter, 9-0 when leading at halftime and won eight times by double-digit margins.

“We are starting the games better now over the last six, seven games,” Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. “Defense is doing a really good job getting off the field early in the game. We’re able to get the lead.”

Coach Doug Pederson has deferred the kickoff to the second half whenever the Eagles have won the coin toss. Perhaps he’ll reconsider if he wins the toss this week.

RESTED SAINTS

Several prominent Saints players haven’t played in more than two weeks. Brees, who completed an NFL single-season record 74.4 percent of his passes, and dynamic running back Alvin Kamara, who had 1,592 yards and 18 TDs from scrimmage, were both healthy scratches in Week 17.

Meanwhile, two starting offensive linemen who’ve been nursing injuries – left tackle Terron Armstead (chest) and right guard Larry Warford (knee) – both sat out the regular-season finale.

“Our O-line being healthy, back to pretty much 100 percent, guys are just excited, rejuvenated and ready to play,” Kamara said.

Armstead has yet to confirm he’ll be ready, but he practiced this week and said with a smile, “I feel good about Sunday.”

DUMP-OFFS

Both teams are adept at using running backs as receivers. Kamara (81 catches, 709 yards) is New Orleans’ second-leading receiver behind Michael Thomas. Mark Ingram also has been effective on screens for New Orleans.

Meanwhile, the Saints anticipate the Eagles to look for former Saints running Darren Sproles, who, like Foles, did not play in the previous meeting.

“Darren has got incredibly good instincts on setting up some of these screens,” said Payton, who employed Sproles similarly from 2011-13. “Quite honestly, we haven’t been as good this year as we have in other years in that area, but a lot of it depends on the opponent you’re playing.”

PROVEN PROTECTION

Although All-Pro defensive linemen Aaron Donald (20½ sacks), J.J. Watt (16) and Khalil Mack (12½) combined for 49 sacks this season, they were all held without a sack against Philadelphia.

An offensive line featuring All-Pro center Jason Kelce, Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks and tackles Lane Johnson and Jason Peters has held up well against their best competition. Their latest challenge features Saints end Cameron Jordan (12 sacks) and tackle Sheldon Rankins (eight).

“Any time that we hear a lot about our opponent, especially the guys up front, it just seems like our guys have really embraced that opportunity and embraced the challenge,” Pederson said.

Having Peters and Johnson at the tackle spots allows Pederson to let those guys man-up against opponents’ premier pass-rushers instead of using tight ends on double teams.

“As a play caller it makes it a little easier because they are playing well, and they are controlling the line of scrimmage,” Pederson said. “The more guys you can put into a route, obviously, more opportunities for completions.”matchups
By Luke Johnson, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune | Posted January 13, 2019 at 06:00 AM
Comment

Do or die season has arrived in New Orleans.

With a tremendous regular season, the New Orleans Saints put themselves in position to play at home throughout the postsesason. The first test will be a hot Philadelphia Eagles team that has won six of its last seven.

To advance, the Saints will need to disrupt the player who has been driving Philly’s late-season rush, slow down the NFL’s top receiving tight end (again) and prove that the New Orleans voodoo is stronger than the one the Eagles have been riding the last two seasons.
Saints defensive line vs. Eagles offensive line
New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) pressures Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) in the third quarter during the game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints at the Superdome on Sunday, December 23, 2018. (Photo by Michael DeMocker, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)
Saints defensive line vs. Eagles offensive line

One of the hallmarks of the Chicago Bears defense this season was its ability to get after the quarterback. With Khalil Mack leading the charge as one of the NFL’s best pass rushers, the Bears were one of four NFL teams to record 50 sacks this season.

In the wild card game last week against Philadelphia — at home, no less — Mack was shut out and the Bears managed to bring down quarterback Nick Foles just one time.

Protecting its quarterback was a problem for Philadelphia earlier this season, but lately it has been a strength. After allowing 35 sacks in the first 11 games, the Eagles have allowed only seven sacks in their last six games.

Considering Philadelphia’s dependence on its pass offense (its leading rusher, Josh Adams, gained 511 rushing yards this year) it would seem to be imperative to the Eagles chances to keep that play up against the Saints.

But it won’t be easy for the Eagles to go a second straight week, especially considering the run the Saints defense was on.

Since Week 10 (not counting the postseason), the Saints have recorded an NFL-leading 32 sacks, six more than the next closest team. That pass rush has played a key role in the Saints limiting opposing quarterbacks to an 87.8 rating, and opponents are scoring just 16.9 points per game in that span.

Keep it going against Philadelphia’s resurgent offensive line, and that is a massive swing in New Orleans’ favor.
Eagles tight end Zach Ertz vs. Saints coverage
New Orleans Saints cornerback Eli Apple (25) breaks up a fourth down pass to Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz (86) during the game between the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints at the Superdome on Sunday, November 18, 2018. (Photo by Michael DeMocker, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)
Eagles tight end Zach Ertz vs. Saints coverage

Zach Ertz had the most prolific pass-catching season by a tight end in NFL history, hauling in 116 passes this season to top the record former Cowboys tight end Jason Witten set with 110 catches in 2012.

It wasn’t just volume either. Ertz had five 100-yard games this season, falling one shy of matching the NFL’s single-season record for a tight end (shared by Tony Gonzalez, who did it twice, and Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, who did it in 2016).

“He’s an extremely talented player,” said Saints coach Sean Payton. “He has great hips, he has great route savvy. He can catch it in awkward positions. There’s a real good feel that exists between he and Nick (Foles).”

The 2018 season was a smashing success for Ertz. Which makes what happened against the Saints in Week 11 so intriguing.

New Orleans clamped down on Ertz, limiting him to two catches (on three targets) for 15 yards. All of those figures were season lows.

Can the Saints do it again? It’s possible. The New Orleans defense has done many things well on the defensive side of the ball this season, and one of them has been keeping opposing tight ends in check.

Opposing tight ends caught just 55 passes against the Saints (third lowest in the NFL) for 626 yards (fourth lowest in the NFL). Only 58.5 percent of passes thrown toward tight ends were completed, the second lowest mark against any team in the NFL.
‘Dome Field Advantage’ vs. ‘Foles Magic’
New Orleans Saints fans including Larry Rolling after the game against the Carolina Panthers at the Merecedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018. (Photo by David Grunfeld, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)
‘Dome Field Advantage’ vs. ‘Foles Magic’

Here are two numbers to consider: The Saints have never lost a home playoff game under Sean Payton (5-0), and the Eagles have won four consecutive playoff games with Nick Foles as the starting quarterback, one of which was Super Bowl LII, in which Foles was named the game MVP.

One of these things has to change Sunday in the Superdome.

Foles has been a remarkable story for the Eagles in this second go-round as team savior. He made the cover of “Sports Illustrated” this week after leading the Eagles to an upset road win against the Bears under the headline “Again?!”

Almost all Foles has done the last two seasons is win. Two separate injuries to Carson Wentz have made the Eagles turn to Foles for 12 starts, and the Eagles have won 10 of those games, four in the playoffs.

And it’s not like Foles has simply been carried by his teammates. His 105.1 career playoff passer rating is the best in NFL history, minimum 150 attempts.

Kansas City Chiefs Football

Kansas City Chiefs Football: front seven ranked No. 17 by Pro Football Focus When you’re not entirely sure what to do with something, it’s typical behavior to just stuff it somewhere. That’s exactly what the analysts at Pro Football Focus have done with the front seven of the Kansas City Chiefs defense.

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Like an old childhood keepsake stuffed inside a box or a receipt kept at the bottom of a purse, the folks at PFF decided to shove the Chiefs front seven into the middle of their annual front seven rankings. It’s human nature when you’re not sure where exactly something goes.

PFF doesn’t shy away from their inability to rank the Chiefs front seven. In fact, they admit it’s a rare scale held in the middle by two opposing forces:

Chiefs fans have been frustrated by this porous run defense all season. The team had serious issues in 2017 with the run defense, and the coaching staff and front office threw the blame on the players in this instance.

If you think back, the offseason mantra was about getting younger and tougher. Brett Veach made big statements about bringing in physical players who could play tough for all four quarters. It sounded good after watching the Chiefs allow another postseason lead slip away—this time to the Tennessee Titans.

In response, the Chiefs waved goodbye to Derrick Johnson and replaced him in the middle with Reggie Ragland and a high ticket free agent in Anthony Hitchens. They drafted Dorian O’Daniel in the third round. They brought in Bennie Logan and, when that didn’t work, they replaced him with a one-two of Derrick Nnadi and Xavier Williams along the defensive line.

Unfortunately, the results were largely the same. Only five teams allowed more rushing yards per game, and the Chiefs are allowing 9 more rushing yards than last year.

On the flip side, the team’s pass rush finally came together with a healthy season for all parties involved. Not only did Dee Ford stay healthy in a contract year after missing most of the previous season with back spasms, but he finally broke through with the production (13 sacks) to match the potential he flashed at Auburn which caused John Dorsey to invest a first-round pick back in 2014.

Speaking of breaking through, Chris Jones made a prediction in the team’s preseason that he would lead the league in sacks and he finished among the leaders in the category. After a slow start, Jones finished with 15.5 sacks and set an NFL record for most consecutive games with a sack. Justin Houston also came on particularly strong down the stretch and ended the year with nine. Allen Bailey added a career high of 6 in a contract year as well.

The Chiefs ended the year tied for the league lead in sacks with the Pittsburgh Steelers as their pass rushing core came on strong and never stopped. Opposing quarterbacks felt a constant pressure against the Chiefs front seven, which should have made them one of the most celebrated units in football. Then again those run defense numbers paint an entirely different picture altogether.

NEXT: The Chiefs playoff ghosts are a mirage

In 2018, the story written about the Chiefs defense will be just what Pro Football Focus did with them—an odd mix of high production and embarrassing results.

NFC Divisional Playoffs

NFC Divisional Playoffs: Schedule, Predictions and Odds for Divisional Round In the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles are trying to do it again with backup quarterback Nick Foles at the helm. They edged the Chicago Bears 16-15 in their wild-card matchup with a little thanks to a slightly tipped field goal off the foot of Cody Parkey, sending them to a contest with No. 1 seed New Orleans Saints.

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The Dallas Cowboys, meanwhile, held off the Seattle Seahawks and will have a date with the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday.

In the AFC, the Los Angeles Chargers will be trying to win back-to-back road games during their showdown against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, while Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts head to Kansas City to face the Chiefs after taking care of the Houston Texans in a Wild Card Weekend rout.

The playoffs have not been kind to the Chiefs during the Andy Reid era. They are 1-4 in total and 0-2 at Arrowhead Stadium. But this year seems different, and that is because of Patrick Mahomes.

The first-year starter dazzled with a league-leading 50 touchdown passes on the No. 1-ranked offense in the league.

He goes up against a Colts team that has plenty of momentum from a late-season surge into the playoffs and fresh from dismantling the Texans on the road in the Wild Card Round.

The biggest variable this time around is that a wintry mix of rain and snow is expected, per 41 Action News’ Gerard Jebaily:

The Colts have the offensive line to excel in those conditions, as well as running back Marlon Mack, but they are a dome team not used to playing in the elements. It also seems too hard to go against Mahomes at Arrowhead after an MVP-caliber season.

The Cowboys are feeling good about themselves after defeating a tough Seahawks team at home to advance to the divisional round, but they face another tall task in facing the Rams on the road.

Los Angeles should have a healthy Todd Gurley, who has had three weeks to rest up for this game and will be a key factor, especially after some less-than-encouraging performances from quarterback Jared Goff toward the end of the season.

Dallas also struggled on the road this season, going 3-5 away from AT&T Stadium. If the Cowboys can find a way to contain Gurley and defensive tackle Aaron Donald and keep it close, they will have a chance, but that feels like a long shot.

Philip Rivers and the Chargers have proved doubters wrong all season and showed in the Wild Card Round that the defense can make the necessary adjustments to wreak havoc, as they beat the Baltimore Ravens on the road just two weeks after the Ravens topped the Chargers in Los Angeles.

The Chargers are heading to Gillette Stadium in January, which is always a daunting task, especially when the Patriots are 8-0 there this season and frigid temperatures are expected, per AccuWeather, which does not bode well for a team located in Southern California.

While the Chargers have seemingly answered every call, it is tough to see them go back-to-back weeks on the East Coast to play the 1:05 p.m. game and beat the Patriots in freezing temperatures.

The divisional round wraps up with the best team in the NFL against the darlings of the league.

Nick Foles and the Eagles hope luck and magic is still on their side as they head into the Superdome to face a Saints team that had the best record in the NFL this season.

New Orleans demolished Philadelphia in a 48-7 Week 11 victory, albeit against a Carson Wentz-led Eagles team.

Things are a little different, but can Foles and Co. knock off this juggernaut Saints team after winning by the skin of their teeth against the Bears in the Wild Card Round?

Cowboys vs Rams

Cowboys vs Rams odds, line: 2019 NFL divisional round picks, playoff predictions by advanced model on 16-6 run

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With just eight teams remaining in the 2019 NFL Playoffs, the Divisional schedule features matchups that pit some of the league’s hottest teams against each other. That’s the case on Saturday night when the Dallas Cowboys travel to Los Angeles to take on the Rams for an 8:15 p.m. ET kickoff, the second game on the NFL Divisional schedule. The Cowboys have won eight of their last nine, while the Rams went 13-3 this season with a prolific offense and a disruptive defense led by Aaron Donald. Los Angeles is a seven-point favorite, unchanged from the opening line, with the total at 49.5 in the latest Cowboys vs. Rams odds. Before you make your NFL playoff predictions for this bout, be sure to check out the top Cowboys vs. Rams picks from SportsLine’s advanced computer model.

The advanced computer model simulates every NFL game 10,000 times, and those who have followed it have seen massive returns. SportsLine’s proprietary computer model went 176-80 last season and beat over 95 percent of CBS Office Pool players in 2016 and ’17. It also performed better than 98 percent of experts tracked by NFLPickWatch.com during that span. Additionally, it went 48-34 on A-rated picks against the spread last season, and $100 bettors who followed it the past two seasons are up nearly $4,000.

The model has continued to nail its top-rated picks in 2018-19, entering the Divisional Round on a blistering 16-6 run. For the season, it is now 30-15 on all top-rated picks, extending its two-year run to a strong 78-49. It also went 170-84 on straight-up NFL picks during the regular season, ranking inside the top 10 on NFLPickWatch.com. Additionally, it hit all four NFL against the spread picks on Wild Card Weekend. Anyone who has followed it is way up.

Now the model has dialed in on Cowboys vs. Rams (stream live on fuboTV) 10,000 times. We can tell you it’s leaning Over, but it’s also generated a strong point-spread pick that’s hitting over 50 percent of the time. You can only see that one at SportsLine.

The model knows that balance is key to the Rams’ offense. L.A. had the No. 2-ranked total offense and scoring offense, and ranked in the top five in passing and rushing in 2018. Rams head coach and play-caller Sean McVay has a number of weapons at his disposal at the skill positions and uses that versatility to catch opposing defenses off guard. Quarterback Jared Goff had a career-high 32 touchdowns and posted a QB rating of over 100 for the second straight season, while running back Todd Gurley was third in rushing yards with 1,251.

And against the Cowboys, McVay will lean on running back Gurley against a banged-up Cowboys defensive line. DT Maliek Collins, DE Tyrone Crawford and DL David Irving are all ailing heading into the Divisional round. Gurley has been limited in practice this week with a knee injury, but should be healthier after sitting the last two games of the regular season and using the bye week to continue resting up.

But just because L.A. has plenty of firepower doesn’t mean Goff, Gurley, and company will cover the Cowboys vs. Rams spread.

The model also knows that Dallas’ line, anchored by defensive ends DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford, has been the team’s strength all season. While Crawford has produced 5.5 sacks, Lawrence posted 10.5 and forced two fumbles. If the Cowboys can exert enough pressure from the outside to force Goff to step up in the pocket, freed linebackers should be able to bring him down.

The MVP of Dallas’ offense has been wideout Amari Cooper. Acquired from the Raiders in a midseason trade, the veteran has produced 725 yards on 53 receptions in nine games with Big D. He came up huge in the wild-card game, setting up three scoring drives with critical plays and leading the way with 106 receiving yards. Running back Ezekiel Elliott churned out plenty of first downs in that contest, going for 169 yards from scrimmage and a score.

Who wins Cowboys vs. Rams? And which side of the spread hits in over 50 percent of simulations? Visit SportsLine now to see which side of the Rams vs. Cowboys spread you need to be all over on Saturday, all from the incredible computer model that has returned nearly $4,000 to $100 bettors.

AFC Divisional Playoffs

AFC Divisional Playoffs 2019: TV Schedule, Odds and Picks for Divisional Round While experience can often help players handle the pressure of the NFL playoffs, not everyone needs to be a seasoned veteran to put his fingerprints on the second season.

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This time last year, he was helping steer an upstart Jacksonville Jaguars team to the AFC Championship Game as a rookie. His first playoff outing was a grind (21 carries for 57 yards), but after that, he was off to the races.

Between the divisional round and conference championship games, he totaled 49 rushes for 185 yards and four touchdowns.

After providing the schedule, odds and our predictions for the divisional round, we’ll spotlight three first-year players who could be ready to make their own playoff splashes.

If you could get an honest, off-the-record moment with an NFL executive who drafted in the top half this past April, you might hear them label Derwin James as the one that got away.

While he came off the board 17th overall, he spent the season providing evidence he should have gone even higher. The Swiss Army knife who doubles as the Chargers’ safety basically excelled at everything. He led the team in tackles with 105 and filled the rest of his stat line with 13 pass breakups, 3.5 sacks and three interceptions.

“This guy’s a tremendous football player,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick told reporters. “He’s good at everything. … He’s got good range, good speed, he’s long, he’s hard to block, very instinctive, good tackler, good blitzer. He’s good at everything.”

James, who made the All-Pro first team, may well be asked to do everything again on Sunday. Whether he’s defending receivers, backs or tight ends in coverage, flying around in run support or even blitzing Tom Brady, James is likely to grab your attention early and often.

While few should be surprised to see James in the Defensive Rookie of the Year race, it’s hard to imagine many pegged Darius Leonard to be the primary competition.

He was the 36th pick out of South Carolina State—not exactly the bio you would expect from a budding star. But once the season started, he started furiously pushing his way to the front of the rookie line.

Leonard kicked off his career with a nine-tackle effort. In Week 2, he tallied 19 takedowns, a sack, a forced fumble and a pass breakup. By year’s end, the fellow freshman first-team All-Pro had recorded an NFL-best 163 tackles (19 more than second place) along with eight pass breakups, seven sacks, four forced fumbles, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

No defense features a more daunting task than Leonard’s unit during the divisional round. If Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs can be contained, Indy’s standout rookie will have plenty to do with it.

A Pro Bowl spot didn’t come the way of Leighton Vander Esch, and the Defensive Rookie of the Year honor almost certainly won’t, either. But those are the only blemishes—if we can even call them that—on an otherwise brilliant rookie effort.

He’s a tackle machine cut from a similar cloth as Leonard. In fact, Vander Esch’s 140 tackles put him behind only Leonard and third-year Green Bay Packers linebacker Blake Martinez.

Vander Esch had six double-digit tackle performances in the regular season and picked up where he left off with 10 in the Cowboys’ wild-card win over the Seattle Seahawks.

The Seahawks had this season’s best rushing attack. It never got off the ground in the opening round, finishing with just 73 yards on 24 carries.

The difficulty only increases on Saturday, with Todd Gurley (and maybe C.J. Anderson too) awaiting this defense. Vander Esch will have as much to do with limiting L.A.’s explosive attack as anyone.

NFL divisional playoff

Cowboys vs. Rams odds, line: 2019 NFL divisional round picks, playoff predictions by advanced model on 16-6 run

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With just eight teams remaining in the 2019 NFL Playoffs, the Divisional schedule features matchups that pit some of the league’s hottest teams against each other. That’s the case on Saturday night when the Dallas Cowboys travel to Los Angeles to take on the Rams for an 8:15 p.m. ET kickoff, the second game on the NFL Divisional schedule. The Cowboys have won eight of their last nine, while the Rams went 13-3 this season with a prolific offense and a disruptive defense led by Aaron Donald. Los Angeles is a seven-point favorite, unchanged from the opening line, with the total at 49.5 in the latest Cowboys vs. Rams odds. Before you make your NFL playoff predictions for this bout, be sure to check out the top Cowboys vs. Rams picks from SportsLine’s advanced computer model.

The advanced computer model simulates every NFL game 10,000 times, and those who have followed it have seen massive returns. SportsLine’s proprietary computer model went 176-80 last season and beat over 95 percent of CBS Office Pool players in 2016 and ’17. It also performed better than 98 percent of experts tracked by NFLPickWatch.com during that span. Additionally, it went 48-34 on A-rated picks against the spread last season, and $100 bettors who followed it the past two seasons are up nearly $4,000.

The model has continued to nail its top-rated picks in 2018-19, entering the Divisional Round on a blistering 16-6 run. For the season, it is now 30-15 on all top-rated picks, extending its two-year run to a strong 78-49. It also went 170-84 on straight-up NFL picks during the regular season, ranking inside the top 10 on NFLPickWatch.com. Additionally, it hit all four NFL against the spread picks on Wild Card Weekend. Anyone who has followed it is way up.

Now the model has dialed in on Cowboys vs. Rams (stream live on fuboTV) 10,000 times. We can tell you it’s leaning Over, but it’s also generated a strong point-spread pick that’s hitting over 50 percent of the time. You can only see that one at SportsLine.

The model knows that balance is key to the Rams’ offense. L.A. had the No. 2-ranked total offense and scoring offense, and ranked in the top five in passing and rushing in 2018. Rams head coach and play-caller Sean McVay has a number of weapons at his disposal at the skill positions and uses that versatility to catch opposing defenses off guard. Quarterback Jared Goff had a career-high 32 touchdowns and posted a QB rating of over 100 for the second straight season, while running back Todd Gurley was third in rushing yards with 1,251.

And against the Cowboys, McVay will lean on running back Gurley against a banged-up Cowboys defensive line. DT Maliek Collins, DE Tyrone Crawford and DL David Irving are all ailing heading into the Divisional round. Gurley has been limited in practice this week with a knee injury, but should be healthier after sitting the last two games of the regular season and using the bye week to continue resting up.

But just because L.A. has plenty of firepower doesn’t mean Goff, Gurley, and company will cover the Cowboys vs. Rams spread.

The model also knows that Dallas’ line, anchored by defensive ends DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford, has been the team’s strength all season. While Crawford has produced 5.5 sacks, Lawrence posted 10.5 and forced two fumbles. If the Cowboys can exert enough pressure from the outside to force Goff to step up in the pocket, freed linebackers should be able to bring him down.

The MVP of Dallas’ offense has been wideout Amari Cooper. Acquired from the Raiders in a midseason trade, the veteran has produced 725 yards on 53 receptions in nine games with Big D. He came up huge in the wild-card game, setting up three scoring drives with critical plays and leading the way with 106 receiving yards. Running back Ezekiel Elliott churned out plenty of first downs in that contest, going for 169 yards from scrimmage and a score.

Who wins Cowboys vs. Rams? And which side of the spread hits in over 50 percent of simulations? Visit SportsLine now to see which side of the Rams vs. Cowboys spread you need to be all over on Saturday, all from the incredible computer model that has returned nearly $4,000 to $100 bettors.

Colts vs Chiefs

NFL divisional round odds, line: Colts vs Chiefs picks, predictions by top-rated expert who’s 20-6 on Indianapolis games

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Saturday’s divisional round matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs pits a resilient veteran against an up-and-coming superstar. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes finished the regular season with 50 passing touchdowns as a first-year starter under Andy Reid, while the Colts’ Andrew Luckreturned from a shoulder injury that kept him sidelined for the entire 2017 season to throw 39 touchdowns, second only to Mahomes. The Colts enter Saturday’s matchup brimming with confidence after winning 10 of their last 11 games. Meanwhile, the Chiefs secured the No. 1 seed in the AFC, but have lost two of their last three. Despite their recent skid, Kansas City is a five-point favorite, with the total at 57 in the latest Colts vs. Chiefs odds. Before you make any 2019 NFL Playoff predictions, check out the top Colts vs. Chiefs picks from SportsLine’s No. 1 NFL expert, R.J. White.

White is a perfect 5-0 in his past five against-the-spread picks for or against Kansas City and 20-6 in his past 26 involving the Colts, including calling Indy covering at Tennessee and Houston the past two weeks. Moreover, White went a perfect 4-0 against the spread on Wild Card Weekend, bringing his stunning NFL run to 55-31. Anyone following those picks is up over $2,000. This is the same expert who cashed big in two of the past four Las Vegas SuperContests.

Now, White has analyzed Chiefs vs. Colts (stream live on fuboTV) from every possible angle and locked in a strong point-spread pick. He’s sharing it over at SportsLine.

White knows the Chiefs have been a tough out at Arrowhead Stadium this season. In fact, Kansas City won seven of its eight home games and now faces a Colts team that was just .500 on the road.

The Chiefs are undeniably led by Mahomes, who joined Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks to throw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in a single season. Mahomes was second to Ben Roethlisberger in passing yards with 5,097, second to Ryan Fitzpatrick in yards per attempt at 8.79, and No. 2 to Drew Brees in QB rating at 113.8. He has a lethal arm and won’t hesitate to take shots downfield.

The entire offense shined throughout the 2018 regular season. Tyreek Hill was No. 4 in the NFL in receiving yardage at 1,479, and was also fourth in touchdown catches with a dozen. Travis Kelce was second to only the Eagles’ Zach Ertz in receptions among tight ends with 103 and found the end zone 10 times.

But just because Kansas City is an offensive juggernaut doesn’t mean it will cover the Colts vs. Chiefs spread.

Luck has thrown multiple touchdowns passes in 14 of 17 games and is a shoo-in for Comeback Player of the Year. His rebuilt offensive line has allowed a league-low 18 sacks while paving the way for running back Marlon Mack’s breakout. Mack has rushed for at least 119 yards in three of his past four games and just piled up 154 yards from scrimmage in the wild-card win at Houston.

The Colts have allowed 12.8 points per game over their past four contests. Indianapolis has covered seven straight against winning teams, not to mention five of its past six visits to Kansas City.

We can tell you White is leaning over, but his much stronger play is on the side. White cites a hidden stat most people don’t know about that makes one side of the spread a must-back. He’s only sharing what it is, and who to back, at SportsLine.

Who wins Colts vs. Chiefs? And what hidden stat makes one side of the spread a must-back? Visit SportsLine now to see which side of the spread you need to jump on, all from the white-hot expert who’s 20-6 on Colts picks and was undefeated on Wild Card Weekend.

Newcastle vs Chelsea

Newcastle vs Chelsea: Odds, Preview, Live Stream, TV Info Chelsea are back in Premier League action on Saturday against Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge.

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Last time out, the Blues lost 1-0 to Tottenham Hotspur in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final, but they were winners at home to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup on Saturday.

Maurizio Sarri’s side have gone from title contenders to a team battling to make the top four in recent weeks, so a victory against Newcastle would be welcome.

But the north-east side will be no pushovers, not least because they are still in danger of relegation.

Date: Saturday, January 12

Time: 5:30 p.m. GMT, 12:30 p.m. ET

TV Info: BT Sport 1 (UK), NBC (U.S.)

Live Stream: BT Sport Player, NBC Sports Live Extra

Match Odds (via OddsShark.com): Chelsea 2-7, Newcastle 10-1, Draw 9-2

Rafael Benitez’s side will go into Saturday’s game with the intention to frustrate Chelsea, and they may succeed.

In their most recent league outing, the Blues were frustrated for 90 minutes by lowly Southampton in a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge.

Goalscoring has sporadically been a problem for the west London outfit this term.

They are the only top-six side yet to pass the 40-goal mark for the campaign, and they struggle if Eden Hazard is not on top form.

Sarri will hope Alvaro Morata had a boost in confidence after netting both goals in the 2-0 defeat of Forest, but he may be distracted by the ongoing talk about his future:

Newcastle are just two points above the relegation zone and have failed to win any of their last four league games.

Benitez knows how to organise a defence, though, as proved by the Magpies possessing the second-best defensive record of any side in the bottom half of the table.

Chelsea have scored just three goals in their last four league games, so Newcastle will have hope of containing their more illustrious opponents.

If they sit deep and do not concede an early goal, Benitez’s side could take something from their visit to Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea may need a fast start in order to pick up all three points, but if they can force Newcastle to chase the game, then gaps will open up in the visitors’ defence and the evening will likely be more comfortable.

Brighton vs Liverpool

Brighton vs Liverpool: Premier League prediction, pick, TV channel, live stream, watch online Premier League leader Liverpool hits the road once again on Saturday to take on Brighton in Premier League action. The Reds, who were red hot, have lost two in a row. Liverpool lost its first league game of the season on Jan. 3, falling 2-1 against Manchester City, its main contender for the title. Then Liverpool lost on Monday 2-1 at Wolves in the FA Cup third round. Here’s a chance to rebuild some momentum and build a seven-point lead ahead of City’s game against Wolves on Monday.

Here’s how you can watch the match and what to know:

  • Date: Saturday, Jan. 12
  • Time: 10 a.m. ET
  • Location: American Express Community Stadium in East Sussex
  • TV channel: NBCSN
  • Streaming: fuboTV (Try for free)
  • Odds: Liverpool -333 / Brighton +950 / Draw +390

Liverpool: It’s a dangerous time for the Reds. With the four-point lead atop the table, the last thing they’ll want is to let City get any closer the rest of the way. Pressure is on, but Liverpool has done well to beat the smaller teams in the league. This game shouldn’t cause the Reds many problems, but you just never know with the magic of the Premier League. Expect a full-strength squad that will play with some serious urgency against a Brighton team that hasn’t lost in its last four games.

Brighton: Three straight losses in early December put the southerners in a tough spot, but since then the club has taken five out of nine points including a draw against Arsenal. Brighton is in good shape when it comes to staying up, currently sitting in 13th place with 26 points. But just 10 points above the drop zone, Brighton will likely need three more wins or so to guarantee safety. A draw here will feel like a victory.

It’s hard to see this Liverpool team going three games without a win. Brighton battles early on, but by the hour mark this one is over as the Reds put four past the hosts.

Liverpool remain without Joe Gomes and Joel Matip due to a fractured leg and a broken collarbone respectively, although the latter could play against Crystal Palace next week.

Dejan Lovren is out with a hamstring problem, while Rhian Brewster and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are on the injury list long term.

Jordan Henderson is expected to be fit after he missed Monday’s game with Wolves due to a minor complaint.

Possible Liverpool starting XI: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho, Van Djik, Robertson; Henderson, Milner, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mane

Liverpool are hot 3/10 favourites to come away with the win, according to bet365. Brighton are priced at 10/1 and a draw is 5/1.