Divisional Round Predictions

Updated: January 12th 2019

Well, the road teams were the story of last weekend, covering the spread in all four games and winning three of them outright, culminating in an absolutely crazy finish to the Eagles-Bears game with a double doink missed/blocked FG as time expired (putting huge smiles on the faces of Matt and me). Here is how our writers performed last week (some 3-1 ATS and ML but nobody with the clean parlay):

  1. Stephen Wendell: 3-1 ML & 2-2 ATS
  2. Matt Papson: 2-2 ML & 3-1 ATS
  3. Kyle English: 3-1 ML & 2-2 ATS
  4. Matt Goodwin: 2-2 ML & 1-3 ATS
  5. Nick Andrews: 1-3 ML & 2-2 ATS
  6. Bernard Faller: 2-2 ML & 3-1 ATS
  7. Luke Patrick O’Connell: 2-2 ML & 3-1 ATS

A quick summary of the picks for this week are below in case you don’t want to read each writer’s analysis…but you should because there are some great nuggets of information down there:

  1. Indianapolis Colts @ Kansas City Chiefs (Line KC -5): ML – 5 KC & 1 IND // ATS – 5 KC & 1 IND
  2. Dallas Cowboys @ Los Angeles Rams (Line LAR -7): ML – 0 DAL & 6 LAR // ATS – 4 DAL & 2 LAR
  3. LA Chargers @ New England Patriots (Line NE -4): ML – 2 LAC & 4 NE // ATS – 4 LAC & 2 NE
  4. Philadelphia Eagles @ New Orleans Saints (Line NO -8): ML – 2 PHI & 4 NO // ATS – 4 PHI & 2 NO

Indianapolis Colts (10-6) @ Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) [Line: KC -5]

Stephen Wendell: Mahomes overpowers Luck as his legend continues to grow. Projected Score: Chiefs 30 – Colts 24.

Matt Papson: Andy Reid is dominant off a bye. Projected Score: Chiefs 35 – Colts 24.

Kyle English: Call it a homer pick if you want, but I think the Colts are the real deal.  I expect plenty of points to be scored, I just think the Colts offense has a larger advantage over the Chiefs defense than the Chiefs offense has against the slightly underrated Colts defense. Projected Score: Colts 31 – Chiefs 28.

Matt Goodwin: Color me impressed by how dominant Andrew Luck, Marlon Mack and the Colts were last weekend in Houston. I’m really impressed with the Colts’ offensive line and running the ball will be paramount to controlling clock and keeping the high-octane Chiefs offense off the field at raucous Arrowhead Stadium. With that said, I think Pat Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill are too much for the Colts defense to contend with and Kansas City has found ways to still get solid contributions out of their running backs as well.  Projected Score: Chiefs 30 – Colts 20.

Nick Andrews: There is only one factor that will determine the outcome of this game, Indy’s O-Line. If the Chiefs are unsuccessful at getting pressure on Andrew Luck the Colts defense should be able to hold of Pat Mahomes for a least enough drives to keep them under 28 points. If there is snow during the game this only helps the Colts who are better equipped to produce through their run game. Despite all this, I still think the Chiefs will come out the victor but the Colts will have a real shot at the end. Projected Score: Chiefs 27 – Colts 21.

Bernard Faller: This should be a shootout with two of the top passers in the NFL.  Andrew Luck is playing at a MVP level and second-year pro Patrick Mahomes likely wins the MVP.  Kansas City scored 30+ in all but four games this year and the Colts won 9 of their last 10. Questions remain as to how Mahomes will react in his first post-season start but the Chiefs offense is playing at a different level.  Projected Score: Chiefs 34 – Colts 28.

Dallas Cowboys (10-6) @ Los Angeles Rams (13-3) [Line: LAR -7]

Stephen Wendell: Cowboys keep it really close but the Rams learn from last year and prevail. Projected Score: Rams 24 – Cowboys 20.

Matt Papson: I expect this to be a relatively close game. Despite being 13-3, the Rams seem vulnerable. Projected Score: Rams 27 – Cowboys 24.

Kyle English: I expect this to be a blowout with the Rams dominating the Cowboys across the board. Projected Score: Rams 31 – Cowboys 17.

Matt Goodwin: Dallas is 3-5 on the road this season and head to Los Angeles to face the Rams who have had several weeks to get Todd Gurley healthy and scheme for the Cowboys (since the Seahawks are in the Rams division, guessing the focus was on scheming for either Dallas or Chicago since the playoff bracket was announced). Anyways, while Dallas looks to run the ball with Ezekiel Elliott and get their defensive line pressuring Jared Goff into bad decisions, the Rams just have too much for Dallas to handle schematically on the road and if a team like the Colts can blow the Cowboys out, imagine what a more dynamic offense can do to them. Projected Score: Rams 34 – Cowboys 17.

Nick Andrews: All the talk this week with head coaches being hired has surprisingly focused on a coach who is already employed, Sean McVay. Every pundit and analyst is saying that X team needs to find their Sean McVay but can we pump the breaks until he’s won a playoff game at least. The Rams this season have looked superhuman, and then average around the 2/3rds marker, then back to great the final two weeks of the regular season against cupcake opponents. Whichever team shows up against the Cowboys this weekend is likely going to be the decider. Projected Score: Rams 24- Cowboys 20.

Bernard Faller: Dallas has the tools to bleed out the clock, keeping the ball away from the potent Los Angeles offense.  It will not happen this game.  Too much Aaron Donald.  Too much Rams passing attack.  Los Angeles learns from last post-season’s loss.  Projected Score: Rams 27 – Cowboys 20.

Los Angeles Chargers (12-4) @ New England Patriots (11-5) [Line: NE -4]

Stephen Wendell: Tom Brady in Foxboro in January. Enough said! Projected Score: Patriots 22 – Chargers 17. 

Matt Papson: I had more trouble picking the victor in this game than any other, but have to give the edge to BB & TB in the playoffs. Projected Score: Patriots 24 – Chargers 23.

Kyle English: I’ll be cheering for the Chargers, but I don’t think they have enough to pull out another road upset. Projected Score: Patriots 20 – Chargers 17 

Matt Goodwin: While I don’t want to stake myself against the Patriots at home with all their playoff experience, this Chargers team is 8-1 on the road this season and with such a lack of home field advantage at Stubhub Center, you can argue they play on the road every week. 12-4 in the regular season and with the most balanced team they’ve had, this Chargers team is capable of going into Foxboro and beating a potentially “cooked” Patriots team and signaling a changing of the guard. While the Patriots like to run the ball when the playoffs come, I don’t think they have enough in the passing game (especially with Gronk seemingly all sorts of banged up) to fool the Chargers stalwart secondary. On the other side, I don’t think the Patriots can take away the best weapons the Chargers have and even if they do, the Chargers have secondary weapons like Mike Williams to deal with. It will be nice to see what Hunter Henry does in his return as well. I’m calling the upset here. Projected Score: Chargers 27 – Patriots 23

Nick Andrews: Can Philip Rivers finally give Brady a loss? Does the silly stat of Nick Saban and Bill Belichick alternating championships mean anything? The answer to both is no, probably, but a fun idea for people to debate about. The Patriots are 19-3 at home in the playoffs, 11-1 in Divisional games after a bye, and 2-0 against Rivers and the Chargers during the Brady-Belichick era. The Chargers are a great team and should be a better matchup than several of the previous years’ divisional opponents but making the AFC Championship is what the Patriots do.  Projected Score: Patriots 20 – Chargers 16.

Bernard Faller: Do I necessarily trust Phillip Rivers over Tom Brady? No.  I do believe the Chargers are the better, more balanced team on both sides of the ball.  Los Angeles basically played away games this whole season so they handle one more.  Projected Score:  Chargers 28 – Patriots 24.

Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) @ New Orleans Saints (13-3) [Line: NO -8]

Stephen Wendell: I projected Sir Nick to go 7-0 and win the SB when Wentz went down with injury. He has won four in a row since then and Sunday he will make it five. Projected Score: Eagles 35 – Saints 34.

Matt Papson: The Church of Nick Foles. Projected Score: Eagles 31 – Saints 21.

Kyle English: I’d love to see more Foles magic and he’ll probably have a good game, but I think the Saints offense will be too much for them. Projected Score: Saints 31 – Eagles 27.

Matt Goodwin: St. Nick struck again last week in Chicago and the Eagles seek revenge from an earlier in the season drubbing at New Orleans. The Saints are a different team at home and while a project a close shootout, I think the Saints move on to the NFC Championship behind Alvin Kamara and Drew Brees. Look for the Eagles to lose a close one, although nothing would surprise me. Projected Score: Saints 34 – Eagles 31.

Nick Andrews: A rematch of what should have been the NFC Championship game last year we will see if Nick Foles is really a football Messiah. The Saints obliterated the Eagles 48-7 in the regular season with Carson Wentz as the starting QB and there’s not much that would make me think that the outcome would be any different this time. Blowouts are hard to pull off so while the Saints should win again the likelihood of a 41 points spread is highly unlikely. If Nick Foles somehow upsets the Saints with the same roster Wentz had in week 11 he may really have a direct link to the man in the clouds. Projected Score: Saints 31 – Eagles 20.

Bernard Faller: The key to this game is Philadelphia’s defensive front against New Orleans’ run game.  The Eagles have a chance if they can shut down Kamara and company.  The odds are against it.  New Orleans is too good in both the pass and run areas.  I also really like the Saints’ defensive backfield improvements to finish the year. Projected Score: Saints 31 – Eagles 20.

More Analysis by Stephen Wendell

Cap Analysis: Colts

Updated: March 9th 2016

Indianapolis Colts

Trending: Flat →

The first three years of the Pagano-Grigson-Luck combo resulted in 11-5 seasons, and progressing playoff finishes of wild-card loss (2012), divisional loss (2013), and conference loss (2014). Those teams also overachieved with mediocre defenses and makeshift offensive lines.

In 2015, Andrew Luck got hurt, intra-organizational turmoil emerged, and the team finished 8-8, with 40-year old Matt Hasselbeck going 5-3, Andrew Luck going 2-5, and Charlie Whitehurst going 0-1.

Projected 2016 Team Salary$134.9M (not including escalators and not likely to be earned incentives)

Projected 2016 Cap Room: ~$25.3M (~$155.27M Estimate; ~$5.0M Rollover)

Situation: Complicated

The Colts have $25M in cap space. Three defensive starters are free agents, the team’s top two tight ends are free agents, and the backup quarterback is a free agent.

It might seem like filling the holes on both sides of the ball and trying to compete for a Super Bowl would be the team’s top priority in 2016…but the team has bigger fish to fry. Andrew Luck is entering the option year of his five-year rookie deal, and is scheduled to become a free agent next March. Of course, he won’t actually reach free agency, because the team will apply the exclusive franchise tag before that happens.

This year, the team’s front office will be tasked with figuring out a way to keep Andrew Luck a Colt for the next 8+ years, without committing so much cash/cap in any given year that it keeps the team from building a winner around him. As you’ll see below, the team could clear more than $40M in space by releasing some of its veterans. It will release a few players, sign a few players, but ultimately it will be budgeting for Andrew Luck’s inevitable extension.  

Notable Free Agents:

Colts FAs

Matt Hasselbeck performed very well in relief duty in 2015, but it’s already known he won’t be returning to the team. Hasselbeck was one of the better paid backups in 2015, and given his performance, he will be one of the better paid backups in 2016. The team needs to put its investment in the quarterback position toward Andrew Luck.

Neither Coby Fleener nor Dwayne Allen lived up to their expectations. One of them will probably return – Fleener if I had to guess – but it’s far from a certainty.

 

Top Projected Cap Hits:

Colts Cap Hits

The top four names on this list are all 27 and younger, and the core of the team. The rest are 30+ (or approaching) and could be a target for cap savings.

Cap Casualty Watch List:

Colts Cap Cas

This list is very, very long. Large roster bonuses are typically the number one structural indicator of a potential cap casualty. They can’t all be let released, but I would not be surprised to see any one name let go.

Andre Johnson is likely gone, and probably Trent Cole too. Robert Mathis had a fairly productive first year back. Bjoern Werner has been a large disappointment, and could be let go just three years after the team selected him 24th overall.

Extension Watch List: 

Colts Ext Watch List

The trade for, and extension of, Vontae Davis has been one of the highlight transactions of the current front office. I’m sure they’ll revisit his contract again in the near future.

The team can exercise Bjoern Werner’s fifth year option, pushing his expected free agency to 2018. It’s not likely they’ll exercise that option, as he may not even make the team this year.

The negotiations surrounding Andrew Luck’s contract situation are going to be complex and challenging. Both sides will have a common goal – keep Andrew Luck a Colt for a long, long time. The Colts will also likely acknowledge early on that the extension will make Luck the highest paid player in the history of the game. But, when you can’t slot a player in – Joe Flacco is the bottom, but there’s no top – that’s when there’s more room for negotiation.

Under his fifth year option ($16.16M), and consecutive years under the projected non-exclusive franchise tags in 2017 ($24.9M) and 2018 ($29.9M), Luck would earn roughly $71M over the next three years. Joe Flacco just received a $40M signing bonus, and his $22.13M APY just surpassed Aaron Rodgers at $22M. Eli Manning and Philip Rivers both received $65M in effective guarantees (not all fully guaranteed at signing). Those four figures – 1) what Luck would earn in the next three years playing out his current contract and the tags, 2) Flacco’s signing bonus, 3) Flacco’s APY, and 4) Manning/River’s guarantees, could be the starting point for the contract’s structure.

I would project that Luck ends up with an 8-year (2016-2023), $200M contract. The contract would contain $73M guaranteed – a $50M signing bonus and guaranteed base salaries of $5, $8M, and $10M in the first three years. Base salaries for 2019-2023 would be $20M, $23M, $26M, $28M, and $30M – making Luck’s APY $25M over the entire deal. Signing bonus pro-rates over the duration of a contract, and a maximum of 5-years – Luck’s cap charges would be highest in the middle of the contract, in 2019 & 2020. The team and Luck could have a wink-nod deal to convert some base salary to signing bonus to create cap relief in one or both of those years if needed.

Position Needs: 

Linebacker, Corner, and Safety.

Sleeper Watch: 

Would the fantasy community be more surprised to see Donte Moncrief or Phillip Dorsett produce a 1,000 yard season in 2016? I think most people prefer Moncrief, so that means Dorsett counts as a sleeper despite being a first round pick.


Matt Papson (@RealitySportsMP) formerly worked in football administration for the Philadelphia Eagles. He is the President, co-founder and creator of Reality Sports Online, a fantasy front office platform that enables fantasy owners to build and manage their fantasy team like a professional sports general manager. The Reality Sports Online platform has been featured in Fortune, on Bloomberg TV, and was the 2012 Fantasy Sports Trade Association Rookie of the Year.

Sources: Spotrac, Pro-Football Reference, and Rotoworld

More Analysis by Matt Papson