NFL Divisional Round: Scouting Every Offense, Key Matchups, More
Kirby Lee, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Jared Goff
The Wild Card round has passed, meaning we now have just eight teams vying for the chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy next month.
The Kansas City Chiefs host the Indianapolis Colts to kick the Divisional Round off on Saturday (4:35 p.m. ET on NBC) followed by the Dallas Cowboys-Los Angeles Rams matchup (8:15 p.m. on FOX). The action continues Sunday with the Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots (1:05 p.m. ET on CBS), capped by Philadelphia Eagles-New Orleans Saints (4:40 p.m. ET on Fox).
While it’s impossible to cover all the applicable storylines and statistics for the four Divisional Round matchups in one article, we can at least get an early start on what figures to be great two days of high-level football.
What follows are brief breakdowns on each team’s quarterback, backfield and receivers.
The Colts Have *Finally* Kept Andrew Luck Upright All Season
Luck’s return from a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder has been nothing short of remarkable. Still, his offensive line’s new-found ability to protect their franchise quarterback has been just as crucial to the team’s success.
Overall, Luck has posted career-low marks in both percentage of dropbacks under pressure (29%) as well as average target depth (8.1 yards).
The Chiefs’ seventh-ranked pass rush in adjusted sack rate deserves plenty of respect and shouldn’t be underestimated at Arrowhead, but Luck and head coach Frank Reich’s quick-hitting system has perfectly complemented one of the league’s best offensive lines after 18 weeks of action.
- LT Anthony Castonzo (ranked No. 17 at his position by Pro Football Focus)
- LG Quenton Nelson (No. 4)
- C Ryan Kelly (No. 11)
- RG Mark Glowinski (No. 13)
- RT Braden Smith (No. 27)
Marlon Mack is THE Running Back, Ya’ll
The Colts largely utilized a three-back committee during the regular season, as Mack (38.7 snaps per game from Weeks 6-17) worked as the starter with Nyheim Hines (25.1) and Jordan Wilkins (17.4) in complementary roles.
This wasn’t the case during the Colts’ Wild Card victory over the Texans.
The Colts ability to coast to victory certainly didn’t help the game script for Hines, but the offense is also clearly set on moving forward with Mack as their three-down back in a must-win game situation.
Up next is the backfield’s best matchup of the season against the Chiefs’ league-worst defense in adjusted line yards allowed per rush.
T.Y. Hilton is Like Sex: Usually Better Indoors
Hilton continues to ball out despite missing practice due to an ankle injury. Still, four of his last five matchups have come in stadiums with the roof closed, and the Colts’ No. 1 receiver hasn’t historically been at his best when playing outdoors.
The Chiefs weren’t a very good defense for most of the season, although they’ve historically been much better at home. Additionally, their defense emerged as a run-funnel unit, finishing the season ranked 12th in DVOA against the pass compared to 32nd against the run.
Kansas City Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes is Having One of the Best Seasons … Ever
Mahomes finished his record-breaking regular season with 5,097 yards and 50 (!!!) touchdown passes while orchestrating the league’s top-ranked scoring offense. He’s about as good a quarterback as we’ve ever seen to this point.
- Completion rate: 65.9% (6th among 355 QBs with 500+ pass attempts)
- TD Rate: 8.1% (1st)
- Passer rating: 111.7 (1st)
- Yards per attempt: 8.75 (2nd)
- Adjusted yards per pass attempt: 9.42 (1st)
- Passing yards per game: 316.5 (1st)
Making all of this even more entertaining is the fact that Mahomes is dead set on proving that he’s literally capable of making any throw on the field. Fantasy investors have been treated to no-look, sidearm and left-handed passes over the course of this record-breaking season.
The Colts run more zone coverage than any other defense in the league, but this hasn’t exactly slowed down Mahomes to this point. Per Rotoworld’s Evan Silva, Mahomes has completed 64.1% of his passes at 7.99 yards per attempt with a perfect 14-0 TD-to-INT ratio in five games against teams that run zone coverage at a top-eight rate.
Does Damien Williams Own the Chiefs Backfield?
The Chiefs haven’t had a fully healthy offense since before their Week 12 bye, as both Sammy Watkins (foot) and Spencer Ware (hamstring) have been consistently banged up. Be sure to monitor our NFL Divisional Round Injury Report for their daily practice participation along with their estimated and official games statuses.
Still, there have been signs that Williams could work as the lead back even once Ware is able to return. This was at least the case in Weeks 15-17 with Ware sidelined …
… and the Chiefs apparently thought enough of Williams’ performance to hand him a two-year contract extension following his performance in Week 16.
Our Pro Models are currently projecting Ware to suit up this Sunday, but Williams is projected for nearly twice as many fantasy points and is the No. 1-rated back in Adam Levitan’s Model.
The Sammy Watkins Effect
The Chiefs are tentatively expected to welcome back their overqualified field-stretcher for their Divisional Round matchup against the Cotls. Watkins hasn’t quite lived up to the sky-high expectations that accompany any No. 4 overall draft pick, although there’s little debate that each of his quarterbacks have enjoyed having an athlete of his caliber on the field.
Watkins’ 10-game pace with the Chiefs extrapolated to a 16-game season results in a somewhat modest 64-830-5 receiving line, but he’s still arguably Mahomes’ second-most dangerous target.
Overall, only Tyreek Hill (10.58) has average more adjusted yards per attempt on targets from Mahomes than Watkins (10.53), who ranks ahead of the likes of Travis Kelce (9.34), Demarcus Robinson (8.23) and Chris Conley (7.48).
Don’t Underestimate Dak Prescott as a Threat on the Ground
Many have been quick to point out Prescott’s inconsistencies as a passer during his short career, but maybe we haven’t been quick enough to compliment his upside as a rusher.
Overall, Prescott leads all quarterbacks in rushing touchdowns with 18 since he entered the league in 2016. Only Cam Newton (15) and Tyrod Taylor (11) have even reached double-digit scores on the ground.
The Rams’ formidable defensive front will undoubtedly place a premium on limiting Prescott’s production as a rusher, although they did yield rushing yards to the quarterback position at a top-12 rate during the regular season.
Zeke is Getting Fed
The Cowboys gave Zeke at least 15 carries in every game this season, and he hasn’t finished with fewer than 20 touches in a game since Week 7. The recent results have been spectacular, as Elliott has posted nine straight games with 100-plus total yards. This is tied for the third-longest streak among all players over the past five years.
Up next for the Cowboys’ power-run game is the Rams’ 28th-ranked defense in rush DVOA. Aaron Donald (PFF’s No. 1 overall interior defender) and Ndamukong Suh (No. 27) each boast game-wrecking potential, but the Rams don’t have another front-seven defender graded among PFF’s top-32 players at their position this season.
Amari Cooper vs. The World
Top-flight receivers largely balled out against the Rams on a regular basis during Aqib Talib’s extended absence this season. The return of the defense’s No. 1 cornerback has certainly helped halt the production of their opponent’s top wide receiver.
- Week 13 Kenny Golladay: 3 receptions-50 yards-0 TD (8 targets)
- Week 14 Allen Robinson: 5-42-0 (8)
- Week 15 Alshon Jeffery: 8-160-0 (8)
- Week 16 Larry Fitzgerald: 6-53-0 (9)
- Week 17: Kendrick Bourne: 5-59-1 (6)
Cooper doesn’t possess promising home/away splits for the Cowboys’ upcoming trip to Los Angeles. The Cowboys’ 6-foot-1 and 211-pound receiver also won’t have much of a size advantage to speak of against the likes of Marcus Peters (6-foot-0 and 197-pounds) and Talib (6-foot-2 and 202-pounds).