Highway to Atlanta is wide open

By David Mullen

Aaron Donald can, and will, take the Rams to the NFC Championship against the Saints.
Photo courtesy of Aaron Donald/Twitter

After going 2-0 in my Jan. 5 NFL Wild Card game predictions, I woke up on Jan. 6 feeling very good about a clean sweep. But then the Baltimore Ravens offense stumbled, bumbled and, most importantly, fumbled a home game against the Los Angeles Chargers. Later, Chicago Bears kicker Cody Parkey made a last second, game winning field goal only to be iced by a Philadelphia Eagles timeout.

His second attempt went “Doink, Doink, Doh!” The Bears lost at home, and Parkey is being billed as Chicago’s new Steve Bartman.

One Las Vegas casino has set the money line odds to win Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta. If you bet $100 on the New Orleans Saints, you can win $215. The Kansas City Chiefs are next at $440. Shockingly to me, the Dallas Cowboys are rated eighth of the eight teams remaining in the Super Bowl race. If the Cowboys win the Super Bowl and you bet $100, you could win $1,950. They are behind the Philadelphia Eagles — albeit defending Super Bowl Champions — which they beat for the NFC East title.

There is a lot to look forward to in the divisional playoff rounds. The two best running backs go head-to- head. Elite quarterbacks are in the fray and many teams are coming into the games with momentum. Let’s see how the playoffs will turn out.    

In the AFC, the Indianapolis Colts play the Chiefs on Saturday, Jan. 12 at 3:35 p.m. The Colts come in red hot. Remember, they shutout the Cowboys on Dec. 16, which was the last game Dallas lost. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is on fire and running back Marlon Mack has come out of nowhere. Their defense is nameless and underrated, but stout. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes could be the NFL MVP and their offense in the best in the NFC.

Even after losing Kareem Hunt because of his indiscretions, the Chiefs have the firepower to win. They will probably have a defensive or special teams’ touchdown. They typically score a ton of points in the first half. Still, the Colts have the look of a champion. This is a big showcase for the still playoff-green Mahomes. Take the Colts in a big upset, as Chiefs fans will be crying in their Boulevard beer and barbecued ribs.   

The Chargers play the New England Patriots on Sunday, Jan. 13 at 12:05 p.m. The Chargers dominated the Ravens for most of the Wild Card game. Then, they let up and left Baltimore with a chance to win. They prevailed, but now have to play their second consecutive game in the Eastern Time Zone.  

The Patriots are undefeated at home. They have arguably the best coach in NFL history in Bill Belichick and the best quarterback in Tom Brady. Their pass defense had been questionable, giving an opportunity for Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to shine while he has a tarnished playoff career. But the Pats defense has gelled recently and they had a week off to get healthier.

Except for possibly the Chiefs, the Pats will be the best team the Chargers will have played to date. They went 1-1 against Kansas City, and the game they won was a fluke. I can’t trust Rivers, like Johnny Carson couldn’t trust Joan Rivers. Give me the Patriots at home.  

In the NFC, the Eagles play the Saints on Sunday, Jan. 13 at 3:40 p.m. On Nov. 18, the Saints beat the Eagles 48-7. Saints quarterback and future Hall of Famer Drew Brees has thrown 21 touchdowns at home and only one interception. 

NOLA has a two-headed monster at the running back position. Eagles quarterback Nick Foles looked tentative last week. Give me the Saints in another rout.

On Saturday, Jan. 12, the Cowboys face the Los Angeles Rams at 7:15 p.m. This game could be a barnburner. The Rams Todd Gurley faces off against the Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott. Both could have over 150 yards in total offense. 

In fact, Elliott could have more than 150 yards rushing. The Rams’ defense allowed 5.1 yards per rushing attempt this season, which was the worst in the NFL.

Both teams are young. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and the Rams quarterback Jared Goff came into the league in 2016; Prescott as a fourth round pick and Goff as the number one overall pick. That should spell “advantage Goff.”   

There is no great home field advantage at the Los Angeles Coliseum. But Rams head coach Sean McVay has a big advantage over Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett in offensive game planning. If Prescott lets his legs do the talking, the Cowboys have a chance. 

But the deal breaker will be Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald. He can, and will, take the Rams to the NFC Championship against the Saints.

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