An upset alert shouldn’t be necessary to make the top-seeded teams in the NFL playoffs aware of the imminent threat facing them this weekend.
Three of the four outfits that advanced from last week’s wild-card round, after all, did so on the road. And only once this decade (in 2015) have the top two seeds on each side advanced to the conference championship games.
But while this weekend’s traveling teams collectively posted a 18-14 mark as visitors this season, the foursome of teams hosting after a first-round bye (the Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams) combined for a 28-4 record at home.
In light of that, we asked our NFL experts: Which team coming off a first-round bye is at the biggest risk of falling in a divisional-round upset?
I love Patrick Mahomes and everything he’s done for the Chiefs this season, and would like to think he’s going to be the one to end Kansas City’s long, long, long history of playoff heartbreak. Especially against the Indianapolis Colts. But until it actually happens, I can’t ignore the karma. Kansas City has lost 10 of its last 11 playoff games – that one victory came against Brian Hoyer and the Houston Texans – and is 0-4 against Indianapolis in the postseason. That includes the most crushing loss of all, the 2013 wild-card game in which Kansas City blew a 28-point lead and lost 45-44. Mahomes and Andy Reid have said all the right things this week, but I’m going to have to see it to believe it.
The Chiefs. After watching all three quarterbacks who made their playoff debuts last weekend lose, that’s not a good omen for projected MVP Patrick Mahomes. No, the NFL-record 6 consecutive playoff home losses by KC isn’t on Mahomes…who wasn’t even born the last time the home team won in the playoffs at Arrowhead. But there’s just something spooky about that. Add Capt. Andrew Luck maybe carving up a suspect Chiefs defense, and I think we might see this No. 1 seed bite the dust. Of course, Mr. 50 Touchdowns has spent an entire season proving doubters wrong. And on a personal note, Andy Reid has made me look foolish multiple times when picking against him. But to borrow phrasing from my former colleague, Gordon Forbes, I just can’t shake the feeling KC’s season is about to be BBQ’d.
Maybe the question for the bye week playoff teams should be, “Who’s not at risk?” All of them feel fairly vulnerable to me with the exception of New Orleans. But maybe the Rams are in the most jeopardy. Their “home” game threatens to be overrun by Cowboys fans and a team that seems well-equipped to pull off the upset at the L.A. Coliseum, where the Rams lost their wild-card contest to the Falcons a year ago. Dallas just locked down Seattle’s top-ranked ground game and will next face Todd Gurley, who’s probably going to be less than 100% after a knee issue forced him to miss two games. More worrisome, as much talent as the Rams defense has, it surrendered a league-worst 5.1 yards per carry … and is now tasked with slowing league rushing champ Zeke Elliott and highly mobile QB Dak Prescott? Gulp.
The Rams. The Cowboys’ top-5 run D is riding momentum after holding the Seahawks – 160 yards per game in the regular season – to 73 in a wildcard win. Rams all-pro running back Todd Gurley, on the other hand, is returning from nearly a month on the sideline with knee inflammation and soreness. Dallas will have its hand full containing an offense that’s averaged 37.1 points at their home Coliseum. Dak Prescott, too, must take care not to turn over the ball. But if the team follows the blueprint it used to hold the ball 9:40 more than the Seahawks last week, Ezekiel Elliott can capitalize on a Rams defense allowing a league-worst 5.1 yards per carry. Add in the star-studded Cowboys fans expected to line the Coliseum? Dallas upsets a young L.A. offense to reach its first NFC Championship Game in 23 years.