Which top NFL playoff team is at biggest risk of divisional-round upset?

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?

Nancy Armour

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.

Jarrett Bell

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.

Nate Davis

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.

Jori Epstein

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.

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Winners and losers from NFL Week 11

From thrilling last-second wins by teams that are fighting to stay in contention to a horrifying injury that could shape the NFC playoff race, NFL Week 11 had it all.

A six-game winning streak was snapped in agonizing fashion. A team many thought would contend for the title suffered a sixth-straight loss. A team many thought was out of contention is right back in it thanks to a second-straight road win.

Those are among the biggest winners and losers from NFL Week 11.

Winner: Captain Andrew Luck has Colts on a roll

© Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts lost five of their first six games this season. It looked like Andrew Luck’s redemption tour was going to be delayed by a year, at least, despite some solid play from him early. But since that awful start, both Luck and the Colts have started playing some outstanding ball.

With 297 yards and three passing touchdowns Sunday in a 38-10 blowout win over the Tennessee Titans, Luck extended his streak of at least three passing touchdowns to seven consecutive games.

His Colts have now rattled off four wins in a row and are in second place in the AFC South, knocking at the door to get into the playoffs. Should they complete the comeback and make the postseason, then Luck deserves to be included in the MVP conversation, along with Comeback Player of the Year.

Loser: Washington suffers déjà vu in worst possible way

© Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports Nov 18, 2018; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith (11) reacts after breaking his leg in the second half against the Houston Texans during the second half at FedEx Field. 

Thirty-three years ago to the day, the Washington Redskins were issued a staggering gut punch. Joe Theismann suffered a horrifying broken leg that is still to this day considered among the most gruesome in professional sports.

On Sunday, Washington lost Alex Smith in the same exact manner. He broke his right tibia and fibula while being dragged to the ground on a sack. He was carted off, taken to the hospital in an ambulance and required immediate surgery. To nobody’s surprise, he will miss the rest of the season, head coach Jay Gruden announced after the game.

Washington also lost Sunday’s game in heartbreaking fashion — falling to 6-4 on the season. The team will be bringing in a bunch of veterans on Monday to see who might back up Colt McCoy.

Barring some crazy developments, it’s hard to see this team finishing off the season strong without Smith. Though it still leads the NFC East, Washington will be hard pressed to hold that lead. On the season, it is minus-one in point differential and closes out the campaign with four of its last six games on the road.

Winner: Cowboys rising 

© Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports Nov 18, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) celebrates with teammates after a touchdown run against the Atlanta Falcons in the fourth quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 

Dallas couldn’t win on the road earlier this year and entered Week 9 with a 3-5 record. It looked like the ‘Boys were headed for another disappointing season. But the past two weeks have seen this team come together for two straight road wins, and Sunday’s victory in Atlanta was very impressive.

Ezekiel Elliott and the big guys up front are getting back to dominating folks at the line of scrimmage. The dynamic dual-threat running back followed up Week 10’s 187-yard game with an incredible 201-yard showing against the Falcons.

Now just one game behind Washington in the NFC East, featuring an offense that’s starting to click and a defense that can really get after folks — and with four of their final six games at home — Dallas is in great shape to win the division.

Loser: Jags are toast

© Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports Nov 18, 2018; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Jon Bostic (51) brings down Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette (27) during the second half at TIAA Bank Field.

The Jacksonville Jaguars gave it their all on Sunday. For a while it appeared they had Big Ben Roethlisberger and Co. in the palm of their hands, as the Pittsburgh Steelers could do next to nothing in the first half.

Despite a monster game from Leonard Fournette. Despite two Jalen Ramsey interceptions against Big Ben, and three interceptions overall. Despite the best showing Jacksonville has put up in weeks. The Jags lost. They lost their sixth game in a row. They’re now 3-7 on the season. Oh, by the way, Blake Bortles is still not the guy.

This team is done. A franchise many pegged to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LIII is unofficially out of the playoff chase, and it is officially the biggest disappointment of the 2018 season.

All the Winner and Losers

By: Jesse Reed

Jim Irsay Thinks Andrew Luck’s Injury Is All In His Head

Written by Will Brinson at CBS Sports.com

If you haven’t been paying attention, the Indianapolis Colts have a major mess on their hands at the quarterback position. Andrew Luck is battling a major shoulder injury and is shut down for the year, with his long-term health very much up in the air. Making matters much worse, Colts owner Jim Irsay is apparently questioning Luck in private conversations.

Former Colts coach Tony Dungy appeared on the “Dan Patrick Show” on Monday and, as first caught by Bob Kravitz of WTHR.com and confirmed by Patrick on Tuesday, said Irsay claims Luck’s injury is “in his head.”

“I don’t know what’s going on there. Jim Irsay made a comment to me about six weeks ago, ‘It’s inside his head now,'” Dungy said.

Worth noting: This was during one of the commercial cut-ins of the show and, as Patrick noted Tuesday, it is very possible/likely that Dungy did not know his mic was on. Paul Pabst of the show reached out to Dungy to confirm the quotes Tuesday, and relayed that Dungy heard the comments from Irsay during a “group conversation in September.”

“Wait, it’s inside Luck’s head?” Patrick asked.

“Yeah, [Irsay] said that when I was out [in Indianapolis] for Peyton’s ceremony,” Dungy replied.

“Wow. I really wonder if Luck’s future is in Indianapolis. I really do,” Patrick said.

“They obviously believed [Luck would be back Week 1] because they did nothing to prepare for him not being there,” Dungy said after a lengthy pause.

Irsay tweeted in January, when Luck had surgery on his shoulder, that his quarterback would be ready for the season. He very explicitly created raised expectations for Luck, even though the surgery Luck was dealing with clearly was more invasive than your average shoulder surgery. You could easily argue the comments from Irsay and the comments from the Colts since then have served to mislead their fans.

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Andrew Luck Placed On IR, Hasn’t Played Yet This Season

Written by Gregg Doyel at Indy Star.com

The good news, people, is that quarterback Andrew Luck’s shoulder injury is not career-threatening. The Indianapolis Colts say so, and let’s be optimistic here:

They have to be right, eventually.

When it comes to Luck’s shoulder, the Colts have been wrong every step of the way since September 2015. That’s when his injury first sidelined him, causing him to miss two games. Here we are, 26 months later, and only now are the Colts putting Luck on injured reserve. He hasn’t played in 2017. He won’t play in 2017. Andrew Luck has the largest contract in Colts history, what was once the largest contract in NFL history, and he won’t play a down of football in 2017 …

… because of an injury that happened in 2015.

Incompetent? Oh, that’s not even a question. Of course the Colts are incompetent.

That’s not a word the Colts would use, obviously. They prefer “optimistic.”

“We all were optimistic that this was going to work out sooner than later,” says first-year general manager Chris Ballard, who inherited this mess and now is the poor sap trying to explain it. “But unfortunately the human body — everybody’s human body is different and we are where we are. There’s not much we can do about it.”

Can you imagine being an NFL free agent after this season and choosing to play for a team so, um, optimistic that it botched its quarterback position — and its quarterback — as badly as this one? Owner Jim Irsay uttered these words in October 2016, when Luck was on the injury report weekly with a shoulder injury that was a year old at that point. “He is fine,” Irsay said, “and the shoulder is something that just disappears into the woodwork when he wins his next MVP or when he wins a Super Bowl.”

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Andrew Luck Suffers Another Setback To Get Back To Field

Written by Mike Wells at ESPN.com

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck will stop throwing for the time being because of soreness in his surgically repaired right shoulder, general manager Chris Ballard said Wednesday.

“The doctors and the trainers have decided to give him a cortisone shot to kind of take away some of that inflammation that’s been happening,” Ballard said.

“He’ll continue to rehab. We’re just going to shut down the throwing right now to get this thing calmed back down.”

Luck, who had shoulder surgery in January, practiced for two days two weeks ago and then amped up his workload during his two days of practice last week.

“I’ve watched every session of him throwing, and it’s been going really well,” Ballard said. “His velocity is good, his motion is good, all that is coming along at a good rate. It’s the soreness right now that we’re dealing with and have to get through.

“Understand this: Every player is different. Every rehab is different. Every surgery is different. That’s why we never put a timeline on this. Every guy is different. The good news is, Andrew is very in-tuned with his body and he’s being honest about what’s going on. That’s what we want and what we need.

“We want to get to a point where he can practice every day. His long-term success is at what we’re looking for.”

Ballard would not put a date on when Luck will resume practicing. He also didn’t shut the door on the possibility of putting his franchise quarterback on injured reserve, which would officially end his season.

“No, not at this time,” Ballard said about Luck potentially going on IR.

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No Timetable for Andrew Luck Return

Written by Marc Sessler at NFL.com

Andrew Luck is back. Sort of.

The Colts star quarterback took part in Wednesday’s practice, his first of the season since undergoing surgery on his throwing shoulder in January.

Despite already being ruled out for Sunday’s game with the 49ers, Luck — officially listed as limited — took part in individual drills and will do so again on Friday after using Thursday for rehab.

Talking with reporters, Luck revealed that his surgery was a posterior labrum repair, which traditionally takes longer to heal than other types of labrum procedures.

Asked point blank if he’ll play this season, the sixth-year signal-caller responded: “I’ll definitely play this year. No question.”

Luck wouldn’t — and couldn’t — offer a timeline for his return, though, saying: “I think that’s unfair to myself, to me, at the end of the day.”

Coming out of Wednesday’s session, Luck emphasized that his recovery has, at times, been “quite frustrating,” despite his ability to stay on pace to play again.

“There have not been any setbacks at all … I do feel like I’ve progressed,” Luck said. “We’ve never put out a schedule, per say. There have been goals and they’ve been time-oriented with dates. And we’ve managed to meet those goals. But as far as a schedule, I think that’s a dangerous word to use in regards to coming back as a quarterback with a throwing-shoulder surgery.”

Wednesday was a pivotal benchmark toward suiting up, but Luck and the Colts can’t peg his return to the calendar. He’ll play when his arm is ready, handing the controls over to Jacoby Brissett until the hour arrives.

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Andrew Luck Out Again, Will He Play This Year?

Written by Kevin Patra at NFL.com

The Indianapolis Colts will spend at least another week without Andrew Luck.

Coach Chuck Pagano confirmed Monday that the quarterback would miss the Week 3 tilt versus the Cleveland Browns.

The news was all but expected as Luck still hasn’t joined practice since undergoing shoulder surgery this offseason. Pagano added that he’s unsure the QB will begin practicing this week.

Ruling out Luck early in the week allows the team to move forward with fewer questions as they prep Jacoby Brissett to make his second start for the Colts.

After joining the team mere weeks ago, Brissett completed 22 of 40 passes for 267 yards, and threw an interception on the first pass of overtime in a 16-13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. It was just the third career start for the second-year pro.

Despite the loss, Brissett provided hope that the Colts could keep their heads above water while waiting for Luck’s return.

“He’s going to be just fine,” veteran running back Frank Gore said of Brissett after the loss, via ESPN.com. “He played the type of confidence where you would have never guessed he’s only been here for a little bit.”

Added T.Y. Hilton: “We’ll be alright. Basically just getting our timing down, but at the end of the day, we’ll be fine.”

With Luck not appearing ready to return anytime soon, Brissett will have more time to develop that timing on the field.

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Andrew Luck Out For Week 2 As Well

Written by Mike Wells at ESPN.com

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has officially been ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals, coach Chuck Pagano said Monday.

The Colts, as they’ve been saying for the past couple of months, still don’t have a set date on when Luck will play. He hasn’t played since Week 17 of last season because of January right shoulder surgery. Pagano said he doesn’t know whether Luck, who was taken off the physically unable to perform list on Sept. 2, will practice this week.

The Colts now have to figure out who will start at quarterback against the Cardinals. Scott Tolzien, who had been working with the first team since April, was benched in favor of Jacoby Brissett in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 46-9 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

Tolzien had two interceptions returned for touchdowns and nearly was intercepted a third time. He finished the game 9-of-18 for 128 yards, 2 interceptions and was sacked 4 times. Brissett was 2-of-3 for 51 yards while leading the Colts to their only touchdown of the game in his limited playing time.

“[It’s] something that we’ll discuss later [Monday] and into [Tuesday] as we game plan,” Pagano said.”…We have to do what’s best for the football team and what gives us the best chance to move the ball and put points on the board.”

The issue with Brissett starting is that he’s had limited practice because he’s only been with the Colts since Sept. 2 after being traded from New England.

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Will Andrew Luck’s Absence Hurt TY Hilton?

Written by Kevin Patra at NFL.com

When Andrew Luck will return to the field remains anyone’s best guess. The Indianapolis Colts’ star quarterback won’t play in the season opener, and it sounds like he’ll miss multiple weeks.

When teams lose Pro Bowl quarterbacks it has a domino effect on the rest of the offense. Receivers struggle to put up the same production and running backs find lanes closed by defenses unafraid of the backup quarterback.

With the Colts trotting out Scott Tolzien in Week 1, there’s some concern receiver T.Y. Hilton, who led the NFL in receiving yards in 2016 (1,448), will struggle out of the gate.

“I think we’re still learning each other, still trying to figure each other out,” Hilton said, via ESPN’s Mike Wells. “The most important part is that we trust one another. The main thing for us is just learn the playbook, understand what Scott wants or whoever’s back there and just be in the right spots. Just win.”

As Wells points out, Hilton’s yards per catch in 10 career games sans Luck remains the same as with the starting QB: 15.6 YPC. It’s the rest of the production that dwindles. In 10 games with backup quarterbacks (Matt Hasselbeck 8 starts, Tolzien 1 start, Josh Freeman 1) over the past two years, Hilton’s targets per game fall from 8.5 to 7.0. His receptions per contest go from almost 5 per game to 3.9. Hilton averages 77.2 yards per game and .4 TDs per contest with Luck. Without the starter, those numbers sink to 60.9 with 2 TDs in 10 games.

The stats aren’t fall-off-the-world bad for Hilton. If Tolzien is forced to start the entire first month — how quickly Jacoby Brissett can get up to speed remains to be seen — the Colts will need the speedy Hilton to make plays. Given that Hilton’s skill set is speed and route running, his production relies on chemistry with the quarterback and a passer willing to anticipate and trust the wideout to make a play on deep passes.

“I think we can do a lot of things,” Hilton said. “[Tolzien’s] a pro. He comes in and works hard, asks us what we see in the defense, asks all the right questions, and he goes out there and competes. So, for us, we just got to be able to make the plays for him, and we should be fine.”

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Andrew Luck Not To Play Week 1

Written by Marc Sessler at NFL.com

The Colts will open their season without the help of Andrew Luck.

Indianapolis general manager Chris Ballard announced Monday that the team’s starting quarterback will not suit up for Sunday’s regular-season opener against the Los Angeles Rams, adding that “no timetable” exists for Luck’s return.

The decision comes as no great surprise to Colts fans. Still on the mend from offseason shoulder surgery, Luck has been a ghost all summer, missing all of training camp and the entire preseason.

Colts owner Jim Irsay prefaced Monday’s confirmation by saying Thursday night of Luck that “the odds are most likely he probably won’t open up against the Rams.”

In his place, backup Scott Tolzien will make the start against Los Angeles, an ominous scenario after the overwhelmed quarterback struggled mightily from wire-to-wire during the preseason.

“At this point, it is too early to tell whether or not Andrew Luck will be on the field Week 2, Week 3, maybe Week 4,” NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported on NFL Total Access on Monday. “There certainly are people who believe this could stretch into October, and the reason why is all along, the Colts have made sure to be very cautious regarding the future of their quarterback, his right shoulder and just making sure that whatever happens, they don’t have to deal with Luck shoulder injuries ever again if they can handle it.

“Too often, he has played through injuries too often over the last two years. Too much over the last two years he has gone out there less than 100 percent. They want to exercise caution to make sure that when he is ready, he is really fully ready, so yes, it is a possibility, maybe even a strong possibility that Scott Tolzien gets more than one start, maybe even more than two or three starts.”

The team also acquired quarterback Jacoby Brissett from New England in exchange for wideout Phillip Dorsett, but Ballard weighed in Monday, saying: “It’s Tolzien’s job [for now], because Brissett has to get up to speed.”

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