By Steve Silverman
(CBSLA/CBS Local) — The divisional round of the NFL playoffs might just be this season’s (or any season’s) best weekend of football. The AFC and NFC’s top seeds return to action to face wild-card weekend winners looking to continue their momentum. And the matchups — Colts-Chiefs, Cowboys-Rams, Chargers-Patriots, and Eagles-Saints — could not be better.
Many of the League’s top skill players from the regular season will need to step up for their teams to advance. Some are battling injuries, which, of course, is very common after playing 16+ games. Others face difficult matchups. There are still plenty of good daily fantasy options, even in pared-down field.
1. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City vs. Indianapolis, FD Proj. – 24.6 points
The Chiefs are the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs, but this postseason game against the Colts is anything but easy. Mahomes has thrown 50 TD passes this season and has 5,097 passing yards, but he will confront a hard-hitting and nasty defense that will make the Chiefs earn every point.
2. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis at Kansas City – 23.2 points
Luck and the Colts are very hot, having won 10 of 11 games. After beating the Houston Texans, the Colts have to confront the AFC West champion Chiefs. While Kansas City can light it up on offense, the Chiefs rank 31st on defense and are dead last against the pass. Luck had 39 regular-season TD passes, and he should be able to exploit the Kansas City defense.
3. Drew Brees, New Orleans vs. Philadelphia – 23.3 points
Brees should be able to give Mahomes a battle for the MVP award, and he gets to take on a Philadelphia defense that the Saints overwhelmed with 48 points in Week 11. While Philadelphia has regained its footing and appears to be a much better team now, Brees should have a strong performance.
4. Jared Goff, Los Angeles. Rams vs. Dallas – 22.8 points
The Rams have quite a bit to prove, even though they won the NFC West title weeks ago and enjoyed a week off with the bye in the first week of the postseason. Goff must attack the Dallas defense from the start, because running back Todd Gurley has been slowed by a knee injury.
5. Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers at New England – 21.2 points
The Chargers took a big step by winning on the road against the Baltimore Ravens during the wild-card round. But now they must take on the Patriots. While New England regularly dominates at home in the divisional playoffs, Rivers has a 32-12 TD-interception ratio and is quite dangerous.
1. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas at L.A. Rams – 19.0 points
Elliott is the key to the Cowboys’ success during the postseason, and he started off with a 137-yard effort against a very strong Seattle defense. The Rams have the most porous run defense in the league, and Elliott could approach 150 yards in this game.
2. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans vs. Philadelphia – 19.2 points
The Eagles will have to raise their level of play considerably to slow down a New Orleans offense that scored 40 points or more seven times this season. Kamara excels as a runner and a receiver, and he comes into the postseason with 18 touchdowns (14 rushing, 4 receiving).
3. Sony Michel, New England vs. Los Angeles Chargers – 17.6 points
The Patriots will have to run the ball to be successful in the postseason because the New England passing game is not what it once was. Michel runs with toughness and speed, and he has shown a penchant for coming through with big plays at key moments.
4. Marlon Mack, Indianapolis at Kansas City – 16.8 points
Mack has been very solid for the Colts during their hot streak, and he should take advantage of a Kansas City defense that is quite vulnerable. Mack has run for 908 yards and nine touchdowns, and he excels at picking up yards after contact.
5. Todd Gurley, Los Angeles. Rams vs. Dallas – 15.2 points
If Gurley were healthy, he would either be ranked first or second on this list. He missed the last two games of the regular season due to a knee injury and has been limited this week. Look for Gurley to come up with a big effort, but his knee keeps him from ranking with the best runners this week. Those who fear that Gurley will not produce should consider Los Angeles backup running back C.J. Anderson.
1. Tyreek Hill, Kansas City vs. Indianapolis – 17.2 points
The Chiefs will need to light up the scoreboard if they are going to get the best of the streaking Colts, and Hill should be Mahomes’ top option. The explosive speedster has caught 87 passes for 1,479 yards and 12 touchdowns, and his ability to separate from defensive backs is a huge advantage for the Chiefs.
2. T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis at Kansas City – 16.4 points
Hilton is as important to the Indianapolis offense as Hill is to the Kansas City attack. Hilton is fast, but he is not as fast as Hill. However, he is a veteran receiver who knows how to get open, avoid contact and pick up big yards after making the catch. Hilton should have a field day against the porous Kansas City secondary.
3. Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers at New England – 16.0 points
Allen is a brilliant receiver and he should be at his best because the Chargers are one game away from playing for the AFC title. Allen has caught 97 passes for 1,196 and six touchdowns this season, and he should be able to exploit a New England pass defense that appears to be vulnerable to the Los Angeles passing attack.
4. Michael Thomas, New Orleans vs. Philadelphia – 15.6 points
Thomas has had a sensational year in 2018, and he gets a chance to take advantage of a Philadelphia secondary that was vulnerable throughout the season. Thomas caught 125 passes for 1,405 yards and nine TDs this season, and he has the size, hands and speed to dominate throughout the postseason.
5. Robert Woods, L.A. Rams vs. Seattle – 15.0 points
Woods is one of the best receivers that Goff has to work with, and while he does not have blazing speed, he can make his cuts without slowing down significantly. He is a precise route runner who has excellent hands. He has caught 86 passes for 1,219 yards and six touchdowns.
1. Travis Kelce, Kansas City vs. Indianapolis �� 13.1 points
Kelce may be Mahomes’ comfort blanket, because he is capable of spectacular plays when the Chiefs need them most. Kelce has caught 103 passes for 1,336 yards and 10 touchdowns, and he is at his best on third-down plays.
2. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia at L.A. Rams – 12.8 points
Ertz was relatively quiet for long portion of Philadelphia’s wild-card victory at Chicago, but he has sensational hands and knows how to get open. Ertz caught 116 passes for 1,163 yards and eight touchdowns, and he has to come up big if the Eagles are going to stay close to the Saints.
3. Eric Ebron, Indianapolis at Kansas City – 11.1 points
Ebron continues to emerge as a major factor for the Indianapolis offense. He caught 13 regular-season TD passes and added another in the wild-card win at Houston. The Chiefs will have a difficult time keeping Ebron in check.
4. Rob Gronkowski, New England vs. L.A. Chargers – 10.4 points
This has not been a banner year for Gronkowski, who has just three TD receptions this season. However, he figures to play a huge role for New England in the postseason. And if he gets going early, the Chargers will have a hard time slowing him down.
5. Benjamin Watson, New Orleans vs. Philadelphia – 8.2 points
With the big-play contributors on the New Orleans offense, Watson is not likely to attract much attention. He will be retiring after this season and could be an X-factor in the red zone against the Eagles.