The AFC Wild Games were all about statements. Phillip Rivers proved he has a lot left to offer. On the other hand, Andrew Luck showed the world what he can do with a competent offensive line. Conversely, the Divisional Games will have a different flavor. Essentially, on Saturday and Sunday, we will learn a couple of things. Either there will be a changing of the guard or it will be more of the same.
One game represents the NFL youth movement. Showtime versus the Captain. The other game represents the GOAT versus the GOAT. Understandably, that might be a bit confusing, but soon it will all make sense. Last weekend, Rivers and Luck led their teams to victory via efficiency and playing off their respective defenses. They will need to do more of the same this weekend. Let us discuss!
Indianapolis Colts (10-6) vs Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)
Saturday 4:35 PM Eastern
The Colts enter this game as the clear underdogs, which suits them well. They’ve been the underdog all season. After a 1-5 start, many people (including myself) wrote them off. However, the team made a turn around of epic proportions. Throughout the season, the Colts did the impossible. At least, what we thought was impossible. They kept Andrew Luck off the ground! To the surprise of us all, the Colts offensive line allowed the least amount of sacks. This was key for the late-season success of the team.
Hands down the comeback player of the year, Andrew Luck was a monster! This was on display last weekend as well. In the 21-7 beatdown of the Houston Texans, Luck had a near perfect first half. His only blemish was an interception off a J.J. Watt tip. In the second half, with the Texans settling in, the Colts did what they’ll need to do against Chiefs: run the ball.
Marlon Mack was the other beneficiary of the outstanding Colts offensive line. During the season and especially last weekend, Mack has been the Robin to Luck’s Batman. Last weekend, Mack finished with 148 yards on 24 carries.
With all the praise I’ve showered on the Captain, you’d think he’s the key player. He’s not. It’s not Marlon Mack either. Instead, it’s the offensive line. While I might think Luck deserves to be MVP, he wouldn’t have that claim without the offensive line. Luck and Mack get the attention but the line is the engine that drives this ship.
At all costs, the Colts will need to keep the ball away from the freight train of the Chiefs offense. Still, they can’t be too conservative. Running the ball will be key, but the passing game must flourish as well. The offensive line will be key to both. The passing lanes must be clear and the run blocks must be crisp if the Colts are to win this game.
The Chiefs enter this game as the best of the AFC. Much like the Colts, not many rational people expected this team to do much this season. Enter Pat Mahomes. Better known as Showtime Mahomes, the Chiefs quarterback took the league by storm this season. Surrounded by weapons aplenty, Mahomes (take a term from the Capt. Andrew Luck Twitter account) showed the league that his sidearm was pure.
From no-look passes to Favre and Romo like scrambles, the kid had it all this season. Still, we cannot overlook Hill and Kelce. Both have been equally outstanding this season. The Chiefs issue heading into this game is their defense. I don’t know if suspect is a strong enough word for this defense but that’s what they are. At times, the defense can be downright embarrassing. This could be a major problem.
Let’s not kid ourselves. A Chiefs victory falls on one man and one man only. Patrick “Showtime” Mahomes. While Mahomes has shown he can be elite, he’s also shown he’s a first-year starter. If the Chiefs are to move on, Pat must be at his absolute best. The defense will let them down, so Mahomes will need to lead the offense to points– and a lot of them. A trip to the AFC Championship would go a long way for this team.
LA Chargers (12-4) vs New England Patriots (11-5)
Sunday 1:05 PM Eastern
Another strong candidate for NFL MVP, Rivers has been lights out this season as well. Many analysts picked the Chargers to win the brutal AFC West. Were it not for the emergence of Mahomes, they would have won the division. Look no further than the soon-to-be father of nine for this. In the battle of the GOAT vs the GOAT, Rivers is the GOAT that is the scapegoat. He is never the reason his team wins but he always gets the blame for the loss.
That narrative has changed this season. Last week, Rivers did not have eye-popping statistics but he played well against a phenomenal defense. Well enough to win, which is all that matters. On Sunday, Rivers will have a chance to prove that he is more than a scapegoat. A strong game and win over the Patriots will forever change his narrative. It can also put him at the top of the AFC quarterbacks.
Not a shock to anyone, Rivers is the key to this game. Facing a lesser defense than the Ravens, Phillip will need to be outstanding. While the Pats don’t have a defense as nasty as the Ravens, they have a genius at their disposable in Bill Belichick. Rivers will have to outsmart the master. Not easy to do but it must be done to move onto the AFC Championship.
Call it bias or whatever you will, but the Patriots have not been the team we’re accustomed to seeing this season. In fact, this may be the most vulnerable Patriots team we’ve seen in some time in the AFC. Like it or not, this all falls on the other GOAT of the match. This is the GOAT that many believe is the greatest to ever grace the field: Tom Brady.
It would be foolish to say that Brady has not played well this season; especially considering his age. At the same time, though, Brady has not been quite Brady either. At least in my eyes, there has been a significant drop-off of clutch this season. Even going back to the last two Super Bowls, he has not been as jaw-dropping. In maybe the biggest shock of the weekend, if the Patriots win, I do not think it will be because of Tom Brady.
For the Patriots, there are two players they will need to lean on. James White and Sony Michel will need to stand out. Michel will need to pound ball and White will need to be the matchup nightmare that he is. The Patriots will need a well-balanced attack to slow down the Chargers pass rush. Brady will have his role to play, that is for sure. Still, it’s time the Patriots prepare for life without Brady and it starts with this game.
In the early game, I’ve been on the Captain’s bandwagon all season. I’m not getting off now. I can’t say with certainty that the Colts are a Super Bowl team. What I can say is that they’re close. In the upset of the weekend, give me the Colts over the Chiefs 40-34.
In the Battle of the GOAT, I have to pick with my head and not my heart. As good as Rivers has been and as pedestrian as Brady has seemed, my head says Patriots. BB is just too good of a coach. It will be close but the Pats will prevail 24-20.