By Steve Silverman
(CBSLA/CBS Local) — Three of the road teams appeared to have an excellent chance of winning in the divisional playoffs. The Colts were on fire with 10 wins in 11 games, while the Cowboys had the running game to tear holes in the Los Angeles Rams defense. The Chargers had a better record than the Patriots and looked more dangerous.
None of those road teams came through with a win, and the Colts and Chargers were beaten badly. The Eagles were given the least chance to win among the road teams, but they nearly got the best of the Saints.
Chiefs 31, Colts 13
Kansas City Chiefs: A-. Don’t think for a second that the pressure on the Chiefs was a small matter in the divisional playoff win over the Colts. Kansas City’s horrific playoff record (1-11 in their previous 12 playoff games) was a factor, but Patrick Mahomes helped them overcome it right from the opening kickoff. Kansas City got off to a brilliant start and dominated the Colts. And the most impressive aspect may have been their much-maligned defense, which kept Luck and T.Y. Hilton from punishing them with big plays. Tyreek Hill’s explosive speed was a huge factor and will continue to have an impact going forward.
Indianapolis Colts: C. The Colts had problems right from the start against the Chiefs, and that happens in the playoffs. However, head coach Frank Reich and his staff couldn’t make adjustments as the game progressed, and the Colts did not look like the team that had won 10 of their previous 11 games. It appeared Indianapolis underestimated the top-seeded Chiefs, and their inability to figure out how to effectively attack the vulnerable Kansas City defense was disappointing. Still, it was a fine year for the Colts and quarterback Andrew Luck, and they should be even better a year from now.
Rams 30, Cowboys 22
Los Angeles Rams: A-. The Rams’ performance in the divisional playoffs was almost shocking. Not the fact that they beat the Cowboys, but the manner in which they did. Prior to the start of the game, it seemed that the Rams would have to win a high-scoring shootout, because their big advantage was with Jared Goff and passing game getting the best of Dak Prescott and his ability to throw downfield. Instead, it was all about the running game. Not only did Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh shut down Elliott, Anderson and Gurley both ran for more than 100 yards. If the Rams can come close to matching this performance in the NFC title game, they should have an excellent chance to push the Saints to the limit and possibly win the game.
Dallas Cowboys: D+. This needed to be an old-school NFL game if the Cowboys were going to win on the road and advance to the NFC Championship Game. They needed to run the football and stop the run. It seemed the Cowboys certainly had the wherewithal to make that happen, with Ezekiel Elliott and the strength of their front seven, but it turned out to be an abysmal failure. The Rams held Elliott to 47 yards on 20 carries, while the Rams rushed for an incredible 273 yards. The Dallas front got pushed around, and the inability to tackle C.J. Anderson and Todd Gurley proved fatal.
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Patriots 41, Chargers 28
New England Patriots: A-. Old, over-the-hill, past their prime and running on fumes. Those were some of the descriptions that the Patriots heard prior to the divisional playoff game. Instead of getting beaten to the punch by the road warriors from Los Angeles, the Pats simply hammered away throughout the first half and dominated the game. The Patriots played one of their best playoff games in recent memory by putting 35 points on the board in the first half and putting the game away early. While winning the AFC Championship on the road in Kansas City will be a bigger challenge, the Patriots have shown that they still have plenty left in the tank as they prepare to play in their eighth straight AFC title game.
Los Angeles Chargers: C-. The Chargers were given an excellent chance to beat the Patriots at Gillette Stadium In Foxboro after beating the Ravens on the road in the wild-card game. They appeared to have an edge in offensive personnel with Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen over the Patriots’ skill position players. And the Los Angeles defense appeared quite a bit better than New England’s inconsistent unit. Well, it didn’t work out that way, as Tom Brady tore apart the Los Angeles zone defense and the Chargers never made an adjustment. Los Angeles proved it could win on the road throughout the season, but Rivers & Co. ran out of gas against New England.
Saints 20, Eagles 14
New Orleans Saints: B. The Saints were the most consistent team in the league, as they won 13 of 14 games between Week 2 and Week 16. However, they seemed confused in the early going, as the Eagles built their two-TD lead. Drew Brees turned things around after a slow start, and he deserves credit for doing that in a playoff game against the defending Super Bowl champions. There’s something to be said for a team that can win a playoff game when it is not at its best. The Saints are very tough to beat at home, and if they can take it up a level in the NFC title game against the Rams, they have an excellent chance to advance to the Super Bowl.
Philadelphia Eagles: B-. While the other road teams in the divisional playoffs appeared to be painfully under-prepared for their assignments, the Eagles came out swinging and dictated the pace throughout the early going, building a 14-0 lead. The Saints made a comeback and took the lead, but the Eagles came through with a late defensive stand that allowed them to get the ball back with a chance to win the game. Nick Foles appeared to be ready for the moment when he threw a key pass to Zach Ertz, but when a pass to normally dependable Alshon Jeffery went through the wideout’s hands and turned into a crucial interception, the Eagles’ season and Foles’ magical run came to an end.