The divisional round of the N.F.L. playoffs has come and gone, confirming some things we knew — the Patriots are devastatingly good at home, the Chiefs play football like it’s a video game, etc. — while revealing some new wrinkles for both the four losing teams and the victors headed to the conference championship games.
As we look ahead to next weekend, we can look back at what we learned from this week’s games.
Taysom Hill is more than a decoy. The Saints’ backup quarterback was called on primarily for short runs this season. On three plays in his team’s win over Philadelphia, the former Brigham Young star showed he is capable of far more than that. His 4-yard run on a fake punt set up the Saints’ first touchdown, and later in the game he very nearly caught a 46-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees. And his arcing, 46-yard touchdown pass to Alvin Kamara in the third quarter may have been overturned because of a holding penalty, but the ease with which Hill hit Kamara in stride on the deep throw is something defensive coordinators surely will not forget.
Tom Brady can still summon that underdog spirit. After demolishing the Los Angeles Chargers, 41-28, the Patriots quarterback, who is about to appear in his eighth consecutive A.F.C. championship game, told reporters that no one believes in his team. “I know everyone thinks we suck and can’t win any games,” he said. Julian Edelman, who passed Reggie Wayne for the second-most career postseason catches by a receiver, concurred, saying, “We’re the underdog this week. I’m going to jump on that train and roll with it.”
Tom Brady has reached 13 conference championships in 17 completed seasons (76.5%) as a starting quarterback (excluding 2008). Brady has reached the conference championship at a higher rate than: pic.twitter.com/r9tQ72vPiA— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 13, 2019
C.J. Anderson was a terrific pickup for the Rams. The six-year veteran was cut by the Carolina Panthers on Nov. 13, then tried and failed get a spot on the lowly Oakland Raiders, and eventually landed in Los Angeles in Week 16 as an insurance policy behind Todd Gurley. In three games for the Rams, including their 30-22 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday, the 27-year-old Anderson has rushed for a combined 422 yards and four touchdowns. That Anderson had 123 yards against the Cowboys even though Gurley was back on the field spoke volumes about the Rams’ faith in their backup.
The Chiefs are more than just Patrick Mahomes. The second-year quarterback is the justified focus of any defensive effort against Kansas City after his 50-touchdown regular season, but the Chiefs demolished the Indianapolis Colts, 31-13 without Mahomes throwing a touchdown pass. He did rush for a score, and the Chiefs got three other rushing touchdowns from three different players, including one in which Damien Williams juked a pair of Colts defenders nearly out of their shoes.
There is a limit to Nick Foles’s magic. The Eagles’ backup quarterback came into the game with a 4-0 record in the playoffs over the last two seasons, and even had people debating how Philadelphia would handle things between Foles and Carson Wentz if Foles went on another extended playoff run. He started almost flawlessly on Sunday, but when he got the ball back with his team down by just 6 points in the fourth quarter, a pass of his sailed through Alshon Jeffery’s hands and into the waiting arms of the Saints’ Marshon Lattimore, ending the Eagles’s hopes. As so much of the Foles’s story line relies on things inexplicably working out for the quarterback, that’s the type of play that will end the debates quickly.
Philip Rivers still hates facing Tom Brady. The Chargers’ quarterback has had a fine career that could likely land him in the Hall of Fame, but he has never beaten Brady. That point was again driven home — emphatically — on Sunday, as New England’s defenders had Rivers flailing right away, while Brady calmly picked apart the Los Angeles defense.
The Cowboys live and die by Ezekiel Elliott. The superstar running back had an uncharacteristically poor game against the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday, carrying the ball 20 times for just 47 yards. In 28 career regular season games in which Elliott has carried the ball at least 20 times, the Cowboys have gone 22-6, but to find playoff success, Dallas may need to find some more offensive balance. As it stands, they are 1-2 in the playoffs since drafting Elliott.
Darius Leonard is a monster. Indianapolis was eliminated by Kansas City, but Leonard, the Colts’ rookie linebacker, got to show off how much ground he can cover, generating 14 tackles and recovering a fumble in the losing effort. If the Colts’ offense gets fully healthy, and the defense can put more pieces around Leonard, Indianapolis could be a dominant team in the near future.
N.F.C. Championship: Los Angeles Rams (13-3) at New Orleans Saints (13-3)
3:05 p.m., Fox
A.F.C. Championship: New England Patriots (11-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)
6:40 p.m., CBS
Expect some offense: The four surviving teams ranked first through fourth in points scored this season.