In true Orlando Magic fashion, this win was nearly a loss. With seconds left on the clock Boston had the opportunity to tie the game. Poor execution down the stretch had Orlando almost blow a 9 point lead with 2 minutes left.
Regardless, the Magic pulled out a win. Aaron Gordon finished with a team high 28 points and grabbed 12 rebounds en route to the Magic’s 2nd win in 7 games. This season has been one of untapped potential for Gordon, who signed a 4/yr $84 million contract this offseason. With a potential ceiling of a Blake Griffin, Magic fans are holding their breath that Gordon can grow into that role in his 4th year in the league.
This win puts the Magic at 18-24, good for 24th in the NBA and 10th in the East. Even at that low in the standings, the Magic are only 1 game out of the 8th seed in the East. On the other side of that, Orlando is 10.5 games out of having the best odds at the #1 pick in the 2019 NBA draft. With a draft class this loaded with the likes of Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett, one wonders if the Magic should aspire for the playoffs this season, or play the long game by gaining top talent, a la the Philadelphia 76ers.
Patrick Mahomes looks to continue his success from the regular season into the postseason and overcome the ghosts of Kansas City’s postseason past.
NFL DIVISIONAL ROUND PLAYOFFS PREVIEW
by: Steven Walker
AFC DIVISIONAL ROUND
(6) Indianapolis Colts at (1) Kansas City Chiefs
This game, on paper, shouldn’t be close. Quite literally this is the bottom of the AFC postseason versus the top, but Andrew Luck changes this dynamic completely. The Colts offensive line has played a major role in their turnaround this season, allowing only 18 sacks this season (best in the NFL). This is contrary to last season where the Colts offensive line gave up 56 sacks, and that’s good for worst in the NFL. Indy is, excuse the lame pun, but a wildcard in this AFC playoff picture. But who is coming to spoil the fun? That’s right, its the 2nd year quarterback out of Texas Tech: Patrick Mahomes. Saying that Mahomes has played well this season is certainly an understatement. Leading the NFL in touchdown passes (in his second year!!!!) is no small feat, and throwing 50 in one season is something that only the likes of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have accomplished. Kansas City led the NFL in points for this season at 35.3, and it wasn’t particularly close. Tyreek Hill and Patrick Mahomes have been terrorizing the league all year, but what’s their kryptonite? That would be the Kansas City defense. Being the team that lost a game in which they scored 51 points, its no doubt that the Chiefs have some issues on that end of the ball. Kansas City gave up the most first downs this season, at 419. That’s 42 more than the next team, Cleveland at 377 first downs. Kansas City also gave up the second most total yards this season, second only to Cincinnati. I could write on and on about the woes of the KC defense, but it is mostly summed up by the fact that they’re in company with lower tier non-playoff team defenses. If Kansas City loses this game, it’ll be because of their defense and the right arm of Andrew Luck throwing daggers into an already weak defense. The Chiefs have a history blowing playoff games, as well as a history blowing playoff games to the Colts! I don’t see a way where the Kansas City defense overcomes Andrew Luck.
Prediction: Indianapolis 35 Kansas City 24
(5) Los Angeles Chargers at (2) New England Patriots
Wow does this matchup look entertaining. I really hate to say this but outside of New England fans and maybe those in the AFC West who isn’t pulling for the Chargers in this one? The narrative is set out in this one to play out like an old NFL playoff classic. You have the 41 year old Tom Brady looking to avenge last season’s Super Bowl loss to the Wentz-less Eagles, and Angry Tom is someone who no one wants to see in the playoffs. But then there’s the story of Philip Rivers. His is a story of anguish and desire, longing for a Super Bowl which he hasn’t even sniffed in his career. No one can deny Rivers’ achievements, but a ring would certainly validate his career in what has already been a Hall of Fame career. The Chargers seem like a team of destiny, a la the 2013 Denver Broncos where Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset, while also riding the best defense in the NFL to a second ring. Speaking of defense, the Chargers have a top 10 defense in points allowed per game. It’s easy to overlook the Chargers, but they actually finished the regular season with a better record than New England, at 12-4. The stars are aligning for the Chargers to go far this postseason, but why is it still hard to pick them over the Patriots? It’s the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick factor. No matter the struggles that the Patriots have had in the regular season, year in and year out this team finds ways to win in the postseason. I won’t even bother bringing up stats for this, because they don’t matter for New England. This team just knows how to get it done come postseason time, and I don’t see any reason why this year will be different.
Prediction: New England 27 Los Angeles 13
Now, to the NFC:
NFC DIVISIONAL ROUND
(6) Philadelphia Eagles at (1) New Orleans Saints
Another 6 seed taking on a 1 seed this divisional round weekend, yet this one seems less interesting to the eye. The Eagles are coming off of a miracle win against Chicago where Cody Parkey hit the posts not once, but twice in order to miss the game winning field goal. Looking solely on matchup, the Eagles should get blown out. In week 10 the Eagles faced the Saints and would go on to lose in spectacular fashion 48-7. This game featured Carson Wentz throwing 3 interceptions and the Eagles mustering up a paltry 196 yards of total offense. The X factor in this game will be Nick Foles. As we’ve seen in the past this man is capable of carrying the Eagles to great lengths and even Super Bowl wins. The magic of Foles is real, and if the Philadelphia defense can over-achieve like they did against the Bears, then they may be able to squeeze out a close one. Containing the Saints offense is a rather tall order, and every part of the Eagles defense will be tested come Sunday. The Eagles secondary ranks 3rd in most passing yards given up behind only Cincinnati and Kansas City. The Bears didn’t have a Michael Thomas on their team like New Orleans does, which changes the whole gameplan for Philadelphia. Thomas is a deep threat to score from anywhere on the field, and finds the wholes in zones to gobble up catches. He led the NFL in receptions this season with 125 and was 6th in yards at 1,405. On the business end of those Michael Thomas receptions would be Drew Brees, who would have won his first MVP this season had it not been for the other-worldly performance of Patrick Mahomes this season. Brees is a whole other monster to deal with for Philly, as he is a little bit better than Mitchell Trubisky for the Bears. Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram top off one of the most potent offenses in football, which combined with an improved defense seek to knock of the defending Super Bowl champions this Sunday.
Prediction: Saints 35 Eagles 14
(4) Dallas Cowboys at (2) Los Angeles Rams
Last but certainly not least we have the night cap of NFL Saturday Divisional football. This primetime slotted game will be sure not to disappoint, as these two teams match up rather favorably. Coming into this game, Rams RB Todd Gurley leads the NFL in total touchdowns, and ranks 3rd in rushing yards this season. The Rams are a very balanced team, and thrive on that balance. Dallas will look to take away that balance through locking down the run game. In a 5th ranked rushing defense led by Leighton Vander Esch, if Dallas can force the Rams into long passing situations on third down, they can pull off this upset. Part of this upset by the Cowboys would have to come of course from the offense. Led by Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot, Dallas is riding hot into the divisional round having won 8 of their last 9 games. A big part of that has been the resurgence of Ezekiel Elliot. After a shortened season in 2017 due to suspension, Elliot turned things around to win the NFL rushing title for the second time in three years and led the Cowboys to the postseason. The Rams gave up the 10th most rushing yards of any team this season, and if Elliot can get going in this game then Dallas can control the clock and run the Rams out of their own building. On the other side of that coin, Los Angeles has been playing lights out pretty much all year. On the offensive side of the ball, LA ranks 5th in passing yards per game, 3rd in rushing yards per game, and 2nd in points per game behind only Kansas City. This team schemes week in and week out and will expose weaknesses in their opponent’s defensive gameplan. Sean McVay has this offense firing on all cylinders, and with his creative playcalling he is able to get receivers like Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods open in space to give Goff easy throws down the field. Both Cooks and Woods have over 1,200 yards this season, and they will be tested come Saturday night against an above average pass defense in Dallas. This will be one of the closer games this weekend and is sure to not disappoint.
As first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter late Monday, the Packers are hiring Titans Offensive Coordinator (and Ryan Reynolds doppelgänger) Matt LaFleur to be just their third head coach since the start of the millennium. With that low rate of turn-over in Green Bay, make no mistake that this decision was difficult for that front office. Green Bay with a 35 year old Aaron Rodgers are in win now mode, and they can’t afford for a coach to come in and not gel with their 2 time MVP.
LaFleur has worked in the coaching trees of some of the league’s best offensive teams. The first time head coach has worked with the likes of Kyle Shanahan in Washington and Atlanta as a QBs coach, and Sean McVay in 2017 as Offensive Coordinator. McVay and Shanahan have been touted around league offices as two of the brightest minds in football. LaFleur is going to have to bring some of that magic with him to the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau, as offensive woes have haunted the Packers their last two seasons. Packers fans expect nothing less than that coveted Lombardi Trophy, and their future hall-of-fame quarterback hoisting it high to bring it back home. They need to win now, and LaFleur could offer that spark for a franchise that has been starving for a Super Bowl since Rodgers won them one back in 2010.
Fans have their doubts when it comes to this hire. Even though LaFleur was the OC in Los Angeles, play-calling duties were carried out by HC Sean McVay. Play-calling has been one of the many woes of Green Bay’s coaching staff in the past few seasons, which is something that Aaron Rodgers has been openly critical of.
“We need to find ways to get our playmakers in position to get more opportunities.” – Aaron Rodgers commenting on the playcalling after their Week 4 win vs. Buffalo
In Tennessee this season, LaFleur undertook full play-calling duties under coach Mike Vrabel. This season the Titans ranked 25th in yards per game, 26th in total first downs, and 27th in points per game. Some could chalk this up to personnel issues and lack of talent, but the 2018 Titans were largely the same if not improved from the 2017 Titans, yet they underperformed and missed the playoffs.
If one thing is reassuring for Packers fans, Aaron Rodgers is a little bit better than Marcus Mariota, and Rodgers make the players around him better. If Matt LaFleur is able to gameplan around his players’ strengths and get receivers open, Rodgers will find them without a doubt. The pieces are there for Green Bay, it just comes down to coaching; and Matt LaFleur looks to be the answer for a fanbase thirsting for a Lombardi.