The underdog story is a huge part of the NFL playoffs every year. No better example of that came just last season when the Philadelphia Eagles got hot and secured their first-ever Lombardi Trophy.
That was no sure thing, either. While Philly looked like one of the best teams in the league heading into postseason play, losing star quarterback Carson Wentz to a torn ACL quickly took them from Super Bowl favorite to a likely one-and-done playoff team.
Backup quarterback Nick Foles answered the call, however, and the rest is history.
That type of epic run is tough to repeat. But the Eagles are back to try and do just that. This time, however, they’re joined by three other teams that are underdogs going into the Division Round of the NFL playoffs.
I’m not necessarily saying you should back these teams when you bet on Super Bowl 53, but there’s plenty of reason to believe they’re not done just yet. Here’s a quick case for all four underdogs to move onto their respective conference title game:
Los Angeles Chargers (+171)
Philip Rivers is an unfathomable 0-7 against Tom Brady and the Patriots in his NFL career, but he has a chance to buck that trend and push his Bolts to the AFC championship game.
There is obviously a ton riding on this game. And while Vegas seems to like New England more, NFL fans could take solace in a few things. For one, the Chargers just got past a very stingy Ravens defense. They also did so on the road, where they’ve improved their record to a blistering 8-1 on the year.
L.A. can run the ball with a solid stable of running backs, Rivers remains a maestro in the pocket and the Chargers also have a rock solid defense. The foundation is there for a title run, but even if the Bolts don’t end up winning their first-ever Super Bowl, they can at least get past New England.
The Patriots are a storied franchise and few teams can rival their playoff experience. However, to suggest 2018 has been a down year is an understatement. With the passing game falling apart and the Pats’ defense far from elite, this team just doesn’t feel unbeatable anymore.
Indianapolis Colts (+198)
It’s also hard to hate on the Colts, who have been ridiculously hot ever since a nasty 1-5 start. Teams generally don’t go on wild title runs after losing five of their first six games, but that may just go to show how special Indy really is.
Rookie head coach Frank Reich seems to know what he’s doing. While the Colts have come quite a ways from their old pass-happy ways, star quarterback Andrew Luck can still slice and dice defenses up and down the field. Moreover, Indy’s pass protection might be the best he’s ever had.
In addition, Marlon Mack balances out a rock-solid offense and the Colts’ defense has even been passable for long stretches.
Going into Kansas City and knocking off the AFC’s top seed is still quite the challenge. As difficult as it appears, the Chiefs have not been so infallible lately and actually are just 3-2 over their last five games.
The Chiefs have three issues that could trip them up: they lost Kareem Hunt to an off-field issue, they don’t have an elite defense and Patrick Mahomes is playing in his first playoff game.
The latter might be the biggest hurdle, as Mahomes has had bouts with some questionable decision-making. Mahomes is undoubtedly the main reason K.C. is such a threat to win a title, but he also could be precisely why they come undone and allow the Colts to stage an upset.
Dallas Cowboys (+270)
We’re getting into a less likely scenario here, as the Cowboys may not have quite the same offensive upside as some of the other underdogs. Still, Dak Prescott has flashed plenty of ability in the passing game and Dallas can still control games with Ezekiel Elliott on the ground.
Perhaps the biggest asset for the Cowboys is the combination of their rushing attack and their ability to play high-level defense. The latter preserved a big home win over the Seahawks last week and just might end up being the answer to keep them in this game with a potent Rams offense.
Jared Goff can struggle under pressure. And if the Cowboys can make this game more about Goff playing from behind and less about a battle of wills on the ground, they could be in a position to win.
Dallas has the run defense to enforce their will here and if they can nullify Todd Gurley’s impact, they just might have the foundation for an upset in Los Angeles this week.
Philadelphia Eagles (+305)
The least likely upset is undeniably this showdown in New Orleans between the Saints and the visiting Eagles. Philly got absolutely blasted in this very spot earlier this season, and that was with a healthy Carson Wentz under center.
With Wentz still sidelined with a back issue, all of those Nick Foles truthers may finally see if Philly is indeed better with him running the offense.
I’m not completely sold, but Foles absolutely is the main reason to bet on the Eagles if that’s what you’re interested in. He ran the table with some pretty magical play last year and just got by arguably the best defense in football on the road.
More than that, Foles worked some magic on a clutch fourth-down touchdown that makes you wonder if anyone can beat this guy when the season is on the line.
The Saints are tough to bet against at home, but the Eagles defend well and in theory have the offensive talent to stick around in a shootout. This would be quite the massive upset, but bettors and fans alike can’t say with complete certainty that it’s impossible.