NFL Divisional Playoffs 2019

Chris Ballard has spent two years constructing a team that is in the AFC playoffs’ divisional round Saturday against the Kansas City Chiefs (4:35 p.m., NBC). The Colts were 4-12 in his first season as general manager and started 1-5 this season. Indianapolis has won 10 of its past 11 games, including last weekend’s wild-card round victory over the Houston Texans.

Here’s what Colts fans should know about Ballard:

Ballard played quarterback in high school in Southeast Texas, but his only Division I shot came at Wisconsin, and he soon realized his only chance to get on the field was at receiver. The Badgers were struggling in the late 1980s under then-coach Barry Alvarez, and legend has it Ballard once tried to fight fans who were ridiculing the team.

“I can’t vouch for this story, but legend has it they had to escort Chris from the bleachers because he was wanting to fight everybody,” remembered Jay Norvell, Ballard’s position coach at Wisconsin.

Injuries shortened Ballard’s playing career, but he served as a student assistant as a senior.

Ballard spent seven years on the coaching staff at Texas A&M-Kingsville, a Division II program. He worked with receivers and defensive backs before becoming the defensive coordinator. Ballard worked with three future NFL players and Al Harris, the Kansas City Chiefs’ current secondary coach.

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Ballard broke into the NFL as a Chicago Bears scout in 2001. He primarily covered the Southwest and played a role in Bears teams that won four division titles and earned a Super Bowl XLI appearance (which they lost to the Colts).

“It just fit me,” Ballard has said. “I liked being on the road. I liked evaluating, really digging into who a player was as a person, figuring out how he was gonna fit.”

Chicago obtained these key players during that time: running back Matt Forte, cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher, defensive lineman Tommie Harris, receiver Brandon Marshall and tight end Martellus Bennett.

In 2012, Ballard was promoted to Chicago’s director of pro scouting.

He spent four seasons in Kansas City starting in 2013, the fist two as director of player personnel and the next two as director of football operations. He assisted general manager John Dorsey.

The Chiefs finished 2-14 in 2012, and Ballard was part of a roster overhaul that saw them improve to 11-5 and earn a wild-card playoff spot the following season. Kansas City acquired these Pro Bowl performers between 2013-16: linebacker D.J. Alexander, receiver Tyreek Hill, tight end Travis Kelce and cornerback Marcus Peters. The Chiefs also obtained free agent quarterback Alex Smith in 2013.

Ballard’s first coaching search was strange, to say the least. He chose New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and the team announced an introductory news conference. McDaniels abruptly withdrew from the spot, leaving the Colts scrambling. Ballard restarted the process and hired Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich.

One week before the start of the 2017 season, Ballard traded receiver Phillip Dorsett, a first-round pick entering his third season, to the New England Patriots for quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Brissett’s experience had been limited to three games during Tom Brady’s four-game suspension in 2016. Brissett played in the Colts season opener and started the rest of the season.

Ballard also stuck with undrafted free agent Rigoberto Sanchez over veteran free-agent signing Jeff Locke at punter.

The GM traded the third overall pick in the 2018 draft to the New York Jets for the No. 6 pick and a couple of second-rounders. Ballard drafted guard Quenton Nelson at No. 6, and he is an All-Pro as a rookie. That deal also included the pick that yielded right tackle Braden Smith.

On the eve of this season, Ballard cut veteran linebacker John Simon, a top defensive holdover from the 2017 season. Ballard decided he would go with Anthony Walker, a second-year player who was injured much of his rookie season, and second-round draft pick Darius Leonard, who led the NFL in tackles and is an All-Pro.

The Colts are likely to have nine picks in the seven-round 2019 NFL Draft. Each Colts pick is in the bottom eight of each round. As a result of the Jets trade, they own another second-round pick, which is 34th overall. The Colts are expected to receive a fourth-round compensatory pick after losing receiver Donte Moncrief.

If Ballard wants to spend in free agency, he has more maneuverability than anyone in the league (more than $123 million, according to overthecap.com).

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: NFL playoffs 2019: What Colts fans should know about Chris Ballard

Rams vs Cowboys

Cowboys vs. Rams odds, line: 2019 NFL divisional round picks, playoff predictions by advanced model on 16-6 run

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With just eight teams remaining in the 2019 NFL Playoffs, the Divisional schedule features matchups that pit some of the league’s hottest teams against each other. That’s the case on Saturday night when the Dallas Cowboys travel to Los Angeles to take on the Rams for an 8:15 p.m. ET kickoff, the second game on the NFL Divisional schedule. The Cowboys have won eight of their last nine, while the Rams went 13-3 this season with a prolific offense and a disruptive defense led by Aaron Donald. Los Angeles is a seven-point favorite, unchanged from the opening line, with the total at 49.5 in the latest Cowboys vs. Rams odds. Before you make your NFL playoff predictions for this bout, be sure to check out the top Cowboys vs. Rams picks from SportsLine’s advanced computer model.

The advanced computer model simulates every NFL game 10,000 times, and those who have followed it have seen massive returns. SportsLine’s proprietary computer model went 176-80 last season and beat over 95 percent of CBS Office Pool players in 2016 and ’17. It also performed better than 98 percent of experts tracked by NFLPickWatch.com during that span. Additionally, it went 48-34 on A-rated picks against the spread last season, and $100 bettors who followed it the past two seasons are up nearly $4,000.

The model has continued to nail its top-rated picks in 2018-19, entering the Divisional Round on a blistering 16-6 run. For the season, it is now 30-15 on all top-rated picks, extending its two-year run to a strong 78-49. It also went 170-84 on straight-up NFL picks during the regular season, ranking inside the top 10 on NFLPickWatch.com. Additionally, it hit all four NFL against the spread picks on Wild Card Weekend. Anyone who has followed it is way up.

Now the model has dialed in on Cowboys vs. Rams (stream live on fuboTV) 10,000 times. We can tell you it’s leaning Over, but it’s also generated a strong point-spread pick that’s hitting over 50 percent of the time. You can only see that one at SportsLine.

The model knows that balance is key to the Rams’ offense. L.A. had the No. 2-ranked total offense and scoring offense, and ranked in the top five in passing and rushing in 2018. Rams head coach and play-caller Sean McVay has a number of weapons at his disposal at the skill positions and uses that versatility to catch opposing defenses off guard. Quarterback Jared Goff had a career-high 32 touchdowns and posted a QB rating of over 100 for the second straight season, while running back Todd Gurley was third in rushing yards with 1,251.

And against the Cowboys, McVay will lean on running back Gurley against a banged-up Cowboys defensive line. DT Maliek Collins, DE Tyrone Crawford and DL David Irving are all ailing heading into the Divisional round. Gurley has been limited in practice this week with a knee injury, but should be healthier after sitting the last two games of the regular season and using the bye week to continue resting up.

But just because L.A. has plenty of firepower doesn’t mean Goff, Gurley, and company will cover the Cowboys vs. Rams spread.

The model also knows that Dallas’ line, anchored by defensive ends DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford, has been the team’s strength all season. While Crawford has produced 5.5 sacks, Lawrence posted 10.5 and forced two fumbles. If the Cowboys can exert enough pressure from the outside to force Goff to step up in the pocket, freed linebackers should be able to bring him down.

The MVP of Dallas’ offense has been wideout Amari Cooper. Acquired from the Raiders in a midseason trade, the veteran has produced 725 yards on 53 receptions in nine games with Big D. He came up huge in the wild-card game, setting up three scoring drives with critical plays and leading the way with 106 receiving yards. Running back Ezekiel Elliott churned out plenty of first downs in that contest, going for 169 yards from scrimmage and a score.

Who wins Cowboys vs. Rams? And which side of the spread hits in over 50 percent of simulations? Visit SportsLine now to see which side of the Rams vs. Cowboys spread you need to be all over on Saturday, all from the incredible computer model that has returned nearly $4,000 to $100 bettors.

Chiefs vs Colts

NFL divisional round odds, line: Colts vs. Chiefs picks, predictions by top-rated expert who’s 20-6 on Indianapolis games

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Chiefs vs Colts

Saturday’s divisional round matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs pits a resilient veteran against an up-and-coming superstar. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes finished the regular season with 50 passing touchdowns as a first-year starter under Andy Reid, while the Colts’ Andrew Luckreturned from a shoulder injury that kept him sidelined for the entire 2017 season to throw 39 touchdowns, second only to Mahomes. The Colts enter Saturday’s matchup brimming with confidence after winning 10 of their last 11 games. Meanwhile, the Chiefs secured the No. 1 seed in the AFC, but have lost two of their last three. Despite their recent skid, Kansas City is a five-point favorite, with the total at 57 in the latest Colts vs. Chiefs odds. Before you make any 2019 NFL Playoff predictions, check out the top Colts vs. Chiefs picks from SportsLine’s No. 1 NFL expert, R.J. White.

White is a perfect 5-0 in his past five against-the-spread picks for or against Kansas City and 20-6 in his past 26 involving the Colts, including calling Indy covering at Tennessee and Houston the past two weeks. Moreover, White went a perfect 4-0 against the spread on Wild Card Weekend, bringing his stunning NFL run to 55-31. Anyone following those picks is up over $2,000. This is the same expert who cashed big in two of the past four Las Vegas SuperContests.

Now, White has analyzed Chiefs vs. Colts (stream live on fuboTV)from every possible angle and locked in a strong point-spread pick. He’s sharing it over at SportsLine.

White knows the Chiefs have been a tough out at Arrowhead Stadium this season. In fact, Kansas City won seven of its eight home games and now faces a Colts team that was just .500 on the road.

The Chiefs are undeniably led by Mahomes, who joined Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks to throw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in a single season. Mahomes was second to Ben Roethlisberger in passing yards with 5,097, second to Ryan Fitzpatrick in yards per attempt at 8.79, and No. 2 to Drew Brees in QB rating at 113.8. He has a lethal arm and won’t hesitate to take shots downfield.

The entire offense shined throughout the 2018 regular season. Tyreek Hill was No. 4 in the NFL in receiving yardage at 1,479, and was also fourth in touchdown catches with a dozen. Travis Kelce was second to only the Eagles’ Zach Ertz in receptions among tight ends with 103 and found the end zone 10 times.

But just because Kansas City is an offensive juggernaut doesn’t mean it will cover the Colts vs. Chiefs spread.

Luck has thrown multiple touchdowns passes in 14 of 17 games and is a shoo-in for Comeback Player of the Year. His rebuilt offensive line has allowed a league-low 18 sacks while paving the way for running back Marlon Mack’s breakout. Mack has rushed for at least 119 yards in three of his past four games and just piled up 154 yards from scrimmage in the wild-card win at Houston.

The Colts have allowed 12.8 points per game over their past four contests. Indianapolis has covered seven straight against winning teams, not to mention five of its past six visits to Kansas City.

We can tell you White is leaning over, but his much stronger play is on the side. White cites a hidden stat most people don’t know about that makes one side of the spread a must-back. He’s only sharing what it is, and who to back, at SportsLine.

Who wins Colts vs. Chiefs? And what hidden stat makes one side of the spread a must-back? Visit SportsLine now to see which side of the spread you need to jump on, all from the white-hot expert who’s 20-6 on Colts picks and was undefeated on Wild Card Weekend.