After an up and down Wildcard Weekend full of plenty of officiating controversy and disappointing play, the Divisional round is looking like a slate of four incredible games. It's very exciting to see these matchups on paper, as they all could realistically be Conference Championship games any other year.
We saw a few blowouts last week, and I don't believe we will see another game where a team wins by more than two scores for the remainder of the postseason. I think these games are going to be incredible.
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Cincinnati (11-7) @ Tennessee (12-5)
The Tennessee Titans are an overlooked team, despite being the AFC's #1 seed. Ryan Tannehill has been up and down throughout the year (3,700 yards with 21 touchdowns and 14 interceptions) which led to their 24th overall ranking in passing offense. Wide receivers A.J. Brown and Julio Jones have not been consistently active, missing games due to injury left and right. In his three recent games, Brown has 17 receptions for 254 yards and two scores, showing he is a playmaker when available. Julio is supposed to play in this one - although based on his production this season, I think his name is more impactful than his on-field play will be.
Derrick Henry is a major question, as he has been practicing but nothing official has been announced regarding his status for Saturday. Even if he does play, I believe we will see Henry splitting carries to an extent with D'Onta Foreman. Foreman has filled in admirably in his absence, so I still believe this 5th ranked rushing attack will have success.
The Bengals nearly blew a lead last week against the Raiders. Joe Burrow looked great, throwing for nearly 250 yards and a pair of touchdowns.We saw tight end C.J. Uzomah get more involved (6 catches on 6 targets for 64 yards and a score). Their defense allowed 300 yards to Derek Carr and 83 rushing yards to Josh Jacobs.
Edge rusher Trey Hendrickson received a concussion, so his health status will be a huge factor in this upcoming game. Cincinnati's passing game has a good matchup against Tennessee's 25th ranked pass defense. Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine may get stuffed throughout this game, however as the Titans boast the #2 run defense in the league.
Played in 2021?
Key Question: How much success will Tennessee have on the ground?
We touched on Derrick Henry earlier, but that is the key in this game. Cincinnati ranks 5th in the league when defending the run, and running the football is the strength of this Titans team.
When Henry went down in week 8, he was leading the league in rushing by a LARGE margin (four of his eight games went for 130+ yards and he had three games with 3 rushing touchdowns). D'Onta Foreman is a big runner too, who has three 100+ yard games on the ground as well.
If the Titans utilize a rusty Derrick Henry in tandem with Foreman, they can control the clock and slow the game down. If not, the Bengals might race off to a lead Tannehill can't come back from.
My Prime Performer:
QB Joe Burrow, Bengals
36/42 322 yards, 3 TDs
Spread: Tennessee, -3.5
My Pick: Bengals by 9
San Francisco (11-7) @ Green Bay (13-4)
Green Bay is in a familiar position, as they're coming off of a bye and hosting a playoff game. Aaron Rodgers of course playing at an elite level as always, but at this point that is all irrelevant if they don't win it all. The Packers are mostly healthy on offense (Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Robert Tonyan are the biggest names who have been out), and could potentially see a few key pieces on defense return (star cornerback Jaire Alexander and edge rusher Za'Darius Smith).
Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon are both very good running backs and could ice the game if Green Bay needs them to. I could see a situation where Rodgers puts up 30 points and we see the home team mainly using Jones and Dillon for the majority of the 4th quarter.
Green Bay has a good defense (11th overall) with the 10th ranked passing defense and 11th ranked rushing defense. The entire football team is very good and extremely well balanced. Aaron Rodgers needs to take advantage of this talent.
The 49ers got away with one last week, didn't they? They made mistake after mistake and tried to give this game away to Dallas throughout the second half, but the Cowboys couldn't capitalize.
Kyle Shanahan is a good head coach for this team and they need to have success running the football early (very similar to my preview on the Eagles-Bucs last week). This defense will have to get a couple of stops on Rodgers if they want to win this game.
Played in 2021?
Week 3: Packers 30, 49ers 28
Key Question: How much of the offensive load will fall on Jimmy G's shoulders?
Jimmy Garoppollo is San Fran's weakness. If they allow the Packers to get ahead early and the running game isn't as effective as it has been, Garoppollo will need to throw the ball more to get his team back into it.
Despite playing in an offense coached by Shanahan and surrounded by elite playmakers such as Deebo Samuel and George Kittle, Jimmy G has simply played poor football. this player is the definition of a "low ceiling, hand of the ball and manage the game" type of quarterback.
You don't want the ball to be in his hands if you are down by 14 points or more... unfortunately that's how I expect it to go.
My Prime Performer:
WR Davante Adams, Packers
12 catches 141 yards, 3 TDs
Spread: Green Bay, -5.5
My Pick: Packers by 11
LA Rams (13-5) @ Tampa Bay (14-4)
This game could go in a number of ways and it will be exciting to see what will happen. The Rams destroyed their division rival Arizona Cardinals on Monday night, 34-11. Matthew Stafford was on point with most of his throws while Sony Michel and rookie Cam Akers combined for over 100 yards on the ground. This team is proving that they can take out defenses through the air and on the ground any given week.
Defensively, Von Miller and Aaron Donald combined for 1.5 of their 2 sacks on the night. I'm looking out for both of these guys to control this next game, as we'll touch on later.
Tom Brady picked apart the Eagles last week, throwing for 271 yards and a pair of scores. Mike Evans was unstoppable, catching 9 of his 10 targets for 117 yards and a touchdown. Jalen Ramsey should stick on him all game long, as he's Tampa's most explosive weapon at this point.
Last time they met, Evans did catch 8 balls for 106 yards but that was when guys like Chris Godwin and Leonard Fournette were threats offensively. The Rams should force Brady to hyper target guys like Rob Gronkowski and Gio Bernard all game long while avoiding a ferocious pass rush.
Shaquil Barrett leads a very good Tampa defense into battle in an effort to slow down this explosive offense. Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham Jr., Van Jefferson, Tyler Higbee, Sony Michel and Cam Akers are at Matthew Stafford's disposal. Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and Devin White will need to step up and pressure Stafford from the start of this game.
Played in 2021?
Week 3: Rams 34, Bucs 24
Key Question: Will Tampa's O-Line be ready for L.A.'s front seven?
The Buccaneers were holding their breath when offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs went had to enter the locker room early in the game before returning briefly in the 2nd quarter. He limped off the field just before halftime and didn't return.
It was reported to be a sprained ankle and has been in a walking boot. Wirfs has a chance to play on Sunday... but he'll need to be at 100% in this game against this L.A. pass rush.
Center Ryan Jensen also went down to an ankle injury, but is expected to play this week.
This Buccaneer offensive line has been consistent and mostly healthy over the past two years.When these two teams met in week 3, Brady was sacked 3 times and even fumbled once (although it was recovered by Tampa). The situation of these teams have changed, but only in favor of the Rams all the way around. The Bucs have lost key weapons due to injury (or release, in Antonio Brown's case) and the trade for Von Miller for the Rams.
I expect to see constant pressure in Brady's face, a frustrated Tampa Bay quarterback and many checkdowns to running back Gio Bernard... even if Tristan Wirfs and Ryan Jensen do play.
My Prime Performer:
EDGE Von Miller, Rams
6 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble
Spread: Tampa Bay, -3.0
My Pick: Rams by 6
Buffalo (12-6) @ Kansas City (13-5)
This one is gonna be good. Earlier when I mentioned any of these games could be Conference Championships, I specifically had this game in mind. Josh Allen vs Patrick Mahomes is an epic postseason battle we will probably see many more times in the coming years.
In a way, these two teams are very similar. Explosive offenses with high ceilings? Check. Incredible quarterbacks who can put up major numbers, but play risky football? Check. Exciting weapons in the passing game? Check. Average running games, yet have been featuring a specific runner who has been getting the job done? Check. Opportunistic defenses who allow major yardage one week, then force takeaways the next? Check.
Buffalo and Kansas City are even more alike than I previously thought. The Chiefs do have home field advantage and the coaching edge, but I'm still thinking this game can go either way.
Played in 2021?
Week 5: Bills 38, Chiefs 20
Key Question: Which defense can force the key turnover?
Buffalo has been exceptional on defense this year. They are top ranked in the league and haven't allowed 30 points in their last six games. While Mario Addison (if he plays), Efe Obada and Gregory Rousseau aren't necessarily household names, they combine to be a fine pass rush. Mac Jones was sacked three times last week on the way to a 30 point blowout of the Patriots.
They will have to do at least that much to take advantage of Patrick Mahomes and his tendency to take chances in every game. Mahomes has the capability to single handedly win a game for the Chiefs, or lose it every time he steps onto the field.
Kansas City has been great defensively despite their 27th overall ranking. They have been allowing plenty of points over the last month or so, but they have shown the ability to step up and make clutch plays when they really need it. This unit sacked Big Ben twice while forcing two fumbles (Roethlisberger and Najee Harris).
Josh Allen didn't have to deal with any issues at all against New England's defense. He wasn't sacked, didn't fumble, ran for 66 yards, and went 21/25 with 5 passing touchdowns. Buffalo's offense is on fire, so the Chiefs will need great production and big plays from guys like Chris Jones, Frank Clark and Tyrann Mathieu to slow down the Bills.
My Prime Performer:
QB Josh Allen, Bills
30/46 293 yards, 2 TDs
72 rushing yards, 1 TD
Spread: Kansas City, -2.5
My Pick: Bills by 3
Bengals 30, Titans 21
Packers 35, 49ers 24
Rams 33, Bucs 27
Bills 34, Chiefs 31