NFL Divisional Playoff Games Preview
Updated: Jan 26, 2022
The Chaos Has Arrived
The Wild Card Round is over, which means we are on to the Divisional Round. Unlike last weekend, we should see plenty of close games and late-game fireworks.
Fresh off their bye weeks, the Tennessee Titans and the Green Bay Packers play in front of their home crowds on Saturday, while we see Tampa and Kansas City play on Sunday as the respected two seeds. Will we have another wild week in the postseason? All signs seem to be pointing toward, yes!
AFC Divisional Playoffs
4) Cincinnati Bengals vs. 1) Tennessee Titans
4:30 p.m. ET
TV: CBS, Line: TEN -3.5
Fresh off their first playoff win in 31 years, the Bengals bring a high-flying offense into Nashville for a showdown with the top-seeded Tennessee Titans. While there might've been a little bit of controversy in their Wild Card win against the Raiders, the Bengals proved that their offense could contend with just about anyone.
The LSU combination of Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase proved to be effective against a Raiders defense notorious for giving up lots of points. I expect Tennessee's defense to try and neutralize the passing attack and force the Bengals to try and get the running game going. Expect to see a healthy dose of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine in this game. The Bengals have to run a balanced attack on offense to take the pressure off their QB to win this game.
They will be without star pass rusher Larry Ogunjobi on the defensive side of the ball after being placed on the injured reserve on Monday. However, their other elite pass rusher, Trey Hendrickson, cleared concussion protocols on Thursday after fully participating in practice. Adding Hendrickson back to the defensive line is a positive sign for the Bengal pass rush.
The Tennessee Titans have to feel a little disrespected after being dubbed the worst number one seed of all time. They finished 12-5 this season and played the entire season virtually without Derrek Henry. Now that they are the number one seed, the Titans will likely activate King Henry off the IR. If Henry suits up on Saturday, which everything that I've seen so far suggests that he will, I expect the Bengals to try and zone in on him.
Another thing to mention is that their offense is healthy again, with Henry back in the offense and Julio Jones and A.J. Brown giving QB Ryan Tannehill options. Also, I feel like not a lot of people are talking about Tennessee's defense, which is highly underrated. Guys like Harold Landry and Jeffrey Simmons can make things difficult for opposing teams, and I expect the defense to try and make Joe Burrow feel uncomfortable.
Also, I firmly believe that HC Mike Vrabel will win coach of the year. I mean, the fact that he managed to clinch the number one seed without his best player should tell you something. The man is a winner, and he knows how to finish the job.
I'm expecting this game to be a very competitive contest, and I'm aching to see Henry back on the field. I'm not sure how healthy he will be, but he will undoubtedly impact the game in his own way. I think Cincinnati is a great young team with tremendous upside, but I think their time is up. Bengals fans have something to be excited about with a talented young offense and an improving defense; however, I think Cincinnati has made far enough, and I think the Titans will prove to everyone that they are a worth number one seed.
Jake's Pick: TEN -3.5
NFC Divisional Playoffs
6) San Francisco 49ers vs. 1) Green Bay Packers
8:15 p.m. ET
TV: FOX, Line: GB -5.5
While the Niners may have gotten the win over the Cowboys last week, it wasn't pretty by any means. Jimmy Garoppolo made one costly mistake to let Dallas back in the game. To top it all off, Garoppolo is banged up after suffering a sprained right shoulder in the win. The QB is also nursing a torn ligament in his thumb, but he will suit up for Saturday night's game against Green Bay despite all that.
Jimmy G won't be a hundred percent, which means the Niners need to continue to play their style of football, which means control time of possession and keep Aaron Rodgers off the field. It'll be interesting to see what gameplan Kyle Shanahan decided to go with. Still, I'm expecting Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel to play a significant role in the offense and Garoppolo to throw primarily short and intermediate passes.
On defense, the Niners will likely get both Fred Warner and Nick Bosa back after both players left last week's game early due to injuries. Warner (ankle) is good to go for Sunday's game, while Bosa (concussion) will likely clear protocols Friday, barring any setbacks.
It's no secret that Aaron Rodgers doesn't like playing the Niners in the playoffs as he is 0-3 when facing San Fran in the postseason. The last time these two teams faced off was in the regular season, in which Rodgers led the Packers down the length of the field to set up Mason Crosby for the game-winning field goal. However, that was early in the season, and Deebo Samuel wasn't utilized in the ground game like he is now.
The key matchup to watch out for will be upfront, as all-pro OT David Bakhtiari will likely match up across from DE Nick Bosa. Bakhtiari, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament in 2020, returned to action by playing 27 snaps in their season finale against Detroit. Having Bakhtiari back on the o-line is crucial for the Packers, who are also looking to get LB Za'Darius Smith and S Jaire Alexander back in the lineup on defense.
I think the Niners are a matchup nightmare for the Packers, but having confident guys back in their lineup is huge. However, there's something about the versatility of Samuel that makes me want to pick the Niners. I believe Jimmy Garoppolo will play well enough to send the Niners into the NFC Championship game. I see this game being a tight contest with the Niners, ultimately shocking Green Bay on the road. Even if Green Bay wins, I still see San Fran covering at the end.
Jake's Pick: SF +5.5
NFC Divisional Playoffs
4) Los Angeles Rams vs. 2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
3:00 p.m. ET
TV: NBC, Line: TB -3.0
The Rams have to be happy to be facing Tampa instead of the Packers. While the Bucs may be the better matchup for the Rams, they still have Tom Brady; however, this time, it's possible he could be without two significant pieces to their o-line: all-pro tackle Tristan Wirfs and all-pro center Ryan Jensen. That could prove to be the difference, as the backups will have to go up against the best defensive player not named TJ Watt, Aaron Donald, and Von Miller. While I still doubt their secondary and whether or not Old Man Eric Weddle can keep up with Old Man Brady, putting pressure on Brady might be enough to neutralize the Bucs.
I don't have to mention the amount of talent they possess on the offense, with Triple Crown winner Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham, who is playing like the old OBJ. If Matthew Stafford can continue to play smart football, the Rams can win this game.
The Bucs may have the advantage playing at home, but Tom Brady and company may have their work cut out for them (And no, I'm not talking about Bruce Arians and his desire to hit his own players). I'm talking about that Brady may have to play without his two best offensive linemen, Tristan Wirfs and Ryan Jensen. Both Jensen and Wirfs suffered ankle injuries in their win against Philly, with Jensen eventually returning in the second quarter. Wirfs injured his ankle in the first quarter and returned for a brief stint before sitting for the rest of the game. After not practicing Wednesday or Thursday, both linemen reported to practice on Friday and will likely be game-time decisions for Sunday's game. The potential of playing without those key players could be crucial, especially when you have to face the likes of Aaron Donald, Leonard Floyd, Von Miller, and the rest of the Rams' defense.
In addition to Jensen and Wirfs, Leonard Fournette, who wasn't cleared ahead of Sunday's game against Philly, returned to practice. However, the running back hasn't been activated off the injured reserve, as his status heading into Sunday's game is in question. Backup RB Ronald Jones (ankle), who also didn't play against Philly, hasn't practiced all day and will likely not suit up on Sunday.
This one is the hardest to pick out of the four divisional games. While the Bucs have injuries offensively, they still have Tom Brady, and they possess a scary pass rush. I see this game being extremely tight, and it is a coin toss as to who's going to win. As much as I've been hyping the Bucs to win the Super Bowl all season, I think Wirfs and Jensen not healthy could potentially hurt Brady and the already depleted offense. I think Aaron Donald and the defense force Tampa to turn the ball over, and I think Sean McVay and the Rams get the win on the road.
Jake's Pick: LAR +3.0
AFC Divisional Playoffs
3) Buffalo Bills vs. 2) Kansas City Chiefs
6:30 p.m. ET
TV: CBS, Line: KC -1.5
This game should be the final game of the divisional round, as the anticipation surrounding it is unreal. Starting with the Bills, they are coming off one of the best postseason performances of all time, as they destroyed the Patriots behind a near-flawless performance from Josh Allen. It's only fitting that Bills' next playoff opponent is the Kansas City Chiefs: a team they've had trouble with in the playoffs in recent years. The past two seasons have seen Kansas City halt the Bills' playoff runs, with last year's AFC Championship defeat being the icing on the cake. While the Bills defeated the Chiefs in Kansas City earlier this season, nothing would please the Bills Mob more than for the Bills to finally give Patrick Mahomes his first postseason loss at home.
Going back to last week's performance, the Bills put together their most complete performance since the days of Jim Kelly back in the 90s. I truly believe this team can make it to the Super Bowl and possibly win it. I think Josh Allen will come into this game with something to prove, and that defense seems to be up to the challenge against Mahomes' high-flying offense.
Like the Bills, the Chiefs are coming off a near-flawless performance against the Steelers, led by a five-touchdown performance from Patrick Mahomes. After falling 7-0 in the second quarter, the QB scored five times in 11 minutes as they throttled the inferior Pittsburgh Steelers. Now, they face a more worthy opponent, and all eyes will be on Mahomes and whether or not he will continue his postseason wizardry. Mahomes was inconsistent at times this season but seemed to get it together late. The defense experienced a spark mid-season but got throttled by Joe Burrow in week 16 and was mediocre at that point.
Like Buffalo, Kansas City has an explosive offense with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. RB Clyde Edward-Helarie may also play, giving Mahomes a much-needed boost on the ground game, with Darryl Williams taking most of the load in his absence.
Out of the four divisional matchups, this is the one I'm most excited to watch. You can't ask for a better QB matchup than Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes. I believe that both offenses will score lots of points on Sunday, and I think this game will come down to who will force the most stops on defense. I believe this is Buffalo's year to get their redemption on Mahomes, and the Cheifs and the Bills get the win.
Jake's Pick: BUF +1.5
So there you have it! It's a bittersweet moment, as if you think about it, we only have seven more football games left in the season. However, I'm savoring the last bit of football we have left, and I think you should too! The Divisional Round should help us get a better understanding of who will win it all.
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Jake Klausner covers all things sports for ThePyrrhic.com. Keep your eyes peeled for NFL Analysis, World Series Recaps, and more from Jake.
Follow him on Twitter @jake_klausner