NFL Divisional Round Predictions
The NFL postseason typically provides exciting and entertaining matchups between the best the sport has to offer. Last week's Wild Card Weekend fell far short of that expectation. Four of the six games were decided by 2 scores or more. This week's Divisional Round matchups should provide more of the usual playoff intrigue. Here are my predictions for how it will go down:
Saturday 4:30 PM ET
4 Cincinnati Bengals at 1 Tennessee Titans (-3.5)
Airing on CBS
The biggest question mark entering this game involves the injury status of Titans running back Derrick Henry. Despite losing Henry for an extended amount of time, Tennessee still was able to secure the 1 seed in the AFC, which has given the star rusher an extra week to rehab for the playoffs. If Henry is cleared to play on Saturday, which is what many people around the league expect, then this will certainly be a tough matchup for the Bengals. Before his injury, Henry was leading the league with his 117 yards per game.
The Bengals made a final redzone stand to secure their 26-19 win against the Las Vegas Raiders during last week’s wild card matchup. In the victory, Burrow looked sharp, but the Bengals failed to really get the run game going, with Mixon rushing for only 48 yards on 17 carries. If the Bengals cannot run the ball against Tennessee, their defense may be in trouble. For the first time since October, Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown, and Julio Jones should all be on the field. With those three players healthy, the Titans went 4-1, and won games against both the Chiefs and the Bills.
I predict that the Titans will get off to a fast start running the football with Henry. Tannehill should be able to provide just enough of a threat so that the defense cannot fully commit to stopping the run, and the offense will be firing on all cylinders. Cincinnati should be able to put up some points, but it will not be enough. Tennessee holds off the late efforts of Burrow and Chase and moves on to the AFC Championship.
Final Score Prediction: Bengals 23 – Titans 27
Saturday 8:15 PM ET
6 San Francisco 49ers at 1 Green Bay Packers (-5.5)
Airing on Fox
Coming off an impressive win against the Cowboys, the 49ers now must go on the road again to take on a Packers team led by MVP favorite Aaron Rodgers. The Niners made it a point to run the ball against Dallas, which was the perfect compliment to playing great defense. San Francisco is the type of wildcard team that scares any opponent, especially the Green Bay Packers. The last time these two teams met in the playoffs was two seasons ago in the NFC championship game, where the Niners ran for 285 yards and came out with a 37-20 win and a Super Bowl berth.
Luckily for the Packers, these are two very different teams than the two that met in that NFC Championship game. When the two squads met this season, the Packers forced Jimmy Garoppolo to throw the ball, and the Niners came up just short. San Francisco ran for only 67 yards, while on the other side of the ball the Niners defense had no answer for Davante Adams, who caught 12 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown.
This game may not be as close as the early season matchup that the Packers won 30-28. I predict the Packers to stick with the approach of making Jimmy G beat them through the air. This should make it hard for the 49ers offense to stay on the field, and leave the door open for Rodgers and the Packers high scoring offense. The 49ers defense will have to be able to contain Aaron Rodgers, and I’m not confident that anyone can do that right now. Rodgers will have a career day, and the Packers will await the winner of Rams/Bucs at Lambeau field.
Final Score Prediction: 49ers 17 – Packers 31
Sunday 3:00 PM ET
3 Los Angeles Rams at 2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-2.5)
Airing on NBC
Both the Rams and the Bucs went out and took care of business last weekend. Both teams looked dominant and in control, with the Bucs beating the Eagles 31-15 and the Rams beating the Cardinals 34-11. The deciding factor in this matchup will likely be the play of Rams signal caller Matt Stafford. When these teams met in the first month of the season, Stafford gave the Tampa Bay defense fits and threw for 343 yards and 4 touchdowns. If he can repeat that performance, the Rams have a chance to repeat the result of their 34-24 win. There will also be a spotlight on the Rams stout run defense that held Tampa Bay to an abysmal 35 rushing yards in Week 3.
This is lining up to be an exciting high scoring matchup that should not disappoint. The Rams and Bucs are relatively evenly matched. Both teams feature a solid defense, elite quarterbacks, and a handful of offensive weapons. If Tampa Bay can figure out a way to run the football while replicating Brady’s 432 yard passing performance from the first matchup, they would be putting themselves in a great position to outscore Stafford and the LA offense.
However, if there’s anything that the NFL has learned this season, it’s that it is nearly impossible to stop Cooper Kupp. I anticipate a huge day from Kupp, and the Tampa Bay offense will have to try and keep up. Brady may be able to keep the Bucs in the game, but the Stafford-Kupp connection will come through in the end for LA. Brady throwing for over 400 yards and still losing in the first matchup does not leave me with much optimism for Brady and the Bucs.
Final Score Prediction: Rams 31- Bucs 24
Sunday 3:00 PM ET
3 Buffalo Bills at 2 Kansas City Chiefs (-1.5)
Airing on NBC
Like the Bucs-Rams matchup, both the Bills and Chiefs are coming off huge wins last week. Buffalo had a nearly perfect offensive outing against their division rival Patriots, scoring a touchdown on every drive until the kneel-down. The Bills defense played well, and the Patriots really didn’t have much go their way on either side of the ball. The Chiefs, after a slow start, completely tore apart the Pittsburgh defense, leading to a dominating performance for them as well.
When these teams played earlier in the season, the Bills offense had a field day, with Allen throwing for 315 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Kansas City offense, on the other hand, struggled, with Mahomes throwing for two interceptions, and mustering almost nothing on the ground apart from Mahomes’ scrambles. These two teams, however, are in very different spots than they were in the early portion of the season. Kansas City has figured it out on the defensive side of the ball, and the offense at times looks unstoppable. Meanwhile, Buffalo needed a late season surge to take back the division after dropping games in the middle of their season.
I anticipate that the Chiefs defense will be able to contain Josh Allen better than they did earlier in the year. Mahomes will show up in the big moment and make Buffalo play from behind. Eventually, the Bills will no longer be able to keep up with Mahomes and all of Kansas City’s weapons, and the Chiefs will pull away and approach the AFC championship game with optimism about returning to the Superbowl once again.