NFL Divisional Round 21–22 Preview & Predictions
6 teams have been eliminated so far, and 8 still stand.
A hearty “good season and goodbye” to our fallen teams: Las Vegas, New England, Philadelphia, Dallas, Kansas City, and Arizona.
The once-mighty Arizona Cardinals who were once 7–0 to start the season ended it with a whimper. The Los Angeles Rams, their divisional rival the Cards had beaten up in Week 4 and lost by only a touchdown to in Week 14, shredded them. This was supposed to be close, it wasn’t at all in the 34–11 blowout. Do the Cardinals keep Coach Kliff Kingsbury?
The Dallas Cowboys ended the season on a similarly depressing note, but they can at least say they lost to a Kyle Shanahan team that made it to the Super Bowl in the 2019–2020 season. This team got back to its roots on Sunday, dominating the line of scrimmage in every which way and eventually finishing Dallas’s season. This was a Dallas team that was supposed to meet the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship eventually. Now, the San Francisco 49ers have the chance to knock off both.
The Philadelphia Eagles and Las Vegas Raiders were happy to be in the playoffs, and the Raiders kept their game close. The Cincinnati Bengals, however, managed to pull out the win against them. The Eagles, meanwhile, got tossed out of Raymond James Stadium down in Tampa Bay with relative ease by last year’s champs.
The Pittsburgh Steelers did exactly what we expected them to do against the Kansas City Chiefs: keep it close and pray that Patrick Mahomes doesn’t destroy you. That dream only lasted for a quarter. The New England Patriots tried that same strategy against Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills, a team they’d split the series with in the regular season. Josh Allen was angry, however, and his team (especially the offense, led by an eventual head coach in Brian Daboll) ripped the vaunted Patriots defense to bits. The Bills converted every third down they played, didn’t punt even once, and had every offensive drive end in a touchdown. Josh Allen is for real.
Now for the teams that still remain…
I went 5–1 last week on my predictions, a pleasant surprise for sure, especially because the pick I got wrong was the Dallas Cowboys. Here’s to another week of predictive success.
CIN@TEN, 4:30pm on CBS
This Cincinnati team is nothing to scoff at. They’ve beaten Kansas City, they lost to Green Bay in overtime, and last week they beat a legit Raiders team. Their biggest weakness, however, is their offensive line, and it has been said many times that a team who can exploit that will fare well. Enter the Titans, a team whose main strength is their ability to dominate the line of scrimmage and embrace a physical, punishing style of play. The Titans had a difficult regular season, and it’s hard to be incredibly successful when 54 of their players have been on injured reserve at different points this year, namely RB Derrick Henry and WR AJ Brown. The pair are back, however, and well-rested. Some teams may have a difficult time off a bye like this, but I don’t expect the Titans to. Mike Vrabel is a fantastic coach, and with this team finally getting healthy, I think their biggest challenge comes next week against the Bills/Chiefs. Don’t discount the Bengals, however, because they are still a fantastic passing team and could pose issues to Tennessee if it can’t build an early lead. Ultimately, I’ve got Tennessee 27, Cincinnati 23
SF@GB, 8:15pm on FOX
As a Green Bay fan, this San Francisco team scares me. They always do, of course, having beaten us in the playoffs several times in recent years, but this team dominated the Rams twice, beat the Bengals, and just finished beating up on the Cowboys. The Packers, meanwhile, have made it their duty to play every team way too closely and let them stay in the game. The 49ers are built to take advantage of those kinds of mistakes.
One thing that the 49ers took advantage of in their game at Dallas was the Cowboys’ o-line. The Packers have one of the best o-lines, so I don’t see that being a problem. The Packers will also take advantage of SF’s overmatched defensive backfield, something that Dallas was unable to do due to its o-line and playcalling issues. Offensively, the 49ers are a fantastic running team and will present a challenge to Green Bay’s run defense, but an early Green Bay lead could negate that advantage. It’s looking like Tre Lance will start at QB for the 49ers, meaning that GB may be more likely to stack the box, something that could help GB once again. For these reasons, even though I worry about the history of these two teams, I’ve still got Green Bay 37, San Francisco 20
LAR@TB, 3:00pm on NBC
Los Angeles has been getting better and better, and seems to have Tampa’s number in recent years. In 2020, the Rams beat the Bucs by a score of 27–24 midway through the season, a game where Tom Brady threw for just 216 yds, 2 TD’s, & 2 interceptions with a 54% completion percentage. This past September, the two teams met once again and yielded similar results: LAR wins 34–24, this time shutting down Tampa’s run game (TB’s leading rusher was Tom Brady!) and forcing Brady to throw it 55 times with just one touchdown. Rams QB Matthew Stafford threw for 343 yards and 4 TD’s in that game. Here’s what has changed since then: Tampa WR Chris Godwin had his season ended by a knee injury, Tampa CB Richard Sherman had his season ended by an achilles injury, Tampa RB Leonard Fournette hasn’t fully recovered from a hamstring injury, Tampa WR Antonio Brown quit the team, OT Tristan Wirfs is potentially out, and C Ryan Jensen is potentially out. For the Rams, meanwhile: LAR signed Von Miller at mid-season, who has since totaled 6 sacks in 9 games, LAR signed WR Odell Beckham Jr., who has 7 TD’s in 9 games (including a passing touchdown vs ARI last week), & LAR has gotten Cam Akers back, a RB they’ve been excited about since drafting him in 2020. The Rams are better-coached, healthier, and altogether better than this Bucs team. Los Angeles (R) 33, Tampa Bay 24
BUF@KC, 6:30pm on CBS
What a spectacle this game could be. I mean, Bills QB Josh Allen just put up a perfect game against New England. Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes smacked the Steelers. Both offenses have high-caliber receivers and both defenses are in the top 10. This a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game, and it might as well be the AFC Championship game this year. Neither of these teams have a ton of exploitable weaknesses, so it’s really going to come down to two matchups: Andy Reid & Eric Bieniemy (Chiefs HC & OC) vs Sean McDermott & Leslie Frazier (Chiefs HC & DC), and Steve Spagnuolo (Chiefs DC) vs Brian Daboll (Bills OC). I trust the Bills a lot more here because Daboll keeps showing us that his teams can destroy any defense in front of them, and the Reid-Bieniemy-Mahomes offense has definitely shown times where it goes dormant. This one is going to be a barn burner. Bills 45, Chiefs 35