By: Christopher G. Hetu
C/O to profootballnetwork.com
And then there were eight.... Wildcard weekend in 2022 ended up being a lot more predictable than most people thought. The only true upset last weekend was the Cowboys 49ers game and oh boy was that dramatic. But nonetheless some fans celebrate and some walk away empty handed, we can all agree however. The teams that won last week dissevered to participate in this dance we watch each year.
The one seeds have been waiting patiently and finally have a game to play and prove themselves against these low seeded contenders. We'll see what those middle seeds can do against one another, two more games away from potential immortality! I am excited and I'm sure the rest of you are as well, so let's take a look at the bigger picture, here on Divisional Round weekend!
(4) Cincinnati Bengals (10-7) vs. (1) Tennessee Titans (12-5)
Location: Nissan Stadium, Nashville, TN
Kickoff: Saturday 1/22 4:30PM EST CBS
Spread: -3.5 Titans
C/O to actionnetwork.com
Despite Derrick Carr throwing for over 300 yards, the Bengals still narrowly defeated the Raiders 26-19 last Saturday. And despite Joe Mixon just getting over 40 yards rushing, Burrow still had himself a great game going 24/34 ATT and 2 TDs, JaMarr Chase had 12 targets for 9 REC and 116 YDs through the air. The Bengals were locked in last weekend at home, finally ending their playoff win drought for the first time in nearly 20 years. Burrows sideline throw that just BARELY stayed in bounds went for a TD to Tyler Boyd, Joe Burrow is the REAL deal. The Bengals defense continued another solid week against a competitive AFC West oppenent and they will bring a lot to the table in this matchup against the Tennessee Titans.
After a hard fought season, riddled with offensive injuries, the Titans did just enough to sneak in the postseason as the number one seed in the AFC. With AJ Brown and Julio Jones back in action, the passing game should return with lots of promise for Ryan Tannehill (3,734 YDs, 24 TDs, 14 INTs) to throw to. And hold your breath because the man himself, Derrick Henry is set to return, he just returned in full contact for practice this week. The Titans have beaten very competitive teams in the AFC, taking down the Bills, Chiefs, Colts (TWICE), and even the Rams and Niners in the NFC. This team deserves the No. 1 seed for those wins, now back at full strength, they're ready to go.
Now depending on this one, it could be a defensive slugfest or an offensive shootout. Both sides boast top receivers in the NFL with JaMarr Chase, Tee Higgins, Julio Jones, and AJ Brown, can't forget those talented running backs with Joe Mixon and Derrick Henry carrying the rock. Little do people know this could be the best divisional round game of the whole weekend. Bengals have a great young core that could carry them to the playoffs for years to come and the Titans under Mike Vrabel have only risen in their value as time has passed. Both teams are middle of the pack defensively and their offenses are still some of the best in the football, Tennessee's offense should get back on track with Derrick Henry's return. But despite the Bengals best efforts, if the playoffs have told us anything so far, experience bests up and coming teams. The Titans will head back to the AFC Championship for the second time in three years.
Final Score: Titans 35 Bengals 31
(3) Buffalo Bills (11-6) vs. (2) Kansas City Chiefs (12-5)
Location: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO
Kickoff: Sunday 1/23 6:30PM EST CBS
Spread: -1.5 Chiefs
C/O to actionnetwork.com
Talk about rising...levitating for that matter. This team had so many questions going into midseason, but they have put all of those doubts to rest as the Buffalo Bills stomped all over the New England Patriots last weekend with a final score of 47-17. The Bills have stated from that victory, that the AFC East runs through Buffalo now! Josh Allen has truly been the MVP in the last five weeks of the season, throwing 21/25 ATTs, 303 passing yards, and 5 PASSING TOUCHDOWNS. Not to mention nearly ever possession this team had in the game led to a score. The Patriots run game was shut down completely and the Mac Jones passing game never truly activated until the second half. Devin Singletary posted two TDs on the ground with over 80 yards rushing and the passing game was balanced as ever. Josh Allen proved to the league last weekend if he gets going, he WILL NOT be stopped.
Kansas City Chiefs
The defending AFC Champions are still kicking, let the good times roll as they find themselves right back in the divisional round. In what seemed at first would be a close game against Big Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers ended up ending in blowout fashion. Patrick Mahomes finished the day going 30/39 ATTs, 404 passing yards and 5 passing touchdowns. With no Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jerrick McKinnon stepped up into the starting role and posted over 120 yards from scrimmage and a receiving touchdown. Travis Kielce had himself a TD through the air as well as passing for one, Tyreek Hill and Byron Pringle also got in on the fun. That Chiefs defense did everything it needed to do to cushion Big Ben and allow Mahomes and the offense to go ahead and get points on the board. The Chiefs aren't done yet folks.
Correction, this might be the best game of the weekend. It'll be one for the ages, two of the leagues best offenses to go head to head. However in the early part of the season the Bills did get their revenge in Arrowhead as they defeated the Chiefs 37-20. The Chiefs will be much more prepared for this game, I expect big games once again from Mahomes, Hill and Kelce and for the Bills a big game coming for Allen, Diggs, and Singletary.
The Bills defense has ranked number one in the league in terms of total yards allowed and fifth in the league in total offense. While Kansas City on the other hand boasted third in the league in total offense while their defense ranked bottom tear for the whole season. However as clutch and they played in big moments in the past, this Chiefs team is....different. Hasn't been consistent like the Chiefs we knew from previous seasons, but this Bills Mafia has been consistently getting better and better! I'm not counting the Chiefs out on this one but the Bills are going to shock the world Sunday evening when they punch their ticket to the AFC Championship game!
Final Score: Bills 38 Chiefs 36
(6) San Fransisco 49ers (10-7) vs. (1) Green Bay Packers (13-4)
Location: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI
Kickoff: Saturday 1/22 8:15PM EST FOX
Spread: -5.5 Packers
C/O to actionnetwork.com
San Fransisco 49ers
This team fought hard all season, and they took care of business over in Dallas last weekend to push them one step closer to the NFC Championship game. However, their 23-17 win over the Cowboys, may not have been as impressive as most fans thought it would be. Jimmy Garoppolo finished the day 16/25 ATTs, for 172 passing yards and an INT, but luckily with a strong run game from both Deebo Samuel (10 CARs, 72 YDs, 1 TD) and Elijah Mitchell (27 CARs, 96 YDs, 1 TD) this helped the Niners ride to a win. The Niners defense forced 5 sacks on Day Prescott and picked him off once in the game. Now you may be reading this and say why is this not impressive? Because the way this teams built, it should be scoring more, especially in that second half that nearly allowed Dallas on several march down the field and nearly score on them. However can't discredit them too much, this team proved without a strong performance from the franchise QB, they can still go out and beat you.
Green Bay Packers
After coming off a much needed bye week, and looking like the best team in football, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are looking to silence all the critics on whether this team can go the distance. This Packers team is different... in a very positive way! They are much better than the Packers last year, after being blown out in Week 1 this team on 7 in a row. Following a tough stretch of games midseason, and a loss in Kansas City without Aaron Rodgers, they won 5 straight to end the season.
Aaron Rodgers finished the season with 68.9 CMP, 4115, YDs, 37 TDs and only 4 INTs, looking quite similar to last years numbers, and looking like the top candidate for MVP once again. A balanced run attack from AJ Dillion (803 YDS, 5 TDs) and Aaron Jones (799 YDs, 2 TDs) and a stellar pass game being lead by Davante Adams (123 RECs, 1553 YDs, 11TDs) this offense is ready to go. And that defense is third in the league in turnover differential. The Packers of 2020 all remained, allowing them to flourish in 2021 as the team didn't lose any of the players they had on the unit in the previous year.
This divisional round matchup is the true rematch of the NFC Championship, when the Packers were defeated in San Fran, 37-20 a team also lead by Jimmy Garoppolo. However, these teams are completely different now and they'll put on a show this Saturday. If the Niners pass rush comes in hot and that run game can stay consistent, they'll be able to keep pace with Aaron Rodgers. Might I remind you, these teams played back in Week 3 this year when Green Bay defeated San Fran 30-28.
Packers need to keep the momentum they've been carrying all season, if the run game is successful from both Dillion and Jones, Rodgers might not even have to throw the ball too much. Packers were also 8-0 in the regular season at HOME, so they are undefeated at Lambeau Field. However, they will remain undefeated and punch their ticket to their third straight NFC Championship. Both run and pass defenses are top 10 in the NFL but the Packers are just too much for the 49ers. Jimmy Garoppolo will not be the man to bring the 49ers to the Super Bowl and he will be forced into a mistake this game that'll make fans cry for Trey Lance to start next season. The Packers will have a balanced game the whole time and continue to be the team on a mission for it all.
Final Score: Packers 31 49ers 26
(3) Los Angeles Rams (12-5) vs. (2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4)
Location: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
Kickoff: Sunday 1/23 3:00PM EST NBC
Spread: -2.5 Buccaneers
C/O to actionnetwork.com
Los Angeles Rams
Matthew Stafford and the Rams put on a show last week as they blew out the Arizona Cardinals 34-11 at home last weekend, a dominating performance to say the least. The X-Factor we were told to look out for was Stafford and he had a solid day, accumulating 202 passing yards for 2 TDs, one on the ground and was only sacked once in the game. The defense managed to take two balls away though the air, one was brought to the house for six. Balanced run attack from Sony Michel, Cam Akers, and Matthew Stafford, and of course great offensive weapons like Odell Beckham Jr. and Cooper Kupp helped bring home the win. With that dominating performance this team looks a lot better than the way their regular season ending, falling to the 49ers and allowing them to secure a playoff berth. If Stafford can avoid his mistakes this team will move on to the NFC Championship next weekend.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The score may not scream blowout, but by the end of the third quarter the Bucs lead the Eagles 31-0, the 15 points scored only came in the 4th quarter. Tom Brady and the Buccaneers once again put on a show and continue to move forward with their mission to go back to back. Tom Brady, at age 44 threw for 271 passing yards, and threw for two touchdowns, one to Mike Evans (9 RECs, 117 YDs, 1 TD) and the other to longtime teammate Rob Gronkowski (5 RECs, 31 YDs, 1 TD). And even without the services of Leonard Fournette, Ke'Shawn Vaughn (17 CARs, 53 YDs, 1 TD) and Giovanni Bernard (13 CARs, 44 YDs, 1 TD) went on to have solid run games though the outing. That Bucs Defense was destroying the Eagles offense and forced three turnovers to show this is the same Super Bowl defense from 2020. Tom Brady once again is up for MVP, and it's tough t vote against him because he will just prove you wrong when things are all said and done.
This will definitely be the closest game of all the game slates on divisional round weekend, we might be in for a classic here. These two met back in Week 3 when the Rams defeated the Buccaneers 34-24, in Los Angeles however, so change of scenery and change of personal for both sides. No more Darrell Henderson at tailback or Robert Woods, no more Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown so different pictures but both teams have made their adjustments and still both teams have had success throughout their seasons. Brady was sacked 4 times last week so the Rams will have to get to him early if they want a chance in this matchup. The Bucs are going to have to setup solid play designs on defense to force Matthew Stafford in to making a mistake.
Both offenses will need balanced run and passing attacks throughout this one, it could end in a shootout or defensive slugfest. This is because we're talking about two of the leagues top offenses and best defenses, so this could truly be what the NFC Championship should've been this year. Regardless, it's tough to vote against a much more experienced Tom Brady and tough to trust a quarterback who just won his first career playoff game ever last week. The Rams will put on a solid performance, but when you're betting on Brady and the crew marching downfield to get the game winning score, I'll put my money on the guy who continues to do so going on age 45 very soon.
Final Score: Buccaneers 34 Rams 30