Divisional Round Preview

In-depth look at this weekends Divisional Round games

Divisional+Round+Preview

Anthony Rubek, Sports Editor

After an amazing week of playoff football, it is now down to eight teams battling for a chance to hoist the Lombardi with the Divisional Round this weekend. There are many intriguing matchups including upset minded sixth seeds battling well rested one seeds and some of the youngest and oldest quarterbacks in the league going at it. Last week I was 4-2 on picks, but I’m going 4-0 this week with these.

Los Angeles Rams (10-6) at Green Bay Packers (13-3) (Saturday, FOX, 3:35 PM CT)

The first game of the Divisional Round is between the sixth seeded Rams and the first seeded Packers. The Rams shutdown the Seattle Seahawks en route to a 30-20 victory last Saturday. However, several Rams got banged up during the game including receiver Cooper Kupp and defensive tackle Aaron Donald. While both are expected to play, they most likely won’t be at 100%. Quarterback Jared Goff went into the game last week after starter John Wolford went down. Goff proceeded to play mediocre but running back Cam Akers and the Rams defense carried him to victory. The Packers are coming off a first round bye and are led by MVP-favorite Aaron Rodgers who leads the league with 48 touchdowns to just five interceptions. This will be a matchup for the ages as the Packers have the number one ranked offense in the league and the Rams have the number one ranked defense. This features intriguing matchups such as the league’s best receiver Davante Adams going up against the league’s best corner Jalen Ramsey, who has shut down top ten receivers all season. Packers running back Aaron Jones must be prepared to step up especially if Green Bay’s passing game is shut down. Another thing to watch is how the Packers offensive line fairs without All Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari who is out for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. While the Packers still have guys like All Pro center Corey Linsley and Pro Bowl guard Elgton Jenkins, they will face a challenge trying to stop guys like Donald and Leonard Floyd from rushing the quarterback. Another factor in this game is the weather as it’s supposed to be around 25 degrees in Green Bay this weekend. In just two career games in below freezing temperature, Goff has thrown zero touchdowns to five interceptions. I expect guys like cornerback Jaire Alexander and safety Darnell Savage to take advantage of this and end the game with both having an interception. As for the Packers offense, I think they can do just enough to outplay the Rams defense and secure a spot in the Conference Championship.

My Pick: Packers 28 Rams 17 

Baltimore Ravens (11-5) at Buffalo Bills (13-3) (Saturday, NBC, 7:15 PM CT)

Saturdays primetime game features two of the hottest teams in football as the fifth seeded Ravens take on the second seeded Bills. The Ravens beat the Titans 20-13 last week thanks in part to their defense holding All Pro running back Derrick Henry to just 40 yards on 18 carries. On offense, Lamar Jackson did it all, rushing for 136 yards and a touchdown as well as completing 17 of 24 passes for 179 yards. Receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown accounted for 109 of those yards and looked like the star everyone thought he would be coming out of college. The Bills won a playoff game for the first time in 25 years narrowly escaping the Colts, winning 27-24. Josh Allen played phenomenal, throwing for 324 yards and two touchdowns, including one to his star receiver Stefon Diggs, who had 128 yards on six catches. Just like the game prior, both have a dominant side of the football with the Bills having a top five offense and the Ravens having a top five defense. A matchup to look out for is when Diggs lines up against Ravens corner Marlon Humphrey, who made the Pro Bowl for the second straight season. Meanwhile, it’ll be interesting to see how Hollywood Brown fairs against Bills corner Tre’Davious White, who has been spectacular as of late. Lamar Jackson must keep up the recent momentum as the fate of the Ravens offense is in his hands. You can say the same for Allen, as the already bad Bills run game won’t be doing much against the Ravens defense. This game is going to go down to the wire with one play deciding the outcome. I think the Bills will kick a field goal as time expires to keep their season alive.

My Pick: Bills 20 Ravens 17

Cleveland Browns (11-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (14-2) (Sunday, CBS, 2:05 PM CT)

The first game on Sunday is the sixth seeded Cleveland Browns going against the first seeded Kansas City Chiefs. The Browns are fresh off a 48-37 victory over division rival Pittsburgh in a game where Cleveland was in control from start to finish. Quarterback Baker Mayfield woke up feeling dangerous, throwing for 263 yards and three touchdowns. The Browns backfield had another huge game with running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combining for 206 yards and three touchdowns. The Browns defense was cooking as well, picking off Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger four times. The Chiefs are coming off a first round bye after a 14-2 regular season. The defending champs are led by former MVP Patrick Mahomes who’s had another spectacular season, finishing the year with 38 touchdowns to six interceptions. Most of his touchdowns were split between tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who both were named first team All Pros. The trio along with other starters have not played since week 16 as the Chiefs rested their starters for their week 17 matchup. This is very risky as this could lead to some rusty play. Another huge storyline heading into the game is that Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski will be returning to the sideline after being unable to coach last week due to COVID. Both teams defenses are dead even with both teams allowing 358 yards per game. Some key players include Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, who has 12 sacks on the season, and Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu, who has six interceptions this year. This game is going to be closer than people think with the main factor being how well Mahomes and the Chiefs stars fare after a two week rest. I just have this gut feeling that the Browns will pull off the upset and keep their Cinderella story going.

My Pick: Browns 35 Chiefs 31

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) at New Orleans Saints (12-4) (Sunday, FOX, 5:40 PM CT)

The last game of the weekend is a divisional matchup between the fifth seeded Buccaneers and the second seeded Saints. The Bucs took care of Washington last week 31-23 despite the valiant effort of Washington backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke. Tampa’s offense was on fire with Tom Brady throwing two touchdowns and running back Leonard Fournette rushing for 93 yards and a score. Receiver Mike Evans also had a good game catching six balls for 119 yards. Meanwhile, the Saints dominated the Bears in a 21-9 victory. Drew Brees threw for 265 yards and two touchdowns. Michael Thomas caught one of those touchdowns, making it his first touchdown since week 16 of the 2019 season. Running back Alvin Kamara also performed well, rushing for 99 yards and a touchdown. This will be the third time the two teams are playing each other this season. The first matchup was in week one, where the Saints won 34-23. New Orleans destroyed the Bucs in their second meeting 38-3. This brings up a common belief that it is hard to beat a team three times in one season. This may also be the last time we see Brady and Brees face off, ending a historic rivalry in the playoffs. Both teams have established defenses that I think will fare well with the offenses. Another question heading into the game is whether or not Bucs running back Ronald Jones will be ready to play after suffering numerous injuries the last couple of weeks. While Fournette did well last week, he’s usually followed up those games with poor performances. An X factor for the Saints is receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who the Bucs can’t forget about while covering Thomas. This game should be a good one even if the past two meetings weren’t close. I got the Bucs finally winning and Brady getting the last laugh over Brees.

My Pick: Buccaneers 24 Saints 20

No matter what team you’re cheering for, we’re locked in for another great week of football.