NFC Division Round Preview – will brady and rodgers meet up in the championship game?
The NFC’s Wild Card weekend featured one upset, with the Los Angeles Rams beating the Seattle Seahawks for the second time in three games this season. The Rams finished in second place in the NFC West to the Seahawks in the regular season.
The other game went as planned. The New Orleans Saints weren’t as explosive as normal on offense, but their defense easily limited an overmatched Chicago offense to set up a rematch with their division rivals. Here’s a look at what to expect in both games and our predictions.
The best news for the Rams in their Wild Card win over Seattle was the fact that their defense looked like it is Super Bowl-ready. The Rams led the league in yards allowed per game and were second in sacks. They have a defense that led them to a Super Bowl in 2019, and they hope to do so again with a better offense this time.
Against the Seahawks, the Rams had five sacks, an interception, and a fumble recovery. Star Aaron Donald had two of those sacks, and Darious Williams returned his interception 42-yards for a touchdown. Jalen Ramsey held Seahawks star DK Metcalf in check, with Metcalf only finishing with 96 receiving yards. Metcalf did have both Seattle touchdowns, but he only had five catches on 11 targets.
The Seahawks have one of the best offenses in the NFL and they often looked helpless against the Rams. That’s bad news for a Packers team that also has a good offense, but Los Angeles might need more from its offense in this game as well – the game with Seattle would’ve been much closer if not for the defense getting a touchdown.
Green Bay doesn’t turn the ball over often. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers only has five interceptions on the season. His offensive line also protects him well, as he’s only been sacked 20 times this season, a significant improvement from earlier in his career.
The Packers also have good balance on their offense. They are ninth in the league in passing offense and eighth in rushing offense, which puts them fifth in total offense. Running back Aaron Jones will be big for Green Bay. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry during the season and had nine touchdowns. If he can help Green Bay getting its running game early, it will give them a chance to tire out the Los Angeles defense a bit.
Jones will also be an important outlet for Rodgers in the passing game. He caught 47 passes during the regular season, and if Rodgers is facing heavy pressure from the Los Angeles front seven, expect Jones to have a lot of opportunities for short passes or screen plays to catch the defense being overly aggressive.
A good defense and a dominant performance on the ground by Cam Akers were enough for the Rams against Seattle. They’ll need more than that against a Green Bay defense that is also among the best in the league. Jared Goff passed for just 155 yards against Seattle. He’ll need to make some plays through the air and be more accurate with his passing (he completed less than 50 percent of his passes against the Seahawks).
Prediction: The Rams defense is historically good, which is going to make this loss harder to take. Packers win 21-17.
Reports indicate New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees could be retiring after the season is over. The Saints were already motivated to send him out with a Super Bowl victory. Getting a win over another future Hall of Famer, Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady, along the way would only sweeten that.
Both teams won, as expected, in their Wild Card matchups. The Saints didn’t have to do much besides rely on their defense to shut down an anemic Chicago Bears offense to pick up the win. Brees was efficient, throwing for 265 yards and two touchdowns, and Alvin Kamura rushed for another score in the win.
Brady had to do a bit more work against a more competitive Washington team. He threw for 381 yards and two touchdowns. The Bucs never trailed in the game, but Washington kept it close throughout, impressive considering they were playing a quarterback who had only played in one game during the season.
The Saints were dominant in the matchup during the regular season, out-scoring Tampa Bay 72-26 in the two wins.
Tampa has played significantly better than those early season losses, though, and it is exceptionally hard to beat a team three times in the same season. The Saints will need the offense to play with much more urgency than they showed against the Bears, as Tampa is full of weapons and Brady’s accuracy on his deep throws seems to have returned in recent weeks after some early season struggles.
Prediction: Tampa Bay pulls off the upset here, 38-27. The Bucs have been playing as well as any team in the league lately and it’s difficult to bet against Brady in the playoffs.
AFC Division Round Preview – nobody circles the wagons like the buffalo bills (except maybe the chiefs)
Two of the league’s most hard-luck franchises picked up playoff wins in the AFC Wild Card round. The Cleveland Browns won their first playoff game since 1994. The Buffalo Bills picked up their first playoff win since 1995.
Now both teams move on to exceedingly more difficult matchups: The Browns have to figure out a way to take out the defending Super Bowl champions and the Bills have to deal with the reigning NFL MVP.
Here’s a look at each AFC Division Round matchup and our predictions.
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield led the team to an upset win over the Pittsburgh Steelers playing behind an offensive line with two backups in and head coach Kevin Stefanski and star defensive back Denzel Ward out of the game too after testing positive for COVID-19.
The Browns were aided by an opportunistic defense that recovered a fumble for a touchdown and came up with four interceptions against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. They’ll need an even better effort next week against the No. 1 seeded Chiefs, though. Kansas City is one of the least turnover-prone teams in the league, so they won’t be able to rely on getting takeaways like they did this week.
Realistically, the only thing that can stop the Chiefs is … maybe boredom? Kansas City has breezed through much of the regular season. Offensively, they have weapons all over the field, led by Mahomes. Mahomes threw for 4,700 yards and 38 touchdowns with just six interceptions. He was sacked just 22 times, so the Kansas City offensive line does a good job of protecting him.
Cleveland will hope Myles Garrett can help get some pressure on Mahomes. Some of Kansas City’s longer passing plays take a while to develop, so getting some pressure on the quarterback can at least force Mahomes to get rid of the ball quicker.
The Chiefs run the ball well, and should be at full strength in the backfield. Clyde Edwards-Helaire sprained his ankle three weeks ago and hasn’t played since. By the time the Chiefs play, he’ll have had four weeks to rest and recover, so they’re hoping he can play. Veteran Le’Veon Bell stepped in during his absence and played well. He and Edwards-Helaire combined for more than 1,000 yards rushing and six touchdowns. Both are also effective receivers out of the backfield.
Cleveland’s rush defense is among the best in the league, but against the Chiefs, you have to also prepare for short passes that are often just as or more effective than the running game. If Kansas City can’t run it, look for both backs to become factors in the passing game.
You can run the ball against the Chiefs, though. The Chiefs give up 122 yards per game on the ground, which is bottom third in the league. Browns running back Nick Chubb had 18 carries for 76 yards against Pittsburgh and he and former Chief Kareem Hunt combined to rush for more than 1,800 yards this season. If they can control the clock with an effective ground game and Baker Mayfield can take care of the ball, Cleveland has a chance.
Prediction: The Browns are a fun story, but Kansas City has too much firepower and no significant weaknesses. Kansas City wins, 45-17.
This game will feature last year’s MVP Lamar Jackson of Baltimore going head-to-head with a strong candidate for this year’s award, Bills quarterback Josh Allen.
Both quarterbacks led their teams to close wins in the opening round. For Jackson, it ends the narrative surrounding his lack of playoff wins. He also avenged a playoff loss last year, when the Tennessee Titans pulled off an upset and eliminated the heavily favored Ravens.
Jackson struggled in that game, but he was significantly better this year. He completed 17-for-24 of his passes and ran for 136 yards. Last year, the Titans were able to bottle him up in the running game and force him to be a passer, but couldn’t pull off similar success this year.
The Bills beat Indianapolis by three, with Allen throwing for 324 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 54 yards and a touchdown.
Allen will face a tougher defense with the Ravens. Baltimore dealt with injuries and players being unavailable due to the pandemic throughout the season, but their regulars are finally healthy. Defensively, Calais Campbell played in just 11 games this season, but was among the impact players returning to the lineup recently.
Allen is dynamic offensively, but if the Ravens can control his ability to run and make him strictly a passer, they could force him into some mistakes.
Buffalo’s run defense is only middle-of-the pack, and with Jackson and JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards, Baltimore has a definite advantage there.
Prediction: Jackson’s run to just get Baltimore into the playoffs has been impressive, but Allen has more weapons on Buffalo’s offense. Bills win 24-13.