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Then there were eight. After a wild opening weekend of action in the NFL Playoffs, the field has now been narrowed to eight teams. Two squads who earned first-round byes, the Chiefs and Packers, seemingly have tremendous matchups in the NFL Divisional Playoffs.
However, some of the teams that advanced through the wildcard round are on major hot streaks. That includes the Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills doing battle in Western New York. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns earned their first win in the NFL Playoffs since 1994. They’ll look to pull off a major upset against the defending champion Chiefs.
Over in the NFC, two of the all-time greats in that of Drew Brees and Tom Brady could very well be going up against one another for the final time in their Hall of Fame careers.
It’s in this that we look at the divisional round of the NFL Playoffs and give you game-by-game predictions for each titanic matchup.
Updated: Jan. 17, 10 AM EST
NFL Playoffs: Sunday divisional playoffs
Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs
Time/station: 3:05 PM EST, CBS
Browns-Chiefs point spread: Chiefs -10.0 (over/under 57.0)
Update: Browns activate CB Denzel Ward from COVID list
What seems to be perhaps the most-lopsided matchup in this round of the NFL Playoffs might not play out like that at all. Despite being 10-point favorites, the defending champion Chiefs took part in a ton of close games before resting their starters back in Week 17. In fact, Kansas City’s final seven games ahead of that finale (all wins) saw a total point differential of 27 points. That’s some insane stuff right there.
As for the Browns, they are riding high after earning their first road playoff win since 1969 and first win in the NFL Playoffs since 1994. It came against the Pittsburgh Steelers this past Sunday. In stunning fashion, Baker Mayfield and Co. opened a 28-0 first-quarter lead. Those 28 points represented the most scored by a team in the first quarter in the history of the NFL Playoffs. Yeah, things are changing big time in Cleveland right now.
Unfortunately, that’s not going to be enough to keep pace with the high-powered Chiefs. Two of the team’s top-three corners missed last week’s game due to COVID-19 protocols. Even with Denzel Ward returning for Sunday, it’s hard to imagine a Browns defense that yielded 26 points per game during the regular year limiting Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs enough for Mayfield to pull off a huge upset. With all of that said, this should still be a very competitive and high-scoring game.
NFL Playoffs prediction: Chiefs 38, Browns 30
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
Time/station: 6:40 PM EST, Fox
Buccaneers-Saints point spread: Saints -3.0 (over/under 52.0)
Tom Brady vs. Drew Brees Part 3. A game that could potentially signify the end of Brees’ Hall of Fame career against a quarterback that has one-upped him from a title perspective as their careers crossed paths for the past two decades. Heck, a real possibility exists that Brady himself retires should he earn a seventh career Super Bowl title.
The backdrop here is struggles on Brady’s part against the Saints during a regular-season sweep at the hands of the Buccaneers’ division rivals. Tampa Bay was outscored 72-26 in those two games. Brady himself threw two touchdowns against five interceptions in those starts while tallying 38 scores and seven picks in his 14 other regular-season appearances.
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It’s going to be very interesting to see how this game plays out with so much on the line. I am inclined to go with the Buccaneers given their recent hot streak. That includes a five-game winning streak that has seen the team average 35.8 points per game. Despite the Saints’ status as a top-end defense, it’s going to be hard for them to slow down Tampa’s offensive machine in this one.
NFL Playoffs prediction: Buccaneers 34, Saints 27
NFL Playoffs: Saturday divisional playoffs
Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay Packers
Time/station: 4:35 PM EST, Fox
Rams-Packers point spread: Packers -6.5 (over/under 45.5)
Update: Rams QB Jared Goff expected to start
Rams quarterback Jared Goff will be another week removed from the broken thumb he suffered late in the regular season. Given that he completed a mere 9-of-19 passes during an ugly win in the NFL Playoffs this past weekend against the Seahawks, that qualifies as some good news for Los Angeles. Unfortunately, taking on the Packers at Lambeau Field offers a completely different test for the struggling quarterback. How is he going to react in the bitter cold of the Wisconsin winter?
What we do know is that Cam Akers went off against Seattle to the tune of 131 yards on the ground and another 45 through the air. Coupled with the Rams’ stingy defense, this is the one way Sean McVay and Co. can keep the game close. Remember, Green Bay yielded an average of 4.5 yards per rush during the regular season. It’s an Achilles’ heel.
As for the Packers’ offense, it might be a bit more difficult to move the ball now that left tackle David Bakhtiari is out with a torn ACL. The good news? Aaron Donald is unlikely to line up against his replacement too often in this one.
That should help out likely NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers after a week of rest. All he did at home during the regular season was throw 23 touchdowns against two interceptions while leading the Packers to an average of 31.6 points. As for the Rams, they yielded an average of 24.8 points on the road compared to 12.3 at home during the regular year. This should be the difference as the NFL Playoffs go through Lambeau Field.
NFL playoffs prediction: Packers 27, Rams 17
Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills
Time/station: 8:15 PM EST, NBC
Ravens-Bills point spread: Bills -2.5 (over/under 50.0)
Talk about a matchup of two of the top all-around quarterbacks in the NFL with a spot in the AFC Championship Game on the line. It’s going to be an absolute blast to see reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson go up against a signal caller in Josh Allen who should finish in the top-three in voting this coming February.
Allen was absolutely dynamite throughout the regular season. However, the Bills’ star picked it up big time during the final six games and during last week’s win over the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL Playoffs. This seven-game span has seen Allen compile north of 2,200 total yards with 22 total touchdowns against three interceptions, leading the Bills to an average of 38 points per game.
As for Jackson, he’s been on a tear since returning from a scary bout with COVID-19 back in Week 13. The quarterback has Baltimore in the midst of a six-game winning streak of its own. The Ravens ae averaging 33.8 points per game during that span.
This game pretty much comes down to one major factor. Allen is more of a threat in the passing game. Sure Jackson will make a major impact on the ground. But Allen is not chopped liver in this regard. After all, he did put up 428 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground during the regular year. That should be able to keep elite EDGE rushers Yannick Ngakoue and Matt Judon at bay for the most part, leading to a big day from NFL regular-season receiving leader Stefon Diggs.
NFL Playoffs prediction: Bills 31, Ravens 27