The weekly preview runs into the endzone with NFL tips for four mouth-watering Divisional Round match-ups.
History: Played 76: Titans 40 V Bengals 35 (1 Tie)
Last meeting: November 1, 2020: Bengals 31 d Titans 20 at Paul Brown Stadium
Final Thoughts: After nabbing the AFC’s top seed with wins in their last three regular-season games, the 12-5 Tennessee Titans sat back last weekend waiting for Cincinnati Bengals to end the Raiders’ campaign.
The Bengals’ 26-19 defeat of the Raiders was their first in the playoffs for 31 years. Joe Burrow (244 yds, 2 TDs, 0 INTs) was excellent in his maiden post-season start, Ja’Marr Chase chalked up over 100 receiving yards and the secondary held firm in the face of late Las Vegas surge.
The Titans are expecting to get megastar RB Derrick Henry back. But it’s a big ask for Henry to hit the ground running after a nine-week layoff. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill – who has a season record of 21 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions – has his critics and his playoffs résumé is modest. The Titans are likely to turn to a ground-and-pound approach to keep the ball out of Burrow’s hands.
The teams have met just once in the past four years, with Burrow (249 yds, 2 TDs) leading the Bengals to a 31-20 victory in Cincinnati in 2020.
The Titans have won seven of their last eight at Nissan Stadium, but the Burrow v Tannehill match-up could give the underdog Bengals the necessary edge to get to their first AFC Championship game since 1988.
Best Bet: Handicap – Bengals +3.5 @ $1.89
History: Played 71: Packers 38 V 49ers 32 (1 Tie)
Last meeting: September 26, 2021: Packers 30 d 49ers 28 at Levi’s Stadium
Final Thoughts: After squeaking into the playoffs, San Francisco 49ers grabbed an unexpected Divisional berth by outlasting the firepower-laden Cowboys 23-17 last week. It was far from smooth – almost bottling a 16-point fourth-quarter lead – and the injury-hampered Jimmy Garoppolo’s turnover woes continued with a crucial interception in the final term. But the Niners’ ground game, led by Deebo Samuel and Elijah Mitchell, and defence is firing on all cylinders.
Now they take on the NFC’s top seed, the 13-4 Green Bay Packers. The Aaron Rodgers-led offence is widely regarded as the league’s most potent – and it’s set to be boosted by All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari and rookie center Josh Myers. Davante Adams and Allan Lazard and top-shelf targets for the mercurial Rodgers, who has thrown for 37 TDs and just 4 INTs this season.
The teams have been regular Divisional Playoffs opponents over the past 25 years, but their most recent post-season encounter was the NFC Championship Game two years ago. A mammoth game from RB Raheem Mostert (220 yds, 4 TDs on 29 carries) led the 49ers to a 37-20 triumph; Rodgers (326 yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) had a mixed day, while Garoppolo passed just eight times (77 yds, 0 TDs, 0 INTs).
Since then, the Packers have chalked up a pair of regular-season wins in San Francisco – 34-17 in 2020 and 30-28 this season.
This may not be the most comfortable match-up for Rodgers and the Packers, but they are the Super Bowl favourites for a reason and I don’t see their season journey – and potential Rodgers’ tenure in Green Bay – ending here.
Best Bet: Handicap – Packers -5.5 @ $1.90
Same Game Multi: Margin – Packers 1-13; Total – Over 47.5; Anytime Touchdown Scorer – Davante Adams @ $7.82
History: Played 27: Rams 18 V Buccaneers 9
Last meeting: September 26, 2021: Rams 34 d Buccaneers 24 at SoFi Stadium
Final Thoughts: LA Rams demolished the Cardinals 34-11 in the Wild Card round as Matt Stafford – in his first year as a Ram – engineered the maiden playoff win of his career by passing for 202 yards, 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. Odell Beckham Jr was also superb, while the defence terrorised Kyler Murray and the Cards’ offence.
Aaron Donald and the Rams secondary face a much tougher task this week, however, up against Tom Brady’s and Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers put away the Eagles comfortably last week, winning 31-15 with Brady (271 yds, 2 TDs, 0 INTs) and receiver Mike Evans (117 yds, 1 TD) starring. But All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs and center Ryan Jensen were casualties from the win, which makes life more difficult for Brady this week.
The Rams have won both clashes with the Bucs since Brady’s arrival in Tampa, 27-24 in Florida in 2020 and 34-24 in Los Angeles in Week 3 this season.
The Buccaneers are tentative $1.67 favourites. They are also 8-1 at home this season and Brady boasts a 21-4 home record in playoff matches. As dominant as the Rams were last week, Tampa Bay are a different beast to a sliding Cardinals outfit.
Best Bet: Handicap – Buccaneers -2.5 @ $1.97
Same Game Multi: Result – Buccaneers; Total – Over 48.5; Anytime Touchdown Scorer – Mike Evans; Anytime Touchdown Scorer – Cooper Kupp @ $10.08
History: Played 51: Bills 27 V Chiefs 23 (1 Tie)
Last meeting: October 10, 2021: Bills 38 d Chiefs 20 at Arrowhead Stadium
Final Thoughts: The Divisional Round winds up with what looms as a scintillating showdown between Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs in a rematch from last year’s playoffs.
Patrick Mahomes (325 yds, 3 TDs, 0 INTs) steered the slow-starting Chiefs to a 38-24 AFC Championship Game victory over the Bills last January. The Bills ran away with a 38-20 win in Kansas City in Week 4 this season amid the Chiefs’ early slump; Josh Allen (315 yds, 3 TDs, 0 INTs) starred while Mahomes tossed a crucial pick-six.
Allen (308 yds, 5 TDs, 0 INTs) had a blinder in last week’s 47-17 blowout of the Patriots, with the Bills becoming the first team to score touchdowns in their first seven possessions in any game since 2007. It’s being hailed as one of the all-time great offensive performances – and elevated Allen to a level within touching distance of Brady, Rodgers and Mahomes.
Mahomes, meanwhile, had a field day of his own with 5 touchdown passes – in less than 11 minutes of game-time – in a 42-21 cruise against the Steelers. The Chiefs, second favourites for Super Bowl glory, started badly before the offence clicked.
The Bills conceded the least points of any team in the NFL regular season, but the Chiefs’ secondary has emerged as a genuine force after inspiring the teams’ mid-season revival. I’m inclined to lean towards the Bills, but the over may be a safer bet in what should be an exhilarating shootout.