The weekly preview runs into the endzone with NFL tips for all four matches with Conference Championship berths on the line.
History: Played 95: Rams 47 V Packers 46 (2 Ties)
Last meeting: October 28, 2018: Rams 29 d Packers 27 at LA Memorial Coliseum
Final Thoughts: The NFC’s top seed, the 13-3 Green Bay Packers, get their playoffs campaign underway against a LA Rams outfit coming off a rousing Wild Card Round victory.
The Rams’ defence bustled Russell Wilson in a 30-20 defeat of the Seahawks, sacking him five times. Star DT Aaron Donald (rib) didn’t finish the game but is expected to line up at Lambeau Field. Meanwhile, Cam Akers had 131 yards and a TD on 28 carries.
The Packers finished the regular season on a six-game winning streak, punishing the Titans (40-14) and Bears (35-16) in their last two. Aaron Rodgers threw for four touchdowns in each to give him a whopping 48 for the season – with just five INTs. Gun wide receiver Davante Adams has been on the end of 18 TD passes and his match-up with the Rams’ Jalen Ramsey will be vital.
Green Bay’s NFL-leading offence gobbles up the attention, but their defence leaked just 18.5 points per game across the last six weeks of the campaign.
The Packers have won five of their last six against the Rams, but the Rams won the most recent clash in 2018. The teams’ only post-season encounter since the NFL-AFL merger was in the Divisional Playoff in the 2001 season, when the Rams won 45-17.
Rodgers’ will be harder for the Rams’ vaunted secondary to contain than Wilson. While the week off can be a momentum-breaker, the Packers have been too dominant this season to let this Super Bowl opportunity just yet.
History: Played 9: Ravens 6 V Bills 3
Last meeting: December 8, 2019: Ravens 24 d Bills 17 at New Era Field
Final Thoughts: The Bills’ gripping 27-24 Wild Card victory over the Colts was their first post-season success since 1995. QB Josh Allen (324 yards, 2 TDs) lit up the Colts’ defence before the Bills withstood a late charge in a nail-biting finish.
The Ravens toughed out a demon-exorcising 20-13 victory over the Titans – the team who tipped them out of last year’s playoffs. Lamar Jackson’s 48-yard touchdown run to level the scores in the second quarter was the turning point, a huge play from a quarterback burdened by failures of post-seasons past. A fourth straight week conceding 14 points or less gave the Baltimore defence – which has had it’s issues at times this season – another big tick.
The Ravens have won three on the trot against the Bills, most recently taking out a 2019 clash in Buffalo 24-17 with Jackson throwing for three touchdowns.
Both sides bring a stack of momentum into this showdown: the Bills have won seven straight, while the Ravens are on a six-match winning streak. This should go down to the wire, but the $2.20 underdog Ravens’ recent defensive resolve gives them a slight edge.
History: Played 26: Chiefs 13 V Browns 11 (2 Ties)
Last meeting: November 4, 2018: Chiefs 37 d Browns 21 at FirstEnergy Stadium
Final Thoughts: The top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs are $1.19 favourites to snuff out the Cleveland Browns fairytale. The Chiefs put together a 14-2 record, winning 10 straight games before a Patrick Mahomes-less line-up was spanked by the Chargers.
The Chiefs coasted towards the end of the regular season, with their last six wins coming by six points or less. Meanwhile, the brilliant Mahomes is looking at almost three weeks between games.
The Browns, playing their first post-season match in 18 years, earned their first playoffs victory since 1994 via a 48-37 victory over the Steelers. They led 28-0 at the end of the first quarter thanks to an absolute shambles from the Pittsburgh offence, but given the COVID-related off-field setbacks the Browns endured it was a win for the ages. Baker Mayfield threw for three touchdowns in a polished performance.
The Chiefs have won their last three against the Browns, but a 37-21 blowout in Cleveland in 2018 was the teams’ only clash in the past five years.
Kansas City won’t offer up anything like the opportunities that allowed Cleveland to get out to a huge lead last week. But Mahomes and the Chiefs are not infallible and the Browns can at least keep this interesting.
History: Played 58: Saints 37 V Buccaneers 21
Last meeting: November 8, 2020: Saints 38 d Buccaneers 3 at Raymond James Stadium
Final Thoughts: The Divisional Round concludes with a mouth-watering showdown between NFC South rivals New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The big storyline is obviously the quarterback match-up between the 41-year-old Drew Brees and 43-year-old Tom Brady, who are still performing at an elite level.
The Saints subdued the Bears 21-9 last week, with Brees, Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara reunited on offence. But they’ll need to be much slicker with the ball if the Saints are to advance further.
The Bucs outlasted Washington 31-23 with Tom Brady (381 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs) calling the tune, recievers Antonio Brown, Chris Godwin and Mike Evans shining, and Leonard Fournette (93 yards, 1 TD) producing a powerful rushing performance.
The Saints are on a five-match winning streak against their division rivals. They won 34-23 in New Orleans in Week 1 this season, before inflicting a 38-3 beatdown in Tampa in Week 8. Brees had six TD passes (0 INTs) to Brady’s two (2 INTs) across the two games.
Brees boasts a 5-3 record opposite Brady, but the legends have never met at playoffs time. Brady has comfortably been the more dominant of the two this season and the dominance of the Tampa offence will be very difficult for the Saints – who have not beaten a playoffs team since their most recent clash with the Bucs – to combat.