NFL Playoffs — Divisional Round Predictions
After the conclusion of the Wild Card round this past Monday night, eight teams now remain in the NFL Playoffs. Unfortunately, four of the six games in the opening round were almost unwatchable, as the favorites in each one of these matchups were able to build an almost insurmountable lead by halftime. The Raiders and Cowboys both were able to get back into their respective games after falling into early deficits, however they both came up short.
Before we get into our Divisional Round predictions, let’s take a look at our rather terrible picks from the first round of the playoffs:
(2) Kansas City Chiefs vs. (7) Pittsburgh Steelers
Our Prediction: Chiefs 26, Steelers 17
Actual Score: Chiefs 42, Steelers 21
The Kansas City Chiefs were able to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night, shaking off a slow start and rattling off six consecutive touchdown drives to essentially put the Steelers away early in the third quarter. Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes had one of his best playoff games in his career, completing 30 of 39 passes for 405 and five touchdowns, and also did some damage with his legs with 29 rushing yards. TE Travis Kelce had a big day of his own, going over 100 yards receiving and catching a touchdown as well as passing for another (you read that right). That Kelce was able to throw a touchdown in this game kind of speaks to how Kansas City was just toying with the Steelers once their offense started clicking.
It was a tough night for Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense, as they struggled to run the ball effectively and sustain drives that led to points. WR Diontae Johnson had a couple costly drops that effectively ended a couple drives and the offense as a whole simply couldn’t keep up with the Chiefs. The Steelers didn’t necessarily play poorly; this has been their team all year. Most people thought that if Pittsburgh was going to have even a chance to win this game, they would have to play outstanding defense and slug it out in a low-scoring game. Once the floodgates of the Chiefs’ dynamic offense were opened, it was game over. I really thought this game would involve better defensive play, and for the majority of the first half, it sure seemed like that may be the case. However, this ended up being a blowout and I can’t take any credit for predicting a rather narrow Chiefs win.
(3) Buffalo Bills vs. (6) New England Patriots
My Prediction: Bills 21, Patriots 17
Actual Score: Bills 47, Patriots 17
The Buffalo Bills undoubtedly made the biggest statement of any team during the Wild Card round, as they absolutely obliterated the Patriots on Saturday night in what can only be described as an offensive masterpiece. Josh Allen had a nearly perfect passer rating and threw for over 300 yards and five touchdowns. Devin Singletary continued to run the ball well for 81 yards and two touchdowns. The Patriots simply could not do anything to stop this Buffalo offense. In fact, the Buffalo Bills became the first team in modern history, regular season or playoffs, to play an entire game without punting, attempting a field goal, or turning the ball over, a truly remarkable achievement. I’m convinced the Patriots potentially may not have received the ball the entire game if there were no end zones in Orchard Park that night.
Regarding the Patriots offense, New England was unable to establish the running game at any point, as RBs Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stephenson were ineffective and not able to get in any type of rhythm against the Bills’ defense. QB Mac Jones wasn’t bad, throwing for 232 yards and two touchdowns, but also threw two interceptions, albeit one coming on an unbelievable play by Bills’ S Micah Hyde. The Bills’ defense was simply too much for the Patriots on Saturday night, not allowing them to control the clock and play at their own pace like they usually have to do in order to win. New England looked like a team that brought a knife to a gun fight, as Buffalo appeared to just unleash what has been nearly twenty years of frustration in a complete team performance against the team that had been bullying them for a long time. I predicted the Bills would win this game in a close one, but Josh Allen and Co. made it apparent very early that there would be no speculation on who the better team was this season and likely for the foreseeable future.
(4) Cincinatti Bengals vs. (5) Las Vegas Raiders
My Prediction: Raiders 30, Bengals 28
Actual Score: Bengals 26, Raiders 19
The Cincinnati Bengals were able to defeat the Las Vegas Raiders in the first game of the weekend as they held on to an early lead despite Raiders QB Derek Carr doing all he can to force overtime at the end. Bengals QB Joe Burrow threw for 244 yards and two touchdowns and WR Ja’Marr Chase hauled in 9 catches for 116 yards, as the young duo continued their recent hot streak. The Bengals’ offense did a good job sustaining long drives in the first half, wearing the Raiders’ defense down and converting on third downs to keep their own defense off the field. The defense was able to make some plays as well, as they forced a fumble of Derek Carr in the first half which lead to a field goal, as well as picking Carr off at the goal line at the end of the game to seal the win.
Carr played better than his stat line suggested in this one, as he was under duress for a large portion of his dropbacks and had a few uncharacteristic drops from usually sure-handed weapons Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller. RB Josh Jacobs was able to run the ball effectively, averaging over 6 yards a carry for 83 yards and also tallying 44 receiving yards. Ultimately, what killed the Raiders in this one was too many untimely penalties by the offensive line and an inability to score touchdowns once they got into the red zone. The defense was also unable to make enough stops until it was too late and caused the offense to play with their head slightly below water most of the game. I thought that the Raiders’ offense would be a little more efficient in this one, and also that the defense would be able to generate enough pressure to force Joe Burrow into a couple mistakes. Ultimately, Joe Cool was as advertised and stayed calm despite being under pressure at times, and the defense did enough in a “bend-don’t-break” effort that resulted in a Bengals’ playoff victory for the first time in 31 years.
(2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs (7) Philadelphia Eagles
My Prediction: Bucs 27, Eagles 21
Actual Score: Bucs 31, Eagles 15
This game was not as close as the final score suggests. Tampa Bay was up 31–0 in the third quarter of the game before calling off the dogs and allowing Philadelphia to score a couple meaningless touchdowns. Bucs QB Tom Brady was surgical against the Eagles’ secondary, completing 29 of 37 passes for 271 yards and 2 touchdowns. Mike Evans led the way for the Bucs’ pass catchers, bringing in 9 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown, while TE Rob Gronkowski also had 5 catches and a score. The defense was arguably more impressive than the offense for the Bucs though, as they swarmed around the field all day and made life miserable for young QB Jalen Hurts. Once Tampa’s secondary realized early on that Philly would not try to challenge them down the field, they started pinning their ears back and wreaking havoc at the line of scrimmage, not allowing Hurts to hurt them with his legs or find guys in the flats.
For the Eagles, the aforementioned woes of Jalen Hurts and the offense were not extremely surprising. Their offense was heavily predicated on running the football coming into the game, and it was not very hard for Tampa’s top-ranked rush defense to take that away from them early on. Hurts seemed hesitant to let the ball loose in early situations, as Tampa’s corners seemed to almost dare the quarterback to throw to WR Devonta Smith and other receivers on the outside by sagging back in coverage. Unfortunately, Hurts was not able to pick this up for most of the game and had a lot of trouble moving the football as a result. I was definitely optimistic in thinking that the Eagles would be able to at least have a balanced offense in this game, but I was surprised at how inept and unadaptive they seemed to in their play-calling. Overall, it was a good team performance for the Buccaneers as they move on to the next round to keep their back-to-back title dreams alive.
(3) Dallas Cowboys vs. (6) San Francisco 49ers
My Prediction: Cowboys 31, 49ers 27
Actual Score: 49ers 23, Cowboys 17
The Cowboys can only blame themselves in this one. Credit to San Francisco, as they came out with a plan to run the football and establish their physicality and they did that in jumping out to a 10–0 lead before eventually heading into halftime with a 16–7 advantage. Niners RB Elijah Mitchell did the dirty work for the San Francisco rushing attack, racking up 96 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. All-Pro receiver Deebo Samuel continued to show his versatility by adding 72 rushing yards and a touchdown of his own on 10 carries, to go along with 38 receiving yards. Brandon Aiyuk made a few big plays and finished with 66 yards on 5 catches. QB Jimmy Garoppolo didn’t have his best game, throwing for 172 yards and coughing up a costly interception in the 4th quarter, but the 49ers, primarily on defense, did enough as a whole to hang on to the early lead they built. DE’s Arik Armstead and Charles Omenihu each registered 3 QB hits and Omenihu finished with 1.5 sacks, while fellow defensive end Nick Bosa also made his presence felt in the 49ers backfield. Along with the interception from K’Waun Williams in the third quarter that set up a touchdown to put the Niners up 16, San Francisco made enough plays in this one despite nearly giving the game away in the final frame.
Early on, it was evident that this may just not be the Cowboys’ day. QB Dak Prescott looked hesitant all game, holding the ball too long in certain situations and failing to capitalize on a Niners’ secondary that had been rather leaky all season. The ground game, which many thought could be a potential problem for the Dallas offense, was anemic, as lead back Zeke Elliot only mustered 31 yards on 12 carries. Simply put, the Cowboys are not a great team when they can’t run the football. Dak Prescott needs the running game to be effective in order to truly be his best through the air, as attacking a secondary is much easier when you have 2nd and 5’s and 3rd and 2’s rather than 2nd and 9’s and 3rd and 7’s. To go along with the lack of productivity from the running backs and skittish performance from Prescott, the team committed a whopping 14 penalties, many coming in crucial situations that felt like gut punches being dealt to a Dallas team that had serious Super Bowl aspirations. The defense actually played quite well in this game, but if the Cowboys want to advance further into the postseason in the future rather than just making a brief appearance, they will need their leader Dak Prescott, along with their offense as a whole, to be much better.
(4) Los Angeles Rams vs (5) Arizona Cardinals
My Prediction: Cardinals 31, Rams 24
Actual Score: Rams 34, Cardinals 11
Well, I was very wrong about this game. Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals picked a bad time to have their worst game of the season, as for much of the night they looked like a JV team against a Rams’ squad that was laser-focused and ready to roll. I’ll give a lot of credit to this Rams’ team, as RB’s Sony Michel and Cam Akers, QB Matt Stafford, and WR Odell Beckham Jr. all performed very well on the offensive side of the ball and helped lead a relentless attack on a Cardinals defense that looked disoriented and flat for most of the night. Edge rusher Von Miller was phenomenal for the defense, living in the Cardinals’ backfield for most of the night and picking up 3 QB hits and a sack. Perennial All-Pro Aaron Donald also did his part in this one, constantly forcing double-teams and allowing his teammates to get to Kyler Murray and make stops in the running game. Although these two teams really aren’t that different from a talent perspective, it was hard to tell on Monday night as LA had one of their more complete games of the season.
As previously mentioned, Kyler Murray was really bad in this one. I mean, really, really bad. He was completely ineffective as a rusher, surprisingly only taking off two times for a measly six yards. He was hardly better as a passer, throwing for 134 yards and no touchdowns and two interceptions, one of which being a bone-headed pick-six from his own end zone that would’ve made Colts QB Carson Wentz proud. RBs Chase Edmonds and James Conner were unable to produce in the running game, and Arizona’s receivers also did very little in an overall very poor offensive effort. You could tell that Arizona missed WR Deandre Hopkins in the game, as Kyler really struggled to find guys open all night and was unable to break down the secondary or even threaten them at all. Combine that with a poor effort from the defense, and you get undoubtedly the worst performance of any team over Wild Card weekend. I really thought that the Cardinals would take advantage of the fact that they were counted out heading into the playoffs after a bad stretch and would play loose and with energy, but they instead very much proved their doubters right. It’ll be interesting to see how this team assesses their situation in the offseason after flaming out for the third consecutive season under HC Kliff Kingsbury.
Now that that’s over with, let’s get into our predictions for the Divisional Round.
(1) Tennessee Titans vs. (4) Cincinnati Bengals
Game Time: Saturday, Jan. 22 at 4:30 PM
Line: Titans -3.5
The Tennessee Titans will kick off their 2022 postseason on Saturday as they host Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals in the first game of the weekend. Tennessee is getting a huge boost to their team in this one, as Derrick Henry was activated off of IR on Friday after suffering a foot fracture back in October. The team as a whole will also be about as healthy as they’ve been all season for this one, as WRs A.J. Brown and Julio Jones will suit up for the Titans as well. For the Bengals, they’ll look to continue their miracle season with Joe Burrow leading the way for a young but talented team. The team got some good news on Thursday as DE Trey Hendrickson cleared concussion protocols and appears to be ready to go for this game. Unfortunately, Cincinnati did lose starting DT Larry Ogunjobi for the remainder of the playoffs after suffering an injury in the win against the Raiders last weekend. That being said, the Bengals are riding high coming into this game and are hungry to prove that they belong against a team that is making their third consecutive postseason appearance.
This matchup seems to be pretty split among those giving opinions on the game, as the Bengals are playing well at the moment and QB Joe Burrow can seemingly do no wrong now that he’s really found his groove in this Cincinnati offense. On the other hand, the Titans are the 1 seed in the AFC and have already defeated four of the remaining teams in the playoffs this year, despite flying under the radar.
So, who wins this game? I like the Titans in this one, and I honestly don’t think it’ll be that close. Yes, I did pick against the Bengals last week and they did make me eat crow. However, this Titans team is a much different animal than the Raiders they played in the Wild Card round. Their defensive front is extremely physical and I expect them to make life very difficult for QB Joe Burrow in a hostile environment, as DT Jefferey Simmons and DE Harold Landry are game-wreckers. They also have ball-hawk S Kevin Byard in the secondary, who has a nose for the football and I expect will make a play or two. Combine that with the return of Derrick Henry and a QB in Ryan Tannehill that should be ready to attack the Bengals’ porous secondary off play-action, and I think the Titans roll into the conference championship for a matchup with the winner of the next game we’ll discuss.
Prediction: Titans 30, Bengals 20
(2) Kansas City Chiefs vs. (3) Buffalo Bills
Game Time: Sunday, Jan. 23 at 6:30 PM
Line: Chiefs -2
This will likely be the best game of the weekend and also is the hardest game to pick. Both the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills are coming off of impressive offensive performances in the Wild Card round, as QBs Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen each threw for 5 touchdowns in their team’s respective victories. The two teams met back in Week 5 of this season, with the Bills getting the best of the Chiefs in an ugly weather game, 38–20. The Chiefs were without star DT Chris Jones in that Week 5 loss, and he will be playing on Sunday. Conversely, the Bills had former All-Pro CB Tre’Davious White in their first matchup, and he will not be available for Buffalo. That being said, these are two teams that are playing at the top of their game right now and have real aspirations to win the Super Bowl.
The Bills will likely try to continue running the football in this one, as they’ve had a lot of success on offense over the last few weeks by committing to RB Devin Singletary and allowing him to wear down opposing defenses. Josh Allen has had a little bit of an up-and-down season, but last weekend’s masterpiece against New England’s elite defense should tell you all you need to know about what he’s capable of doing on a football field. The Chiefs, on the other hand, will look to stay in their offensive rhythm under the leadership of Pat Mahomes, as he’s been on fire in recent weeks and has done a great job cutting back on turnovers that plagued him and the Kansas City offense early on in the season. TE Travis Kelce is coming off a great performance against the Steelers last weekend, and WR Tyreek Hill will surely be involved in a Chiefs passing attack that is extremely quick and can get behind you in a hurry.
In the end, I like the Chiefs to come out on top in this one. Despite the Bills beating the Chiefs earlier this season in Arrowhead, Patrick Mahomes has not yet lost a home playoff game in his career. I expect them to continue having success throwing the ball in this game, as the Bills without top corner Tre’Davious White will have trouble keeping Tyreek Hill in check, as well as Mecole Hardman, who’s been more involved in the offense as of late. They will need to run the ball as well in order to win this game, and I think they should be able to do that with the recent emergence of veteran back Jerick McKinnon, who ran effectively against the Steelers last week, as well as the return of Clyde Edwards-Helaire. I’m sure Josh Allen will make some plays in this game, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Bills have a lead at some point in this game, maybe even late. However, I can’t pick against Mahomes and the Chiefs at home when they’ve proven time and time again that they’re an extremely tough out.
Prediction: Chiefs 34, Bills 31
(1) Green Bay Packers vs (6) San Francisco 49ers
Game Time: Saturday, Jan. 22 at 8:15 PM
Line: Packers -5.5
Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers will make their debut in the 2022 NFL Playoffs as they play host to the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners will be looking to continue their road success as they’ve won their last three games away from home, while the Packers hope to avenge their losses against a team that knocked them out of the playoffs in both 2019 and 2020. The Packers did defeat the Niners 30–28 back in Week 3 in San Francisco after a game-winning field goal from Mason Crosby, however I don’t believe that outcome has much bearing on this game. This game will be in Lambeau and should have absolutely frigid conditions, one that Rodgers is very successful and familiar with, compiling a 29–1 record in games played below freezing. Jimmy Garopollo, on the other hand, has never played a game in these conditions. Rodgers, the likely MVP for the second straight season, has been on an absolute tear in what many think could be his last season in Green Bay, throwing for 37 touchdowns and only two interceptions after that ugly Week 1 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
The 49ers will likely need to be a lot better passing the ball this weekend than they were against Dallas, as Jimmy G was shaky down the stretch in the Wild Card round and nearly gave the game away on a couple occasions. Their run game was effective however, and I expect them to try wear down the Packers run defense with a healthy dose of Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel. That being said, they’re not going to go into Lambeau and beat a superior team with a one-dimensional offense. They’ll need to get TE George Kittle involved in this one, as he’s been relatively quiet over the last two weeks. For the Packers, they’ll look to attack the Niners defense through the air, Aaron Rodgers is well aware of the fact that San Francisco simply does not have a member in their secondary capable of covering All-Pro WR Davante Adams. The likely return of WR Randall Cobb should also help out the Packers in this one, as he adds a different dynamic to the receiving corps and will be a welcome sight for Rodgers.
Ultimately, I think the Packers are a better team than the 49ers and that will be evident on Saturday. The offensive line should have LT David Bakhtiari for this game, which will be a massive boost and should help keep the 49ers pass rush at bay. They also have heavily incorporated RB AJ Dillon into their running game since the first matchup between these two teams, as Dillon adds a downhill, power running style that nicely complements fellow back Aaron Jones. I think this will allow the Packers to have a balanced offensive attack that should allow them to score a lot of points and really put pressure on Jimmy G and the 49ers offense. If the Niners can somehow limit Aaron Rodgers through the air and get good contributions from their own quarterback, they have a chance to win this game. However, I’m not going to bet on the best QB on the planet to not play well and instead side with turnover-prone Jimmy G. I think the Packers make a statement in this one and finally put those NFC Championship drubbings at the hands of San Francisco behind them.
Prediction: Packers 34, Niners 20
(2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs (4) Los Angeles Rams
Game Time: Sunday, Jan. 22 at 3:00 PM
Line: Bucs -3
Tom Brady and the Tampa Buccaneers will host Matt Stafford and the Rams on Sunday for a chance to return to the NFC title game. The two met back in Week 3 at So-Fi Stadium, with the Rams dominating for most of the game and holding a 3 score lead for most of the second half before eventually winning 34–24. Matt Stafford was exceptional in the first matchup, throwing for 343 yards and four touchdowns as he had his way with the Tampa Bay secondary. Tom Brady, despite throwing for 432 yards in the game, was constantly pressured by the Rams’ defensive front and was sacked three times in that one. The Rams jumped on the Bucs early on never looked back as they cruised to a win and handed the Bucs their first loss of the season at the time.
Both teams’ offensive lines are banged up heading into this playoff matchup. The Rams will be without starting LT Andrew Whitworth for this game, while Ryan Jensen and Tristan Wirfs are both questionable for the Bucs. The Rams have a new dynamic to their running game with the return of RB Cam Akers. The Bucs, conversely, will be without RB Ronald Jones and the status of Leonard Fournette for Sunday is iffy, though he has been making progress towards a return this week. The Bucs also will obviously be without WRs Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, which means some other receivers not named Mike Evans will need to step up in order for Tampa Bay to pass the ball effectively.
The status of the aforementioned offensive lineman for the Bucs will be crucial in this game, but I still like the Rams to upset the Bucs again and move to 3–0 against Brady as a Buccaneer. I expect a big game from Matt Stafford, who posted a league-best 93 QBR against the blitz this year and will face a blitz-happy defense under DC Todd Bowles. Many expect the Rams to have trouble running the football against Tampa’s rush defense and this will lead to Stafford having too much on his plate in carrying the offense. I think Stafford will be up to the challenge, just as he was last time these two teams played. The loss of weapons on the outside for Brady will make it hard for him to keep pace with the Rams’ scoring, as they haven’t faced a truly dynamic offense like LA since adjusting to a depleted receiving corps. Combine that with the pressure Brady will likely be facing all game, and I think the Rams walk out of Raymond-James Stadium with a win.
Prediction: Rams 28, Bucs 24