After a mixed bag of games over the course of Wildcard Weekend, the stage is set for four Divisional Round matchups that offer intrigue, drama, and high stakes.
On Saturday afternoon, Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals will look to keep their hot hand going against the Tennessee Titans, the AFC’s #1 seed. Tennessee should be getting a boost from the return of All-Pro running back Derrick Henry, but will it be enough to keep up with Cincinnati’s young, electric offense?
Later on Saturday night, Aaron Rodgers and the NFC top-seeded Green Bay Packers face a familiar playoff foe in Jimmy Garoppolo and the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers knocked off Green Bay in the 2020 NFC Championship Game to reach the Super Bowl, and the Packers will look for revenge as they attempt to break through to Super Bowl 56 after back-to-back NFC Championship Game losses.
Sunday brings two games that have the looks of instant classics. Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams will duel Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as two surging teams with dynamic offenses battle for the right to advance to the NFC Championship. To close the weekend, Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills and Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs square off with two of the most touchdown-efficient teams in the league going head-to-head.
Read on for my full picks, and if you’d like to debate or discuss any selections, join the conversation with @SakSports on Twitter.
Week 1: 6-10
Week 2: 12-4
Week 3: 11-5
Week 4: 12-4
Week 5: 13-3
Week 6: 10-4
Week 7: 9-4
Week 8: 9-6
Week 9: 5-9
Week 10: 9-4-1
Week 11: 12-3
Week 12: 6-9
Week 13: 9-5
Week 14: 12-2
Week 15: 9-7
Week 16: 13-3
Week 17: 12-4
Week 18: 9-7
2021-22 NFL Regular Season Total: 178-93-1 (66%)
2021-22 NFL Playoffs Total: 5-1 (86%)
I hit on five of six matchups during Wildcard Weekend, the first five in fact, before losing my perfect slate after the Los Angeles Rams Monday night win over the Arizona Cardinals. I was 4-0 picking favorites and 1-1 picking underdogs, missing on the Cardinals but correctly predicting a San Francisco 49ers win over the Dallas Cowboys.
See Also: 2021-22 NFL Season Predictions
- AFC East, AFC North, AFC South, AFC West
- NFC East, NFC North, NFC South, NFC West
- Playoff Predictions and Super Bowl Matchup
- Midseason Predictions and Super Bowl 56 Matchup
- Half Season MVP Watch
- Playoff Bracket and Super Bowl 56 Matchup
#4 Cincinnati Bengals (11-7) at #1 Tennessee Titans (12-5)
Line: Tennessee Titans (-3.5)
Time: 4:30 PM ET/1:30 PM PT
While this matchup features two teams with relatively lower profiles than the other three games, it may be the most significant and intriguing matchup of the Divisional Round. On one side, Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals are coming off a hot finish to the regular season and a 26-19 Wildcard win over the Raiders last week. The Tennessee Titans earned the #1 seed and a first round bye despite some shaky play in the second half of the season, but the reason for their downfall could quickly be resolved: All-Pro running back Derrick Henry should be able to return to the field for this crucial playoff matchup.
This would seem to give Ryan Tannehill and the Titans a slight edge. Tennessee is playing at home, getting back a player in Henry that could completely change the tempo of the game, and the Titans finished with the sixth-best scoring defense in the NFL. Cincinnati’s offense, featuring Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and Joe Mixon, is higher-flying, averaging the seventh-most points in the NFL and heating up towards the end of the season, but the Bengals defense isn’t nearly as stout as Tennessee’s.
But I’m sticking with my prediction from my original playoff bracket: the Bengals will upset the Titans to go the AFC Championship. Experience definitely matters, and Tannehill has a few postseason appearances and AFC Championship Game experience under his belt, but so does momentum. Even with the boost of Henry, the Titans might have their hands full with a rising Bengals team.
This is an important matchup because it will decide whether the AFC Championship is hosted by Tennessee, or if the winner of the Bills-Chiefs game will get to host the Bengals in the Conference Championship.
Bengals win 27-23, Bengals win ATS
#6 San Francisco 49ers (11-7) at #1 Green Bay Packers (13-4)
Line: Green Bay Packers (-6.0)
Time: 8:15 PM ET/5:15 PM PT
Jimmy Garoppolo, Elijah Mitchell, Deebo Samuel, and the San Francisco 49ers helped orchestrate an upset of the Cowboys in the Wildcard Round last week. The 49ers take to the road again, where they are now 7-3 this year, to take on Aaron Rodgers and a rested Green Bay Packers squad. But despite a solid win last week and a strong road record, San Francisco shouldn’t expect to walk out of Green Bay with a win. The Packers finished as the only team in the NFL with a perfect home record: 8-0.
The Packers also finished with the best record in the league at 13-4, and that mark improves to 13-2 if you only count games where Rodgers played the whole time (so excluding his missed start against the Chiefs and a meaningless Week 18 game against the Lions.)
Green Bay is just downright hard to beat, and may get even stronger in the postseason: with a slew of previously injured players, headlined by linebacker Za’Darius Smith, set to make returns.
The 49ers certainly have a chance, and I don’t think this game will be a blowout. But at the end of the day, it’s hard to pick against the best team at NFL, with a healthy squad, at home.
Packers win 30-20, Packers win ATS
#4 Los Angeles Rams (13-5) at #2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-4)
Line: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3.0)
Time: 3:00 PM ET/12:00 PM PT
This should be a fun one. With big-name, Pro Bowl-level players on both teams, there should be no shortage of fireworks as Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Cam Akers, Odell Beckham Jr., and the Los Angeles Rams take on Tom Brady, Mike Evans, Leonard Fournette, Rob Gronkowski, and the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Both teams cruised to big Wildcard Weekend wins, over the Cardinals and Eagles, but the Rams just looked different in their victory. Los Angeles dominated on both sides of the ball, moving the ball and scoring with ease even without a huge night from Kupp, and stopping Kyler Murray from doing anything for the Cardinals, especially with a ferocious pass-rush led by Aaron Donald.
The Buccaneers looked great in last week’s 31-15 win over the Eagles, and closed the regular season on a 7-1 stretch. The losses of Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown haven’t seemed to slow Tampa Bay’s offense so far, but Brady might miss the extra firepower against the Rams tight defense.
Los Angeles won this matchup 34-24 in Week 3. I don’t want to sound too confident about this pick, because honestly anything could happen in this matchup. But with the way Los Angeles looked last week on both sides of the ball, the Buccaneers might suffer their second loss of the season to the Rams, this one ending their Super Bowl defense run prematurely.
Rams win 30-22, Rams win ATS
#3 Buffalo Bills (12-6) at #2 Kansas City Chiefs (13-5)
Line: Kansas City Chiefs (-2.0)
Time: 6:30 PM ET/3:30 PM PT
Last week, Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills completed a historic game: becoming the first team ever with zero punts, zero turnovers, and zero field goal attempts. Buffalo scored touchdowns on seven straight drives against the Patriots, tearing apart a usually stout Bill Belichick defense.
If there’s any other team in the NFL that could achieve a feat like that, it would be Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. While the Chiefs weren’t as perfect as Buffalo was, Kansas City was still pretty darn dominant in a 42-21 win over the Steelers.
This should be an absolutely fun one, with two of the most-efficient, touchdown-heavy offenses in the league going toe-to-toe. The outcome of this game could very well come down to one big defensive play that shifts the odds instantly.
Conventional wisdom points to the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium, where they went 7-2 in the regular season. Furthermore, Mahomes is 6-2 as a starter in the playoffs, losing only to Tom Brady. The Chiefs finished the regular season on a 9-1 tear, and are just hard to beat when Mahomes is cooking on offense.
While the Bills have dropped some big games to good teams before, I think Buffalo gets over the hump and defeats Mahomes in the playoffs. It will take another great offensive game from the Bills offense, but Buffalo’s defense will be more responsible for the win, picking off Mahomes a couple times to limit the amount of damage Kansas City can do.
Bills win 34-28, Bills win ATS
- 2021-22 NFL Power Rankings: Post-Week 1, Post-Week 2, Post-Week 3, Post-Week 4, Post-Week 5, Post-Week 6, Post-Week 7, Post-Week 8, Post-Week 9, Post-Week 10, Post-Week 11, Post-Week 12, Post-Week 13, Post-Week 14, Post-Week 15, Post-Week 16, Post-Week 17, Post-Week 18, Post-Wildcard
- 2021-22 NFL Picks: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, Week 6, Week 7, Week 8, Week 9, Week 10, Week 11, Week 12, Week 13, Week 14, Week 15, Week 16, Week 17, Week 18, Wildcard
- NFL 2021: Playoff Bracket and Super Bowl 56 Matchup
- Top Ten Potential Super Bowl 56 Matchups
- 2021-22 NFL Predictions: Playoffs and Super Bowl
- NFL 2021: Midseason Predictions and Super Bowl 56 Matchup
- NFL 2021: Half Season MVP Watch
- New York Giants Recaps: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4
- BREAKING: New York Giants Fire Joe Judge After Two Seasons, 10-23 Record
- Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills Overcome Patriots 33-21 in Rematch, Grab AFC East Lead
- Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals Take AFC North Lead With Win Over Broncos
- Taysom Hill Throws Four Interceptions in 1st Start of Season
- Carson Wentz, Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts Are In Prime Playoff Position
- Rodgers, Packers Hand Murray, Cardinals First Loss of Season After 7-0 Start
- 2021-22 NFL Predictions: NFC West
- 2021-22 NFL Predictions: NFC South
- 2021-22 NFL Predictions: NFC North
- 2021-22 NFL Predictions: NFC East
- 2021-22 NFL Predictions: AFC West
- 2021-22 NFL Predictions: AFC South
- 2021-22 NFL Predictions: AFC North
- 2021-22 NFL Predictions: AFC East
- One-Year Prediction: Top Ten Super Bowl 56 Contenders
- Eli Manning is a Sure-Fire Hall of Famer
- NBA 2021-22: January Power Rankings
- Joe Johnson Returns to NBA, Boston Celtics on 10-Day Contract
- Kyrie Irving Enters COVID Protocols in Return to Brooklyn Nets Roster
- Grizzlies Beat Thunder by NBA Record 73 Points in 152-79 Win
- NBA 2021-22: December Power Rankings
- NBA 2021-22: November Power Rankings
- Top Ten Players Heading Into the 2021-22 NBA Season
- 2021-22 NBA Predictions: Playoffs and NBA Finals
- 2021-22 NBA Predictions: Western Conference
- 2021-22 NBA Predictions: Eastern Conference
- Grading the Lakers-Wizards Russell Westbrook Trade
- Five Trade Destinations for 76ers Guard Ben Simmons
- 2020-21 NBA Standings, Playoffs, NBA Finals Predictions
- Top Ten Players Heading Into the 2020-21 NBA Season
More By Me
- Kanye West Drops Donda Deluxe, with 3 New Songs, Alternate Versions, and New Track Order
- Ariana Grande Fortnite Rift Tour Review
- No Fans Allowed at 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics: Should the Games be Postponed?
- Stumptown, Rose City, “Weird”: My Portland 2020 Day Trip
- Hike: Mount Beacon Fire Tower Out-and-Back
- Hike: Breakneck Ridge Loop
- Review: Eternal Atake by Lil Uzi Vert
Header Photo: Via The Athletes Hub