We’ve reached the Divisional Round of the 2022 NFL Playoffs, and we can only hope that it’s a better set of games than the blowout-laden mess that was last week. Two NFC West teams are still in the running for the Lombardi Trophy, while last year’s Super Bowl participants are also in the mix to return to the big game once again.
Last week I went 3-3 in my predictions, but a shoutout to Frank T. Raines who was perfect up until the Arizona Cardinals imploded against the Los Angeles Rams. You’ll see our Tallysight picks at the end of this post.
All odds are courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook.
Saturday, January 22nd
Cincinnati Bengals at Tennessee Titans - 1:35 PM PT, CBS
This is the only non-rematch of the Sunday slate, but it is a battle between two teams that lost to the New York Jets! Cincinnati must be ecstatic after ending the league’s playoff drought, and Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase have proven themselves to be as lethal in the pros as they were at LSU.
The main story here is the return of superstar running back Derrick Henry, who was out injured after breaking his foot. Interestingly enough, apart from the couple of weeks where Adrian Peterson started, they’ve been just fine without Henry. Perhaps most important is that the Titans will have both Julio Jones and A.J. Brown healthy and in the starting lineup, which will do wonders for Ryan Tannehill after several weeks of throwing to uh... lesser receivers.
Cincinnati could very well spring a surprise by exploiting the vulnerable Titans secondary, but that might be the only real advantage they have in this game. Their offensive line probably won’t hold up against the Titans pass rush. On the flip side, losing Larry Ogunjobi hurts their defensive line and they had trouble stopping the run at times against the Las Vegas Raiders. Trey Hendrickson clearing concussion protocol is huge as he’s by far their best pass rusher, but I can see the Titans spamming play-action, getting good production out of Henry and D’Onta Foreman, and AJ Brown in particular feasting on Cincy’s corners to advance to the AFC Championship for the second time in three years. Mike Vrabel would be ill-advised to give Henry his normal allotment of carries and instead work more of a two-back system.
San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers - 5:15 PM PT, FOX
Can both teams lose? Guess not. The Packers have lost three in a row to San Francisco in the postseason, including once at Lambeau Field. Aaron Rodgers did lead Green Bay to a dramatic 30-28 win in Santa Clara back in September, but what’s notable about that game from the 49ers’ side is no Elijah Mitchell at running back and only two handoffs for Deebo Samuel for no yards. Samuel is much more involved in the running game now and Mitchell has been by far San Francisco’s best running back.
San Francisco’s fearsome pass rush could fluster Rodgers and their run defense ranks #2 in DVOA. The 49ers will surely have to concede that they won’t be able to stop Davante Adams and that their secondary will be committing penalties, which has been a season-long problem.
And yet I’m going with the 49ers for the road upset... but there’s a caveat here. If Trey Lance is starting then I think the Packers win. I’m not really that high on Lance as others might be and certainly it’s not like he’s wowed in his limited rookie snaps. If the (banged up) Jimmy G is the guy, as much as we may lampoon him, his command of the offense tends to be more good than bad even with his inexplicable turnovers.
Green Bay is 28th in rush defense DVOA and 30th in EPA/play on runs. Their weaknesses play into San Francisco’s strengths, and I think that much like last week, the 49ers will get a lead and not relinquish it no matter how much their quarterback tries to give it up. Prepare for another offseason of Aaron Rodgers “will he or won’t he retire/leave the Packers?” discourse.
Sunday, January 23rd
Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 12:05 PM PT, NBC
The Rams handed the Buccaneers their first loss of the season way back in Week 3, but these teams are considerably different now. Robert Woods is out, ditto DeSean Jackson, while Odell Beckham Jr, Von Miller, and Cam Akers are in for Los Angeles. Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown are gone, and Tristan Wirfs might also be out this Sunday for Tampa Bay, while Jason Pierre-Paul didn’t play in the first meeting but will be there for the rematch.
If the Bucs offensive line is anything but 100%, the Rams can feast. Von Miller turned back the clock against the Cardinals, and Aaron Donald is Aaron Donald. Jalen Ramsey vs. Mike Evans will be a fascinating battle that I think Ramsey can win, and if Tom Brady and Tampa Bay try to go with quick passes to scheme away the pass rush, I suspect Raheem Morris will be wise to that and sit on shorter routes.
Running the ball on the Bucs is not really advisable even though they aren’t as dominant as they were last year. Matthew Stafford was mistake-free in the first game, mistake-free in his first playoff win, and has to avoid the itch to get picked off for the Rams to pull off the road upset. I’m not very high on Tampa’s cornerbacks and believe that Stafford can pick apart the Buccaneers defense again, especially with Cooper Kupp seemingly impossible to defend against.
I’ll be interested to see whether or not Tampa tries to run against the Rams, as they only had 10 attempts for 21 yards among Ronald Jones, Leonard Fournette, and Chris Godwin. Teams that have beaten the Rams (who rank 5th in run defense DVOA) have generally had some level of effectiveness running the ball, with the exception of the Tennessee Titans.
Another test for the Rams defense is their linebackers in space defending running backs and tight ends. They broke Gronk’s ribs last time and were content to let Giovani Bernard catch passes for mostly short gains. Surely the lack of Godwin and Brown will encourage Tampa to use their backs and Gronkowski more.
This is hell for us to have an all-NFC West meeting in the NFC Championship and we’re not a part of it, but maybe one more twist of the knife to the Seahawks’ season is this exact outcome. I’m probably foolish for counting out Touchdown Tom, but I believe the Rams are a bad matchup for Brady and co. Their defense at their best is closer to what the Saints have repeatedly done to Brady since he became a Buccaneer.
Oh yeah, and the referee is Shawn Hochuli.
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs - 3:40 PM PT, CBS
A rematch of last year’s AFC Championship and a rematch of their October meeting of this season. The score is 1-1 with Buffalo winning in the regular season 38-20 in one of their signature victories of the year. If you add in their 2020 regular season meeting then the Chiefs are up 2-1. Josh Allen and the Bills offense were damn near perfect against the Patriots last weekend, whereas Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City had a slow start before bludgeoning the Steelers in about 11 minutes of game time.
Kansas City’s defensive turnaround has been insane. They are way better now than what they were at the start of the season when they were just 3-4.
The Chiefs defense:— Ollie Connolly (@OllieConnolly) December 12, 2021
Weeks 1-7: 31st in EPA. Posting historic levels of suckitude.
Week 8 onwards: 3rd in EPA. Frisky! pic.twitter.com/IUCILhBg7Q
Buffalo’s defense has been terrific for much of the season and are #1 in both DVOA and points allowed. I do think though that it’s worth noting what a poor slate of opponents they’ve played since that embarrassing loss to the Jaguars... and honestly for the season as a whole.
The Bills defense was built to slow down the Chiefs which they did in week 5. But, since Tre White got hurt, the Bills played 1 good offense (TB), who scored 33 points and had a 0.20 EPA/Play. Will be interesting if they can replicate their week 5 performance on Sunday w/o White pic.twitter.com/HjxmKM9Zw2— Arjun Menon (@arjunmenon100) January 17, 2022
There won’t be Tre’Davious White for Buffalo in the rematch after he tore his ACL on Thanksgiving night. The Bills have committed to not blitzing Patrick Mahomes and it certainly worked in their last meeting, but also key was being +4 in the turnover battle. Kansas City is still prone to having those moments of carelessness (and sometimes just pure bad luck) but they’ve been clean in four of their last six.
I’m expecting an epic quarterback duel between Allen and Mahomes. Andy Reid has been able to beat Sean McDermott’s team both through an insanely efficient rushing attack and through the air. The Bills’ best running back doubles as their superstar quarterback, so the outcome of this one to me is more dependent on what Kansas City do against Allen than Buffalo against Mahomes.
This is a toughie. I actually think the Bills are the better team but it’s just hard to bet against Mahomes, Kelce, Hill, etc. And if there’s one quarterback who’s historically more prone to being pressured into bad turnovers, it’s Allen.
Lastly, here’s our Tallysight picks from the FG staff: