NFL Divisional round preview: A weekend where anything is possible

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I.Ovalle/Creative Commons
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While NFL Wild Card weekend was dominated by noncompetitive games, several storylines redeemed the six-game stretch from being a complete waste. To name a few, 18-year Steelers starter Ben Roethlisberger played his last game, the Bengals won a playoff game for the first time since texting was invented and Dak Prescott endorsed fans that threw debris at the referees.

Notably, the outcomes of the two 2nd-seed vs. seventh-seed games had many questioning the league’s 2020 decision to adopt this playoff format. Seventh seeds were 0-2 since the adoption of this format coming into this weekend, and the seventh seed Steelers and Eagles were blown out in 2022.

As is often the case, the divisional round presents far more intriguing matchups. The first divisional round game will see the first seed Titans hosting the Bengals. The Titans are an unorthodox first seed, as their regular season cannot be defined as dominant with losses to the Jets and Texans and a +65-point differential that ranks 11th in the league. This can be attributed to crippling injuries to key players such as Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown.

The Titans are expected to have standout running back Henry back, a key reinforcement to control the ball against a high-powered Bengals offense. With an injury to starting Bengals defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, the Titans rushing attack is in a great position to execute a run-heavy game plan behind their home fans. As such, the Titans are 3.5-point home favorites, and are slated to host the AFC championship with a win.

The next matchup is intriguing, with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers hosting the 49ers. From the MVP-worthy season that Rodgers has put up to a hoard of key players on the Packers’ roster that are returning from injury, all signs point to an overwhelming Green Bay victory. That being said, the 49ers, despite having an up-and-down season, displayed a brilliant formula for winning on the road in their win against the Cowboys. After all, Rodgers is 0-3 in the playoffs against San Francisco, including a loss in Lambeau Field.

If all goes according to plan, the Packers will win this game handily and host the NFC championship. However, a mixture of rust from injured players and a post-bye week can lead to a nightmare scenario for the green and gold.

The second day of divisional weekend will feature two very tight matchups where a solid argument can be made for either team winning. The first matchup will see the reigning champion Buccaneers take on the Rams.

The Rams, who boast arguably the most talented roster in the league, have had a habit of getting in their own way, which was marked by them blowing a 17-0 lead in the season finale to lose the second seed. With the offseason acquisition of former first overall pick QB Matthew Stafford and the in-season acquisitions of big name players in Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr., the Rams have effectively put all their eggs into this season’s basket. This rematch game against a Buccaneers team they have already beaten is a big question mark for coach Sean McVeigh and quarterback Matt Stafford’s legacies with the Rams franchise.

On the other hand, the Buccaneers have a roster that is filled with Super Bowl-winning pedigree. Led by possibly the greatest quarterback in NFL history, Tom Brady, they have put together a solid season despite injuries and distracting headlines. Playing behind their home fans, they are favored by three points, and are poised for a potential NFC Championship rematch against the Packers in Green Bay with a win.

The final game of Divisional weekend will see the Chiefs hosting the Bills. Both of these teams put together impeccable offensive performances in their Wild Cards, and all signs point to this game being a classic shootout. This will be a rematch of a week five Bills blowout that also took place at Arrowhead Stadium.

With a quarterback in Patrick Mahomes putting up all-time great numbers and highlights, every season is starting to feel like a waste for the Chiefs without another Lombardi trophy. In earning a victory, the Chiefs either host the Bengals or travel to Tennessee to take on the Titans for a chance at a third straight Super Bowl berth.

For the Bills, this game is a chance for Josh Allen to take another step in cementing his name as a top NFL quarterback. The only thing that stopped Buffalo from making the Super Bowl last year were Mahomes and the Chiefs.

These divisional round matchups give NFL fans plenty to look forward to, as any of the remaining teams that climb the ranks makes for a great storyline. Currently, Cal legend Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are the favorite to hoist the Lombardi trophy. Whether this will wind up being the case will be fascinating to watch.

 

AJ Alany covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected].