Kalemkerian: NFL divisional round predictions
John Kalemkerian | Tuesday, January 18, 2022
Continuing the trend of a great NFL season, Super Wild Card weekend gave us some great results and matchups to look forward to, although three blowouts marginally dulled the hype. From many fans’ perspectives (including this Giants fan), the Saturday and Sunday outcomes were about as good as could be hoped for, with the hated Cowboys, Eagles and Patriots all going home without playoff wins. With most of the favorites still alive in the playoff picture, we should be getting close games from here on out, hopefully with less referee controversy. The divisional round will leave many fans heartbroken and several teams needing answers to difficult questions as they abruptly begin their offseason; here are my picks for what should be another great weekend of football.
San Francisco 49ers 31, Green Bay Packers 27
This game will hinge on the play of one quarterback, but not the one you may expect. We all know Aaron Rodgers will play exceptionally well. It’s Jimmy Garoppolo who is the most important wildcard in this game and maybe in the entire playoff picture. The Niners have a well-established run game and defense. They’re actually pretty similarly constructed to the team that made the Super Bowl just two years ago. It will obviously be difficult to go into Lambeau and take down what many consider the best team in the NFL, but remember that the Packers won by just two points in their meeting earlier in the season with the Niners leading rusher, Eli Mitchell, not playing. At the very least, this game will be much closer than many expect.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Los Angeles Rams/Arizona Cardinals
As of writing, the Rams versus Cardinals game has yet to be decided. Nevertheless, I see the Bucs beating either of these two NFC West teams. Tampa Bay’s vaunted run defense was on display against the Eagles, giving up just 56 rushing yards to running backs. Despite missing several key pieces on offense, I have extreme confidence that Tom Brady will find a way to pull out a playoff win, something he’s not exactly a stranger with.
Tennessee Titans 24, Cincinnati Bengals 23
The most intriguing game on the slate, in my opinion, neither of these teams thought they’d be in this spot when the season began. The Titans, coming off the invaluable first-round bye, will be getting Derrick Henry back. Henry could change the entire playoff picture if he can prove he’s back to full strength. The Bengals defense has been pretty susceptible to the run, especially over the back half of the season. In all likelihood, Joe Burrow will outduel Ryan Tannehill, but I see Henry’s return being enough to turn the tide in Tennessee’s favor.
Buffalo Bills 45, Kansas City Chiefs 35
The best will be saved for last in the divisional round: This game is slated to start at 6:30 p.m. Sunday and will decide the final team to make the Championship Round. Josh Allen versus Patrick Mahomes should be a great AFC playoff rivalry for years to come, but Allen will need to take action soon to prevent it from becoming one-sided. Mahomes sufficiently outplayed Allen last year as the Chiefs cruised to the Super Bowl, posting 21 straight points in the second quarter after the Bills jumped out to an early nine-point lead. All signs point to this game being a high-scoring barnburner, but the Bills’ incredible offensive success as of late coupled with their defensive edge in this matchup gives them the advantage.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.