NFL Divisional Playoff preview
Saturday, January 16
LA Rams (10-6) vs. Green Bay Packers (13-3), 4:35 PM ET, Fox
The league's top defense vs. the No.1 scoring offense. The Packers are coming off of a first-round bye and should be well prepared. Green Bay, of course, has QB Aaron Rodgers, but also has weapons all over the field. WR Davante Adams and RB Aaron Jones have been well publicized, but the emergence of both TE Robert Tonyan and backup running back Jamaal Williams has taken this offense even further. They now have the depth to withstand a key injury. The Packers' offensive line has also played well but will face one of the best defensive fronts in the league, led by Aaron Donald.
LA QB Jared Goff recently has surgery on the thumb on his throwing hand. He was supposed to be the backup for the wild card game against Seattle, but was pressed into action after John Wolford exited with an injury. Wolford is out this week, so Goff will make the start. Goff was definitely not himself last week, throwing for just 155 yards and one touchdown. However, Cam Akers would pick up the slack with 131 rushing yards and a TD. Green Bay can struggle against the run, so Akers should be a key component again this week. The LA defense was the difference in the game--holding Russell Wilson to just 174 passing yards and two touchdowns on an abysmal 11 of 27 passing. Can they do it again or is Green Bay's offense even too much for this defense?
Baltimore Ravens (11-5) vs. Buffalo Bills (13-3), 8:15 PM ET, NBC
The Bills finally won a playoff game last week and have been surging on offense. Josh Allen has taken the next step to becoming an elite quarterback, and Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley have been a huge part of the resurgence. The reward is a tough divisional round matchup against a blue-collar Ravens team. The Ravens defense locked down Derrick Henry and held the Titans' offense to just 209 total yard and 13 points. If Buffalo finds a way to make this high-scoring, it may be difficult for Baltimore to keep up, as the Ravens have struggled against the league's better defenses.
Sunday, January 17
Cleveland Browns (11-5) vs. Kansas City Chiefs (14-2), 3:05 PM ET, CBS
The Browns also finally won a playoff game in their first trip to the postseason since 2002. Cleveland forced four Ben Roethlisberger interceptions to build an early lead that Pittsburgh couldn't match. It will take something like that to keep them in this one. Kansas City has a great offense that will score on anyone. There are only two ways to beat them: try to outscore them or keep them off the field with long, sustainable scoring drives. I believe the second strategy would be best for Cleveland. The Browns have two elite running backs in Nick Chubb and ex-Chief Kareem Hunt. While it will be important for Cleveland to avoid becoming one-dimensional, a steady diet of running plays should lead to longer drives and less time for Kansas City. It will be important to score touchdowns on those drives because field goals aren't usually enough against the Chiefs.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) vs. New Orleans Saints (12-4). 6:40 PM EYT, Fox
A matchup of division rivals and likely the last battle between QBs Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Both teams have excellent offenses and opportunistic defenses that have shown some improvements throughout the season. New Orleans won both regular season games against Tampa and was able to cause some problems for the Bucs' offense. However, the last matchup came back in the beginning of November. In the two months since, the Tampa offense seems to have gelled together and has scored 30+ points four times-- three of those over 40. In the wild card round, Tampa scored 31 points on a good Washington defense. The Tampa defense has started to come apart a bit and will need to get back to its early form in this one. This will probably be high-scoring and turnovers and extra possessions could be the difference.