The NFL Wild Card Weekend provided six competitive games, not to mention a few upsets, and now eight teams remain with hopes of lifting the Lombardi Trophy in Tampa Bay as we head into the Divisional round.
The defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs will begin their title defence against the Cleveland Browns, while MVP favourite Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers play host to Aaron Donald and the Los Angeles Rams.
After winning their first playoff game since 1995, the Buffalo Bills host the Baltimore Ravens with Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints squaring off against Tom Brady and the red-hot Tampa Bay Buccaneers to cap off the divisional Round.
Rams @ Packers, Saturday, 21:35
The NFL Divisional Round kicks off in style as the league’s best defence attempts to shut down one of the most potent offences in football this season.
The Rams hold a slender advantage in the head-to-head record and won a close game the last time the two teams met, though, prior to that, the Packers had won five straight and each victory had been in dominant fashion.
Los Angeles weren’t able to start usual starting quarterback Jared Goff against Seattle last week due to thumb surgery, then John Wolford went down with an injury and Goff was forced into action – completing a mere 9-of-19 passes during an ugly win.
In stark contrast, Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers comes into this one in fine form, finishing the year with 48 touchdowns to just five interceptions as the Packers finished the regular season 13-3, though they will be up against one of the most formidable defenses in the playoff.
Defensively, however, Los Angeles obliterated Seattle last week, with a combination of pressure and coverage making it a long day for Russell Wilson, who finished completing just 11-of-27 passing for 174 yards.
That said, the Rams yielded an average of 24.8 points on the road during the regular season, compared to 12.3 at home and that, plus the fact that temperatures are likely to be well below freezing come game time, could make all the difference on Saturday.
Ravens @ Bills, Saturday 01:15
Josh Allen and the Bills are fresh off a 27-24 nail-biter against the Colts, while Lamar Jackson and the Ravens are coming off their own close win against Tennessee, making this potentially the most exciting matchup of the weekend.
Baltimore advanced with a 20-13 victory over the fourth-seeded Titans in Nashville with Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson running for 136 yards with a touchdown while their defence held Tennessee running back and NFL rushing champion Derrick Henry to just 40 yards on 18 carries.
The Bills have averaged 40.4 points in their final five games and though the offence lagged behind its usual standards, Buffalo did enough to show why they can be considered a genuine Super Bowl contender.
Stefon Diggs, who led the NFL in receptions and receiving yards has been on fire, while fourth-round rookie Gabriel Davis has emerged as a bona fide No. 2 option, with four catches for 85 yards against the Colts, including two toe-taps that were among the best of the weekend’s action.
Buffalo won’t be at full strength, however, as running back Zack Moss suffered an ankle injury against Indianapolis and was carted off the field. Moss will likely be out for the playoffs.
Baltimore’s hopes may lie with their proficient run game, which could keep the ball out of Josh Allen’s hands, as limiting Buffalo’s possessions may end up knocking the offensive juggernaut out of rhythm.
Browns @ Chiefs, Saturday 20:05
After scoring 48 against the Steelers to claim their first playoff win since 1994, while also snapping a 17-game losing streak in Pittsburgh, the Browns are the talk of the league ahead of a daunting trip to Arrowhead to face the Super Bowl Champions.
Not only are the Chiefs coming off a week of rest but a 14-2 season that saw them cruise to the No. 1 seed despite seemingly playing at half-speed for stretches of 2020 and with Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill in their ranks, they remain the most dangerous contender in the league.
The Browns achieved last week’s unlikely win over the Steelers with coach Kevin Stefanski watching from home after testing positive for Covid-19, but he’ll be back this week along with All-Pro guard Joel Bitonio, who is set to return to the lineup.
Baker Mayfield threw for 263 yards and three touchdowns without an interception last week while Nick Chubb and former Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt combined to carry 26 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns.
The Chiefs’ hopes will once again be in the hands of Super Bowl MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who threw for 4,740 yards and 38 touchdowns during the regular – season producing 69 passing plays of 20-plus yards, second in the NFL behind the Houston Texans, with 70.
But they also committed 105 penalties in the regular season, the fourth-highest total in the NFL, so if Cleveland are to do the unthinkable, making the most of penalties might be their best opportunity.
Buccaneers @ Saints, Sunday, 23:40
Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Drew Brees’ New Orleans Saints provide probably the most eye-catching matchup of the weekend as two of the game’s greats go toe-to-toe on Sunday night.
Brees will take the field for the Saints on Sunday two days after turning 42 as the young gun in this matchup against the 43-year-old Brady, who has shattered nearly every record for longevity in the NFL – just the second time since 1950 that the NFL’s top two players in career yards passing will meet in the playoffs.
Brees has thrown for more yards than any QB in the regular season with 80,358 and ranks second in TD passes with 571 while Brady holds the mark for touchdowns with 581 and trails only Brees in yardage with 79,204.
Tom Brady is seeking his record seventh Super Bowl title and 10th appearance and has already lapped the field when it comes to playoff wins and won his 31st postseason start last week with his 75 TD passes in the playoffs already a record.
The Saints have won five straight against Tampa Bay, averaging 35.8 points per game, and swept the Buccs by a combined score of 72-26 in the regular season – though only a fool would write off Tom Brady in the playoffs.
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