Cincinnati at Tennessee
The Bengals and their fans can finally celebrate a playoff victory after 31 years. Their win against Las Vegas was a struggle at points during the game, however, Joe Burrow and company are moving on. Cincinnati will have to push through a handful of injuries, especially to its defensive line. Tackle Larry Ogunjobi is out, while tackle Mike Daniels’ groin injury would make him doubtful. Meanwhile, impactful end Trey Hendrickson needs to clear concussion protocol.
The Titans have their own big injury question, namely running back Derrick Henry. Tennessee’s head coach, Mike Vrabel, anticipates a “big week” for the burly All Pro, regarding getting back up to speed in preparation for Cincinnati’s defense.
The Bengals’ defense was middle of the pack before the key injuries to their line. I look for the Titans to exploit that, with or without an effective Henry, managing the clock, and keeping Burrow, Ja’ Marr Chase, and the explosive Cincinnati offense off the field.
Tennessee 23 Cincinnati 17
Buffalo at Kansas City
The Bills looked like legitimate Super Bowl contenders in their opening round rout of New England. Indeed, after a lull earlier in the season, Sean McDermott has Buffalo firing on all cylinders, with quarterback Josh Allen portraying a world of confidence as he carves up opposing defenses. This will be an interesting test at Arrowhead Stadium this coming week.
The Chiefs did nothing to quell Kansas City’s Super Bowl aspirations in their first-round matchup with Pittsburgh. Andy Reid’s troops have won 10 out of 11 after a slide of their own. While quarterback Patrick Mahomes, receiver Tyreek Hill, and tight end Travis Kelce garner the headlines, it’s the defense that has been responsible for much of this Kansas City run.
Playing at Arrowhead is a tough task for any offense, especially one that is facing a hot defense. I like Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to utilize a scheme that will slow Allen down just enough and gives Mahomes and company the opportunity to outscore the Bills.
Kansas City 27 Buffalo 21
LA Rams at Tampa Bay
Matthew Stafford enjoyed his first playoff win in the first ever Monday night playoff game. He leads a Rams squad that spread the wealth running the ball (Sony Michel 58 yards rushing, Cam Akers 55 yards rushing, Cooper Kupp 5 receptions and a touchdown, Odell Beckham Jr. 4 catches and a score, Tyler Higbee 3 receptions for 46 yards) and must now go on the road against the defending champions.
Tampa Bay had an easy time with Philadelphia in the first round, but Tom Brady’s supporting cast is depleting. Already having lost top wideout Chris Godwin to an ACL, the Bucs had to play against the Eagles without running back Leonard Fournette due to a hamstring injury. Furthermore, running back Ronald Jones’ injury woes and the well-publicized termination of wideout Antonio Brown adds to Brady’s dilemma.
I went 6-0 predicting first round games, in part because I took a road team (San Francisco) to pull an upset. I would not head there with this game if the Bucs were at full strength. That said, I think LA’s defense, especially their heavy hitters, can do enough to slow Brady and company down. The question is will Tampa’s defense be able to do the same to Stafford and company.
This one is a coin flip. I don’t want to be a home team homer, so…….
LA Rams 20 Tampa Bay 17
San Francisco at Green Bay
The Niners made me look good this past weekend via their controversial win at Dallas. Not flashy, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo just wins games, leading a balanced offensive attack that features running back Elijah Mitchell, receiver Brandon Aiyuk, tight end George Kittle, and do-everything Deebo Samuel.
Meanwhile, the Packers are just waiting to play a meaningful game, having clinched home field in week 17. Everyone knows what the Packers bring, with Aaron Rodgers, backs Aaron Jones and Austin Dillon, and wideout DaVante Adams. The difference just might be an underrated Green Bay defense that could pose problems for San Francisco.
I love the Niners. I really do. However, I think the Packers defense will do to Garoppolo and company what Dallas could not. The 49ers struggle in a cold night game at Lambeau Field, while Rodgers and his cohorts feel right at home.
Green Bay 30 San Francisco 17