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.
The second season is here! It’s one and done for the remaining 14 teams from here on out, with a trip to Super Bowl 56 at the forefront of everyone’s mind. However, to get there, these 12 teams must win three playoff games, starting with the ever-exciting wild card weekend! Here are my picks for this weekend’s games:
Las Vegas at Cincinnati
The Bengals pounded the Raiders back in week 11. And while I believe Cincinnati to be the better team, and on a bigger roll (week 18’s meaningless game notwithstanding), there is something about the Raiders that we all must respect. With all the turmoil surrounded Jon Gruden and Henry Ruggs how did interim coach Rich Bisaccia get Las Vegas into the postseason?
I still like the Bengals to end their decades long postseason victory drought, however. Expect it to be much closer than week 11, however.
Cincinnati 28 Las Vegas 20
New England at Buffalo
Round three for these bitter AFC East rivals, with teams splitting the regular season matchups, both winning on the road. The Patriots rode their ground game in western New York, winning the “Wind Game” despite only attempting three passes. In the rematch at Foxboro, the Patriots’ defense couldn’t get off the field, setting the stage for the Bills to repeat as division champions.
I like a close one here, as well. I give Bill Belichick the coaching edge over Sean McDermott. I like the Bills’ talent just a tad bit more.
Buffalo 20 New England 17
Pittsburgh at Kansas City
The Chiefs steamrolled the Steelers in week 16, and while Ben Roethlisberger’s impending retirement has been a nice sentiment in Pittsburgh’s last two victories, I believe it will end here, and it will end with a thud. Kansas City’s defense, despite its struggles the past two weeks, will be the difference here.
Kansas City 27 Pittsburgh 13
Philadelphia at Tampa Bay
How in the world did the Eagles make the playoffs? Is it me, or did they fly under the radar all season? Good for them for making it. Their reward? Opening on the road against the defending Super Bowl champions.
Tampa Bay 31 Philadelphia 14
San Francisco at Dallas
Was Sunday (week 18) fun or what? The 49ers had to climb out of a 17-point hole to win a topsy turvy overtime game on the road against the Rams to secure their spot, just one of many nailbiters with playoff spots on the line.
The Cowboys are frustrating. They have dropped 56, 51, 44, 43, and 41 points in respective weeks, sandwiched around head scratching losses at home to Denver and a struggling Arizona team, as well as putting up 9 points in a dud at Kansas City.
I like the 49ers here. I believe the guts Jimmy Garappolo showed has earned the respect of an entire team coming together at the right time.
Upset of the week.
San Francisco 26 Dallas 23
Arizona at LA Rams
The division nobody wanted to win. The Rams could have won it outright and taken the number two seed in the NFC with a win. Alas, they blew a 17-point lead and lost to the 49ers in overtime. That opened the door for the Cardinals, who proceeded to lose at home to 7-10 Seattle.
The Rams will be angry in this one and will take it out on an Arizona squad that has lost its way. But it won’t be easy.