NFL Divisional Playoffs weekend can flip Super Bowl predictions around

A brief public service announcement, my Super Bowl LVI pick is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers out the the NFC and the Tennessee Titans out of the AFC.

This year’s NFL Divisional Playoffs might be the best yet, with a recipe to satisfy every palate.

The Divisional playoff schedule:

Saturday, January 22

AFC:    4:30 PM (ET)     Cincinnati Bengals (11-7) at Tennessee Titans (12-5) (CBS/Paramount+)

NFC:    8:15 PM (ET)     San Francisco 49ers (11-7) at Green Bay Packers (13-4) (FOX/FOX Deportes)

Sunday, January 23

NFC:    3:00 PM (ET)     Los Angeles Rams (13-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-4) (NBC/Peacock/Universo)

AFC:    6:40 PM (ET)     Buffalo Bills (12-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (13-5) (CBS/Paramount+)

As an appetizer, how about a game filled with compelling reasons why the league’s future is brighter than it’s ever been? The CINCINNATI BENGALS (11-7) travel to meet the TENNESSEE TITANS (12-5) on Saturday (4:30 PM ET, CBS/Paramount+) in a contest that could include the return of running back DERRICK HENRY, only the third player since the league merger to lead the NFL in rushing yards per game for three straight seasons (minimum eight games each season). On the opposite sideline, 25-year-old JOE BURROW had two touchdown passes with a 110.4 rating in his first career postseason start and 21-year-old JA’MARR CHASE, who compiled the most receiving yards by a rookie in the Super Bowl era (1,455), had 116 receiving yards in his playoff debut last week as the Bengals’ earned their first postseason win in 31 years.

For a Saturday nightcap, how about a taste of NFL teams that have met most frequently in the playoffs over the last 26 years? The SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (11-7) and GREEN BAY PACKERS (13-4) will match up that night (8:15 PM ET, FOX/FOX Deportes) at Lambeau Field, where the early forecast calls for kickoff temperatures of 13 degrees and dropping to single digits during the second half. The dynamic 49ers feature one of the game’s most electrifying players in DEEBO SAMUEL, who last week became the second wide receiver to post 50-or-more rushing yards (72) and at least one rushing touchdown (one) in a postseason game since 1950, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer JAMES LOFTON. Consistently dangerous Green Bay, which earned the NFC’s only first-round bye as its No. 1 seed, became the first team in NFL history to reach 13 regular-season wins in three consecutive seasons.

Over brunch on Sunday, savor this: The NFC home teams this weekend, Green Bay and AARON RODGERS and Tampa Bay and TOM BRADY, feature quarterbacks who have combined for six league MVP awards and six Super Bowl MVP honors. Then, when those TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (14-4) host the LOS ANGELES RAMS (13-5) on Sunday afternoon (3:00 PM, NBC/Peacock/Universo), be sure to enjoy a matchup of two of the league’s top-five passing offenses, the Buccaneers (307.6 passing yards per game, first) and the Rams (273.1, fifth).

And for the main course, get ready for the BUFFALO BILLS (12-6) and KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (13-5) at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday night (6:40 PM ET, CBS/Paramount+). For the first time ever in a single postseason, multiple players have thrown for at least five touchdown passes in a game, and both games took place last week. Those two players – Buffalo’s JOSH ALLEN and Kansas City’s PATRICK MAHOMES – will square off to conclude the weekend. During the regular season, Buffalo’s offense ranked third in the NFL with 28.4 points per game while Kansas City ranked fourth with 28.2.

The NFL has reached the Divisional stage of the 2021 playoffs, and the menu is set. What’s your order?

FROM LAST PLACE TO CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP: This week, the CINCINNATI BENGALS are bidding to become the fourth team in 13 seasons to advance to a conference Championship Game the year after finishing last or tied for last in their division. With a win on Saturday at Tennessee (4:30 PM ET, CBS/Paramount+), Cincinnati would join the 2017 Jaguars and two clubs that won the Super Bowl, the 2017 Eagles and 2009 Saints, to follow a last-place season with a berth in their conference Championship Game. Cincinnati completed the “worst-to-first” turnaround, winning the AFC North this season after finishing in last place in 2020. At least one team has won its division the season after finishing in or tied for last place in 17 of the past 19 seasons (2003-21).

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME ASPIRATIONS: With Cincinnati playing for a berth in the AFC Championship Game, approximately 60 percent of the league (19 of 32 teams) will have played for a berth in a conference Championship Game the past four seasons (2018-21).

CHIEFS EYE FOURTH STRAIGHT BERTH IN CHAMPIONSHIP GAME, PACKERS THIRD: The KANSAS CITY CHIEFS, who host Buffalo on Sunday night (6:40 PM ET, CBS/Paramount+), have hosted three consecutive AFC Championship Games (2018-20). Should the Bengals defeat the No. 1-seed Titans on Saturday and the Chiefs win Sunday, Kansas City would become the first team in NFL history to host a conference Championship Game in four straight seasons, and the seventh to play in the game in four consecutive years.

The most consecutive Championship Game appearances since the 1970 league merger:

TEAM

SEASONS

TOTAL

New England Patriots

2011-18

8

Oakland Raiders

1973-77

5

Philadelphia Eagles

2001-04

4

Dallas Cowboys

1992-95

4

Buffalo Bills

1990-93

4

Dallas Cowboys

1970-73

4

Meanwhile, the No. 1-seed GREEN BAY PACKERS with a win against the 49ers on Saturday (8:15 PM ET, FOX/FOX Deportes), would become the first NFC team since San Francisco from 2011-13 to advance to three consecutive NFC Championship Games.

SIX SEEDS HAVE BEEN SUCCESSFUL: A No. 6 seed in the NFL playoffs has now advanced to the Divisional round in five straight seasons (2017-21) and seven of the past eight. The SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS joined that group with last week’s win.

  • Since the 2005 Steelers won Super Bowl XL, six teams have advanced to their conference Championship Games as a No. 6 seed, including the 2008 Eagles, 2008 Ravens, 2010 Jets, 2019 Titans and Super Bowl XLV champion Packers in 2010. San Francisco looks to become the seventh.

THE CONFERENCE FINALIST SPRINGBOARD: History may shine on Buffalo and Green Bay this weekend. Each of those teams lost its conference Championship Game last year. Over the past quarter century, losing in the Championship Game has often resulted in good fortune the following season. Since Pro Football Hall of Famer STEVE YOUNG and the SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS lost in the 1993 NFC Championship before winning Super Bowl XXIX, 12 teams in that span have advanced to the Super Bowl the year after losing a Championship Game. That list includes the 2019 KANSAS CITYCHIEFS, who topped the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV two years ago.

SUPER BOWL HARBINGERS: The BUFFALO BILLS and KANSAS CITY CHIEFS wrap up the Divisional round on Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium (6:40 PM ET, CBS/Paramount+). The Bills and Chiefs have each won two of their four all-time postseason meetings. The winner of each of those four meetings has gone on to the Super Bowl: Kansas City in 1966 and 2020 and Buffalo in 1991 and 1993.

  • The GREEN BAY PACKERS and SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS, who match up on Saturday night at Lambeau Field (8:15 PM ET, FOX/FOX Deportes), have met eight times in the playoffs, all since the 1995 season. The winner of a Green Bay-San Francisco playoff game has advanced to the Super Bowl four times.
  • Including their 23-17 win at AT&T Stadium in the Wild Card round last week, the SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS have now played the DALLAS COWBOYS in the postseason seven times. The last last four winners of a San Francisco-Dallas playoff game have advanced to win the Super Bowl. Overall, in six of their seven playoff matchups, the winner has earned a berth in the Super Bowl, including five total Super Bowl victories.

A look at the four games in the Divisional round of the 2021 NFL playoffs:

CINCINNATI BENGALS (11-7) at TENNESSEE TITANS (12-5)

Saturday, CBS/Paramount+, 4:30 PM ET      

  • Last week, the Bengals earned their first postseason victory since the 1990 season, when they defeated the Houston Oilers in an AFC Wild Card game at Riverfront Stadium. That meeting with the Oilers, who relocated to Tennessee in 1997, marks the only postseason matchup between the franchises prior to Saturday.
  • In 2021, the Bengals tied for seventh in the NFL by scoring 27.1 points per game. The Titans finished sixth in the league in scoring defense, allowing 20.8 points per game.
  • Tennessee, the AFC’s No. 1 seed, earned a first-round bye after winning the AFC South for the second straight season. The Titans’ 12 regular-season wins were their most since winning 13 in 2008.
  • In the Wild Card win last week, Cincinnati quarterback JOE BURROW completed 24 of 34 attempts (70.6 percent) for 244 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 110.4 passer rating. Burrow became the third quarterback in the last 30 years to complete at least 70 percent of his passes and post a rating of 100-or-higher in his first NFL postseason start, joining DREW BREES and Pro Football Hall of Famer KURT WARNER.
  • Also last week, Bengals wide receiver JA’MARR CHASE had nine receptions for 116 receiving yards, breaking the single-game franchise postseason record held by CRIS COLLINSWORTH (107 receiving yards in Super Bowl XVI).
  • The Titans overcame adversity to secure homefield advantage in the AFC playoffs for the first time since 2008. Tennessee became the first team to earn its conference’s top seed without a 1,000-yard rusher or 1,000-yard receiver since the 2017 Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. In fact, three of the last four teams to earn their conference’s top seed without a 1,000-yard rusher or 1,000-yard receiver have won the Super Bowl, including the 2003 New England Patriots and 1996 Green Bay Packers.
  • Tennessee quarterback RYAN TANNEHILL, who has guided the Titans to consecutive AFC South division titles (2020-21), is set to make his fifth career postseason start. He recorded 3,734 passing yards and 21 touchdown passes in 2021 and is the only quarterback with at least seven rushing touchdowns in each of the past two seasons.
  • Running back DERRICK HENRY is hopeful to return from an injury that has sidelined him since Week 8. Henry still led NFL players with 117.1 rushing yards per game (937 rushing yards, eight games) for a third consecutive season. Since the NFL moved to a 16-game schedule in 1978, Henry is one of three players to have led the league in rushing yards per game in three straight seasons (minimum eight games played each year), joining Pro Football Hall of Famer EARL CAMPBELL(1978-80) and EZEKIEL ELLIOTT (2016-18).

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (11-7) at GREEN BAY PACKERS (13-4)

Saturday, FOX/FOX Deportes, 8:15 PM ET

  • San Francisco and Green Bay are meeting in the playoffs for a ninth time, all in the last 26 years. Since the Packers defeated the 49ers at Candlestick Park in the 1995 postseason, no other pairings have met more than five times in the playoffs. Green Bay and San Francisco have split their eight playoff games, 4-4. The winner of a 49ers-Packers playoff game has gone on to the Super Bowl on four occasions: 1996, 1997, 2012 and 2019.
  • The franchises have combined for nine Super Bowl titles and 18 NFL championships.
  • They also own two of the top three postseason records in NFL history. The New England Patriots (37-22, .627) have the best postseason winning percentage in NFL history, while the 49ers (33-21, .611) and Packers (36-24, .600), rank second and third, respectively. The Packers (36) with a win on Saturday would match the Patriots (37) for the most postseason victories in league annals.
  • Green Bay’s MATT LAFLEUR is the first individual since the league merger in 1970 to win at least 13 games in each of his first three years as an NFL head coach. With a win on Saturday, LaFleur would join JIM HARBAUGH as the only individuals since the league merger in 1970 to lead teams to their conference Championship Games in each of their first three seasons as an NFL head coach.
  • LaFleur and 49ers head coach KYLE SHANAHAN have served on the same NFL staffs for eight total seasons.
  • Shanahan, including a 1-0 record against the Packers (2019 NFC Championship Game), is 3-1 career in the postseason, with his only loss coming in Super Bowl LIV.
  • Green Bay quarterback AARON RODGERS, who is expected to make his 21st career playoff start in the Divisional round, can tie Pro Football Hall of Famer JOHN ELWAY (21 starts) for the sixth-most in NFL history. Rodgers led the NFL with a 111.9 passer rating and became the fourth quarterback since 1970 to lead the league in the category in at least four different seasons. In 20 career postseason starts, he has 5,669 passing yards (283.4 per game) with 49 touchdowns (45 passing, four rushing) and 13 interceptions for a 100.5 rating. Rodgers earned Super Bowl MVP honors when he led the Packers to a Super Bowl XLV championship in 2010.
  • Rodgers, who grew up a 49ers fan and played college football in the Bay Area at the University of California, is 3-1 in the Divisional round following a first-round bye. Rodgers is 6-3 in the regular season against the 49ers, including a Week 3 victory at Levi’s Stadium this season, and 0-3 in the postseason.
  • Green Bay wide receiver DAVANTE ADAMS, who had 12 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown in the Packers’ Week 3 win at San Francisco, ranked second in the league this season with 123 receptions, third with 1,553 receiving yards and fifth with 11 touchdown catches. Since 2016, Adams leads all NFL players in both receptions (581) and touchdown catches (69).
  • San Francisco’s JIMMY GAROPPOLO is 3-1 career as a starting quarterback in the postseason.
  • In last week’s Wild Card win at Dallas, 49ers wide receiver DEEBO SAMUEL had 110 scrimmage yards (72 rushing, 38 receiving) and a rushing touchdown. Over his last nine games, including the Wild Card victory, Samuel has averaged 6.6 yards per carry and scored 10 scrimmage touchdowns (eight rushing, two receiving).

LOS ANGELES RAMS (13-5) at TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (14-4)

Sunday, NBC/Peacock/Universo, 3:00 PM ET

  • The NFC’s Super Bowl team has come from the NFC West or NFC South in eight of the past nine seasons, including appearances by the Rams in 2018 and Buccaneers last season.
  • Tampa Bay has scored at least 30 points in five consecutive postseason games, tied for the second-longest streak in NFL history. Only the 2009-11 New Orleans Saints (six) had a longer streak, a stretch the Buccaneers can match on Sunday.
  • The Rams have defeated the Buccaneers in both of their two all-time playoff meetings, each by unique scores. In their last meeting, the 1999 NFC Championship, Pro Football Hall of Famer KURT WARNER threw a 30-yard touchdown to RICKY PROEHL with less than five minutes remaining to help the Rams to an 11-6 win. The team went on to win Super Bowl XXXIV. In their first meeting, the Rams earned a 9-0 victory in the 1979 NFC title game before losing to the Steelers in Super Bowl XIV.
  • Los Angeles also has won each of the past two regular-season meetings against Brady and the Bucs, including a 34-24 victory at SoFi Stadium in Week 3 this season. Last year, Los Angeles traveled to Raymond James Stadium and won, 27-24.
  • While the Rams have been successful in the postseason against the Bucs, Tampa Bay quarterback TOM BRADY has personally been successful against the Rams. Brady defeated the Rams in two of his Super Bowls with the Patriots, in 2001 and 2018. Only four other quarterbacks in NFL history have defeated the same opponent in multiple Super Bowls, including ELI MANNING and Pro Football Hall of Famers TROY AIKMAN, TERRY BRADSHAW and JOE MONTANA.
  • With last week’s win on Super Wild Card Weekend, Brady became the second starting quarterback in NFL history to lead multiple franchises to at least five postseason wins, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer PEYTON MANNING.
  • In Tampa Bay’s Wild Card victory last week, wide receiver MIKE EVANS had nine receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown. Evans established an NFL record this season by reaching 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first eight seasons.
  • Brady (43) and Los Angeles quarterback MATTHEW STAFFORD (41) ranked first and second, respectively, in touchdown passes this season.
  • Last week, Stafford threw two touchdown passes to lead the Rams to a 34-11 Wild Card victory over Arizona.
  • Rams wide receiver ODELL BECKHAM JR. had four receptions for 54 yards and a touchdown, and also completed a 40-yard pass to running back CAM AKERS. Beckham became the first player in the Super Bowl era to complete a pass of at least 40 yards and catch a touchdown in the same postseason game.
  • In the Wild Card win, Los Angeles cornerback DAVID LONG returned an interception 3 yards for a touchdown, the shortest interception returned for a score in NFL postseason history.
  • Last week, Rams linebacker VON MILLER recorded his first postseason sack since earning MVP honors in Super Bowl 50 with Denver to conclude the 2015 season.

BUFFALO BILLS (12-6) at KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (13-5)

Sunday, CBS/Paramount+, 6:40 PM ET

  • Buffalo and Kansas City meet in a rematch of the 2020 AFC Championship, won by the Chiefs, 38-24. Each franchise has four Super Bowl appearances.
  • Kansas City’s PATRICK MAHOMES and Buffalo’s JOSH ALLEN, who each threw five touchdowns last week, combined to make the 2021 playoffs the first postseason ever in which multiple players threw five-or-more touchdowns in a game.
  • Buffalo advanced last week with a 47-17 victory over New England, who had allowed the NFL’s second-fewest points per game (17.8) during the regular season. The last team to score 47-or-more points in a postseason game against an opponent that had allowed fewer than 18 points per game during the regular season was the 1992 Dallas Cowboys, who defeated Buffalo in Super Bowl XXVII.
  • In last week’s win, the Bills scored touchdowns on each of their first seven possessions, becoming the first team to accomplish that feat in any NFL game since the Patriots did it in Week 11 of the 2007 season.
  • The Chiefs have won six of their past seven postseason games, with their only loss in Super Bowl LV.
  • Since Allen entered the league as Buffalo’s first-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, he ranks third with 10 postseason touchdown passes, trailing only Mahomes (22) and TOM BRADY (14).
  • Last week, Mahomes completed 30 of 39 attempts (76.9 percent) for 404 yards and five touchdowns with one interception for a 138.2 rating. He joined DARYLE LAMONICA and Pro Football Hall of Famer KURT WARNER as the only players ever to throw for five-or-more touchdowns in multiple postseason games. Mahomes also threw five touchdowns in a 2019 Divisional-round win vs. the Texans.
  • Chiefs tight end TRAVIS KELCE, who had five catches for 108 yards and a touchdown in last week’s Wild Card win, can establish an NFL postseason record by reaching 100 yards again this week. Kelce enters with four straight postseason games with at least 100 receiving yards, tied with LARRY FITZGERALD (2018) and ANTONIO BROWN (2014-16) for the longest streak in league annals.
  • Kelce also threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver BYRON PRINGLE and became the first player in NFL history with a touchdown pass, touchdown reception and at least 100 receiving yards in a postseason game.
  • Buffalo’s JOSH ALLEN, who during the regular season became the first quarterback in NFL history to surpass both 4,000 passing yards and 750 rushing yards in the same season, has led the Bills to wins in three of their last four playoff games.
  • Last week, Allen completed 21 of 25 attempts (84.0 percent) for 308 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions for a 157.6 rating. He also added 66 rushing yards. Allen became the third player in NFL history to throw five-or-more touchdowns with no interceptions and fewer than five incompletions in a postseason game, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers PEYTON MANNING (2003) and KURT WARNER (2009).

 

 

Photo/TampaBayBuccaneers/twitter

NFL Communications contributed to this column

Author: West Lamy

My passport requires no photograph. Experienced play-by-play broadcaster and multimedia sports journalist with years of producing and covering sports. WORLDWIDEWEST is a journey; in this journey my feet don't get blisters, but my shoes do.

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