It's the gift all football fans wait for.. the divisional round of the NFL's post season: two games on Saturday and two games on Sunday with the best teams all trying to be the one that ends up holding the Lombardi Trophy. Let's get into it!
It starts Saturday with the top seed in the AFC Tennessee taking on Cincinnati. And like the final Lord of The Rings trilogy, this one is about the return of the king, as in Titans RB Derrick Henry. Henry is expected back after missing the last 9 games of the regular season with an injured foot... and him back in the lineup looms large literally and figuratively. Henry ran for for 937 yards in the 8 games he played before getting hurt and the timing could not be worse for The Bengals. Larry Ogunjobi, one of their best interior defensive lineman is out, Mike Daniels another run stopper is unlikely to play. Even if Henry is just a massive decoy you have to account for him when he's on the field. Just having him out there should help the Titans passing game which averaged only 201 yards per game in the regular season. That's the lowest amount of passing yards by a #1 seed in the AFC since... the 2008 Titans. And playing keep away from Cincinnati may be the best way to slow down the Bengals offense. Joe Burrow has been on fire for Cincy. In his last five games played Burrow has led the team to a 5-1 record and has averaged 344 yards per game with 13 TD passes and zero INTs. Burrow can't throw the ball if he doesn't HAVE the ball making Henry's return a massive one for Tennessee.
The late game Saturday has Aaron Rodgers and the Packers taking on San Francisco, where the weather at Lambeau is supposed to be as icy and cold as Rodgers relationship with Green Bay's front office. RIMSHOT!. And quite frankly there may be more pressure on Rodgers and the Packers than any other team playing this weekend. This could be his last season in Green Bay and the idea that Rodgers has played all these years and has only been to one Super Bowl seems impossible. No one will say this out loud but the last team Rodgers and the Packers probably want to see is San Francisco. 3 times in the last 10 post seasons the Niners have ended Rodgers Super Bowl dreams. He's 0-3 against them in his post season career..and NO QB has ever gone 0-4 against one franchise in post season history. Add in the fact that Rodgers is from Northern California and The Niners were the team that passed over him with the 1st pick of the 2005 draft.. and there's a lot to unpack. Speaking of matchups, one really stands out here. Green Bay had the 30th ranked run defense in the regular season, giving up 4.7 yards per carry. That's exactly what San Francisco does. In the win over Dallas they ran in 38 times for 169 yards. Two years ago the Niners beat Green Bay in the NFC title game passing it a grand total of 8 times. We'll see if a Packers team getting healthier on defense can find a way to not let Deebo Samuel and company run them right out of the post season again.
The first game Sunday has Tom Brady and the Buccaneers taking on the Rams. These two met earlier in the season and the Rams won in LA. But these teams are so different now. The Rams didn't have Von Miller or OBJ in that matchup and the Bucs have lost some key weapons on offense, most notably WR Chris Godwin who's done for the year with a torn ACL and Antonio Brown who.. ya know.. danced his way out of football in a flameout for the ages. Both teams come in dinged on the offensive line: Andrew Whitworth is out at left tackle for the Rams while All Pro right tackle Tristian Wirfs is very much going to be a game time decision for Tampa Bay. Now I'm not saying Tom Brady is a difference maker, but if the Bucs win on Sunday it would be their 6th straight playoff win with Brady under center. For perspective, in the 44 year history of the franchise before Brady's arrival? The Bucs won a grand total of....6 playoff games. Brady's teams in fact are 17-3 in their last 20 playoff games. NO FRANCHISE IN NFL HISTORY HAS EVER GONE 17-3 OVER A 20 GAME PLAYOFF STRETCH. These are just some of the reasons why my good friend Mark Schlereth calls Tom Brady the world's greatest American. It will take all that Rams defense has to offer to knock out Brady and the Bucs.
The late game Sunday has all the makings of a battle for the ages as Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs welcome in Josh Allen and the Bills. DEAR GOD WHAT DID WE DO TO DESERVE THIS BOUNTY?? This will be the first playoff game in NFL history where two QBs square off having each thrown for 5 TD passes in their previous playoff game. It's also the first post season game in NFL history where two teams come in having scored at least 40 points in their previous playoff games. So you know what that means right? Final score 5-3. I doubt it but don't count out either defense. The Bills had the top defense, scoring defense and passing defense in the regular season. The Chiefs defense has turned it around after a horrid start. In their last 6 games at Arrowhead the D hasn't given up more than 14 points. They will be tested by Allen and company who had 7 consecutive TD drives in that win over New England, one of the most complete games in NFL history. But beware Mahomes at Arrowhead. In his 7 post season games there his Chiefs are 6-1. That lone loss was the 2018 AFC title game where a game clinching interception of Tom Brady was nullified when Dee Ford lined up in the neutral zone. If not for THAT play Mahomes and the Chiefs would be unbeaten at home in post season play, and we'd be talking about the Chiefs trying to get to their 4th straight Super Bowl. I cannot wait for this weekend to start. LET'S DO THIS!