NFL divisional round preview: Bengals vs Titans, 49ers vs Packers, Rams vs Bucs & Bills vs Chiefs
We preview the four divisional-round games in the 2021/22 NFL playoffs: Cincinnati Bengals vs Tennessee Titans, San Francisco 49ers vs Green Bay Packers, LA Rams vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills vs Kansas City Chiefs.
After a disappointing Super Wild Card Weekend on which three games were decided by an average margin of 24.6 points and only two came down to the final play, we’re now down to the eight best teams in the NFL as we head into the divisional round.
From Saturday, we can expect some better games between the true contenders for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Cincinnati Bengals vs Tennessee Titans: Saturday, 4:30pm ET
There’s a whole lot of history between these two teams in the regular season, particularly dating back to when the Titans played as the Houston Oilers, a period in which the franchises were AFC Central division rivals. The Titans lead the series 40-34-1.
In the playoffs, however, the sides have only met once. That was in 1990, in the first round of the postseason, when the Bengals won 41-14 on home turf.
The Bengals went in for half time with a comfortable 20-0 advantage and stretched their lead to 34-0 in the third quarter when Eric Ball (three yards) and Boomer Esiason (10 yards) ran for touchdowns. Cincinnati then rounded off a resounding victory when Esiason provided his second TD pass of the game, finding Eric Kattus.
On Saturday in Tennessee, a new generation of Bengals stars, led by quarterback Joe Burrow and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, will look to spring one of the surprises of the divisional round.
The Titans will welcome back Derrick Henry, the league’s dominant running back, who missed nine games due to a foot injury that required surgery, and still managed 937 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Cincinnati’s defence has been the league’s fifth-best this season against running offences, allowing an average of 102.5 rushing yards per game, but they’ll need to be at their very best against Henry.
The Titans, the top seeds in the AFC, are +3.5 favourites.
San Francisco 49ers vs Green Bay Packers: Saturday, 8:15pm ET
These two historic franchises have faced each other eight times in the playoffs, with four wins each and a 2-1 advantage for the Packers in the divisional round.
Green Bay won four of the teams’ first five postseason meetings, between 1995 and 2001, including two victories in San Francisco.
The 49ers have come out on top in the teams’ last three playoff clashes, in 2012, 2013 and 2019.
Their postseason meeting three years ago came in the NFC Championship Game, when Rahim Mostert ran for 220 yards and four touchdowns in a 37-20 triumph for San Francisco.
Then-rookie Nick Bosa, who had been picked second in the 2019 draft, set the 49ers on their way with a sack at the start of the game. Their defence then intercepted Aaron Rodgers twice, as San Francisco finished the first half 27-0 up.
Mostert became the first player to run for 200 yards or more and four touchdowns in a playoffs game.
Rodgers is in the running to be named MVP for a second straight season, in what is probably his last campaign with the Packers.
Green Bay, who beat the 49ers 8-0 at Lambeau Field in the regular season, are +5.5 favourites.
Los Angeles Rams vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sunday, 3pm ET
The Rams have won the two playoff matchups between these two teams, both of which came in the NFC Championship Game: in 1979 (9-0) and 1999 (11-6).
Sunday’s game in Tampa is likely to be a defensive battle, with the league’s two best backlines going head to head.
In Week 3, the Rams defeated the reigning Super Bowl champions 34-24, in one of Matthew Stafford’s best games of the season. The quarterback threw for 343 yards, four touchdown passes and no interceptions.
Tom Brady, meanwhile, threw for 432 yards but just one TD.
On Monday, Stafford enjoyed the first playoffs win of his career (1-3), while Brady boasts an impressive 35-11 record in the postseason, and is 5-0 since joining the Buccaneers.
The Rams are out to emulate what the Bucs did last season and become only the second team to play the Super Bowl at its home stadium.
Tampa Bay are +3 favourites.
Buffalo Bills vs Kansas City Chiefs: Sunday, 6:30pm ET
The Bills and the Chiefs have met four times in the postseason, earning two wins each.
Their first playoffs duel came in 1966, the Chiefs winning the AFL Championship Game 31-7. They faced off again in 1991 and 1993, with victories for the Bills (37-14 and 30-13) in the divisional round and the AFC Championship Game.
Finally, last season, with a ticket to the Super Bowl at stake, Kansas City secured a 38-24 home win.
The Bills and the Chiefs go into the divisional round after thumping the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers, respectively, with spectacular performances from their quarterbacks.
Josh Allen completed 21 out of 25 passes for 308 yards and five touchdowns against the Patriots, while Patrick Mahomes registered 30 from 39, 404 yards and five TD passes, in what was the Chiefs’ second victory over the Steelers this season.
In Week 5, the Bills beat the Chiefs 38-20 in Kansas City, but doing so in the playoffs will be a completely different proposition for Sean McDermott’s team.
The Chiefs are +2.5 favourites to reach the AFC Championship Game for the fourth consecutive year.