NFL playoffs divisional round picks: Allen to win duel with Mahomes
After a Super Wild Card Weekend on which four games ended in blowouts, the divisional round promises to give us more even duels and more than one upset.
Five home teams won on Super Wild Weekend, all five covered the spread and four of them in easy fashion.
Things could change radically in the divisional round, in which only the Packers are favored by more than 3.5 points.
What happened in the first round of the playoffs left us wondering whether it is really a good idea that 14 teams qualify for the postseason.
But, well, for now we're sticking with the 'Elite Eight' and that means - at least on paper - we'll have better games this weekend.
Cincinnati Bengals at Tennessee Titans (-3.5)
Playoff series: 1-0 for Bengals
The story (and key) to this game will be Derrick Henry's return to the Titans' backfield.
'King' Henry had 937 rushing yards, averaging 4.3 per carry and 10 rushing touchdowns before a foot injury sidelined him midway through the season.
Henry is the most dominant running back in the league, and unfortunately for the Bengals, Cincinnati's front seven isn't 100% ready for the biggest game of their impressive season.
Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi suffered a foot injury that will sideline him for the remainder of the playoffs, end Sam Hubbard is dealing with rib issues and tackle Mike Daniels left the Raiders game with a groin injury and will likely miss the clash in Tennessee.
The Titans' defense is vulnerable against the pass (averaging 245.2 yards per game), so young stars Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase could have a good evening at Nissan Stadium.
Pick: The Henry factor is very important when it comes to playoffs and more so when the opponent's defense arrives in the game diminished. I'm a fan of Joe Burrow, but Tennessee has players with more postseason experience. Titans 27-20 Bengals
San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers (-5.5)
Playoff series: tied 4-4
History is with the 49ers, who have won the last three against Green Bay in the postseason. This is, then, a new opportunity for Aaron Rodgers to beat his nemesis in the playoffs.
In the regular season, Green Bay won 30-28 in Week 3, thanks to Mason Crosby's 51-yard field goal on the final play of the game, and something just as close could await us Saturday night at Lambeau Field.
The Niners' defense was a nightmare for Dak Prescott in the Wild Card, with four sacks and 14 hits to the Cowboys' quarterback. If they can replicate that performance in Green Bay, they've won half the battle.
Now, we all know that one thing is Dak and another is Aaron Rodgers, who threw two touchdown passes in the win in late September.
It's paramount for the Packers to find a way to slow San Francisco's running game and limit Deebo Samuel's yardage, whether at running back or wide receiver.
Pick: Green Bay's defense will force an error or two from Jimmy Garoppolo and Rodgers can finally beat San Francisco in a playoff game. Packers 31-27 49ers
Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3)
Playoff series: 2-0 for Rams
In Week 3, the Rams beat Super Bowl champions the Bucs 34-24 in Los Angeles, in a game in which Matthew Stafford passed for 343 yards and four touchdowns, while Tom Brady had 432 passing yards, but only one touchdown pass.
Things could be different in Tampa for the simple fact that Brady raises his level when it comes to the postseason. So far, the 44-year-old veteran is 5-0 as a quarterback for the Bucs in the playoffs.
One problem for Brady, however, will be his battered offensive line, because center Ryan Jensen and tackle Tristan Wirfs are both dealing with ankle injuries and could be out for Sunday’s game.
That's bad news when he's facing a front seven that includes Aaron Donald and Von Miller.
The Rams' defense will have to do something to contain Mike Evans, who had eight receptions and 108 yards in September.
Pick: Tampa Bay's offensive line absences were a big factor in the second half of the Wild Card against Philadelphia, which sacked Brady three times; against a much stronger defensive front, that could be the difference in this divisional duel. Rams 27-20 Bucs
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs (-2.5)
Playoff series: tied 2-2 (Bills has won two of the last three)
This is the main matchup of the divisional round, with probably the two best young quarterbacks in the league. Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes each threw five touchdown passes in last week's blowouts over New England and Pittsburgh, respectively.
It is difficult for them to repeat such a performance this Sunday, but it is a fact that the result will be a reflection of what these two players do or do not do.
In Week 5, the Bills won 38-20 at Arrowhead, thanks to three touchdown passes from Allen and a rushing game that produced 121 yards.
Mahomes threw two TD tosses but was also intercepted twice, both in the third quarter.
Pick: This could be another shootout, but eventually defenses are going to have to make some game-changing play, and Buffalo's is the best defense not just in this game, but in the entire league. Bills 28-25 Chiefs