Analysis and predictions by Alex Fleming
The divisional round of the playoffs have arrived. After a stunning upset over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Cleveland Browns will travel to Kansas City to play the well rested, and prepared Kansas City Chiefs. Led by Andy Reid and his high-powered offense, they look to provide another upset against thedefending champions in Arrowhead Stadium.
In the other portion of the AFC, the Baltimore Ravens will face the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park. These two teams are familiar with each other, considering that they played a regular season game against each other last year. Baltimore won by the score of 24-17, but Lamar Jackson did not have a good game; running that is. He threw for three touchdowns, but he only managed 40 yards rushing. Josh Allen was learning how to play the position properly, he also did not have Stefon Diggs to throw to. This game was closer than some might have expected. Expect Bill’s Mafia to be ready and prepared for this game.
In the NFC, things are very similar seed wise. The #1 seeded Green Bay Packers will face the #6 seed Los Angeles Rams. With or without Aaron Donald, the Rams have one of the best defenses in the league. The key matchup in this game will be Devante Adams versus Jalen Ramsey. Can the Green Bay Packers stop the pass rush of the Los Angeles Rams? Can the Los Angeles Rams sustain a running game, to keep Aaron Rodgers off of Lambeau Field? The MVP is in a zone, and we will see if he can utilize other weapons other than Devante Adams. Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon will look to pace the running game against the Rams, who have been stingy as of late. The ultimate key to this game, is if the Green Bay Packers secondary can control Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. Will Cam Akers have another breakout performance? The Rams will need him to, if the Rams hope to advance to the NFC championship. California teams notoriously do not do well in the cold weather.
In the final matchup, the #5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take their third strike attempt against the #2 New Orleans Saints. Tampa Bay has a Saints problem; they have lost five out of the last six against them, and have been blown out in Raymond James the last time they met and week 9. Tom Brady has never been swept by a division rival in his entire career. But his entire career has been in the AFC East. He has come to find out the hard way that the NFC South is a little bit different, and quite more difficult. On the opposite side of the coin, the number two seed normal in Saints realized that this is their last chance for a Super Bowl championship. Drew Brees has been a mainstay for this team, but this is his last hurray. With injuries, and age catching up to him, the Saints know they have to make it happen now; because there is no tomorrow. Michael Thomas, the phenom wide receiver, has finally become acclimated and available for this offense. Catching his first touchdown against the Chicago Bears last week, Thomas will be an additional problem for the Buccaneers secondary to handle. Alvin Kamara, has been a thorn in the Buccaneers side. For some odd reason, he loves playing against the Buccaneers. Since he was drafted, Kamara has been an issue for the Buccaneers to handle. This is an NFC South rivalry, and these teams do not like each other. Expect a high scoring affair.
1. Kansas City is going to blow out the Cleveland browns. Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes know that this offense can actually score points. Considering that they shouldn’t be here, but they are, Kansas City is not going to take any chances. They recognize the running game threat in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and they don’t let them on the field. Long, burnout drives to make touchdowns. That’s if of course, the quick strike with Tyreek Hill isn’t available. Expect Kansas City to be opportunistic on defense. The New York Jets gave a blueprint on how you can shut down that offense if he doesn’t have available weapons. Expect Kansas City to play press man, San blitz, and frustrate Baker Mayfield. Finally, the running game. They didn’t pick up Le’Veon Bell for nothing. Expect him, and if he’s healthy, Clyde Edwards-Hilaire to raise hell against the Browns front seven. offensive line will be a key against the Kansas City chiefs. If the Cleveland Browns can get a pass rush and sack Mahomes a couple of times, they have an opportunity to make this game interesting. But Kansas City just has too much firepower, and happen to have a good kicker.
Final: Kansas City 41- Cleveland 24.
2. Baltimore is coming in hot. They have a balanced offense of rushing and passing ( 172 yards passing, 191 yards rushing). Mark Ingram was an active last week, so look for him to get some carries in Orchard Park. JK dobbins, Gus Edwards, and of course Lamar Jackson, are going to give the Buffalo Bills front seven fits in the running game. Considering that it might be snowing, and Lamar Jackson has never played in a winter game, expect the passing yards to be low, leading to Buffalo making an emphasis against the run. The wide receivers of Baltimore do not scare the Buffalo secondary, and they will be ready to do some head-hunting and ballhawking if necessary. On the flip side, the Baltimore defense is in trouble. They will have to make sure that Buffalo never establishes the run, because that would just be another element for Josh Allen to use against them. Josh Allen is on fire. Completing nearly 75% of his passes in last week’s game against Indianapolis, Allen got funky once he got into his groove against the Colts defense. 324 yards passing on 26 of 35. He had +50 from the ground too. Look for that to continue. The Baltimore Ravens do not want to play Man coverage against the Buffalo Bills; they would be falling straight into their hands. Stefon Diggs is a monster and Cole Beasley is the slot King. John Brown is finally back from injury and covid issues, Gabriel Davis is emerging as a star in this offense, and they have absolutely no film on Kenny Stills. The Baltimore defense must get pressure on Allen to make him uncomfortable to even slow down this offense. Buffalo has a receipt since their last meeting, and if it wasn’t for a Hail Mary from Kyler Murray, everyone would be talking about Buffalo, and their 10-game winning streak. Expect fireworks.
Final: Baltimore 32 Bills 45 (no snow)
Baltimore 17 Bills 30 (with snow)
3. Green Bay Packers are just too much right now. Aaron Rodgers is the mvp, no question, and he shows it every time he plays. He has a bromance with Devante Adams that can’t be ignored. Devante Adams has been killing his competition, and he loves doing most of his masterpieces at home. Jalen Ramsey has been given the assignment of slowing down Devonte Adams, but that’s just one problem in the cog, known as Green Bay. They have a running game now, and if you’re unable to stop or slow down the running game Aaron Rodgers is going to pick you apart. Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon could be a formidable opponent against a rush defense. The Boston College stand out, AJ Dillon wasn’t used early in the season. He had a total of 23 carries total from weeks 1 to 15. He burst out on the scene in week 16 against Tennessee however. This just adds another dimension into the offensive mind of Matt LaFleur. Look for Marcus Valdez-Scantling to take advantage of 50/50 balls. Look for Robert Tonyan to give the linebackers of the Los Angeles Rams fits, and look for Allen Lazard to make an impression on Saturday. Broken bones and cold weather don’t match. The backup quarterback has a neck injury. This looks like it could be a long night for Jared Goff and the Rams rushing attack. Although there is tremendous faith in Cooper Kupp and Robert woods, the cold weather will affect the accuracy of the throws, and if Kenny Clark, or Rashawn Gary are worth the nickel that they’re paid, they’re going to be able to beat some of the offensive linemen matchups against the Rams. Look for Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith to be opportunistic.
Final: Los Angeles Rams 24 Green Bay Packers 48
4. The South runs deep. Loyalty isn’t something that can be bought or given away so easily. People have to be at their word. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been on a roller coaster ride of celebrity, additional coverage, expectations, and adversity. This team was assembled to make it to a Super Bowl because someone is on a time clock and it’s short. The man who has that time clock happens to have six rings from a previous stint in another uniform. Almost if anything he has pride and has never been swept by a divisional rival. He’s been swept, now it’s time for redemption. Offensive line is banged up, and will be missing Alex Cappa. However, when does pride come into play? This team has been embarrassingly beaten by this team, due to the trenches of the front five of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Donovan Smith‘s name hasn’t been mentioned in awhile, but he knows he’s in the spotlight. The Buccaneers have lost five of the last six games in this matchup. Their last victory against the New Orleans Saints was with Ryan Fitzpatrick. Saints are also four time NFC South divisional champions. It’s more than pride on the line, it’s current supremacy. This is the last chance at redemption against the New Orleans Saints, a team that has battered and bruised and embarrassed them. Some would say it’s difficult to beat a team three times in one year. That would be false. 17 of the matchups have been sweeps. The expectations of Tampa Bay were Super Bowl or bust; considering that they could be the first team to ever play as host of a Super Bowl. Don’t think for a minute that the NFC South champion New Orleans Saints don’t have that in the back of their minds. C.J. Gardner-Johnson needs to be ignored, as he has seemed to have a way of disqualifying one of the opposing teams wide receivers. Best solution, Antonio Brown should find his way with Gardner-Johnson covering him.
There is a lot of opportunity for matchup exploitation in the Tampa Bay offense. It is well documented the issues that Mike Evans has had against Marshawn Lattimore. Redemption. See what he can do matched up against him, and take your chances. It is time for old habits to die. A healthy Chris Godwin is a number two – 1B on the field. Get him moving. Put him in different situations so that way the corners cannot read on coverage and design blitzes to take shortcuts against your offense. Antonio Brown is the key. The Saints have an excellent front seven and a decent secondary. We have seen them get picked on before. The dome should be his playground on Sunday. Known to be a Saints killer, Antonio Brown is going to be better than any corner that they have stuck on him in coverage. A running game is a necessity. Ronald Jones did not play against the Washington Football Team, leaving Lesean McCoy, Leonard Fournette and Ke’shawn Vaughn holding down the ground attack. 142 yards is nothing to sneeze at; it leads to play-action and matchup issues against the tight ends. The Buccaneers can also exploit the New Orleans Saints offense by playing press coverage against them. Todd Bowles isn’t up for a coaching gig for nothing. The NFL is a trendy league. Chicago proved that if you play Man coverage and are physical against the wide receivers, they don’t have spectacular stats, leading to mediocre days, which leads to Drew Brees holding onto the ball a little bit longer. Philadelphia Eagles have given the blueprint on how to attack this New Orleans Saints defense. Gap control, screens, and deep shots. Green Bay found success whenever you spread the secondary out; leaving spaces in between defenders to create single coverage. Utilizing the field for 10 and 15-yard routes will in essence give him less pressure with the pass rush. Imbalanced defense provides for scoring opportunities. Field goals will not do.
Have the Bucs learned anything yet?
Final Buccaneers 34 New Orleans Saints 32
Cover photo credit: FOX