After six Wild Card games, only eight teams remain on the road to Super Bowl LVI. Those eight teams are playing in the divisional round and teams who had a bye in the Wild Card games are playing in the playoffs for the first time. Here are some matchups to look for in the next round of the NFL Playoffs.
The #4 seed Cincinnati Bengals will play the #1 seed Tennessee Titans Saturday at 4:30 while the #6 seed San Francisco 49ers will play the #1 seed Green Bay Packers at 8:15.
The Bengals defeated the Raiders 26-19 to win their first playoff game in 31 years in the Wild Card round while the Titans got a week of rest. Joe Burrow threw for 244 yards with two touchdowns while Jamarr Chase caught nine passes for 116 receiving yards. Tennessee is hoping to have premiere running back Derrick Henry back for the first time since his foot injury in October, according to their head coach Mike Vrabel. Even if Henry does not play, the Titans are still a strong team who locked up the division title despite missing him for around three months.
Prediction: The Bengals are riding the high of their playoff win and have only looked stronger from week to week. If Henry does play, the Titans' hopes to win will be reliant on his health, but if he does not their challenge will be higher. Look for Cincinnati and their high octane offense to win either way.
It came down to the wire and the inability of the Dallas Cowboys to get off a final snap, but San Francisco made it out of the Wild Card round with their momentum still intact. Jimmy Garropolo had a rocky day but managed 172 passing yards and an interception. Running back Eli Mitchell and wide receiver Deebo Samuel combined for 168 rushing yards and two touchdown to push the 49ers to a 23-17 win. Meanwhile, the Packers have taken a week to rest Aaron Rodgers' arm and Davante Adams' hands in preparation for their first playoff game of the season.
Prediction: The Packers are Super Bowl favorites, according to Bleacher Report's betting odds, and their reigning MVP in Rodgers is having another elite season. The 49ers are not a weak team by any means, but Green Bay are perhaps the strongest team in the NFL. The cheeseheads should win this one, as the 49ers defense doesn't have enough stopping power.
Sunday's games feature the #4 seed Los Angeles Rams playing the #2 seed Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 3:05 and the #3 seed Buffalo Bills facing off against the #2 seed Kansas City Chiefs at 6:30.
Both teams dominated in the Wild Card round with the Rams crushing the Cardinals 43-11 and the Bucs dismantling the Eagles 31-15. Matthew Stafford threw for 202 yards and two touchdowns. Los Angeles balanced their ground attack between Sony Michell and Cam Akers for 113 combined rushing yards. Tampa Bay had a bit more trouble, but Tom Brady made it look easy with 271 passing yards and two touchdowns that included 117 receiving yards and a touchdown from Mike Evans.
Prediction: Both teams looked strong in their playoff games, but the Rams played a Cardinals team that was much stronger than the Eagles team and still defeated them with ease. It's never a good look, however, to count out Tom Brady and the Bucs. Mike Evans has stayed healthy and Brady will always be a threat with as long as Evans is on the field. It'll be a close one, but this season feels like a miracle season for Stafford, who won his first playoff game in his career this season. Look for Los Angeles to win in a close game.
Lastly, the Bills will take on the Chiefs in a rematch from last season's AFC title game. Both teams thrashed their competition with Buffalo taking down the Patriots 47-17 and Kansas City defeating the Steelers 42-21. Josh Allen was electric with five passing touchdowns on 308 passing yards against the pats. Meanwhile, Patrick Mahomes was similarly stellar with 404 passing yards, five touchdowns and an interception.
Prediction: There's a very tired saying in sports that it's hard to beat the same team twice. This saying, however, is normally applied during the season. Kansas City beat the Bills twice last season, but the Bills defeated the Chiefs this season back in week five. This game could go either way, but it looks like Kansas City will pick up the win in this rematch.
Keith Holmes Jr. ‘22 is a journalism and creative writing double major who has worked with The Cluster as general staff since his Sophomore year. Keith has received Best in SNO awards for his sports articles along with years of work at Mercer’s ESPN3 branch. Keith spends his free time playing video games and writing fiction around campus.