Are The Chiefs on Another Super Bowl Run? Are the Bills the Force in the AFC? Can the Rams Follow in Tampa Bay’s Footsteps & End the Bucs Reign?
Cincinnati Bengals @ Tennessee Titans (Over 47 Total points)
The Bengals no. 7 ranked scoring offense heads to Nashville to take on the Titans no. 6 ranked scoring defense. It’s often said that defense wins championships and that may well prove to be true but expect plenty of points in this game none-the-less.
Tennessee is abuzz with talk of the impending return of running back Derrick Henry who, despite being sidelined since week 8, still finished among the top 10 leading rushers this season. His 117.1 rushing yards per game is an NFL best this year. His absence makes the Titans no. 5 ranked rushing offense all the more impressive!
If Henry does return that will be problematic for a Bengals defensive front which is banged up after losing defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi in the wild card win over the Raiders with a season ending foot injury. They are anxiously awaiting news of defensive end, Trey Hendrickson (concussion) who has 15 sacks this season and lineman Josh Tupou (knee). While DT Mike Daniels’ season maybe over after he sustained a groin injury last weekend. None of this bodes well for a unit which ranked 5th against the run this season.
It likely means the offense will have to carry this team if they are to prevail and that means QB Joe Burrow having a clean game. Rookie wide receiver, Ja’Marr Chase broke another Bengals record last weekend, finishing with 116 receiving yards – the most in a single post season game in franchise history. His home run threat will be important. As will the ability to run the ball by Joe Mixon.
The Titans have their own receiving threats in AJ Brown and Julio Jones though and they’re no stranger to the post season. This is the 3rd straight year in the playoffs and they may just be the most under the radar number 1 seeded team in recent history. Jeffery Simmons and this Titans defensive front will be charged with getting pressure on Burrow and I believe they will but this is likely to be an entertaining contest.
Total Points +47
San Francisco 49ers @ Green Bay Packers (Packers Over 27.5 points)
The Packers and 49ers have met in the post season 3 times in the past decade. In those meetings the 49ers are a perfect 3-0 against Green Bay and they went to the Super Bowl following 2 of those wins.
This feels like a date with destiny for the Green Bay Packers. After losing in the NFC Championship game in 4 of the last 7 seasons, they are the number 1 seed in the NFC once again. QB Aaron Rodgers has had another MVP type year and they’ve already won at San Francisco this season.
However, no-one needs reminding, when these two last met in the NFC Championship game 2 years ago, the 49ers were dominant 37-20 winners in a game where they attempted just 8 passes and gashed the Packers for 285 yards on the ground.
As highlighted in last week’s column, WR Deebo Samuel is the 49ers main threat and he racked up 110 scrimmage yards and a touchdown in the win at Dallas – he’s scored 10 TDs in their last 9 games. The Packers have WR Devante Adams though and he torched the 49ers in week 3 for 132 yards and a TD – he has 11 this season.
Aaron Rodgers can be expected to test a San Francisco secondary that’s given up a league leading 20 pass interference penalties this season. While the 49ers will be desperately hoping defensive end Nick Bosa can come through concussion protocol. He’s been a key player in the 49ers 3rd ranked defense this season with 15.5 sacks. As has linebacker, Fred Warner who appears set to play despite an ankle injury sustained last weekend.
The Packers are undefeated at home this season, averaging 30.6 points per game at Lambeau. They scored at least 30 points in 6 of their last 7 games in the regular season. WR Randall Cobb is expected to return from injury and key players on defense look set to return as well with CB Jaire Alexander and pass rusher Za’Darius Smith both back at practice this week.
The Packers are close to full strength – and they’ve had a week’s rest. Expect their offense to come out firing.
Packers – over 27.5 points
LA Rams @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Rams +3)
The defending Super Bowl champion, Tampa Bay Buccaneers facing the team, who’s stadium will host Super Bowl LVI, the LA Rams.
Tampa Bay swatted away the Philadelphia Eagles last weekend, while the Rams turned in what might be their most impressive performance of the season to take care of the Arizona Cardinals.
Tampa’s win came at a cost though. Starting right tackle, Tristan Wirfs suffered a right ankle sprain and could only play 1 more snap – he will likely be a game time decision. Centre, Ryan Jenson also suffered an ankle sprain, although he was able to finish the game. While backup tackle, Josh Wells has a quad injury. As a result, QB Tom Brady – who was only sacked 23 times in the regular season – was sacked 4 times by the Eagles.
This is not good news when you consider the defensive front coming into town. Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Leonard Floyd were outstanding for the Rams on Monday night and if the Bucs’ offensive line isn’t at full strength, this will be a match up problem.
On a positive note, with the return of linebackers, Lavonte David, Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, the Buccaneers defense returned to somewhere near full strength and they were impressive against Philadelphia. They’ll need to be again if they are going to bottle up the Rams’ star wide receivers, Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham.
Ultimately, this game could come down to who can run the ball most effectively. Leonard Fournette is expected to return for the Buccaneers this weekend and a return to “Playoff Lenny” form would be welcome but these are two of the stoutest run defenses in the game. The Buccaneers defense is ranked 3rd. The Rams run defense ranks 6th. If points are going to be scored it may well be through the air in a game featuring the top 2 touchdown passing QBs this season (Brady 43, Stafford 41).
To this end, the Rams receivers may hold the advantage. The question is, can Matthew Stafford play another clean game? If he can, there’s no better time to play the Buccaneers, who are banged up and don’t have the same air of invincibility about them as 12 months ago. The Rams have beaten them home and away over the past two seasons and are primed to pull off the shock of this weekend.
Buffalo Bills @ Kansas City Chiefs (Chiefs -1.5)
This is the game of the weekend! A repeat of last season’s AFC Championship clash at the same venue, in which the Chiefs were 38-24 winners.
Back in week 5 this season, the Bills went into Arrowhead and came away with an impressive 38-20 win. The talk at the time was of Buffalo getting over the hump and potentially being the team to beat in the AFC. Don’t you believe it. That result counts for nothing heading into this match up. The sight of Bills wide receiver, Stefon Diggs standing alone on the field, looking on as the Chiefs celebrated the AFC Championship success 12 months ago is still the image seared on the mind. Bottom line, regardless of what happened in week 5, the Chiefs have represented the AFC in each of the past 2 Super Bowls and until another team knocks them out, they remain the standard bearers in this conference.
No doubt, the hugely impressive fashion in which QB Josh Allen and the Bills disposed of New England last weekend has won many doubters over – 7 drives, 7 touchdowns! A flawless performance from Josh Allen.
Ominously though, the Chiefs appear to be peaking at exactly the right time. Back in week 7 when they sat at the foot of the AFC West, it was their defense which stiffened and began laying a base for the team’s results to improve. Since week 14, it’s been Kansas City’s offense. In their last 6 games the Chiefs have scored a combined 219 points – that’s 36.5 points per game!
It’s the perfect matchup. The Chiefs’ red hot offense against the Bills top ranked defense. Bills fans will rightly argue, their team’s offense is pretty hot right now as well – look what they did to the Patriots and their number 4 ranked defense last weekend. Two questions remain though. Can they repeat that level in back to back weeks and can they beat Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs when it matters most? As the saying goes, “to be the man, you’ve got to beat the man!” This is Buffalo’s opportunity to “be the man” but I’m taking the Chiefs to be the team left standing at the end.