As the Green Bay Packers and defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs – the respective NFC and AFC top seeds from the regular season – enter the fray of the playoffs, this weekend’s divisional round cranks the heat up a notch or two.
And while a fever pitch hits the four playoff games, snow flurries and low temperatures of around 2-4 degrees Celsius will be the order of Saturday’s games at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field and Bills Stadium in Buffalo. One day later, it will still be chilly at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, but the Saints and Buccaneers catch a break in New Orleans: that game is played under a climate-controlled Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
So will the quality of the football rise as most of the temperatures drop? Let’s find out – as I also seek to improve on my 4-2 record last week in tipping straight-up winners (but putting the odds up, courtesy of PlayUp, because we can)…
The case for the Rams: Their defence, easily. After holding the Seahawks to a mere 278 yards of total offence – and Russell Wilson to 11 completions on 27 passing attempts for 174 yards, two touchdowns and an interception – in the 30-20 wild card round win in Seattle, defensive coordinator Brandon Staley will have ensured that the Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers will have to come in with a solid game plan to be at their best. While the matchup between shutdown cornerback Jalen Ramsey and Davonte Adams should be a sight to behold, the presence of Darius Williams on the other side also presents a set of risks of their own.
The case for the Packers: Rodgers possesses an outstanding arsenal of offensive weapons aside from Adams, and will use every one of them to maintain a balanced attack. Adams will get his catches, in medium-yardage possession style as well as the deep ball – which few quarterbacks do better than Rodgers, even at age 37 – but expect the likes of Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Robert Tonyan to get their catches as well as Rodgers spreads the field. And to mix things up a bit, Aaron Jones can break off some big runs as well.
Who wins: Packers 27, Rams 10.
The case for the Buccaneers: With all of the weaponry at Tom Brady’s disposal – Mike Evans, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski, et al – one would think that if they play their game, even against a potent Saints defence which was fifth against the pass for yardage and second in stingiest completion percentage during the regular season. But get into the red zone against the Saints, and the Bucs have a chance, as New Orleans finished 23rd in defensive efficiency from inside the 20 yard line all season.
The case for the Saints: Still, trust this defence… especially against the Buccaneers, as coach Sean Payton’s team won both of its regular-season meetings against them. While Brady threw 40 touchdown passes against 12 interceptions for a 65.7 percent completion rate, the Saints held him to two touchdowns and five interceptions and a 60.8 percent pass-completion rate. The Saints’ defence has Brady’s number – and is in good form, having allowed 20 points or less in their last five games overall. Nonetheless, Drew Brees will also be able to dictate the flow of the game whenever the Saints have possession.
Who wins: Saints 31, Buccaneers 27.
The case for the Ravens: Quarterback Lamar Jackson has admitted that he has never played in a snow game before, hopes that it doesn’t come this weekend – at Buffalo in January? Good luck with that – so adapting his game to the white and slippery stuff will have to come pretty quickly. And to make sure that the cold and potentially slushy weather does not become the great equaliser with his trademark run-pass option abilities in running the Ravens’ offence, Jackson will have to establish downfield passes to Dez Bryant and Marquise “Hollywood” Brown nice and early, in between runs of his own and that of J.K. Dobbins. Perhaps tight end Mark Andrews emerges as an x-factor in the Ravens’ attack.
The case for the Bills: With Josh Allen at the controls, the objective is to control the clock in time of possession and keep Jackson off the field. The Bills, led by the Allen-to-Stefon Diggs passing connection downfield, can definitely score points, but Devin Singletary’s running and receiving out of the backfield will be a key to controlling play. Cole Beasley is another possession-oriented receiver who can give any defence fits, even fierce ones like Baltimore’s.
Who wins: Bills 27, Ravens 14.
The case for the Browns: They have belief – and with the 28-point opening-quarter outburst in an eventual 48-37 win over the Steelers in Pittsburgh that will give legions of Browns fans goosebumps for all eternity, their substance on both sides of the football can be reckoned with. Their formula shouldn’t be any different, establish the run first through Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and let Baker Mayfield throw the timely passes downfield.
The case for the Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes and company are rested, ready, and loaded to the core in an earnest campaign to win back-to-back Super Bowls. Mahomes executes Andy Reid’s offence to near-perfection – making big plays downfield to Tyreek Hill (perhaps the NFL’s fastest player) and Travis Kelce, making very few mistakes, and doing it all with style. Stopping this high-octane offence is easier said than done.
Who wins: Chiefs 31, Browns 24.
The favourites will have a good time winning, with little challenges to their supremacies.
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