2022 NFC Divisional Round Playoff Picks

Wildcard weekend was rarely competitive in the NFC. Tampa Bay and Los Angeles easily won their games. San Francisco provided audiences with the best and closest game capped with a dramatic finish. The remaining four (the Green Bay Packers had a week off) teams have a great shot at getting to both the conference championship and the Super Bowl. Even with a battered 49ers team in the picture, no team is an easy out. It’s time to analyze which two teams have the best shot at making the next round.

#6 San Francisco 49ers v. #1 Green Bay Packers

Despite another MVP season from Aaron Rodgers, the Packers clinched the one seed because defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s made the defense much better, rounding out Green Bay to playing as a complete team.

Another fun playoff rivalry involving the 49ers. They’ve manhandled Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers three times since last decade. However a lot’s different since the 2020 conference championship in Santa Clara.

The Packers are a more complete team with defensive coordinator Joe Barry calling plays. Under Barry’s defense, Green Bay surrenders under 22 points per game. They’ve been good at stopping the run and getting after opposing quarterbacks. This presents a unique problem to San Francisco; running the ball 30 times knowing Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers could turn the game against them early or trusting an inexperienced Trey Lance or injured Jimmy Garappolo behind center.

Those aren’t good options for a four quarter playoff game. Rodgers is getting receiver Randall Cobb back this Saturday and left tackle David Bakhtiari is 100%. San Francisco’s best pass rusher Nick Bosa is still recovering from the concussion he suffered Sunday. At their best the 49ers can keep the game close and at worst Green Bay can run away with the score by halftime.

Prediction: Packers win 30-20

#4 Los Angeles Rams v. #2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

If the Rams have a chance at advancing to the NFC conference championship, the defensive pairing of Leonard Floyd and Von Miller will be a reason why. Both are red hot by stopping the run and terrorizing quarterbacks.

Another rematch from earlier this season features two teams on the cusp of history. The Rams have a chance of being the first football team to win a championship based in Los Angeles and the second straight team to host a super bowl while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers want to be the first team to repeat title wins since the Patriots in the mid-2000s.

For Tampa to win Sunday, they have to run the football consistently. Offensive linemen Tristan Wirfs and Ryan Jensen will play hurt and that means making room for runningbacks is the best option to keep both in the game without additional flare-ups. The combination of Le’Veon Bell, Giovani Bernard, Ronald Jones II and Ke’Shawn Vaughn is enough to keep the Rams front seven off-balance. The Bucs have to stick to the gameplan and not deviate, otherwise it’ll be open season on quarterback Tom Brady.

The Los Angeles offense may be in a tricky situation. Runningback Cam Akers is back and it creates more balance and less pressure on quarterback Matthew Stafford. Tampa’s defense isn’t good to run against. The Buccaneers have most of their secondary in Antoine Winfield Jr. and Jordan Whitehead back. Outside of four big play receivers, the Rams don’t have enough depth to take on a Tampa secondary at full health. Combined with Stafford’s ability to throw an interception returned for a touchdown every other week, it’s hard to see how this offense can be consistent in a stadium many teams struggled in this season.

Prediction: Buccaneers win 20-16

Last weeks record: 3-0

Overall season record: 169-109


2022 AFC Divisional Round Playoff Picks

Wildcard weekend wasn’t competitive in the AFC. Kansas City, Buffalo and Cincinnati controlled their games and won with few scares. The remaining four (the Tennessee Titans had a week off) teams have a great shot at getting to both the conference championship and the Super Bowl. Even with an inexperienced Bengals team in the picture, no team is an easy out. It’s time to analyze which two teams have the best shot of making the next round.

#4 Cincinnati Bengals v. #1 Tennessee Titans

Combined with Mike Vrabel’s coaching, the receiving duo of A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, exceptional play from quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the return of the best runningback in the NFL Derrick Henry (22, white), the Titans are the team to beat in the AFC.

Cincinnati again plays the opener of the playoff round, this time on the road in Nashville. Thankfully their defensive front stays intact as Josh Tupou and Trey Hendrickson return from last Saturday’s injuries. Tennessee gets their top offensive player Derrick Henry back after a foot injury ended his regular season on Halloween.

These teams mirror each other. Both have excellent receivers, a solid running game, shaky offensive lines, but better defenses that have stepped up when needed. Eli Apple has been a good number one cornerback for Cincinnati while Kevin Byard and Amani Hooker are a good safety tandem on Tennessee.

This game comes down to who wins up front on the defensive and offensive lines. The Bengals may play the line of scrimmage more with two hurting defensive linemen starting. That means Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill can set Henry up to create more options. The passing game opens and Cincinnati’s offense could get baited into making mistakes. The Bengals and coach Zac Taylor have a lot to be proud and thankful for this year, but a more experienced playoff team ends their season playing a more complete game.

Prediction: Titans win 27-23

#3 Buffalo Bills v. #2 Kansas City Chiefs

The Bills defensive line made life miserable for quarterback Patrick Mahomes (red, center) in their regular season matchup. That might not change Sunday night.

When the Bills last saw Kansas City, the Chiefs offense was anemic and dependent on big plays to score. Those days seem over as Kansas City has adapted and extended possessions. There are still issues on defense and an up and down running game, but quarterback Patrick Mahomes and tight-end Travis Kelce still find ways to score.

The Buffalo offense has been up and down since their Sunday night regular season matchup. There were struggles running the ball without quarterback Josh Allen, becoming one dimensional. The winter season has brought a shift, with the Bills winning every important game from clinching a division title to a home-field thrashing of the rival Patriots last Saturday night.

The biggest factors are how physical both defenses can play and Tyreek Hill’s health. Referee John Hussey calls fair games and penalties when needed. Therefore, the Bills defense can play bully ball like they did in the regular season, giving time for Jerry Hughes, Greg Rousseau and the remaining front seven more time to get to Mahomes. If Hill isn’t feeling 100% with his ankle, it could be a while before the Chiefs offense finds rhythm.

Prediction: Bills win 35-27

Last weeks record: 3-0

Overall season record: 169-109

2022 NFC Wild Card Weekend Playoff Picks

The 2021-2022 NFL regular season is over. 14 teams in two conferences (seven in each) have a shot at winning the Vince Lombardi championship trophy. The new playoff format features an extra team, one bye week for the top seeded team in each conference, and a Monday night playoff game. Everyone wants to know which three teams in the NFC advance to the divisional round, so here are the best bets come Sunday.

#7 Philadelphia Eagles v. #2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The first conference playoff game on Sunday, this matchup shouldn’t be overlooked. Philadelphia started the season at 2-5, but won seven of their last ten. The incumbent champion Buccaneers have been injury and drama plagued all season.

Tampa’s list of injuries helps the Eagles keep this game close. No Lavonte David ensures Philadelphia will run the ball until the Buccaneers stop it or trail late. No Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown or Leonard Fournette might be a problem if the score is close. Regardless, Tom Brady excels in the playoffs…even if his weakness is playing another NFC East opponent.

Prediction: Buccaneers win 30-28

#6 San Francisco 49ers v. #3 Dallas Cowboys

One of if not the best playoff rivalry returns Sunday afternoon. Both teams have great defenses, strong running games and better offensive lines. San Francisco Dallas could be the best game of wildcard weekend, highlighted by coaches who have turned their teams around.

One of the quiet success stories this season has been San Francisco’s offensive line play. Despite playing multiple games with backups at both guard positions, the 49ers have shut down blitzes from some of the best teams in the NFL, including their division rival Rams twice.

Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has been the right hire. He’s fixed an atrocious secondary and brought the best out of Dallas’ young linebacking core. Micah Parsons is in the defensive rookie and defensive player of the year conversations. DeMarcus Lawrence has improved on the right end and Trevon Diggs is a turnover machine. Despite the success, Dallas hasn’t played up to their competition at times and faces a head coach in Kyle Shanahan who’s gone through lows and turned things around.

One of the best gems pointed out this week by 49er fan Nick Gamulo was Dallas’ defense under Dan Quinn playing more of a cover three. San Francisco starting quarterback Jimmy Garappolo succeeds when playing against this type of defense, completing 73% of his passes. Dallas’ front seven is ranked 24th against the run, while 49er runningback Elijah Mitchell averages almost five yards a carry. Watch for both of these to play a pivotal role.

San Francisco’s use of receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk factor into how the Cowboys defense defends at the line of scrimmage. Expect Shanahan to take advantage of weaknesses Diggs has in one on one coverage and run up the middle versus a weaker defensive front.

Upset prediction of the week: 49ers win 30-20

#5 Arizona Cardinals v. #4 Los Angeles Rams

The first Monday night playoff game to be played this century, part three of Cardinals Rams should end wildcard weekend with style. Both franchises split in the regular season, winning their games on the road. Both teams are in different directions; Arizona faltering after 10-1 start, and Los Angeles rising at the best time despite a loss Sunday to San Francisco.

Matthew Stafford’s favorite target, Cooper Kupp was shy of Calvin Johnson’s all-time receiving record by less than 20 yards. He’ll be a focus of defenses this postseason.

Both teams get critical players back. J.J. Watt returns for Arizona’s front seven. The Cardinal pass rush hasn’t been the same since Watt was injured, gradually becoming a non-factor. The Rams get runningback Cam Akers back at full health. This helps take pressure off quarterback Matthew Stafford and not having an unbalanced passing attack every time coach Sean McVay’s offense goes on the field.

The deciding factor is Sean McVay’s record v. Arizona and head coach Kliff Kingsbury overall. McVay lost his first game to the Cardinals this season, beating them every time before and since. Arizona can improve in the offseason knowing they’re a better team that just needed the playoff experience.

Prediction: Rams win 27-17

Week 18 Picks: 9-7

Season record: 163-109

2022 AFC Wild Card Weekend Playoff Picks

The 2021-2022 NFL regular season is over. 14 teams in two conferences (seven in each) have a shot at winning the Vince Lombardi championship trophy. The new playoff format features an extra team, one bye week for the top seeded team in each conference, and a Monday night playoff game. Everyone wants to know which three teams in the AFC advance to the divisional round, so here are the best bets come Saturday.

#5 Las Vegas Raiders v. #4 Cincinnati Bengals

Joe Burrow (right) has Cincinnati poised to win their first playoff game of the 21st century.

The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1991. To put that in perspective, the first cellphone came out in 1992, and no one has texted about Cincinnati winning a playoff game in real time. This year could be different. Sophomore quarterback Joe Burrow is playing some of the best football regarding accuracy, impressive numbers and determination. Coach Zac Taylor pushed all the right buttons in the regular season. Despite a young roster, the Bengals approach every week like a veteran team.

Las Vegas won a meaningless overtime game and has to start the playoffs on a Saturday afternoon with an interim head coach who may or may not keep his job. If the Raiders played for a tie or somehow still won with backups versus Los Angeles, they would have the edge. It doesn’t help this is quarterback Derek Carr’s debut and it comes against a top tier defense.

Prediction: Bengals win 27-17

#6 New England Patriots v. #3 Buffalo Bills

The second of the Saturday and AFC playoff games, part three of the Patriots-Bills rivalry will again feature winter weather conditions. Hopefully it won’t be similar to the terrible conditions in Buffalo the first time where rookie quarterback Mac Jones threw three total passes and Josh Allen looked like his rookie self.

Coach Sean McDermott is on the verge of getting his team back to the championship game. However he has to defeat the best coach to grace the football field in order to return.

Both teams are on a different trajectory. Since that first game in Buffalo, Jones and the Patriots offense don’t look threatening. In fact, the rookie had the worst game of his career last Sunday in what was Brian Flores’ last win as Dolphins head coach. Defense keeps New England in the game, but the passing game has to be better against a top tier Bills defense.

Quarterback Josh Allen has played better, but Buffalo isn’t wow-ing anyone like most expected. Still, Allen has more experience in the playoffs over rookie Mac Jones, and coach Sean McDermott not just counters the best coach in the NFL, but has home field advantage to get the results.

Prediction: Bills win 16-6

#7 Pittsburgh Steelers v. #2 Kansas City Chiefs

One of the most lopsided playoff games on paper, Steelers Chiefs part two may not have a different result. The retirement party for Ben Roethlisberger could be this Sunday with a Chiefs offense facing a a Steeler defense they picked apart in December.

Unless Najee Harris performs like a vintage Adrian Peterson, Pittsburgh’s offense will have a problem stretching the passing game and countering a rejuvenated Kansas City pass rush. On the other end, Mahomes and company will have a lot of looks and plays called against the Steeler secondary.

Prediction: Chiefs win 37-17

Week 18 picks record: 9-7

Season picks record: 163-109