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
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
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