Super Wild Card Weekend in the NFL has one last game with Monday’s Night’s matchup between the Cardinals and Rams, but three of the four Divisional Round matchups are set: Cincinnati at Tennessee, San Francisco at Green Bay, and Buffalo at Kansas City, with the winner of the Monday Night game set for a trip to Tampa Bay.
The fact that three NFC West teams are currently alive is a scheduling technicality, but while either the Cardinals or Rams will see their season end tonight, it is fitting that the division still has three teams standing, because San Francisco’s win over Dallas cemented the NFC West’s status as the NFL’s best division. That Cowboys’ loss is the talk of the weekend, in no small part because Dak Prescott was the only quarterback in the “elite” discussion to produce a dud, while the NFL’s two other 40 million-plus dollar quarterbacks turn in Hall of Fame Caliber performances.
Regardless of what happens between Arizona and Los Angeles, NFL fans are set up for a spectacular Divisional Round with a showdown between the aforementioned Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, the return of running back Derrick Henry to face ascending Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, and the potential for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to go on a revenge tour against the 49ers and Bucs. All odds are provided by DraftKings.
The Premier Divisional Round Matchup
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford and Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray could set up a spectacular matchup with Bucs quarterback Tom Brady if either shines on Monday Night, but after the way Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen played ahead of a rematch of last year’s AFC Title Game, there is no question about which matchup will draw the most attention in the Divisional Round.
Mahomes threw for 404 yards and five touchdowns in a blowout of the Steelers, but even those numbers failed to keep pace with Allen because the Bills scored a touchdown every they got the ball against the Patriots except for their final drive when backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky came in to kneel the game out.
It is a reminder that while NFL teams can win with quarterbacks like New England’s Mac Jones or San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo, the task is monumentally more difficult than if a team has one of the NFL’s “dudes” at the game’s most important position. Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, and Tom Brady have arguably separated themselves as the NFL’s elite trio between their combination of talent and accomplishments, but Josh Allen and Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert are what you would get if you designed an NFL quarterback in a lab, and Allen has the opportunity to make that trio a four-some if he can get over the hump against Mahomes in the playoffs.
The Bills beat the Chiefs convincingly in the regular season, but while Buffalo was the better team at that point in the NFL season, the game would not have turned into the type of blowout it was were it not for Buffalo safety Micah Hyde’s pick-six off a drop by Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill. DraftKings has the game lined at KC -2.5 with a total of 55, indicating that the odds-makers think that this could be a tightly contested shootout to wrap up the Divisional Round next Sunday afternoon.
Will Derrick Henry Return?
Two months ago, many NFL observers, even the ones with a relative lack of confidence in the Titans, would have picked Tennessee to beat Cincinnati at home without Derrick Henry. Fast-forward a few weeks, and the prospect of quarterback Joe Burrow leading the orange and black into their stadium should have Titans fans feeling nervous.
D’Onta Foreman ran for over 100 yards in a Tennessee win two weeks ago against the Dolphins, but Foreman is a pale imitation of Henry and came back to earth when he rushed for 3.3 yards per carry against the Texans in the regular-season finale. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill posted a four-touchdown, zero-interception game against Houston with receivers A.J. Brown and Julio Jones both in the fold, but doing that against a talent-deficient Texans defense and going score for score with Burrow are very different challenges.
Burrow threw for 244 yards and two touchdowns in his first NFL playoff start, a game where Cincinnati led throughout despite an inefficient red-zone performance on offense. The Bengals will need to clean that up against Tennessee this week, but Burrow and his top receiver, rookie Ja’Marr Chase, continued to serve notice that this team is for real. Tennessee has the inside scoop on this duo, as second-year Titans cornerback Kristian Fulton played with Cincinnati’s duo on LSU’s National Title team, but given that Chase racked up 20 touchdowns during that collegiate season, Fulton’s best advice may be the same that Chase himself offered after the win over the Raiders: Not doubling Chase is the wrong thing to do.
If Henry can return, Tennessee should have the physical advantage over the Bengals’ defensive front, which lost starting defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi to a foot injury and could be without star defensive end Trey Hendrickson, who left Saturday’s game with a concussion. Hendrickson and Henry’s respective statuses will be important to monitor in the run-up to this game, which opened at Tennessee -3.5 before moving to -3, a spread that Burrow backers may take issue with.
Will Green Bay Get the Band Back Together for the Revenge Tour?
As Tampa Bay lost right tackle Tristan Wirfs to an ankle injury and San Francisco lost defensive end Nick Bosa to a concussion, Green Bay sat at home and continued to get healthier.
Left tackle David Bakhtiari and center Josh Myers already returned to the field in the regular-season finale, a significant boost for a Packers team that had been hit particularly hard by injuries along the offensive line. The reinforcements may not stop there: starting right tackle Billy Turner has a chance to return, and the defense could get players back, with edge rushers Za’Darius Smith and Whitney Mercilus and cornerback Jaire Alexander all with a chance to play against the 49ers.
Green Bay fell short against the 49ers and Buccaneers in the past two NFC Championship games; Tampa Bay still needs to defeat either the Rams or Cardinals at home next weekend, but the Bucs will be favored in that matchup, which could set things up for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to lead his team on a revenge tour as they attempt to finally get over the hump in the NFC. There are no easy games by the Divisional Round of the NFC Playoffs, but with the way the Cowboys, Rams, and Cardinals played at various points of the NFL season, a matchup with a Jimmy Garoppolo-quarterbacked 49ers team is about as good as Packers fans could hope for, nightmares of the 2019 NFC Championship game notwithstanding. Granted, Garoppolo just beat Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, but most NFL fans would rather see their team face a quarterback whose team is preparing to move on from him, rather than one who has the potential to play at an elite level in a given NFL game.
The Packers are the DraftKings favorite for the Super Bowl, but The Professor was surprised to see that Green Bay’s odds stayed the same after the weekend. The Professor had the Packers penciled in as a three-point favorite in the Divisional Round in his futures calculations ahead of this weekend, rather than the 4.5 to 5.5 points that Green Bay is getting against the 49ers, which suggests this may be the right moment to buy on the Packers, as the value would dry up almost entirely if they advance to the NFC Championship Game.
This article recapped developments from around the NFL this weekend. For more of The Professor’s content check him out on BeerLife Sports!
Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.
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