The best weekend of the NFL season is upon us, the divisional round of the playoffs when the big boys come out to play.
Top seeds Tennessee and Green Bay kick off the action today, Tom Brady faces a ferocious Rams defense Sunday afternoon and the weekend will be capped by the de facto AFC Championship game, Buffalo at Kansas City.
The games feature the top QBs around the league – young and old – and some solid defenses. But it's the offenses that will draw the attention of the fans: the Titans and returning star running back Derrick Henry; the Bengals with Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase; the 49ers with Deebo Samuel; the Packers with Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams; the Bucs with Brady, Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski; and the Bills featuring Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs; and the Chiefs with Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill.
Whew. What a show awaits.
On to the divisional round ...
Cincinnati at Tennessee
Time: 4:30 p.m. today (CBS)
The skinny: The Bengals come to Nashville full of swagger after winning their first postseason game in 31 years. Burrow is fueling the swag and the rest of his mates are following along. They will be met by a seasoned, gritty, tough Titans team that is getting back its best player – Henry. The big back has been out nine games with a foot injury, and his presence will allow Tennessee to control the ball, the clock and the defense's exposure to Burrow, Chase, et al. The Bengals are hurting on the defensive line, as well. The Titans also have an edge in coaching, as Tennessee head man Mike Vrabel took the Titans to the AFC title game two years ago and guided this version through the loss of Henry and a gantlet of games against playoff teams to the top seed. The Titans' weakness is a reliance on QB Ryan Tannehill, but a steady diet of runs and play-action will suit the QB just fine as he looks for wideouts Julio Joines and A.J. Brown.
Prediction: Titans 27-24
San Francisco at Green Bay
Time: 8:15 p.m. today (Fox)
The skinny: Green Bay has been priming for the matchup ever since San Francisco ran for 285 yards in the NFC title game two years ago. The Packers are rested and ready and at home this time. Rodgers seems to be on a Super Bowl mission and he has a telepathic connection with Adams and a solid running attack with Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon to keep the defense honest. The 49ers have ridden the electrifying play of receiver/runner Deebo Samuel. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has an injured shoulder and thumb and a penchant for throwing hurtful interceptions. The Packers' pass rush may get bolstered by the return of Za'Darius Smith and Whitney Mercilus, who could team with Preston Smith to harass Garoppolo.
Prediction: Packers 29-21
Los Angeles at Tampa Bay
Time: 3 p.m. Sunday (NBC)
The skinny: Los Angeles can bring the heat from their front four (Aaron Donald, Von Miller) and its running game has brought balance and sense of caution and security to interception-prone QB Matthew Stafford. The return of lead running back Cam Akers paired with Sony Michel has let the Rams pick and choose their passing attempts and there Stafford has great threats in Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. However, they are going against the defending champions and Brady, who will counter the Rams' rush with quick throws. It looks like the Bucs are getting healthy on the offensive line and at running back. The Tampa Bay defense is stout against the run, meaning the Rams may have to throw more than coach Sean McVay wants and when that happens, the Bucs have a good pass rush and opportunistic corners. L.A. will also be without starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth.
Prediction: Buccaneers 26-23
Buffalo at Kansas City
Time: 6:30 p.m. Sunday (CBS)
The skinny: The best game of the weekend may also determine who represents the AFC in the Super Bowl in Los Angeles. The Chiefs and Bills have two of the best offenses in the game, steady defenses and creative coaches. Mahomes vs Allen. Hill vs Diggs. Andy Reid vs. Sean McDermott. Kansas City can get pressure up the middle with Chris Jones, and the Bills have a pair of star safeties in Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde. The Chiefs are trying to get to their third straight Super Bowl. The Bills lost in the AFC title game to the Chiefs and need to get by them to show they are the conference's next power.
Prediction: Chiefs 38-35
Last week: 6-0
– Mark Jaworski, The Journal Gazette