After a really fun first weekend of NFL playoff action, we have arrived at the divisional round, where the four teams that will meet for the AFC and NFC Championship games will be determined.
There are many who will tell you this actually is the best weekend of the playoffs, and there’s something to that because it’s typically four really good games now that the top seeds are back in action following their bye.
Here then is a countdown of the matchups in terms of viewer appeal with thoughts on Dolphins connections, followed at the end by predictions ranked in order of confidence.
4. L.A. Rams (10-6) at Green Bay (13-3), 4:35 p.m. ET (FOX, FOX DEPORTES): The beauty of this matchup obviously is the battle between the Rams’ top-ranked defense against the Packers’ top-ranked scoring offense. It’s Aaron Rodgers against Aaron Donald, Davante Adams and Jalen Ramsey. Good stuff. Interesting to note here that with Pro Bowl regular David Bakhtiari out with a knee injury, it was former Dolphins guard Billy Turner who started at left tackle for Green Bay in its regular season finale.
3. Tampa Bay (11-5) at New Orleans (12-4), 6:40 p.m. ET (FOX, FOX DEPORTES): It’s the third meeting of the season between Tom Brady and Drew Brees, with the Saints looking for a sweep. The Buccaneers survived the heroics of Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke in the first round, while the Saints were making slime of the Bears (sorry) in the Nickelodeon game. Look for former Dolphins DT Ndamukong Suh to play a big role in this game. He had six sacks during the regular season.
2. Cleveland (11-5) at Kansas City (14-2), 3:05 p.m. ET (CBS, ESPN DEPORTES): The defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs begin their postseason title defense against a Browns team that celebrated its first playoff appearance in 18 years with a wild victory at Pittsburgh. With Kansas City’s top-ranked passing offense and the Browns’ third-ranked rushing offense, this has the makings of a high-scoring game. Former Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry no doubt will be a big factor when the Browns go to the air on offense.
1. Baltimore (11-5) at Buffalo (13-3), Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET (NBC, UNIVERSO): The two most successful members of the QB draft class of 2018, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson go head to head at Bills Stadium. Both teams are coming seven-point victories in the first round, with Jackson recording his first playoff victory after disappointing home losses the past two seasons. The forecast, according to AccuWeather, calls for temperatures in the low 30s throughout the game, though wind gusts between 25 and 31 mph could make things tricky for the passing game.
PREDICTIONS (in order of confidence):
Packers over Rams: Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the Rams after the way they shut down Russell Wilson and the Seahawks last week, but Aaron Rodgers ended the regular season on another level and it’s difficult to see him go one-and-done in the playoffs.
Browns over Chiefs: Yes, this is crazy talk, but there are two factors at play here that are significant. The first is Cleveland’s running game, which is good enough to make it a long day for the Kansas City defense and could keep Patrick Mahomes on the sideline while scoring points. The second, and perhaps more important, is that Mahomes and other key players on the Chiefs offense will be playing for the first time in three weeks after they sat in the regular season finale and then had their bye. And before that the Chiefs weren’t exactly blowing out opponents (seven consecutive wins by six points or less).
Bills over Ravens: This could get tricky if the wind really hinders the passing game, but Buffalo just looks like a better team right now on both sides of the ball – even if Jackson was able to get in the win column in the playoffs last week.
Saints over Buccaneers: The notion of the difficulty of beating an opponent three times in the same season is a myth, as stats show and as the Dolphins proved when they did it against the New York Jets all those years ago. That said, it’s hard to look back at the past few weeks and not come to the conclusion that Tampa Bay has looked slightly better than New Orleans lately. That said, we’ll stick with the Saints because it’s a more balanced team.
For the record, I went 4-2 last week, hitting on the Bills, Bucs, Ravens and Saints, and missing on the Seahawks and Steelers.
Here are some other SI team publisher predictions for this weekend: