An electrifying four game slate features an assortment of rookie sensations, underdog stories and do or die matchups, in what is set to be a riveting weekend of football.
Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills
Perhaps the epitome of modern NFL rivalries, the Bills versus Chiefs narrative is set to add another chapter as they clash in what is predicted to be extremely chilly conditions.
The Bills playoff game last week versus the Steelers was postponed 24 hours due to extreme weather conditions, and the forecast suggest temperatures of -7 degrees Celsius. As seen below, the treacherous state of Highmark Stadium merely one week ago…
Despite this, do we really think a little bit of snow is enough to effect playoff Patrick Mahomes? The reigning regular season and Superbowl MVP has had somewhat of a down year to his inflated standards, but his 12-3 playoff record should eliminate all concerns.
Mahomes’ right hand man Travis Kelce failed to extend his six-year 1000 yard regular season streak, falling just short with 984 yards. It seems unusual to say that Kelce was not the best Tight End in the NFL this season, but that’s just the truth.
Kelce’s lack of consistent production is a large reason as to why Kansas City will have a road playoff game for the first time since 2016.
However, Rashee Rice’s ascension into stardom has seen him become the most reliable of Kansas City’s receivers. Rice recorded eight receptions for 130 yards and a TD in the Chiefs 26-7 win over the Dolphins, set to play a pivotal role vs Buffalo’s seventh-ranked passing defence.
On the other hand, the Bills are without a doubt the hottest team in the league, winning six straight matches including a 20-17 slugfest vs the Chiefs only six weeks ago.
The Bills main man Josh Allen had himself a superstar performance versus Pittsburgh, putting up 203 yards and 3 TDs in the air, and 74 yards and 1 TD on the ground. Buffalo’s chances are so heavily in the hands of Allen and his ability to make big plays, but the key to success may be as simple as avoiding adding to his tally of eighteen interceptions this season.
The Tight End one-two punch contributed two touchdowns last week, as Dalton Kincaid and Dawson Knox both found the endzone. Additionally, Running Back James Cook is fourth in the league in rushing yards, and his rushing and receiving abilities will provide further scoring options.
Star Wide Receiver Stefon Diggs has failed to score a touchdown in his last six outings, which is extremely uncharacteristic for his standards. Diggs will need to fire versus the Chiefs second-ranked passing defence if the Bills are to continue their hunt for their first ever Superbowl victory.
A memorable 2022 playoff clash between the two will go down as one of the greatest games ever and if this matchup can replicate even a fraction of that entertainment, it’s sure to be a good one.
The Chiefs just seem to have a way of getting it done against the Bills, whether it’s game-winning overtime touchdowns by Kelce, Mahomes being Mahomes, or simply the toss of a coin. I don’t want to be the one to tip against them…
Prediction: Kansas City Chiefs to win 21 – 20
Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens
The 2022 season saw the Houston Texans end with a 3-13-1 record and finish bottom of the entire AFC. Just 12 months later, their second overall draft pick and rookie Quarterback sensation will lead them into a divisional round matchup with all odds stacked against them.
The Texans are running hot, victorious in four of their last five matches including a 45-14 dismantling of the Cleveland Browns in the Wild Card Round. A lazy three touchdowns and 274 passing yards from Stroud deconstructed one of the NFL’s best defences, and was highlighted by a 76-yard bomb to receiver Brevin Jordan.
With the prominence of Stroud, it is easy to forget third overall pick and Defensive End Will Anderson Jr, who has been an integral part of Houston’s D-line. Additionally, the third overall pick the year prior, Cornerback Derek Stingley Jr and his lockdown coverage and ball-hawking abilities, forefront a youthful yet confident Houston D.
Rookie head coach DeMeco Ryans has perhaps been the largest factor in an astonishing turnaround for an organisation that was in desperate need. A heavily considered candidate for Coach of the Year, Ryans’ leadership and relatability has given Houston football a long-sought identity.
Two pick-sixes, from Steven Nelson and Christian Harris respectively, put the nails in the Browns coffin last week. Evidently, the Texans are a stimulating and vigorous unit that is firing on both sides of the ball, and should by no means be taken lightly.
On the other hand, the Baltimore Ravens’ 13-4 record was the best in the entire league and it’s clear to see why.
Winners of seven on the trot, many view Baltimore as the favourite to win it all. A 33-19 Week 15 win over the heavyweight 49ers and a consequent 56-19 shellacking of the Dolphins, is impossible to ignore; or in other words, they are the best team in the league.
Fresh off a bye week, the one seed will be lead by Lamar Jackson who’s 3678 passing yards and 24 passing touchdowns have all but confirmed his second MVP award. Although mightily impressive, Jackson’s biggest weapon is his legs, scurrying for 820 yards and five touchdowns on the season.
A committee of Running Backs compliment Jacksons’ game perfectly as Gus Edwards, Justice Hill and recent waiver wire add Dalvin Cook can all punch it in when necessary.
All-Pro Tight End Mark Andrews has not suited up since an ankle injury in Week 11 and his status for Sunday is still up in the air. Luckily, backup Isaiah Likely has flourished given his new opportunity, showcasing his athleticism and reliable hands whilst finding the endzone five times.
A squad full of playmakers, the likes of Odell Beckham Jr and Zay Flowers can flip the game on it’s head in an instant, whilst Kicker Justin Tucker may just sink some more 60 yard bombs to further solidify his rightful position as the ‘G.O.A.T’.
So, the MVP versus the Rookie of the Year, two stellar defenses and two genius head coaches, this matchup is guaranteed to have some fireworks in a high-scoring, down to the wire thriller.
Prediction: Baltimore Ravens to win 38 – 35 (Justin Tucker Field Goal as time expires)
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
It’s a tale of two sides in this NFC matchup. Arguably the NFL’s best side all year will host the underdogs being led to playoff success by their rookie sensation quarterback.
With a week of rest under their belt, the 49ers are going into this battle as heavy favourites, as they ended the season on a 12-5 record led the way by young quarterback Brock Purdy.
The offence of the 49ers has been lethal all year, with yardage coming from all over the field. Highlighted by the prowess of RB Christian McCaffrey (1,459 yards, 14 rush TDs) and TE George Kittle (1,020 yards, 6 receiving TDs), it will be crucial for the Packers’ defence to lock down that attacking force.
Meanwhile, the Packers offence shocked everyone last week, piling on 48 points to eliminate the second-seeded Dallas Cowboys on Wildcard weekend, so do not sleep on the ability of Jordan Love.
16 completions of 21 pass attempts, 272 yards, 3 passing TDs and a 157.2 QB rating in his playoff debut? Safe to say Green Bay have found their new franchise QB.
While the Packers are rolling with four straight wins, it will be a challenge for Love and his squad to tackle the 49ers, given they are facing a top 3 defence that features Joey Bosa and Fred Warner.
While Green Bay have been showing their muscle over the last few games, it seems hard to go past the team with a top 3 offence and defence.
Prediction: San Francisco 49ers to win 30 – 17
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Detroit Lions
It was an emotional Wildcard weekend for both the Lions and Buccaneers. Coming into the season facing some long odds, here they both are in the Divisional round of the postseason.
QB Jared Goff led Detroit to their first playoff win since 1992, an incredible effort for a team that had a 3-13 record just 2 years ago.
Meanwhile, Baker Mayfield came into the Buccaneers side mid-season and created an emphatic push to the Playoffs after winning 5 of their last 6 regular season games.
However, Baker’s Bucs are walking straight into the Lions’ den, putting them on the backfoot against the favourites for this matchup.
Tampa Bay have been defying expectations all season. However, they may struggle against a strong Lions defensive unit.
The offence for the Buccaneers has taken a decline since the retiring of Tom Brady, sitting in the bottom third for offensive ratings among the league this season.
The one shining light for Tampa is of course WR Mike Evans, given his 7-straight 1,000-yard seasons. If he can get hot against Detroit, he could be the x-factor that could get Tampa Bay over the line.
However, I believe it will be the offence of the Lions that will carry them over the line. The threats of RB David Montgomery, WR Amon-Ra St Brown and rookie standout TE Sam Laporta has been lethal this year, and I am sure it will be no different this weekend.
The ferocity of the Lions is unmatched this year in my opinion and unfortunately, I think the Baker and Tampa’s story of success ends this weekend.
Prediction: Detroit Lions to win 23 – 20