All four teams who played in the last year’s conference championships are still alive heading into the NFL divisional playoffs this weekend.
We are guaranteed at least one newcomer, however.
Cincinnati, led by second-year quarterback Joe Burrow and rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase, will take on top-seed Tennessee on the road Saturday. Derrick Henry, who has not played since Week 8 because of a foot injury, is set to return.
The Saturday nightcap features a classic NFC rivalry between San Francisco and Green Bay at Lambeau Field. Aaron Rodgers is 0-3 against the 49ers in the postseason, and the 49ers have been hot with an offense that features Deebo Samuel and George Kittle.
The Buccaneers routed Philadelphia in the NFC Wild Card round, and that run at home continues against the Rams. Tom Brady has the defending Super Bowl champions on point heading into the divisional round.
The Chiefs and Bills will close the weekend out in the rematch of last year’s AFC championship. Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen combined for 10 TD passes in the wild card round, so the defenses better be ready.
Sporting News finished 5-1 straight up on wild-card weekend. Here are our picks for the divisional round:
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NFL playoff picks, predictions for 2022 divisional games
- Cincinnati Bengals at Tennessee Titans (-3)
Saturday, 4:30 p.m., CBS, Paramount+
The opening line moved down, and the Bengals are a trendy upset pick here. Cincinnati is 6-3 ATS and 5-4 S/U as an underdog this season. The Titans ranked second in the NFL in run defense this season, and the Bengals cannot abandon the run early to keep a solid Tennessee pass rush honest. Henry’s return would be huge for the Titans and Ryan Tannehill. The Titans are 2-3 all time in home playoff home games since relocating from Houston.
It comes down to the Burrow-Chase connection for Cincinnati on offense and whether Trey Hendrickson (concussion) will be available on defense. Burrow showed last week that the moment wasn’t too much for him. Tennessee won’t be easy, and Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor will have to pick his spots to be aggressive.
This comes down to the emerging star in Burrow. He does it again with a late-TD pass to Tyler Boyd that sends the Bengals to their first AFC championship game since 1988.
Pick: Bengals 27, Titans 24
Saturday, 8:15 p.m., FOX, FOX Deportes
This is the ninth playoff meeting between the two classic NFC rivals, and that series is knotted at 4-4. The Packers had a week to rest players, and it will be interesting to see who else returns for the playoff run. Aaron Rodgers, who is 0-3 against the 49ers in the postseason, should be fresh, too. The Packers jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the regular-season matchup but needed a last-second field goal to squeak out a 30-28 win.
Look for Rodgers to get Davante Adams, who had 12 catches for 132 yards in the first meeting, involved early to set a tone against a defense that is waiting to see if Nick Bosa (concussion protocol) and Fred Warner (injury) will be available. Jimmy Garoppolo will have success in the intermediate passing game with George Kittle and Deebo Samuel too against a Green Bay defense that was shaky down the stretch, but it comes down to generating a running game. If the Packers can get ahead early, then Garoppolo will have to take too many chances down the stretch.
Remember, the Packers were 8-0 S/U and 7-1 ATS at Lambeau this season. The Niners were 7-3 S/U and 6-4 ATS on the road. This will be a good one. It’s a similar feel to the last game, but the Packers close the door a little earlier this time.
Pick: Packers 31, 49ers 24
- Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3)
Sunday, 3 p.m., NBC, Peacock, Universo
The Rams have knocked off the Buccaneers in each of the last two seasons, so Tampa Bay has to be careful here. In the Week 3 matchup, Tom Brady (41 of 55 432 yards, TD) and Matthew Stafford (27 of 38, 343 yards, 4 TDs) let it fly in the Rams’ 34-24 victory.
It’s the playoffs. The running game will be more of a factor this time, and Tampa Bay will monitor Tristan Wirfs’ injury throughout the week. They will need him against a pass rush led by Aaron Donald, Leonard Floyd and Von Miller.
Brady will find a way, and Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s expanded role in the wild-card win is not an accident. Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski will catch TDs, but it’s the threat of a running game that protects Brady here.
Pick: Buccaneers 33, Rams 23
- Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs (-2.5)
Sunday, 6:30 p.m. CBS, Paramount+
The Bills routed Kansas City 38-20 at Arrowhead Stadium in Week 5 in a game where Josh Allen had 315 yards and three TDs. Buffalo averaged 21 yards per reception in that game, and the Chiefs could not run the football outside of Patrick Mahomes’ scrambling.
Both quarterbacks flashed their “A” game in the wild card round, and Buffalo’s defense is going to have to find a way to contend with “Playoff Pat.” Mahomes is 6-1 with 20 TDs and one interception in seven AFC playoff games.
Can Buffalo protect the football again? The Bills didn’t have a turnover in the first meeting, and if Allen can do that again with the weapons around him Buffalo will have a chance to get a AFC championship game at home.
We could see that happening, but we just can’t go against the Chiefs at home, especially with a defense that has improved since the first meeting.
Pick: Chiefs 34, Bills 28