NFL Divisional Round Preview
After a chaotic Wild Card weekend that saw two major upsets where the 3rd and 4th seeded teams lost in both conferences, those who survived are one step closer to a championship. The Divisional Round also provides us with debuts of the highly coveted top-seeded teams that had a bye last week in the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs. Both squads will host upset-minded teams looking to keep their season alive; while those on the other half of the bracket will try to build on last week’s momentum and spring themselves to the Conference Championship.
Rams at Packers
Rams at Packers (-6.5) | Over/Under: 45.5
The Los Angeles Rams overcame the odds and upended a favored Seattle Seahawks team in their Wild Card matchup. They will once again be underdogs by just under a touchdown this week as they travel up to Wisconsin to face the Green Bay Packers who are without a doubt one of the top NFL picks this weekend. This line may look small to some, especially when you consider Green Bay has not lost since Week 11 and have beaten opponents by an average of 15 points during that span, but it looks like Vegas is showing some respect to Los Angeles who looked like a true contender last week. Whether that momentum will carry them onto the next round is up for debate, but taking the Rams and the points, as well as the Over, is a safe bet as this game will be a close, high scoring affair.
Due to a horrific-looking neck injury to starter John Wolford, Jared Goff was forced to come into Saturday’s Wild Card game in the first quarter against Seattle. Dealing with his own ailments, Goff was able to put up a decent performance of 155 yards and one touchdown on a 47% completion percentage. While not spectacular, he was able to do enough to manage the game and help lead the Rams to victory. He will need to do a bit more on Saturday to keep up with the Packers’ aerial attack. Goff will also have to compete with the elements as well in his first career game at Lambeau Field. He has had back luck in cold-weather games in the past, being a California boy. Goff has 3-4 career record games where he played outside with temperatures below 50 degrees with an average statline of 169 passing yards, 0.5 touchdowns, 1.3 interceptions on a 50% completion percentage with three sacks. It will be interesting to see how he performs on Saturday and if the frigid conditions will give Goff fits again.
After some doubted his abilities to remain among the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, Aaron Rodgers reared back with a vengeance in 2020. Rodgers finished as the QB3, thanks in large part to a career-high 48 touchdowns, and lead the league in other categories such as completion percentage, quarterback rating among others. He has been particularly hot recently, throwing at least three touchdowns in six of his last seven games. Rodgers will be facing an extremely tough matchup this week as the Rams finished 2020 as the top defense against opposing quarterbacks (depending on scoring format). The Rams, who missed Aaron Donald for a large part of their Wild Card game last week, still gave Russell Wilson more than he could handle and made him uncomfortable all day, only allowing 174 passing yards and sacking him four times. All signs point to Donald being available for Saturday’s game, which would be a massive boost, but Los Angeles will still be a formidable defense for Rodgers to overcome.
Much like his teammate under center, Aaron Jones had a chip on his shoulder heading into the 2020 season. The Packers shocked many when they not only selected Jordan Love 26th overall in the 2020 NFL draft but followed it up next round by selecting running back A.J. Dillon, seemly replacing their top two producing offensive players. While these moves will be debated until the end of time, Jones still found a way to be productive despite the noise, finishing as the RB5 in PPR scoring formats. Jones, along with Dillon and fellow running back Jamaal Williams, will be a key factor for this game as Rodgers will rely on them to wear down the Rams’ intense defensive front while also keeping them on their toes for the inevitable play-action shots. Los Angeles has been solid against opposing running backs all year and especially so since Week 15 as they have not allowed a rushing touchdown and have only allowed one running back to gain more than 70 rushing yards in a game (Chris Carson last week with 77 yards). Jones, along with the rest of Green Bay’s backfield, will have their work cut out for them on Saturday but Jones is still a running back to be confident in this week.
Those of us who watched the Rams last Saturday surely grimaced when Cooper Kupp came up limping late in the fourth quarter.
Non-contact injury for Cooper Kupp at the end of the game? 😥pic.twitter.com/RzEIKAQTQ2
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) January 10, 2021
Kupp is someone who has already dealt with various leg injuries in his career, including during the Rams’ Super Bowl run back in 2018 so if this is a serious injury it is something Los Angeles will have to once again contend with. It is not yet known exactly what Kupp’s status will be for Saturday but surely the Rams will ease him back into things throughout the week in hopes to preserve him for game time. If he is unable to go, Robert Woods, Josh Reynolds, and possibly even rookie Van Jefferson will see a jump in roles and potential target count for Saturday.
If you had the pleasure of having Davante Adams on your roster for any length of time this past season, I am willing to bet it was a pleasant if not exhilarating experience. Adams’ 2020 season was the 15th best season in terms of PPR scoring in NFL history, putting him with some very elite company.
|1||Jerry Rice *||1995||33||SFO||16||16||122||1848||15||414||25.88|
|11||Jerry Rice *||1994||32||SFO||16||16||112||1499||13||361.2||22.58|
|12||Cris Carter *||1995||30||MIN||16||16||122||1371||17||361.1||22.57|
In fact, Adams only had one game this season where he failed to notch double-digit points (Week 2 where he scored 6.6 points in PPR scoring but missed a majority of the game due to a hamstring injury). Outside of that, he was about as reliable as one could hope for. On Saturday, he will have the daunting task of facing Jalen Ramsey who has been excellent this season in his own right. He is allowing roughly five yards per pass targeted to receivers he is covering so their matchup will truly be an unstoppable force/immovable object situation, which will make for an amazing watch on Saturday.
In a position that is usually very top-heavy and murky in the middle, Robert Tonyan made a name for himself in 2020 and soared to a TE3 finish (in PPR scoring formats), matching Travis Kelce with 11 touchdowns on the season. It was those touchdowns that kept his fantasy status afloat, however, as Tonyan only had one weekly finish inside the top 18 in games where he did not find the endzone (Week 8 as the TE6). Los Angeles has only allowed three touchdowns to the position group since Week 13 (two of which went to Dan Arnold in that game) so Tonyan will need to be at his best to overcome this matchup. Even if he does not find pay dirt on Saturday, Tonyan still has a stable target floor as one of the top options for the Packers’ offense in recent weeks.
With another disappointing showing last week, hope is fleeting for those seeking fantasy output from Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett (who combined for one reception for four yards on four targets between the two). There is some potential in this matchup, as Green Bay has allowed a top 15 weekly finish to an opposing tight end in three of their last four games; but they are still too risky of a pair for most to have confidence in, including myself.
Both of these offenses may get a majority of the headlines for the Rams and Packers, but their defenses are the key factors in this game. Los Angeles, assuming Donald is active and ready to go, will look to once again be a constant bother for their opposing quarterback both in the trenches and secondary. But, Green Bay also has a solid unit themselves as they have not allowed a team to score over 20 points since Week 14 and has averaged over seven quarterback pressures in that span. Whichever team can use their defense to better control the opposing passing game will come out victorious on Saturday, and based on how they have played recently I will be siding with Los Angeles. I have the Rams winning 28-21.
Ravens at Bills
Ravens at Bills (-2) | Over/Under: 50
After securing their first playoff victory in almost a quarter-century, the Buffalo Bills will try to double their total as they play host to the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens also snapped a long-standing postseason losing streak, winning their first playoff game since 2015 when they defeated the Titans in their Wild Card game. Both squads will look to ride their momentum and secure a spot in the Conference Championship, especially Baltimore who comes into this game as a two-point underdog. With a line this close, your best bet is to pick the team you think will win outright as the spread really only comes into play if it is a one-point game, which I do not see. Bet the Ravens and the Over this week.
Both of these young quarterbacks crossed an important milestone last weekend, securing their first playoff victory. After missing the mark in 2019, both Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson relied on their legs to get their teams over the top last week. This was especially so for Jackson, who finished with 136 rushing yards and one touchdown on the ground and was able to overcome a lackluster day through the air. Allen and Jackson will need to be at their best to keep their teams’ playoff hopes alive and will be a great battle to watch on Saturday.
The Bills made headlines this week by signing veteran running back Devonta Freeman to help fill the void left by Zach Moss, who will miss the rest of the postseason due to an ankle injury. Freeman will join Devin Singletary in a Buffalo backfield that has been overshadowed by Allen in recent weeks. Singletary, and Freeman if he is active for Saturday’s game, will have a tough matchup as the Ravens were able to hold Derrick Henry to under 60 total yards since Week 5. While this was mostly due to a solid gameplan, Baltimore’s run defense is no joke and the Bills backfield will have stiff competition next week.
J.K. Dobbins, in just the second start of his career, made the most of his playoff debut scoring a crucial goal-line touchdown that put Baltimore in the lead. While he still had to share carries with Gus Edwards, it looks as though the Ravens will continue to lean on their young running back this postseason. He and Edwards will attempt to replicate the success Indianapolis found on the ground last week as the Bills allowed 153 rushing yards and one touchdown to running backs last Saturday. Both backs, along with Jackson, will be in line for plenty of work on the ground and should be major factors on Saturday.
In a surprising late-season resurgence, Marquise Brown has become just the weapon Baltimore’s passing attack needed to get their offense as a whole back on track. Since Week 12, Brown is the WR13 (in PPR scoring formats) and continued that production last week (seven receptions on nine targets for 109 yards). For the Ravens to keep up with Buffalo’s high-flying offense, Brown will be looked to often as a speedy, field-stretching option for Baltimore. The Bills’ secondary has allowed over 300 total passing yards in their last two games, giving Brown and his fellow wide receivers a great matchup to look forward to on Saturday.
One matchup that is surely on the mind of both Greg Roman and Leslie Frazier is Mark Andrews versus Buffalo’s defense. Last week, the Bills were lit up by the Colts’ tight end group, combining for 14 receptions on 16 targets for 136 yards and one touchdown. Now, it is unrealistic to expect Andrews to get that same statline on Saturday, but it is worth noting the talent he brings to Baltimore’s offense. He is someone with the skills to fully exploit that weakness and will be looked to frequently this week.
This game, much like the contest before it on Saturday, will be a barn burner featuring two of the NFL’s biggest stars under center. Both guys have the same amount of experience in the postseason so it will be up to their supporting cast to help guide them through and keep them on the right path when they make mistakes. While Sean McDermott and his staff have done a remarkable job in building one of the best teams this season, I have more faith in John Harbaugh and the veterans on the Ravens roster to help guide the ship and secure the victory Saturday night. I have this game going to the Ravens 31-24.
Brandon Sysak is an staff writer for Gridiron Experts. I have been covering different aspects of the NFL, fantasy football and the NFL Draft since 2017. I am originally from Midland, MI but now reside in the Cincinnati, OH area. I began my career with Gridiron Experts covering the 2017 College Football National Championship.