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NFL Pick’em: Divisional Playoff Round Breakdown

Derrick Henry

NFL Pick’em

This season, I’ll be providing my picks every week for you, our readers. I’ve been Gridiron Experts’ Pick ‘Em columnist for the past few seasons, and I’m glad to be back at it again! We’re hoping to have even more success this year! Each week, I’ll give you my picks for the Sunday games, and a short write-up centered around the key reason why I’m making the pick that I am. You can also click over to see all our Free NFL picks for the week with more than a dozen Gridiron Experts picking each game.

Cincinnati @ Tennessee (-3.5)

Fresh off their first playoff victory in decades, Cincinnati will look to keep their Cinderella story going. The Bengals will head to Nashville to take on the #1 seed Tennessee Titans. The Titans have been resting and waiting for their opponent, and the extra rest has done wonders for this team that set a record for the number of players used in a season. The most notable of those returning to health is RB Derrick Henry, who has been out since Halloween with a Jones fracture in his foot. Henry has been silently rehabilitating and returned to practice before the Titans’ Week 18 showdown with Houston. The extra week of rest provided by the first round Bye was especially beneficial to Henry, who looks to return for this clash with the Bengals. While all signs point to him playing, the Titans will make an official decision on Henry’s activation on Friday. Should Henry return, it’ll provide a huge boost to the Tennessee offense, and team morale in general. This will be the first time since Week 8 that the Titans will have Henry, Julio Jones, and AJ Brown all on the field at the same time. The Bengals are not short of elite skill players either. Led by QB Joe Burrow, Cincinnati has a dynamic attack that has big-play potential at any moment. Burrow’s undisputed #1 option is rookie WR Ja’Marr Chase, his former college teammate. Chase’s ability to catch anything thrown his way and after-the-catch prowess make him truly difficult to defend.

What makes Cincinnati so lethal, though, is their depth. Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd also loom large within the Bengals’ WR corps, making every single member of the opposing secondary especially relevant. If a given team’s DB2 or DB3 can be exploited, Cincinnati will find a way. RB Joe Mixon also provides another dimension to this offense, as he stayed healthy all year and was incredibly productive, racking up yards, and scoring repeatedly. One notable injury that will have some effect on the game is the absence of DT Larry Ogunjobi, who was placed on season-ending IR last week. With Henry back, and the healthy D’Onta Foreman manning the backfield for Tennessee, Ogunjobi will be missed. These teams are both dynamic, efficient, and capable of big plays at any moment. One big advantage I see, though, is the Titans’ defensive front. Between edge rushers Bud Dupree, Harold Landry III, and Denico Autry, and the powerful Jeffery Simmons in the middle, I think Tennessee can exploit the Bengals’ offensive line and get to Burrow. Should they do so, it’ll hamper Cincinnati’s ability to get the ball downfield to their stud WR corps and make them focus on running the ball with Mixon. While Mixon can take over a game, the Titans run defense is one of their strengths, so it should limit his effectiveness. With the return of Henry, and the home crowd energized, I like the Titans to put on an offensive display, and hold off the feisty Bengals in Nashville. Titans 30-24.

San Francisco @ Green Bay (-5.5)

Deebo Samuel

The 49ers knocked off the Cowboys in Dallas last weekend, in the upset special of the week. QB Jimmy Garoppolo just continued his winning ways, despite the critics’ opinion of him, and a litany of injuries. Much of the credit for the San Fran victory should go to sparkplug WR/RB Deebo Samuel, who added 110 total yards of offense and an electric TD run. Samuel’s versatility has been essential for the 49ers this year, as they’ve endured injuries, and spurts of bad performance from their key pieces. TE George Kittle was noticeably quiet against Dallas but is someone to fear, as he can singlehandedly take over a game when left enough room to maneuver. Splitting rushing duties with Samuel is RB Eli Mitchell, who has had an impressive rookie campaign, and gives HC Kyle Shanahan yet another piece to work with. With DE Nick Bosa and LB Fred Warner seemingly avoiding major injury and ready to play, the 49ers’ defense seems poised to try and contain the #1 seed Packers. Slowing down Aaron Rodgers & Co. will be no small task, especially at Lambeau Field. Rodgers is operating at his best and seems ready to make a run at another Lombardi Trophy. With WR Davante Adams highlighting his WR corps, Rodgers has one of the best pass-catching options in the game on his side as Green Bay looks to pick on the 49ers’ secondary.

RB Aaron Jones also looms large in the backfield, along with RB AJ Dillon. The duo of Jones and Dillon truly gives Green Bay the option to play two different games: focus on the run game, or let Rodgers take over and throw the ball 50 times. Personally, I can’t stop thinking about Adams in this matchup. While San Francisco can hang with anyone in the NFL, I think Adams will take this game over on Saturday. When I look back to San Francisco’s Week 16 matchup with Tennessee, AJ Brown took over the game, catching 11 balls for 145 yards and a TD. I expect Adams to turn in a similarly dominant performance and for the Green Bay rush defense to disturb Shanahan’s game plan. While I do believe San Francisco will keep it close, I believe Rodgers will turn in a vintage performance, allowing the Packers to get the win late. I do see this as a 1-score game, though, and like the 49ers with 5.5 points here. Packers 26-24.

Los Angeles Rams @ Tampa Bay (-3)

The Rams absolutely embarrassed the Cardinals in the Wild Card round, rendering Kyler Murray completely ineffective, and moving the ball at will. With Matthew Stafford at the helm, and a group of elite skill options on the outside, Sean McVay’s offense is certainly tough to slow down. A big piece of this offense’s dynamic nature is the emergence of WR Odell Beckham Jr. Since joining Los Angeles, Beckham has found his groove, and has grown a stellar rapport with his gunslinging QB, Stafford. With Beckham’s big-play ability, and WR Cooper Kupp logging one of the best WR seasons in NFL history, the Rams have no shortage of options. Kupp is especially lethal and can torch teams with a death-by-a-million-cuts approach. It’s commonplace for Kupp to grab 10 balls in a game, and he averaged over 100 yards per game in the regular season. In the backfield, the solid running of Sony Michel was vital to the team’s success down the stretch, and the return of RB Cam Akers was a huge boost after he sustained an Achilles’ injury this offseason. On the other side of the ball, the Rams defense is one of the league’s most formidable. They have two of the best defensive players in the game with DT Aaron Donald and DB Jalen Ramsey, both of which should have huge impacts in this contest. The Buccaneers are the defending champions, but they’re quite banged up. They’ve lost WR Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown (non-injury) for the rest of the year, Ronald Jones II is in danger of missing the game, and two of their linemen, Ryan Jensen and Tristan Wirfs haven’t practiced yet this week with ankle injuries. The last thing Tampa Bay needs is for Aaron Donald, Von Miller, and the rest of the Rams’ front to be lining up against replacement linemen, or two that are hampered by ankle injuries.

RB Leonard Fournette has been out for a while but should play in this game. Otherwise, the Bucs would be in a bit of trouble with only WR Mike Evans as a true standout contributor on offense. If there’s anyone that could will a band of misfits to a victory, it’s the greatest QB of all time, Tom Brady. With Evans at his side, Brady should be able to move the ball effectively and find holes in the Rams’ defense. However, if he’s constantly under pressure, and Fournette isn’t able to offset the passing game with his rushing, Brady might have a bit of trouble keeping up with LA. My fear for the Buccaneers defensively is that they’re at a bit of a matchup disadvantage here. The Tampa rush defense is elite, behind the play of DT Vita Vea. However, the Rams’ strength is throwing the ball, and Stafford is happy to do that as many times as McVay asks him to. I believe that LA will throw the ball repeatedly to exploit the Bucs’ secondary, which has struggled throughout the season. I see Kupp and Beckham dominating the game upfield, and having stellar games. While Tom Brady can certainly pull out any contest, against all odds, I do think that his injured offensive line will loom large here, and will keep him uncomfortable on Sunday. If Wirfs and Jensen return in full health, it’d likely change my pick, but for now, I like the Rams to pull the upset in Tampa Bay. Rams 27-26.

Buffalo @ Kansas City (-1.5)

The Sunday Night game is easily the most anticipated of the weekend. Buffalo embarrassed the Patriots last weekend and heads into Kansas City on a high. Patrick Mahomes and the Cheifs will be waiting, after unceremoniously knocking off the Steelers in the Wild Card round. The Chiefs are scorching hot, having lost only one game since October. Mahomes and his connection with TE Travis Kelce is as strong as always, and they have the speedster Tyreek Hill waiting in the wings. With RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire slated to play after logging full practices this week, Kansas City can expect another jolt on the ground. On the other sideline, the Bills are also on a bit of a hot streak, having dispatched the Patriots in the Wild Card round on the shoulders of a 5-TD performance from QB Josh Allen. With RB Devin Singletary running quite well and having scored 2 TD last weekend, the Bills’ attack is growing more dynamic week by week.

stefon diggs

Obviously, Allen’s top target is WR Stefon Diggs, who can gobble up passes in bunches. TE Dawson Knox is an elite Red Zone option, and WR Gabriel Davis is an emerging downfield threat. Such a diverse set of playmakers makes Buffalo’s offense tough to prepare for. Defensively, Buffalo has a bit of an advantage, as they rank 1st in scoring defense, 1st in total yards allowed, 3rd in interceptions, and 1st in passing yards allowed per game. On the other hand, the Chiefs rank 27th in total yards allowed, and 27th in passing yards allowed. However, they rank 8th in scoring defense, which shows their ability to create turnovers, and limit Red Zone touchdowns. Limiting Mahomes is the key to beating the Chiefs, and it seems that Buffalo is equipped to do just that. With that said, you can never count out an Andy Reid-coached team, especially at home in January.

Mahomes has a knack for performing when the spotlight is on him, but so does Josh Allen. Both of these teams can score points, but I think Allen is best suited to exploit the Chiefs’ secondary, especially coming off of his 5 TD performance against the stingy Patriots. I think this will be an exciting game that comes down to the end, but believe that Allen is poised to rip off a few big plays on Sunday, while the Bills’ secondary will do enough to contain Mahomes. Give me Buffalo in an upset. Bills 24-23. 

Enjoy the games! Until next week…

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