January 22, 2022
For the gambling enthusiasts, here are my divisional round NFL picks. To note, the team logos indicate who I think will win the game, not cover the spread. At the end of the picks, I'll note a few teams that I like based on the spread — with all divisional round lines coming via Sidelines.io.
Bengals at Titans (-3.5): The intrigue of this game is centered around Derrick Henry's return to the field after missing the final nine games of the regular season. Understandably, many are looking at that like, "Uh oh, a fresh Derrick Henry late in the season is trouble!"
And I do agree with that sentiment, however, I think it's also worth pointing out that Henry has gotten out to slow-ish starts in the first game of the season each year, and his tendency is to start dominating once he has a game or two under his belt. A look at each of his Week 1 numbers from when he became the focal point of Tennessee's run game in 2018, until now.
|Year, Week 1 opponent||Rushes||Yards||YPC||TD|
|2018, at Dolphins||10||26||2.6||0|
|2019, at Browns||19||84||4.4||1|
|2020, at Broncos||31||116||3.7||0|
Defensively, I like the Bengals' chances of at least slowing Henry down. Offensively, Joe Burrow and Cincinnati's young, fun offense is rolling.
49ers at Packers (-5.5): If you'll recall in the 2019 NFC Championship Game, the Niners ran for 285 yards, while Jimmy Garoppolo only attempted 8 passes. The Packers simply got steamrolled all day, and couldn't do anything about it. In 2021, their run defense remains a concern, as they allowed 4.7 yards per carry during the regular season, which was third-worst in the NFL.
The Niners have an efficient run game, paired with guys like Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle making plays after they have the ball in their hands in the passing game. It's an offense that should be super easy for any reasonably competent quarterback to execute against a shaky Packers defense.
I love this matchup for the 49ers, except for the part where Garoppolo stinks, and the Packers are undefeated at home.
Rams at Buccaneers (-2.5): I'm taking the Bucs in this game, because, well, Tom Brady has 35 career playoff wins, and Matthew Stafford has one. Stafford also looked like one quarterback during the first half-ish of the regular season, and a completely different one down the stretch:
| Matthew |
|First 8 games||188-273 (68.9%)||2477 (9.1)||22-4||118.0|
|Last 9 games||216-328 (65.9%)||2409 (7.3)||19-13||90.4|
In the wild card round, Stafford's numbers were excellent in a game in which he only attempted 17 passes against the no-show Cardinals. That's a step in the right direction, but not enough to sell me that he's back to his early season form.
My HUGE concern for the Bucs is that center Ryan Jensen and RT Tristan Wirfs are both questionable with ankle injuries. If they can't go, the Bucs' offensive line will be vulnerable against Aaron Donald and Von Miller.
It looks like Jensen will be a go, but I can't imagine Wirfs returns in time for Sunday. Here's what he looked like last Sunday against Ryan Kerrigan:
And here's what he looked like in practice on Friday:
You can see Tristan Wirfs gingerly step back onto his back right ankle...it gave out when he gave up that sack to Ryan Kerrigan last week and then he came out of the game for good. He’s not doing much. Ryan Jensen is a lot more active today from what I’ve seen. pic.twitter.com/I9IlOOF9D2— JennaLaineESPN (@JennaLaineESPN) January 21, 2022
Kerrigan dominated Wirfs' backup, Josh Wells. What's Miller going to do to him?
Still, Brady will find a way against a Rams defense missing both starting safeties.
Bills at Chiefs (-1.5): The Bills have the misfortune of facing the Chiefs at Arrowhead as a result of the Titans earning the 1 seed in the AFC. It's too bad that one of these two teams will be eliminated in the divisional round of the playoffs, because they might be the two best teams in the NFL right now.
These two teams met Week 5, when the Bills smoked the Chiefs in Kansas City, at a time when the Chiefs looked nothing like a team that had just gone to two straight Super Bowls. They have since regained their championship form, so I wouldn't put too much stock in that game, other than maybe a little confidence on the Bills' side that they now know they can win there.
I think the winner of this game will win the Super Bowl. I'm just going to watch and enjoy.
• Last 7 years, ATS: 294-243-13 (0.546)
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