The Chicago Bears franchise is in turmoil at the moment following a loss to the Cleveland Browns in Week 3 that can only be described as a train wreck.
The divisional round is the second week of the NFL play-offs and usually one of the more exciting weeks in the NFL on paper, and this weekend looks no different, with four great match-ups.
Pitting the winners of wildcard weekend against the four teams that each earnt a first-week bye, this year’s divisional round provides fresh match-ups and already established rivalries that are certain to deliver excitement to the viewer.
The first match-up of the divisional round, set to start at 8:35am Sunday AEDT, showcases the NFC’s No. 1 seed, the San Francisco 49ers, against sixth-seeded Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings have just come off the biggest upset of the wildcard round, beating the heavily favoured New Orleans Saints 26-20 in overtime in what is one of the most feared away venues in the NFL, the Superdome.
The Vikings were able to get their defensive linemen up in the face of Drew Brees and slow down their dangerous air raid, but it will prove another test if they can step up to the 49ers heavy run attack mixed in with possibly the toughest one-on-one match-up in the NFL, 49ers tight end George Kittle. The key to this game will come down to whether the Vikings can get their run game going, fronted by Dalvin Cook, so that Kirk Cousins can sit back and use his biggest weapon, his play-action passing game, to full effect.
The next match-up of the weekend pits AFC No. 1 seed Baltimore Ravens against sixth seed Tennesse Titans at 12:15pm Sunday AEDT. The Ravens have become the hot team of the league, led by their superstar quarterback Lamar Jackson and his dangerous running attack. Jackson and the Ravens have taken the NFL by storm, boasting a league-best record of 14-2 that has them positioned to maintain home-field advantage throughout the play-offs.
The Titans, however, are coming off beating the defending champions the New England Patriots 20-13 in their backyard led by league-leading running back Derrick Henry, who rushed for 182 yards and one touchdown. The only way the Titans have a chance, however, is if quarterback Ryan Tannehill can produce a more effective stat line. However, the Titans will be boosted with the possible calf injury to Ravens Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram that has limited him in practice this week.
The first Monday match-up of the divisional round showcases two of the best and most exciting quarterbacks in the NFL: Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. At 7:05am AEDT Mahomes’s second-seeded Chiefs will host Watson’s fourth-seeded Texans at Arrowhead Stadium in an AFC showdown. The Texans are coming off a thrilling 22-19 victory over the Buffalo Bills in the wildcard round but will need to quickly move on to the challenge that is facing the Chiefs at Arrowhead.
However, as daunting as a challenge as it is, the Texans in Week 6 were able to beat the Chiefs 31-24 in Arrowhead, though the Chiefs team that played the Texans that day does not represent these Chiefs. Since then the Chiefs defensive problems have become much less apparent.
This match-up, however, is mostly highlighted by the quarterback match-up. These two quarterbacks were drafted in 2017 and are forever linked, as Mahomes taken with Pick 10 and Watson with Pick 12. Many people are expecting a high-scoring shootout, but expect a defensive slugfest separated by a few moments of amazing made by one of the quarterbacks in this game.
The final match-up of the divisional round showcases the NFC fifth-seeded Seattle Seahawks travelling to Greenbay to play the No. 2 seeded Packers at 10:40am AEDT. In what is a rematch of the 2014 NFC championship game, a match in which Seahawks quarterback Russel Wilson and his team snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Half a decade has passed since then, meaning both teams have changed in huge ways, except for both quarterbacks.
But the major change is the environment, now being in Greenbay rather than in Seattle, and this will play a huge part in this game. Greenbay’s record in Lambeau speaks for itself, with the Packers going 7-1 their this season. Both Rodgers and Wilson will have their moments this Monday, but the Packers stifling defence and home-field advantage is what will prove the difference in this game.
This weekend of the NFL play-offs promises to entertain, with the eight best teams set to battle it out as they look to earn their way through to one week closer to their ultimate goal of making Super Bowl 54.