My thoughts on all 32 NFL franchises ahead of the chaotic 2021 off-season conclude today with thoughts on the eight teams from NFC south and west divisions.
After a Super Wild Card weekend, we are now down to the final four.
Get excited, cos it’s the divisional round, people!
Here’s the race to the top:
2. Buffalo Bills (14-3) vs 5. Baltimore Ravens (12-5)
Bills Stadium, Buffalo
Sunday 17 January
Kick-off 12: 15pm (AEST)
You really could argue that this is the matchup of two of the hottest teams in the league right now. Baltimore turned the tables on the Titans last week, thanks to some electric runs by Lamar Jackson and a defence that was like a python – not entirely threatening at the start, but suffocating by the end. Many NFL pundits are now tipping Baltimore to continue the hot run and also tip up the Bills, who were less convincing against Indy last week, just holding on to a three-point margin.
One form team will go, so who’s it going to be?
1. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) vs 6. Cleveland Browns (12-5)
Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City
Monday 18 January
Kick-off 7:05 am (AEST)
Well, losing players and coaches to COVID reserve turned out to be no issue at all, as the Browns went put up 28 points in the first quarter against the Steelers, then went on from there to win. Sure, Pittsburgh was terrible, but if there was one lot of long-suffering fans that deserved a win like that it was Browns fans.
Their last playoff win was way back in 1994, when the head coach was an up-and-coming guy named Bill Belichick. Now the question is, after all the rest and rehab, will the real KC please stand up? A lot of folks are waiting for them to cut loose in the post-season.
2. New Orleans Saints (13-4) vs 5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-5)
Mercedes Benz Superdome, New Orleans
Monday 18 January
Kick-off 10:40am (AEST)
Fresh from having their playoff win broadcast on Nickelodeon, New Orleans have got the band back together, with their starting line-up pretty much intact for the big NFC South clash with the Bucs. Tom Brady and friends had too much class for Washington last week, though have lost both games against New Orleans so far this season – including a 38-3 thrashing last time round.
But, this is knock-out football, where old heads like Brady tend to rise and old heads like Drew Brees and the Saints tend to wilt a little. Should be a beauty.
1. Green Bay Packers (13-3) vs 6. Los Angeles Rams (11-6)
Lambeau Field, Green Bay
Sunday 17 January
Kick-off 8:35am (AEST)
Well, who saw that coming? The Rams went to Seattle with a whole bunch of injury issues – including at the most important position and took out the Seahawks with a combination of smart play-calling on offence and defence, defence, defence! Jared Goff, who subbed into the game last week as an injury replacement, will start this week despite his busted thumb, while Cooper Kupp is a little banged up too, although you wouldn’t have thought so with the problems he gave the Seahawks.
Crucially, defensive tackle and football colossus Aaron Donald is fighting through a rib injury, which could be a huge blow to their dominant defence. As for Green Bay, they’ve had a week to rest up and get ready while the other teams bash each other up, plus it’s set to be fairly chilly at Lambeau come game time. I guess that’s why they call it home-field advantage.
Here’s the race to the bottom:
Clinched NFL draft picks 13-24
13. Los Angeles Chargers (7-9)
14. Minnesota Vikings (7-9)
15. New England Patriots (7-9)
16. Arizona Cardinals (8-8)
17. Las Vegas Raiders (8-8)
18. Miami Dolphins (10-6)
19. Washington Football Team (7-9)
20. Chicago Bears (8-8)
21. Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
22. Tennessee Titans (11-5)
23. New York Jets (2-14) – pick via Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
24. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)