- Cincinnati Bengals
- Tennessee Titans
- San Francisco 49ers
- Green Bay Packers
- Buffalo Bills
- Kansas City Chiefs
- Los Angeles Rams
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The NFL postseason marches on with four appetizing divisional round contests set to take place on Saturday and Sunday. The eight remaining Super Bowl hopefuls will take the field with their sights set on securing their places in next weekend's conference championship showdown. Several powerhouse teams remain in contention to reach Super Bowl LVI such as last year's defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bills, and Tennessee Titans. The margins for error are virtually non-existent. It should all lead to a plethora of entertaining matchups, with Sunday night's high-flying showdown between the Bills and Chiefs serving as the main course. All four of these pairings offer intrigue for various reasons. Each contest provides several talking points and storylines worth following. We isolated one particularly intriguing storyline per matchup.
BENGALS @ TITANS: A RETURN FIT FOR A KING?The Bengals and Titans will be the first teams to kick off divisional weekend and their impending showdown possesses the potential to welcome us to the second round in exciting fashion. The Titans are getting superstar running Derrick Henry back after the 2,000-yard rusher suffered a serious Jones fracture injury on Halloween. Henry was reportedly in danger of missing the remainder of the season but now returns in time for Tennessee's first playoff contest. The former Alabama standout returns to Tennessee’s backfield after 83 days and approximately 12 weeks of rehabilitation. Henry’s triumphant return certainly dominates the headlines here. Head coach Mike Vrabel and offensive coordinator Todd Downing are likely to feature Henry in his usual workload role, with him potentially earning upward of 22 carries. The Titans will aim to control the clock and tempo while keeping Joe Burrow and his exciting blend of offensive playmakers on the sidelines. Henry's effectiveness may ultimately decide the outcome of this contest. If King Henry is truly ready to return to form, a banged-up Bengals defensive line could be in for a long afternoon at Nissan Stadium.
49ERS @ PACKERS: CAN PACKERS OVERCOME PAST MISTAKES?One of the NFL's oldest and finest rivalries will be renewed on Saturday evening when the six-seed San Francisco 49ers travel to Lambeau Field to take on Aaron Rodgers and the one-seed Green Bay Packers. These two teams last met in the postseason in 2019, with the 49ers running out to an extremely comfortable and rather shocking 27-0 halftime lead, culminating in a 37-20 victory. In all honesty, it qualified as a rather embarrassing showing by a paper-thin Packers defense that allowed 49ers ball-carrier Raheem Mostert to run wild over their undermatched run defense to the tune of a franchise record-setting 220 rushing yards and four touchdowns—both of which represent the second-highest totals in NFL postseason history. The Packers were sent home licking their wounds and have since placed an emphasis on beefing up their front seven with several stud defenders. Two years have passed but the Packers will encounter a similar 49ers team that will aim to control the clock by running the ball effectively. Kyle Shanahan possesses a brilliant offensive mind that understands how to scheme up an impressive rushing attack. In 2021, the breakout of Deebo Samuel as both a receiver and ball-carrier has completely transformed this surging 49ers offense. The Packers will hope to avoid a repeat.
RAMS @ BUCCANEERS: CAN TOM BRADY REACH HIS 15TH CHAMPIONSHIP GAME?Tom Brady is undeniably the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. The 44-year-old Brady is somehow still playing at an extremely high level in his unfathomable 22nd professional season. Brady has set a plethora of individual and team-based records throughout his illustrious career, and he'll be looking to reach his record-breaking (his own record, of course) *15th* AFC or NFC Championship Game with a victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday. It would represent yet another unbelievable milestone in a career filled with several jaw-dropping and reality-defining moments. Brady possesses a 35-11 record in 46 career playoff games. A 36th victory would send Brady to his second consecutive NFC Championship Game in as many seasons since trading in the Patriots for the Buccaneers. Standing in his way is a star-studded Rams team that pushed their chips into the middle of the table with the offseason acquisition of quarterback Matthew Stafford, paired with the shocking midseason additions of Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr. The Rams are plenty motivated to reach Super Bowl LVI in their own right, as the spectacle will be played at their home SoFi Stadium on Feb. 13. Brady can continue to push the envelope while further cementing his GOAT status with a victory.
BILLS @ CHIEFS: CAN BILLS EXORCIZE LAST SEASON’S DEMONS?The divisional round will save the best for last when the high-flying Buffalo Bills meet the unstoppable Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday evening. These two high-scoring teams met in last year's AFC Championship Game, with the Chiefs reigning victorious to the comfortable tune of 38-24 en route to advancing to their second consecutive Super Bowl. The Bills put forth an extremely disappointing performance both offensively and defensively on that fateful day. Starting quarterback Josh Allen was at the center of those struggles, as the former Wyoming standout failed to rise to the occasion in the most important showing of his young, promising career. The Bills have since improved and now receive a well-deserved opportunity to eliminate the Chiefs prior to next weekend's conference championship game. The Bills attained some iteration of revenge earlier this season when they handed the Chiefs a 38-20 drubbing on national television in Week 5, but it matters extremely little as we prepare to approach this high-stakes contest. The energy and emotions will be tangible. Head coach Sean McDermott is a true leader of men and Allen has stirred and dwelled on that disappointing loss ever since it occurred. The Bills have an excellent squad that's extremely capable of achieving a different outcome on Sunday.