Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay Packers (Saturday, 9.35pm)
The first encounter of the divisional round should be a fascinating affair. The Packers, fresh from their bye week, boast one of the most dangerous offenses in the league while the Rams are the best defense left in the hunt for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
The Los Angeles defense had a field day against Seattle in the Wild Card round, sacking Russell Wilson five times and collecting a pick-six. Aaron Donald, as per usual, was a one-man wrecking ball through the middle. The defensive tackle suffered a rib injury during the game but is expected to take on Green Bay.
Shutting down Aaron Rodgers, the favourite to win the league’s MVP award, will be a trickier proposition. The Packers’ offense is extremely efficient, combining short and deep passes with a strong running game. Matt LaFleur’s team also possesses arguably the league’s premier receiver in Davante Adams, who has also put together a tremendous campaign. Jalen Ramsey will likely be tasked with trying to shut him down in one of the game’s key contests.
Home advantage certainly seems less influential with only a small number of fans, but playing in Lambeau Field in January is never an easy proposition for visiting teams – especially one based in California.
It is still unclear who will start at quarterback for the Rams. John Wolford started against Seattle, but was injured in the first quarter and was replaced by the recovering Jared Goff. It seems most likely Goff will play, but he is still only a couple of weeks removed from thumb surgery. The fitness of the LA QB room certainly could be a factor.
Key match-up: Can the Packers stop the Rams’ run game?
Throughout this game, there will be phases when the Packers offense is on top, and phases when the Rams defense will wrestle control. However, the run game is absolutely vital to the Rams attack. If Green Bay can stop the impressive Cam Akers rolling down the field, it will go a long way to winning the game.
Cam Akers delivered an influential performance against the Seahawks
Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
Green Bay: David Bakhtiari (out)
Los Angeles: Aaron Donald (expected to play), Cooper Kupp (expected to play), John Wolford (questionable), Jared Goff (expected to play), David Edwards (questionable)
Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills (Sunday, 1.15am)
These two teams both feel like genuine Super Bowl contenders. The Bills were superb in the regular season while the Ravens have come into form at just the right time.
Baltimore did a superb job of stopping the Titans run game last weekend. It will need to be their pass defense that steps up this time around. Josh Allen has added accuracy to his cannon of an arm. If he is allowed to sit in the pocket, he will pick off passes to Stefon Diggs, John Brown and Cole Beasley, if fit.
Expect this to be a high scoring, evenly matched affair with Lamar Jackson and Allen both leading the way for their respective teams. The Ravens have a better defense and running game but Buffalo are so explosive passing the ball.
The game of the weekend.
Key match-up: Can the Bills slow down Jackson?
Jackson dominated against the Titans. Buffalo cannot allow him to pick up the type of yardage he did last weekend. However, as many teams have found out, stopping him is easier said than done.
Lamar Jackson won his first playoff game on Sunday
Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Buffalo: Zack Moss (questionable), Cole Beasley (expected to play)
Baltimore: Mark Ingram (questionable)
Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday, 8.05pm)
It feels as if this game is one too far for the Browns. Having made the playoffs for the first time since 2002, and won their first playoff game since 1994, this season is already a resounding success. Taking on the reigning Champions, fresh from their bye week, is an unenviable task.
If the Browns are to be competitive in this game, they will need Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to come to the fore once more. Cleveland undoubtedly has the ability to put up points against Kansas City.
However, containing the Chiefs will be problematic. Although they were not quite at their fluent best at the end of the regular season, Patrick Mahomes and company have the ability to score from any position on the field.
Cleveland will be boosted by the return of head coach Kevin Stefanski, who watched the win over the Steelers from home due to Covid-19 protocols, but it may not be enough. Beating the Steelers, their old rival, after being severely hit by Covid-19, to win their first playoff game in 26 years was truly special. Has their Everest already been climbed?
Key match-up: Can the Browns pressure Mahomes?
Myles Garrett will need to be a disruptive influence in this game if Cleveland are to win. If Mahomes has time in the pocket, it could be a long night for the Browns.
Myles Garrett was selected in the All-Pro Team
Kansas City: Clyde Edwards-Helaire (questionable)
Cleveland: Jack Conklin (questionable), Joel Bitonio (expected to play), Denzel Ward (questionable), Kevin Johnson (questionable)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints (Sunday, 11.40pm)
Two divisional rivals and two all-time great quarterbacks face off in the final game of the weekend.
New Orleans have already defeated Tampa twice this year, the most recent win coming in convincing style. So do Tampa have what it takes to avoid a third defeat to the Saints this season?
Tom Brady has certainly improved with each passing week in the system – he was excellent against Washington last weekend.
This is likely to be a close encounter. Both teams have a huge amount of talent on offense and possess a defense that is capable of producing a formidable performance on their day.
A tough one to call but the Saints probably just have the edge overall.
Key match-up: Can the blitz get to Brees?
Tampa’s defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is renowned for being aggressive and using plenty of blitz calls. Drew Brees is not as agile as he once was and is susceptible to getting stuck in the pocket. If the Bucs can get to Brees with any form of regularity, the game could be theirs.
New Orleans: Latavius Murray (questionable), Patrick Robinson (questionable), Trey Hendrickson (questionable)
Tampa: Ronald Jones (questionable)