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VOL. 45 | NO. 3 | Friday, January 15, 2021

Packers, Bucs, Browns, Bills should make NFC, AFC title games

By Terry McCormick

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The four downs segment will be a little different this week since the Titans don’t have an opponent to plan for, thanks to their playoff loss to Baltimore. Instead, our focus will shift to the four remaining games in the NFL Divisional Round.

Let’s take a look at this weekend’s games and see which teams might advance to the conference championship games.

NFC

Los Angeles Rams (11-6) at Green Bay Packers (13-3)

The first thing that comes to my mind this matchup is the Rams of the 1970s standing on the sidelines at old Metropolitan Stadium and losing in the blustery cold to the Minnesota Vikings in the snow and howling winds.

Green Bay won’t exactly be a balmy paradise either for the warm-weather Rams, who come in off an impressive win at Seattle, spearheaded by an Aaron Donald-led defense. But it is another Aaron – as in Rodgers – who will likely be the star of this game.

While the Rams defense should travel well even at Lambeau, the combination of Rodgers to Devonta Adams might be too much for L.A. to keep up with on offense with Jared Goff still not 100% after thumb surgery.

Prediction: Packers 31, Rams 20.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-5) at New Orleans Saints (13-4)

Tom Brady versus Drew Brees with the winner going to the NFC Championship Game. This battle of 40-something quarterbacks is actually the third meeting this season as the Bucs and Saints are division rivals.

Brees and the Saints got the better of Brady and his new team in both previous meetings. The Saints were playing better at the time of both regular-season meetings, but Brady and the Bucs have hit their stride late in the year. Brees, meanwhile, hasn’t really looked the same since missing time with a rib injury and a collapsed lung.

Both teams feature plenty of weapons, as the Saints have Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas and the Bucs feature Mike Evans and Antonio Brown. Can the Saints do it a third time? That won’t be easy.

Prediction: Bucs 30, Saints 28

AFC

Cleveland Browns (12-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (14-2)

The well-rested Chiefs open defense of their Super Bowl championship from last year by facing the upstart Browns, who picked up their first playoff victory in more than two decades by routing the rival Steelers.

The Chiefs, of course, feature Patrick Mahomes and he has plenty of weapons at his disposal with Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins & Co. Kansas City has speed to burn and will be hard to handle in the postseason.

But the Browns actually can match up better than most on defense with the likes of Myles Garrett to rush the passer and a solid secondary.

If the Browns stay in this one, it will be because the defense gets a takeaway or two and they control the offense with Nick Chubb, former Chief Kareem Hunt and the run game to take the pressure off Baker Mayfield.

The Chiefs will be tough to take down, but do the Browns have a look of destiny about them after all these years of failure?

Prediction: Upset special! Browns 27, Chiefs 24.

Baltimore Ravens (12-5) at Buffalo Bills (14-3)

The battle of two of the league’s most mobile quarterbacks when Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, fresh from knocking off the Titans, travel to Buffalo to face Josh Allen and the Bills, who had to have some questionable coaching decisions from Indy’s Frank Reich just to escape in the Wild-Card round.

The battle here will be which defense can better contain the running of the opposing quarterback. The difference, though, is that Allen has a rocket arm and is more of a passer who can run while Jackson needs the rushing element, as he did against Tennessee, to make him more effective throwing the football.

This also is a matchup of two pretty good defenses, and whoever wins the turnover battle could come away with the win.

Prediction: Bills 23, Ravens 20.

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