The NFL Divisional Round is upon us, and frankly, it’s the best weekend of the year. Let’s take a look at the four games coming up.
Los Angeles Rams
Green Bay Packers
Saturday, Jan. 16
4:35 p.m. ET
Best mismatch for Rams: Special teams step up. Los Angeles isn’t good on specials, but this is easily the worst part of Green Bay’s team. The Packers rank 31st in punt and kickoff return average, and are bottom-10 in coverage for both situations as well.
Again, the Rams aren’t a powerhouse here, so this isn’t so much a great mismatch as it is an opportunity. In a game expected to be tight, it could be all the difference.
Best mismatch for Packers: Keeping Aaron Rodgers clean. Despite having Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers and Leonard Floyd, the Rams are only 18th in pressure rate (22.6%). Yet, the Rams have 53 sacks, second-most in football during the regular season.
Meanwhile, Green Bay is fifth in sack rate against (3.8%) and T-2nd in sacks allowed (21). With All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari out, can Los Angeles take advantage of a weakened unit?
Stat to know: Los Angeles is first defensively in yards per play (4.6), yards per attempt (6.2) and third in yards per rush (3.8). If the Packers get their high-powered offense revved and rolling, they’ll have earned it.
Saturday, Jan. 16
8:15 p.m. ET
Best mismatch for Ravens: Run, run, run. Baltimore led the league in rushing average (5.5) and total rushing yardage (3,071) in the regular season, paced by quarterback Lamar Jackson and back J.K. Dobbins.
Conversely, Buffalo’s rush defense was T-22nd in YPC against (4.6) and on Saturday, allowed 163 rushing yards on 5.4 YPC to the Indianapolis Colts. If the Bills can’t limit Baltimore on the ground, they’ll go home.
Best mismatch for Bills: Moves in space. Baltimore blitzes more than any team in football (45.4%) and also has the second-most missed tackles (135). If Josh Allen can get the ball out clean and have Stefon Diggs, Gabriel Davis and/or John Brown make someone miss, it’s off to the races.
Now, Baltimore has a pair of excellent cornerbacks in Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, but the latter is notably a lousy tackler. Don’t be shocked if Allen looks his way.
Stat to know: Lamar Jackson is the only quarterback in NFL history to have a pair of 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
Kansas City Chiefs
Sunday, Jan. 17
3:05 p.m. ET
Best mismatch for Browns: Sevens, not threes. The Browns have the third-best red zone offense (73.6%) this season, while Kansas City’s defense is dead last (76.6%).
If Cleveland can get inside the Chiefs’ 20-yard line, they can use their trio of capable tight ends in Harrison Bryant, Austin Hooper and David Njoku to win in tight spaces. Additionally, the backfieldduo of Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb can make their presences felt.
Best mismatch for Chiefs: Throw at will. Cleveland’s defense ranks 29th in DVOA against both deep passes and third down throws, while ranking 30th against tight ends, per Aaron Schatz.
Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce just set a record for receiving yardage in a season (1,416). Furthermore, the Chiefs rank first in passing yardage (4,854), third in passing touchdowns (40) and T-2nd in yards per play (6.3).
Stat to know: Since 2000, there have been 11 teams favored by double-digits in the Divisional round. The favorites are 8-3, covering the spread seven times.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New Orleans Saints
Sunday, Jan. 17
6:40 p.m. ET
Best mismatch for Buccaneers: Don’t run it here. Tampa Bay ranks first in yards per carry allowed (3.6) while the Saints are a respectable 10th in YPC offensively (4.6). If defensive coordinator Todd Bowles can shut down Alvin Kamara and the ground attack, it forces a weak-armed Drew Brees into throwing longer routes.
Tampa Bay shut off the run in both previous contests (220 combined rushing yards) but was beaten with a lack of offense due to a wicked New Orleans pass rush. Speaking of which …
Best mismatch for Saints: Visit Tom Brady. In the two wins New Orleans has over the Buccaneers this season, they have a combined six sacks and 16 quarterback hits. The Saints rank sixth in pressure rate (25.6%) and eighth in sacks (45).
If Brady is consistently rattled by edge rushers Trey Hendrickson and Cameron Jordan, it’ll be a long day in the Superdome for the Bucs.
Stat to know: Since 1970, teams trying to win a three-game sweep of a division rival are 13-7. New Orleans is going for such a sweep on Sunday night.