The 2021 NFL playoffs are in full swing, with Super Wild Card Weekend already under our belts. That opening postseason slate included several surprises and its fair share of blowouts with the Raiders, Eagles, Patriots, Cowboys, Steelers, and Cardinals all sent packing. Now, we'll wade forward into the divisional round where the No. 1 seeds are crashing the party after enjoying a first-round bye.
As we've grown accustomed to over the years, you always have to expect the unexpected with the comes to the playoffs in the NFL. With that in mind, here are a handful of bold predictions for the second round as teams try to advance to the conference championship:
Derrick Henry rushes for over 100 yards
All signs are pointing to Derrick Henry being able to play in Tennessee's playoff opener against the Bengals after missing the second half of the season due to a foot injury. The star running back was able to participate in padded practices this week, which again points to him making strong progress leading up to Saturday.
Not only do I anticipate seeing Henry on the field, but I expect him to look like his pre-injury self and control this game for the Titans. Cincinnati's run defense did allow Josh Jacobs to rush for 83 yards on 6.4 yards per carry during Super Wild Card Weekend, and the team will now be without starting defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, who was placed on injured reserve following that win over Las Vegas. That further opens the door for Henry to not only play but play well. For his career, Henry is averaging roughly 111 rushing yards per game in the playoffs. I expect him to be right around that number Saturday.
Jimmy Garoppolo struggles in Niners' loss
Aaron Rodgers has never beaten the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs, going 0-3 in his previous three postseason matchups against the club that infamously passed on him in the 2005 NFL Draft. That domination looks like it's about to come to an end. While Rodgers will certainly play a role in the 49ers' playoff undoing, it'll also be thanks to starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
He made some very poor decisions in the final minutes of the Niners' win over the Dallas Cowboys last weekend but was bailed out of a potential loss when Dak Prescott allowed the clock to run out following a botched QB draw play. In that game, Garoppolo threw a late interception that Dallas turned into a touchdown, and later forced the 49ers to abandon a fourth-down attempt after he didn't check the line to see if everyone was set before he tried the QB sneak.
These miscues do seem to come with the Garoppolo experience under center, and I predict they'll rear their head in this matchup against Green Bay. The only difference is that the Packers can fully capitalize on those mistakes.
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Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs roll over Bills
Almost everyone expects the Bills-Chiefs matchup to be the most tightly contested game on the divisional round slate. While that may ultimately prove to be the case, things are lined up well for the Chiefs to have success and have control of this game from the jump. Buffalo is coming off one of the greatest performances in playoff history against the Patriots when it scored a touchdown on all seven of its meaningful drives.
While that was an awe-inspiring display from Josh Allen and Co., you also don't want them peaking too early, especially when they are on the brink of a shootout with Kansas City. Playing the fully loaded Chiefs team at Arrowhead is a whole lot different than hosting the Patriots in Orchard Park, which could prove to be a daunting task for the Bills. The absence of star cornerback Tre'Davious White also has to play a role for the Bills at some point, which could be this weekend when they face a high-flying passing attack.
Rams dash Bucs' repeat hopes
Full transparency, I picked the Buccaneers to beat the Rams in my weekly picks column. However, this is a BOLD PREDICTIONS story that we're rolling out here, so we're in bounds to zag, even when we think the outcome is going to roll a different way.
The Bucs have been tremendous at Raymond James Stadium this year, owning an 8-1 record with an average margin of victory of 16.1 points (best in the NFL). That said, it wouldn't be that shocking to see the Rams come in and slay the defending Super Bowl champions and dash their dreams of a repeat. After all, the Rams were one of the better road teams in the league this year with a 7-2 record away from SoFi Stadium.
L.A. looked extremely sharp in their win over the Cardinals and suffocated them for essentially the entire first half where they traveled just 40 yards. If they can get that same type of pressure on Tom Brady and get him off his spot early, there's a chance we could see a repeat performance out of the Rams. Meanwhile, the offense for Los Angeles under Matthew Stafford looked tremendous against Arizona, as the quarterback had a near-perfect passer rating of 154.5 on Monday.
History is also not on Tampa Bay's side as we have not seen a back-to-back Super Bowl champion since the 2003-04 New England Patriots.