2021 Divisional Round Preview: AFC Edition
After an eventful Super Wild Card Weekend featuring six games, we’re moving on to the Divisional Round. While the remaining NFC quarterbacks are some of the oldest in the league, the AFC quarterbacks are some of the NFL’s brightest stars. At 26, Jared Goff is the youngest quarterback left in the NFC, while 25-year-old Baker Mayfield is the oldest in the AFC.
While some of the greatest in NFL history will battle it out in the NFC, let’s take a look at what this weekend’s AFC matchups have to offer.
#1 Kansas City Chiefs vs. #6 Cleveland Browns
Game Info: Sunday, January 17th at 3:05pm at Arrowhead Stadium
After enjoying a bye week during the Wild Card Round, the Kansas City Chiefs are ready for their first taste of playoff action this year. They’re facing a Cleveland team that is feeling confident after knocking off the Pittsburgh Steelers and have enjoyed every second of it since. However, Kansas City poses a much bigger challenge for a Browns defense that although was able to force turnovers, still gave up 501 yards and four touchdowns through the air. If Big Ben can do that with a couple of TikTok stars, imagine was Patrick Mahomes can do with Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill.
It’s no secret that the Chiefs have a dangerous offense, averaging 29.6 points per game this season. It’s hard to have much faith in Cleveland right now, but the Browns are expected to get Denzel Ward back after a stint on the COVID list which should be a nice boost to their defense. Oh, and they’ll actually have their head coach with them too.
Let’s be real, the Chiefs are heavy favourites in this game and should win pretty easily. Anything can happen in playoff football, but usually be the Conference Championship games, the teams that are supposed to be in it are still alive. It’s been huge for the Browns to make the playoffs and finally win a playoff game, but their feel-good story ends this weekend.
Kansas City has too many weapons on the offensive side of the ball, and their defense is good enough to avoid any big mistakes. Mahomes finished the season second in passing yards, posting 4,740 in just 15 games and is likely going to be the runner up for league MVP. He hasn’t really shown much of a weakness yet. I’m going to stop short of guaranteeing a win, but if I had to pick a winner my money is on KC. At best, the Browns cover the spread.
#2 Buffalo Bills vs. #5 Baltimore Ravens
Game Info: Saturday, January 16th at 8:15pm at Bills Stadium
Lamar Jackson gets a lot of credit for being one of the best rushing quarterbacks in the league, but it’s time to put some respect on Josh Allen’s name. In their Wild Card game against the Colts, Buffalo’s running backs combined for 42 yards on 10 carries. In addition to throwing for 324 yards and two touchdowns against a good defense, he also ran for 54 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. He beat the Colts through the air, and was the most efficient rusher on the team as well.
Bills Mafia has a lot to be excited about, but they’ll have to get by a Baltimore team that is looking to live up to the high expectations that have followed them for the last few seasons. Jackson was last season’s MVP, and while he finished this season ranked 22nd in passing yards, he also finished ninth in rushing yards with 1,005.
Not only do the Ravens have one of the most dynamic players in the league, but they also have a defense that allows just 18.9 points per game, the second fewest in the league. That defense is going to be put to the test against the Bills, but the key for both teams is going to be to limit what the quarterbacks can do on the ground. For Buffalo to win, they can’t let Lamar Jackson run wild. Josh Allen’s legs seem to be his X-factor, so Baltimore needs to work to limit the damage he does in the running game.
This is set up to be the closest game of the weekend, with the Bills currently a -2.5 favourite. Looking ahead, I feel like a Kansas City vs. Buffalo matchup would be the most entertaining Conference Championship, but both games in the AFC this weekend are going to be worth the watch.