Here at the sports desk located somewhere below decks of the Good Pirate Ship RedState, we’ve gathered our notes from the extended weekend that was in the NFL playoffs and have prepared comments regarding the four upcoming matchups. This has been done despite Billy Buccaneer’s lack of participation, as he’s been preoccupied with making sure no one touches the portrait he’s lovingly hung in the galley. Questions have been raised as to why the name beneath the painting, believed to be Dorian Gray, has been scratched out and replaced by Tom Brady. We’ll work on that later.
Before looking ahead, some musings on the first round. Four of the six games were so lopsided there were times one could be excused for thinking the networks were reshowing this year’s Cotton and Orange Bowls. The most surprising blowout was Buffalo’s stampeding of New England; while it did not surprise that the Bills came out on top, Josh Allen and company’s total domination was a fearsome thing to behold. Bills Mafia is smiling in-between breaking tables, a pregame ritual amply testifying to the desultory effects lengthy, bitterly cold winters have on even the keenest minds.
Anyway, a look ahead.
Cincinnati Bengals at Tennessee Titans — Seldom before in the course of human events has there been a postseason match in any sport with less national interest. It’s not because the game lacks for interest, but rather how neither team has a following outside its ZIP Code. The Titans do not excite, but they do win a lot. The Bengals have been irrelevant for so long that three-quarters of Ohio’s population believes the state’s only NFL team resides in Cleveland. Nashville is actively trying to keep the remaining 25% out of town. Spoilsports.
This aside, the game has some intriguing elements for football aficionados to savor. Tennessee may have stud running back Derrick Henry back from a broken foot that caused him to miss the season’s second half. If he plays, it’ll make Cincinnati’s rushing defensive duties that much harder. (The preceding sentence was courtesy of the usually best ignored Captain Obvious.) That said, the Bengals were a top-five squad this year against the rush. Tennessee is average in the air; Cincinnati at defending against the pass less-than-average. The Titans are also subpar on pass defense — given how when the Bengals have the ball, you have Joe Burrow, rapidly ascending into quarterbacking’s upper echelon, throwing to Ja’Marr Chase, things could get ugly in a hurry. This figures to be Cincinnati’s primary attack method, as it doesn’t have much of a running game and Tennessee is excellent at defending against same. So, despite the lack of interest in the teams themselves, this could be a fun one.
San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers — The 49ers have a decent running attack. The Packers aren’t very good at stopping the run, which is good for San Francisco as, despite George Kittle and Deebo Samuel, the air game is questionable going into frozen tundra land. Pretty Boy Jimmy Garoppolo is pretty beat up, and Trey Lance is not yet ready for prime time. Unfortunately for the 49ers, they don’t get to keep the ball all day, and Aaron Rodgers is, well, Aaron Rodgers. Oh, and much of San Francisco’s secondary is in the same physical condition as Garoppolo. What could go wrong?
Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Tom Brady vs. Aaron Donald. Okay, it’s not quite that simple, but you get the idea. Even with a depleted receiving corps, Brady is still at the top of his game. Which is good, as the Buccaneers are even more depleted at running back than they are at wide receiver. The Rams are at their best when they have the running game going, thus taking pressure off of Matthew Stafford, who, as noted last week, was alarmingly inconsistent down the stretch. However, when he’s on his game, Stafford is an elite quarterback. Tampa Bay’s defense is excellent against the run, a bit below average against the pass. Los Angeles’ defense gives up a lot of passing yardage but few touchdowns through the air. Something’s got to give. If the Rams can either get an early lead or neutralize the Buccaneers ground game, thus forcing Brady to pass nonstop … hi, Aaron.
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs — Shootout time. The Bills and Chiefs are both going full tilt on offense. Both teams are top-notch through the air. Buffalo is a bit better running the ball than the Chiefs and way better at defending the pass. Still, we are talking Patrick Mahomes, so expect magic. However this game turns out, it will not be dull getting there.
Enjoy the weekend, everyone.