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NFL Divisional Playoffs: Dates, schedule, format and potential upsets

By Graham Shaw

Published: 11:27, 20 January 2022

Super Wild Card Weekend is over, and attention now turns towards the Divisional Round as the NFL playoffs continue apace.

Eight teams remain in the race to reach Super Bowl 56. this weekend, as the top seeds from the AFC and NFC join the six winners from Super Wild Card Weekend. These teams that remain are now just two wins away from a berth in the Big Game on February 13 at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.

The Divisional Round could define careers and legacies, and every game is essentially a mini Super Bowl at this stage.

Divisional Playoff Schedule: NFL UK Times & Dates

* All times GMT

Date Time Match Up Location
Saturday 22/01/22 9:30PM Titans vs Bengals Nissan Stadium
Sunday 23/01/22 1:15AM Packers vs 49ers Lambeau Field
Sunday 23/01/22 8:00PM Buccaneers vs Rams Raymond James Stadium
Sunday 23/01/22 11:30PM Chiefs vs Bills Arrowhead Stadium

Divisional Playoff matchups

The Divisional Round kicks off in Nashville with the Titans hosting a jubilant Bengals team that finally snapped a 31-year playoff drought by outlasting the Raiders 26-19 last Saturday. As a result, the pressure is off this young Bengals side – which could make them even more dangerous.

For the Titans, all eyes will be on rushing king Derrick Henry, went down with a foot injury in the middle of the season. It was expected that his absence would doom the Titans’ season. At his best, Henry is akin to a truck with an F1 engine, which is to say nearly unstoppable. Questions remain as to whether he’ll be 100% healthy coming off his injury. If he is (or anywhere close, really), expect the Titans to ride their bulldozing runner.

Saturday night ends with a fascinating matchup as former colleagues and football savants Kyle Shanahan (San Francisco) and Matt LaFleur (Green Bay) take their teams into a mouthwatering showdown at Lambeau Field. In their previous four meetings, each side has two wins apiece. Most recently, in Week 3, the Packers needed a last-second field goal to defeat the Niners in San Francisco. Home field advantage and the frigid conditions may play into the Packers’ hands here, but this should be a close game.

Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers swatted aside the Philadelphia Eagles in their Wild Card. In the Divisional Round, they will welcome the Los Angeles Rams to Florida on Sunday. The Rams will come into this game with plenty of hope, having defeated the Bucs in Los Angeles back in October, and having won Tampa last season.

Arguably the game of the weekend is the late kickoff on Sunday, as Buffalo travels to Kansas City. The Bills exorcised 20 years’ worth of demons as they routed the New England Patriots 47-17 last Saturday. QB Josh Allen and the Bills offense played a perfect game, becoming the first team in NFL history to go through a game without punting, kicking a field goal or turning the ball over. Their reward is a trip back to Arrowhead Stadium – where they lost last season’s AFC Championship Game – to take on the Chiefs. Andy Reid’s men blew past the Pittsburgh Steelers 42-21 on Sunday night to set up this heavyweight clash. The Bills defeated the Chiefs in September, although the Chiefs did dominate the Bills in last year’s AFC Championship game. Two of the most exciting quarterbacks in the game – Allen and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes – make this one must-see TV.

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Playoff format: No. 1 seeds enter the fray

The Green Bay Packers and Tennessee Titans are the top seeds in the NFC and AFC, respectively. After posting the best records in their respective conferences, both clubs earned a bye for the first round of the playoffs, and each will enjoy home field advantage for as long as they’re alive in the playoffs, until the Super Bowl.

The road to the Super Bowl in the NFC goes through the frozen tundra of Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers went 13-4 in the regular season, and romped to a third straight NFC North division title, and a second consecutive #1 seed.

The Pack enjoyed big wins over the Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers en route to that stellar record. QB Aaron Rodgers, disgruntled in the offseason, returned to produce another fabulous year. He is favourite to repeat as league MVP.

The Titans endured far more adversity during their 17-game regular season. Head coach Mike Vrabel fielded a record 91 different players as injuries and COVID heavily impacted the Titans. Despite that, in a testament to this team’s mindset and self-belief, Tennessee finished the season 12-5, defeating a slew of solid teams along the way. As a result, for as long as the Titans are around, the AFC playoffs will go through Nashville.

In addition to home field advantage and a bye week, the #1 seeds will play the lowest seed remaining in the draw. In the AFC, the elimination of the Steelers means that the Bengals (the #4 seed) are the lowest remaining seed, and must head south to take on the Titans. In the NFC, the Packers welcome the 49ers, after Kyle Shanahan’s team upset the Dallas Cowboys in Texas.


How important is a bye week?

Quite simply, the bye week is an enormous advantage. The opportunity to rest, recover and get injured players back is a massive boost for an NFL team late in the year. The bye week also allows teams to perfect their game plans for when battle does commence. Following the inception of the current playoff format, 58 different teams have made it to the Super Bowl. Forty-seven (or 81%) of those had enjoyed a first-round bye.

Each of the last 10 Super Bowls has featured a team which had a bye and, in the last three years, only last season’s Buccaneers made it to the big game without having a week off. In the 21st Century, only seven championship teams have won the Super Bowl without having had a bye in the first round.

Potential upsets

The most significant chance of an upset comes in Nashville on Saturday, when the Titans host the Cincinnati Bengals. Per Football Outsiders’ total DVOA metric, which collates and analyses all facets of team performance, Tennessee finished 20th in the NFL in 2021. Every other remaining playoff team finished with a higher mark. Furthermore, the Titans boast an average pass defense, which doesn’t bode well as they prepare for Joe Burrow and his trio of star wideouts.

Burrow finished with a passing score of 91 per Next Gen Stats for the regular season, placing him second overall behind only Aaron Rodgers. The second-year signal caller backed up his impressive regular season with a superb outing against the Las Vegas Raiders in the Wild Card round. The Titans’ defensive front is disruptive at the line of scrimmage, but Burrow’s passing score of 88 (third in the league) when under pressure should be enough to overcome the pass rush.

The Bengals will hope that their star free-agent signing from last offseason, defensive end Trey Hendrickson, is healthy enough to play on the other side of the ball. The former New Orleans Saint enjoyed an outstanding first season in Cincinnati, and will need to play a critical role on Saturday. Against the Raiders, the Bengals pressured Derek Carr 43.5% of the time but the Bengals registered zero pressures after Hendrickson left the game with a concussion. Hendrickson will be key against a Titans offensive line which finished 24th in pass-block success.

Lastly, the pressure is off the Bengals. They ended their playoff jinx and can now enjoy this game. This young team does hold several critical advantages over the Titans, and their quarterback is ice-cool. Burrow’s composure, outstanding leadership and elite skills mean he is the better quarterback in this game. The Bengals are more than good enough to pull off this upset.

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