NFL Division Round Playoffs Preview – Will We See Any Upsets?

Doesn’t matter how chipper Russell Wilson may sound on Twitter, the vast majority of Seattle Seahawks nation is still many, many legions deep in mourning for the 2020 season. Baffled, bewildered, bereft. Nothing can nor even begin to describe the cognitive dissonant hoops I’ve had to jump through this extra long, slow, cold week in January. I thought the Hawks were turning the corner, gathering speed, getting better. After the greatest offensive start statistically in franchise history through five games, a long overdue Pete Carroll-Russell Wilson Super Bowl return appeared downright inevitable after solving some of our defensive woes. 

And we did solve our defensive problems – after Week 10, during the second half of our loss to the Rams – just in time for everyone and their defensive coordinators to devise the best, most efficient method of stymying the winningest NFL quarterback through nine seasons ever, Russell Wilson, and the two statistically greatest record-setting wide receivers in franchise history, Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf. 


I’m sure I’m not alone when I admit I drank the rave green Kool Aid extra vigorously this year. Following the godawful, mortifying revelation that Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay can, and will, and now has proven 5 times out of all 7 matchups with Pete Carroll, he may clip our beloved sea bird wings nearly any week he chooses to do so, no matter how shallow his talent pool is – and let’s be honest, the Hawks lost to a four fingered system quarterback after Russell Wilson threw what has to be the first WR power bubble screen pick-six out in the flats I think any of us has ever seen while not playing Madden – all I can say is, and with any sort of convoluted coherence, that I’m thrilled we fired, you know who, but it still hurts to know what could have been for the Hawks.

However, I’ve overcome my agony by looking ahead. Maybe Wilson is onto something after all; and maybe you’ve bounced back as well because, frankly, the NFL’s inaugural double triple header Wild Card round was thoroughly excellent. LaMar Jackson snagged his first and extra elusive playoff win, and the first in his three tries, and has been MVP caliber every week, since what is arguably the most infamous in-game locker room visit in Cleveland this century. (Just Google this rumor if you don’t believe me when I say Jackson did not simply suffer cramps during the climax of the best NFL regular season game all year.)

Sticking with this century’s big news, the Bills (no playoff wins since 1995) and the Browns (no playoff wins since 2002) both won explosive thrillers worthy of the hype that preceded what must represent some sort of unofficial star quarterback changing of the guard – Baker Mayfield for Ben Roethlisberger (rumored to be on the verge of retiring, might come back) and Josh Allen for Philip Rivers (also rumored to be retiring, but actually going to do it).

Though not every game during the double triple headers was superbly competitive, or clean, because it’s professional football where violence and messiness abounds as a rule. Segue into the Saints winning the inaugural(?) and extra goofy Slime Bowl broadcasted by Nickelodeon that featured a few fun gimmicks, but also a penalized player clearly cursing into the head referee’s microphone after explaining a penalty to the limited Superdome crowd. Also, a note, the Bears looked so bad on most of their drives, that when the wet firecracker NVP award went to the losing team’s quarterback, Mitch Trubisky, in large part due to internet trolls and possibly some added CGI catalyzed inattentiveness, it felt, and remember, I don’t have proof of this, as though the NFL faithful went out of their way to prevent this from occurring again. 

Then in our nation’s capitol, the GOAT, Tom Brady prevailed for new-look Tampa. But Brady was instantly and consistently overshadowed by a new quarterback star born in four quarters despite losing the game for Washington. Taylor Heinicke brought to life the old Matt Flynn saga – show up for one game and flourish – and then sports writers everywhere predicted something like a massive pay day for the gunslinger, before, later in the week, Heinicke was, for all intents and purpose, cancelled for posting a slew of uninformed false equivalences. Heinicke’s more than questionable online content was deemed reprehensible by many in the sports writing universe, including, but limited to non-other than chief iconoclastic social justice silver tongue’d warrior, Jemele Hill, for his, Heinicke’s anti-BLM and pro-Trump Twitter rhetoric. Remember, Hill was fired from ESPN for calling Donald Trump a white supremacist on air. Seems like she knows the score. But I digress…

We are swiftly approaching what’s historically been the utter zenith of potential NFL entertainment value for fans everywhere: when the first round bye week recipient top seeds in the AFC and NFC return to the field for what is in my personal, subjective, but nonetheless devout, zealous Church of the NFL adoring, divine, Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs. Four phenomenally fascinating games forthcoming. Let’s play Nostradamus while previewing core elements of every matchup.


1. Los Angeles Rams vs. Green Bay Packers – 1/16 on Fox @ 1:35 PST

The Packers, arguably the NFL’s best offense, 32 points per game, and the Rams, the NFL’s best defense, about 18 per game, are slated for what I can only imagine will become a classic, gruesome, captivating slugfest. (But it could be a blowout too…) Aaron Rodgers, still the clear MVP front runner is guilty of committing only one poor kinetic witticism this season when he briefly appeared in a Bose wireless headphones commercial. Instead of dancing, he pretended he was an orchestra conductor wagging an invisible baton to music and melody nobody could hear (isn’t this Nietzsche?) that did not match the rhythm of the background music playing. Other than that, Rodgers has been as good or better than ever, and an absolute offensive maestro, if you will.

Offense: Packers – Nick Saban is on record, recently, as proclaiming, and to paraphrase, that yes, defense is important, but modern football is now all about offense (Negating the old maxim that defense wins championships). And the current Packers offense? Superlative. Devastating. Has been all year. Rodgers owns the league’s best QBR, 84.3, has thrown 48 TD, and has 4,299 yards in the air, with only 5 INT, another league best. Plus, Davante Adams had 115 REC, 1,374 yards, and 18 TD. When these two link, the Pack is untouchable. In the style of a classic juggernaut, the Packers offense scored 509 points this season as well. Who can argue with these numbers? I certainly can’t. 

Defense: Rams – Jalen Ramsey is so mind blowingly good this year, and with each excellent successful performance against, and adjacent top wide outs every week, he is rapidly becoming the inheritor of many well deserved legendary shutdown status juxtapositions. Ramsey is the only player who consistently manhandles DK Metcalf. Watching Ramsey cover is like equal parts Revis Island, Sherman’s days in the Legion of Boom, but then blended with Deon Sanders’s best instincts. There is no better shutdown DB in the league. Period. The only way the Rams steal this game from the Packers is if they force more than two turnovers, maybe three, while also preventing the Packers from scoring enough to take the lead at the half. Since Aaron Donald is clearly not at one hundred percent, it’s Ramsey, of the Rams, who must lead this charge.

Coach: Rams – McVay has the edge over the play calling savant LaFleur in this comparison that almost feels like a toss up, but only because this Rams team and their success so far, feels distinctly reminiscent of what Mike Tomlin did with his extra depleted Steelers team last year. There were no fans, and no Twelfth Man at Lumen Field last weekend, but still, to go on the road with many stars missing and or severely injured in every major position group, is impressive. Credit where credit is due. 

Prediction: Aaron Rodgers rises above it all and becomes Superman (isn’t this, again, Nietzsche?) as the Packers avoid Jalen Ramsey and still ailing, wounded Aaron Donald; enough to exploit what little flaws exist in the Rams defense – and exactly what we’ve overlooked – until maestro finds the elements of some secret rhythm and hypnotically efficient melodious thoroughfare to the tune of three extra touchdown passes. 

Packers 35 – Rams 23

2. Baltimore Ravens vs. Buffalo Bills 1/16 on NBC @ 5:15 PST

Offense: Slight edge Bills – This could go either way. How could anyone believe Jackson loses after last week’s gutsy triumph in Tennessee? It’s exhausting, inventing that kind of logic. But here we go: Josh Allen is my own dark horse MVP candidate (though I don’t get a vote) for many reasons; not the least of which is his astronomical completion percentage ascendancy. There are many great TikToks that diagram this feat if you feel compelled to dig deeper into why Josh Allen is the most improved QB of the year. But let’s not also forget Allen’s secret weapon, improvisation, and an alarmingly efficient set of wheels. The not so also ran, speed demon, Allen has about as many rushing QB accolades, and skills, and TD highlights and in-game commentator mentions for running as the – at least to me – certifiably hottest QB during the NFL’s second half, LaMar Jackson. Once Jackson returned from his positive Covid test, he played like a man possessed. His best game of the year was just last week. Hot at the right time, Jackson had 179 yards in the air and 136 yards on the ground. How does anyone guard that? Same question applies to Allen. The best answer I can fathom is this: I don’t think you do. If you’re a Bills or Ravens fan, I think you just hope your quarterback somehow plays the better game between the two stars. If there is a slight edge, and I’m not convinced there is one, I’ll take the Bills, because of all things, the weather forecast says the inbound icy elements may influence the result. Right now, this weekend’s showdown will be LaMar Jackson’s first ever, actual, NFL snow game.

Defense: Even (Slight edge Ravens) – This is not a cop out, I swear! The Bills defense has been criminally underrated all year, grabbing 15 INT and recovering 11 fumbles while never suffering any major humiliating games aside from their performance against the Rams early this season, when they allowed that monstrous comeback. But the Ravens held the Colts and Rivers to 158 yards passing last week. That’s impressive. So the Ravens have, perhaps, a slight edge, giving up only 19 points per game. 

Coach: Ravens – John Harbaugh. This is not a case of been there, done that, by any stretch of the imagination, and yet; Harbaugh has been there, and yes, done that, and with a far less electrifying QB, no less. He’s 11-7 in the playoffs. And that’s better than Sean McDermott’s 1-2.

Prediction: Logic says Ravens. ESPN gives Baltimore a 51.4% chance of winning at Orchard Park Stadium in front of the limited in numbers but unlimited in madness, ultra rapacious, Bills Mafia. But my gut instinct says Bills because Buffalo didn’t just win every single one of their prime time appearances this year, they annihilated, pummeled and stampeded through whoever stood in their way. Aside from the Hawks, this year, I found this Bills squad was the only team I’d go out of my way to watch play no matter what. I was positively giddy before every Bills game, I guess is another way to emphasize my soft/lite bandwagon fandom here. Their biggest win, after throttling Seattle, was, at the time, over the one loss, eleven wins, Steelers team, that still looked altogether excellent before their 1-5 skid to conclude the year. The Bills win over Pittsburgh was the most powerful testament to their overall quality. It was a snow, or freezing rain, game too. And since then, I’ve seen nothing from Buffalo that could make me forget what the Bills did to Big Ben and Tomlin, right after lobotomizing the Seahawks. Does anyone remember how devastating that game was? Ah, I shouldn’t have asked…anyway…

Bills 30 – Ravens 27

3. Cleveland Browns vs. Kansas City Chiefs – 1/17 on CBS @ 1:05 PST

Offense: Chiefs – ESPN gives KC an 81.3% chance of victory this weekend. The offense is the primary reason. Patrick Mahomes was once again, nearly bulletproof. (And he had far better dance moves than Rodgers in that same Bose wireless headphones commercial.) But let’s not get distracted. The Chiefs have the best passing game in the NFL. And the main element of this voltaic offense this year was Travis Kelce. The TE caught 105 REC, racked up 1,416 yards and grabbed 11 TD.

Defense: Chiefs – KC’s defense isn’t even that great, but they did stymy opponents on third down 40.6% of the time, and on average, allow less than 23 points a game. That’s more than enough, usually, for Mahomes to overcome. The Browns, however, are the only team with more points scored against, than points for, on average, of any team left in the playoffs. Despite potential big games from Cleveland’s B.J. Goodson and Myles Garrett, it’s Occam’s Razor at work here to give KC the edge.

Coach: Chiefs – Andy Reid’s evolution makes him, incontrovertibly, all time great; a man who is to offensive play design what Stanley Kubrick was to cinematography, plot design, and the film industry as a whole.

Prediction: OBJ recently Tweeted, “Don’t be surprised this weekend when they win….just throwin it out there now.” I know swaggering is the cornerstone of this elite WR’s persona. But has this man learned nothing from the Football Gods after witnessing the ferocious karmic blowback after the Steelers WRs consistent, pure disrespect for the Browns was smited and punished less than one week ago? Sometimes I think OBJ is the human equivalent of a double edged sword. In this, he’s all but guaranteeing unfathomable annihilation for a Browns team he cannot assist on the field, just throwing it out there…Reid will dial up and have Mahomes enact and execute an utter visual masterpiece. 

Chiefs 49 – Browns 27

4 . Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saints – 1/17 on Fox @ 3:40 PST

Offense: Bucs – At 43 years and 159 days, Tom Brady surpassed George Blanda as the oldest NFL player to throw a TD pass in the playoffs last weekend as the Bucs ran away from the Washington Football Team. Let’s also not forget what Tony Romo said after KC beat Tampa Bay earlier this year, right before Antonio Brown (he caught a Brady TD pass last weekend) became a fully functioning and regularly contributing part of this Tampa Bay side too, “I expect to see these two teams back here for the Super Bowl.” Romo may have a point. The Bucs are not suffering a lesser QB in his twilight either. Brady is still great. This version of Brady is more Manning in Denver winning a ring for Elway, than Farve playing injured with the Jets. Brady was healthy, poised, and flawless most of the year, finishing second in the NFL in 40 TD, and third in yards, 4,633. Although the Bucs have to avenge both of their two ugly losses to the Saints during the regular season, when they soon show up in NOLA (and it also seems Brady is one of the few who could overrun Rodgers and the Packers at Lambeau, if it should come to that) I foresee the Bucs plundering the Saints racking up nothing south of five hundred plus yards of total offense Sunday night. 

Defense: Toss Up – This one is paradoxical, and my logic here borders on the circular, because New Orleans does not have to deal with Alvin Kamara, like the Bucs will on the other side of the ball, so I might give the Saints the advantage. I’m not saying the Saints D won’t get torched by a bunch of different Tampa weapons. It’s just hard to know right now. The Saints D will look much the better of the two – until the Bucs win.

Coach: Sean Payton – Another year with another slew of QB injuries. And Sean Payton’s team was abysmal three weeks deep, 1-2, despite a victory over Tampa. But then the Saints adjusted. That is the hallmark characteristic of a great coach – adaptation, Belichick, creativity, Reid. And then finding all new ways to win every single week, Sean Payton. 

Prediction: Who doesn’t love fanatically hyping up and rhapsodically predicting the outcome of a classic heavyweight guaranteed first ballot Hall of Fame studded quarterback marquee event in the making? This is potentially the last time we’ll see Drew Brees start for the Saints. And the game could go either way. Feels like it’s the same extra contested kind of matchup we’ll get during Ravens-Bills. I’d love to and I can see either team winning, but I remember when the Saints bombed out of the playoffs in spectacularly bizarre fashion the last few years. This won’t be that. But it is still a league run by the GOAT – Tom Brady.

Buccaneers 35 – Saints 34

About Jackson Pappin 31 Articles
Jackson Pappin is a freelance writer. A 2018 WSU Edward R. Murrow College of Communication alumni, he writes fiction, journalism, columns, essays and poetry. His work has been published in Anastamos, The Oregonian, The Spokesman Review, The Seattle P.I. Reader Blogs, The Daily Evergreen, The Central Circuit, LandEscapes and at the Spectra Art Gallery. His writing is available at

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.