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NFC Divisional Round Preview

Just four teams are left in the NFC. Who moves on to the conference championship?

With just eight teams remaining in the hunt for the Lombardi Trophy, it’s time to preview the upcoming NFC Divisional Round. After the Cowboys and Eagles were both surprised last week, we’ve got the 49ers hosting the Packers and the Bucs visiting Detroit for a matchup with the Lions!  

Saturday Game – Green Bay at San Francisco

The Dallas Cowboys were undefeated at home this year until the Packers dominated them last weekend. Unfortunately, the road to the Super Bowl only gets harder for Green Bay. San Francisco is the conference’s top seed for a reason, and the oddsmakers have the 49ers as early 9.5-point favorites.  

For the Packers to keep this one close, they’ll need to somehow contain San Francisco’s dynamic offence. Only Dallas scored more than San Francisco in the NFC this year, but the attack will look a lot different on Saturday. With Christian McCaffrey back in the lineup for the 49ers, QB Brock Purdy won’t be forced to win the game by himself like Dallas seemed to need Dak Prescott to do. Instead, the usual San Francisco game plan will involve getting the ball to their star athletes as quickly and as much as possible in every way you could imagine. It’s not an easy unit to stop when McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle are all healthy and firing. 

On the Other Side of the Ball…

Even if they DO manage to slow Kyle Shanahan’s offence down, Jordan Love and the offence on the other sideline will need to bring their best stuff. They certainly were great against Dallas, but once again, San Francisco will be a much tougher test. One of the great bonuses Green Bay has going right now is that Aaron Jones is as healthy as he’s been all year. Jones was terrific against the Cowboys on Sunday and him being on his game makes things so much easier for Love at the QB position. Green Bay’s young receivers will also be tested once again, but as they’re all fairly interchangeable, any one of them could be the guy that makes a difference in the game. 

Overall, it’s tough to know what this young Green Bay team will bring to the table in the NFC Divisional Round. Last week’s win against the Cowboys was the biggest of many of their careers, but now, they’ve got to completely turn the page to take on the mighty 49ers. I’d like to see them keep it close, but if things get derailed early, it could be an ugly afternoon in San Fran for Matt Lafleur and the Packers. Either way though, I think we’ll see a lot of points, so I’d take the over in this one

Sunday Game – Tampa Bay at Detroit

For the second game of the NFC Divisional Round, we’ll see Baker Mayfield and the Bucs take on Jared Goff and the Lions in Detroit. Both teams will be coming into the game on emotional highs after the wins last weekend and the Lions are opening as 6.5-point favorites.  

For the Bucs, this game is one where they’ve got nothing to lose. No one expected them to even make the playoffs at the beginning of the year, and now, they’re coming into Detroit for the NFC Divisional Round after knocking off last year’s conference champs. Baker Mayfield has been awesome to watch, Chris Godwin and Mike Evans are still getting it done, and defensively, Tampa Bay is looking great. However, there’s no doubt they caught the Eagles at their lowest point of the season while Detroit, on the other hand, hasn’t been this high in a long, long time.  

How Do They Win?

Thankfully for Mayfield and the Bucs, Detroit does have its weaknesses. Tampa scored just six points in their game against Detroit earlier in the season, but now that their offence is hitting its stride, they should be able to muster up more against the Lions’ mediocre defence. I don’t expect a ton of success running the ball for Tampa Bay, but if Baker is on his game, the team should find ways to move it downfield in the pass game. I also expect RB Rachaad White to be more involved in that part of the game than he was in Philadelphia. Monday’s game was the first time all year that he’s had less than two catches.  

For the Lions, a good defensive effort will almost surely give them a win against the Bucs. It’s very unlikely that the offence will stall completely, and if Detroit can hold Tampa to under 20 points, that should be enough to move past the NFC Divisional Round for the first time in over 30 years. I fully expect Amon-Ra St. Brown to once again be the go-to guy for Jared Goff, but rookies Jahmyr Gibbs and Sam LaPorta will be busy as well. Even though it’s tough to play a week after such an emotional victory like last weekend’s against the Rams, I think Dan Campbell will have this Lions team ready to go. For that reason, I like them to cover the 6.5 point spread against Tampa Bay. 

This NFC Divisional Round wasn’t the one that most people predicted, but it brings the intrigue, nonetheless. Can the Lions keep it going in Detroit? Is Tampa hitting their stride at the right time? Is Green Bay all the way back already? Will anyone give the 49ers a game? Only time will tell. 

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