Scott Shapiro's AFC Divisional Round Preview: Chiefs will get best of Bills in rematch
The Wild Card Round in the AFC got off to a thrilling start on Saturday, with the Bengals hanging on late to earn their first postseason victory since January of 1991. Unfortunately, the drama ended there, with one-sided affairs in both Buffalo and Kansas City.
This sets us up with two outstanding matchups in the Divisional Round, headlined by a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game on Sunday afternoon in Arrowhead Stadium.
Cincinnati Bengals at Tennessee Titans
Sat, January 22 2022, 9:30 PM
Late in the regular season, the Bengals showed there was reason to believe they were more than capable of breaking the aforementioned postseason victory drought. They did just that last Saturday afternoon in a thrilling win against the Raiders.
Zac Taylor’s squad controlled the game early and played outstanding red-zone defense late in the Bengals' 26-19 Wild Card Round triumph. Now the stakes get higher and the competition gets stronger as Cincinnati travels to Nashville to take on a well-rested Titans squad.
It is easy to forget since the six-game winning streak began over three months ago, but Tennessee put together one of the most impressive stretches of the regular season. The Titans beat the Bills, Chiefs, Colts, Rams, and Saints in succession as part of the run. They are a really good football team when at full strength.
Since then, Mike Vrabel’s team has been decimated by injuries to some of the most valuable skilled position players in the league. The good news for Titans fans is that Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown, and Julio Jones have had an extra week of rest and are all expected back on Saturday afternoon when the Divisional Round gets underway. The AFC South champions are as healthy as they have been in a long time.
The Bengals had a tremendous season in Joe Burrow’s second year in the league. They have a massive ceiling moving forward with a quarterback that is already playing at an extremely high level. He is scary to bet against, but I love this spot for the Titans.
Tennessee encounters a Bengals team with a subpar offensive line, a banged-up defensive front, and a roster that lacks playoff experience away from home. Cincinnati faces a tall task against a veteran team that has been here before.
Look for Tennessee to control both lines of scrimmage, run the ball with authority, and get enough big plays from Ryan Tannehill to win and cover. The Titans will host the AFC title game next Sunday.
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs
Sun, January 23 2022, 11:30 PM
There was a point in the 2021 season when both the Chiefs' and Bills' high-powered offensive attacks were stymied to an extent. Kansas City scored 20 or fewer points in five straight from Week 5 to Week 9, while Buffalo scored 15 or fewer points in three of five games in November and early December.
However, those days are behind us. Both Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen come off tremendous performances in the Wild Card Round, which paved the way to one-sided affairs on their home field. Now the two franchise quarterbacks meet in a rematch of last year’s AFC title game.
The Chiefs won that matchup for the right to go to Super Bowl LV and did so behind the play of Mahomes. The 2018 NFL Most Valuable Player completed 29 of 38 passes for 325 yards and three touchdowns in the victory.
Buffalo avenged that defeat back in October on Sunday night in Arrowhead Stadium in a game where it was Allen, not Mahomes, that was the best QB on the field. The Bills also won the turnover battle 4-0 that night and did a fantastic job of limiting big plays. They did not blitz once that night and used two-deep safety looks to prevent Tyreek Hill from beating them over the top. Expect a similar approach on Sunday afternoon.
Both Buffalo and Kansas City obviously possess the upside to win Super Bowl LVI, with perhaps the Bills' “A” game being the better of the two.
No result would surprise me at all in the second of the two AFC Divisional Round battles, but I expect this one to come down to two things — How will Andy Reid and the Chiefs' coaching staff attack the Bills' conservative defensive game plan after a subpar performance in October, and can Buffalo once again win the turnover battle?
If Allen avoids big mistakes, he is almost impossible to stop, but counting on him playing back-to-back games without throwing an interception may be wishful thinking. In fact, it has not happened this year.
Look for Kansas City’s offense to play far better than it did when these two teams met in the regular season and for the Chiefs, not the Bills, to win the turnover battle.