Scott Shapiro's NFC Divisional Round Preview: Banged-up Bucs line set to face Donald, Rams
I was extremely excited last week at this time for the NFC Playoffs. Do not get me wrong, I still am, but that was an extremely underwhelming trio of games to get things rolling.
Sure, the Cowboys/Niners was close late and had plenty of drama, but the quality of play was nowhere near what many expected. It should be much better in the Divisional Round, where the best four teams in the conference are still alive.
San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers
Sun, January 23 2022, 1:15 AM
I picked the Packers to make the Super Bowl in my preseason NFC preview, and they have done little to change my mind during the course of the regular season.
Green Bay compiled a 13-4 record, good enough to earn them the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye. They were led by the immaculate play of one of the best to ever play his position, Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers posted a lot of strong numbers in 2021, but none more impressive than his touchdown-to-interception ratio of 37-to-4. His accuracy is surreal, and he has tremendous rapport with one of the best pass catchers in the league in Davante Adams. They are very difficult to stop.
The Packers offense is one of the top couple in the NFL, but their defense was not during the regular season. That in large part was due to injuries to two of their best defenders, Jaire Alexander and Za’Darius Smith.
Green Bay is hopeful they both will be ready to go for the Saturday night affair on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, where the temperature is likely to be under 10 degrees at kickoff. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry and his unit face a tough matchup against Kyle Shanahan’s offense, but I expect them to play well.
Regular readers know I have been on the Niners over the last several weeks, and they have delivered. They should play well again in this spot, but they have a few things going against them in this matchup.
San Francisco has been on the road in must-win games in three straight weeks, while Green Bay had nothing to play for in Week 18 and had a bye last weekend. Plus, the Niners' quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, struggles to play mistake-free football for 60 minutes, while Rodgers rarely makes big errors.
If Fred Warner and Nick Bosa are healthy enough to go and are close to 100%, and Jimmy G can avoid turnovers, San Francisco is not only capable of covering, but springing the outright upset. Banking on that to happen, however, is something I am unwilling to do.
Instead, I have interest in the total. Both teams definitely have elite playmakers, but they rank toward the bottom of the league in seconds per play (Situation/Neutral). Simply put, they are in no rush, regardless of game script, to run their offense.
If one team gets up more than two scores early, it definitely could have an impact, but in most scenarios, Rodgers will regularly run the play clock down close to zero, looking for his best options, while San Francisco will look to run the ball and keep the Green Bay offense off the field. This should lead to a lower-scoring affair than many expect.
Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sun, January 23 2022, 8:00 PM
Two teams that were expected to do big things when the season started had no trouble getting through the Wild Card Round. The Rams and Buccaneers both cruised to home victories last week, setting them up for their second encounter of the campaign on Sunday afternoon.
The Rams won that Week 3 affair 34-24 behind four touchdown passes and 343 yards from Matthew Stafford. Tom Brady posted gaudy numbers as well in defeat, but a lot of that came when Tampa Bay was down multiple scores in the second half.
These two teams both have a ton of offensive firepower and get great quarterback play, but this one could see far fewer points than the first meeting. One reason for that is the plethora of injuries to the Tampa Bay offense. Not only are they without Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, but the Bucs' offensive line got banged up last Sunday against the Eagles.
All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs and Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen both injured their ankles and are questionable to play in the Divisional Round. The expectation is for both of them to play through it, but at less than 100%. This is extremely concerning against the Rams' ferocious defensive front, led by arguably the best player in the league, Aaron Donald.
Arians says Tristan Wirfs is in a boot right now, he and Ryan Jensen won't practice until Friday, but tough as he is, wouldn't rule out Wirfs playing Sunday in next round.— Greg Auman (@gregauman) January 17, 2022
The Tampa Bay offense is nowhere near full strength heading into Sunday, but its defense is as healthy as it has been in sometime. The Bucs played without several key contributors, including Jason Pierre-Paul and Jamel Dean, in the loss in Los Angeles in September, but they are both now healthy, as is Lavonte David. The star linebacker returned to the lineup for the Wild Card Round, and his impact cannot be understated. He makes the Buccaneers defense far more imposing.
Part of me thinks the Rams are well-suited to spring the minor upset in Florida come Sunday afternoon. Their defensive front has the ability to take over the game and even if they do not, the Tampa receiving corps is not what it was last year or during the majority of this season.
However, I am just unwilling to put my money on Stafford to beat Brady in the postseason. Instead, I will roll with another under.