Nostrathomas Predicts: The NFL’s Top Seeds Lead Off the Saturday Divisional Round Action

All point spreads are from and are accurate at the time of this writing.

It was a disappointing opening to the NFL playoffs last week. Fans were treated to two mildly competitive games and four blowouts, with both seventh seeds being among the blowouts.

As for Nostrathomas, not disappointing at all. I finished Super Wild Card Weekend with a 5-1 record straight-up and 4-2 against the spread. That puts me at 173-85-1 S/U and 129-121-2 ATS for the 2021 season.

Time to peer through the crystal beer mugs and see what we can expect for the first two of the weekend’s four Divisional Round contests.

AFC Divisional Round

Cincinnati Bengals vs Tennessee Titans -3.5 (4:30PM ET; Nissan Stadium, Nashville, TN)

The Tennessee Titans may not be the sexiest top seed in NFL postseason history but they have a great personality. That personality is a toughness that head coach and former NFL linebacker Mike Vrabel infuses into his team.

As for the Cincinnati Bengals, they’ve ridden the right arm of Joe Burrow to their first playoff appearances in seven seasons and their first postseason victory since 1990, against the Houston Oilers. Saturday afternoon, they get a chance to play the team that used to be the Houston Oilers before moving to Nashville.

Cincinnati held off a late Raiders charge last week at home for a 26-19 victory. Can they repeat that magic on the road in front of a hostile crowd?

The Bengals finished the season seventh in total points, averaging 27.1 points per game. Burrow has four receivers in his offence that he can count on in Cincinnati’s passing game, rookie Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and tight end C.J. Uzomah. With that group of targets Burrow finished second in the league in passer rating and third in net passing yards per attempt.

For Tennessee, Ryan Tannehill isn’t going to pass the Titans into the Super Bowl but that’s not what he’s on the team to do. Tennessee was first in the NFL this season in rushing attempts. It was future Hall of Fame running back Derrick Henry that was carrying the mail, at least through the first eight weeks of the season before he suffered a fractured foot in the teams win over the Indianapolis Colts.

That the Titans were still able to finish with the top seed in the conference says a lot about how resilient this team is. That they accomplished that by going 8-3 against teams that finished the season over .500 is an achievement.

Where Cincinnati will be vulnerable in this game is on defense. One weakness that the Titans will exploit is that Cincinnati is 23rd in the league in rushing yards per attempt allowed. For Tennessee, to keep the ball out of Joe Burrow’s hands, taking advantage of this weakness is how they’ll accomplish it.

When Burrow does have the ball, he’s going to find Tennessee’s defense a tough challenge, especially since his offensive line finished the season third in sacks allowed. That will create opportunities Harold Landry, Denico Autry and Jeffrey Simmons to create havoc in the Bengals backfield.

While Burrow had the best passer rating among all quarterbacks not named Aaron Rodgers, the Titans were ninth in defensive passer rating.

Analysis Conclusion

Cincinnati is going to need more than four Evan McPherson field goals to keep pace with the Titans this week. The Bengals can score fast and from any point on the field if their offense is clicking. If they can do that, it will take the ball out of Henry’s hands and force Tannehill to beat them through the air.

That’s not going to be as easy as it sounds for a young team that is getting it’s first taste of playoff football on the road and facing an opponent who has been there before.

One trend that looms large over this game is, The Titans under Mike Vrabel are 4-0 after bye weeks and 4-0 on Sundays after a Thursday night game. Vrabel knows how to prepare his team to play after extra rest.

The Tennessee Titans move on to the AFC Championship Game and cover while doing it.

Tennessee Titans 26 Cincinnati Bengals 20

NFC Divisional Round

San Francisco 49ers vs Green Bay Packers -5.5 (8:15PM ET; Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI)

The San Francisco 49ers survived a bad Dallas Cowboys offense and a bonehead final play call to win 23-17 and advance to the NFC Divisional round where the Green Bay Packers await them.

This game had been sitting with a spread of the Packers -6.5 most of the week before dropping to -5.5 over the last 24 hours. What makes that move unusual is that 56 percent of public money has been coming in on Green Bay.

The only conclusion I can draw is that some heavy sharps money has hit the sports books backing the 49ers. From an analysis of this game though, it’s difficult to see why.

San Francisco had control of last week’s game through three quarters last week but should have had the game put away by that point. Having to settle for three Robbie Gould field goals though kept it within reach for the Cowboys at the end.

Nick Bosa has cleared concussion protocol and will start this game but will that be enough to help the 49ers slow down the best passing quarterback in the league in Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers led the NFL in passer rating, and was fourth in net yards per attempt and passing touchdowns. Can San Francisco break the deep psychic connection that Rodgers has with All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams? No other team has managed to accomplish that this season.

The Packers have averaged 33 points per game over the final five weeks of the season. As good as they are on defense, San Francisco is not going to be able to keep a complete lid on that offense.

Analysis Conclusion

The 49ers are going to need touchdowns to advance to the NFC Championship Game. Green Bay is 29th in the league in yards per carry allowed so running back Elijah Mitchell should see success against them. Deebo Samuel is also guaranteed to do something spectacular in this game. Will that be enough for San Francisco?

I’m saying no. one interesting trend to keep in mind heading into this game. Over the last two seasons the 49ers are 2-6 when playing in prime time. Green Bay beat them on a Sunday night in Week 3 and they’ll do it again in this Divisional Round game.

Green Bay Packers 27 San Francisco 49ers 20

Header Image Casey Fleser from Nashville, TN, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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