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Our Guide To The NFL’s Divisional Round

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With one weekend of the 2020-21 NFL playoffs within the books, we’re excited to see what sort of soccer treats the divisional spherical will deliver. For every matchup, we’re breaking issues down utilizing our Elo rankings — which observe how nicely every workforce is presently taking part in, with changes for the high quality of every beginning quarterback — and in addition figuring out the sides of the sport by which every workforce was greatest (and worst) in keeping with ESPN’s anticipated factors added (EPA) this season. So right here is our information to the great, the dangerous and the must-see for every matchup in subsequent weekend’s slate of video games:

Tale of the tape: No. 1 Green Bay vs. No. 6 L.A. Rams

4:35 p.m. ET Saturday

Green BayCategoryLos Angeles
29thSchedule energy20th
1703Elo score1638
4thLeague rankseventh
Aaron RodgersStarting QBJared Goff✚
thirdQB Elo rank20th
fifthQB’s supporting solid2nd
15thAvg. QB Elo protection1st
Pass offenseBiggest EPA energyPass protection
Special groupsBiggest EPA weak spotSpecial groups
78.0%538 forecast22.0%

✚ Starter is presently injured and will not play.

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

Every week in the past, we questioned if the Rams had been doomed with obscure backup QB John Wolford beginning a playoff recreation. And begin Wolford did … however he was rapidly knocked out of the sport, forcing common starter Jared Goff to play via a damaged thumb the remainder of the best way. The outcomes had been satisfactory: sufficient to beat the Seahawks when coupled with Cam Akers’s operating and an excellent efficiency bottling up Russell Wilson by arguably the league’s greatest protection. Can they do it once more versus the Packers, with Goff’s standing nonetheless up within the air? If DT Aaron Donald is wholesome, L.A.’s protection (No. 1 in EPA) might pose issues for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ top-ranked offense, in what’s simply the fifth assembly between the No. 1 EPA offense and protection in a playoff recreation since 2006. The Rams are an intriguing matchup for Green Bay as a result of their strengths line as much as probably exploit the Packers’ weaknesses (like Akers in opposition to the 22nd-ranked EPA run D) or neutralize their strengths (like All-Pro CB Jalen Ramsey in opposition to Rodgers’s favourite goal, Davante Adams). But the most important query is whether or not Goff/Wolford and the Rams can transfer the ball nicely sufficient for it to matter. Green Bay’s cross D is considerably higher than Seattle’s, making an upset way more tough to tug off this time round. In truth, our mannequin offers the Packers a large edge right here — significantly if Goff can’t make the beginning. Elo’s unfold: Green Bay -9

Tale of the tape: No. 2 Buffalo vs. No. 5 Baltimore

8:15 p.m. ET Saturday

thirdSchedule energy28th
1735Elo score1678
2ndLeague rankfifth
Josh AllenStarting QBLamar Jackson
1stQB Elo rankfifth
4thQB’s supporting solidsixth
18thAvg. QB Elo protection19th
Pass offenseBiggest EPA energyRun offense
Run offenseBiggest EPA weak spotPass offense
65.3%538 forecast34.7%

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

The greatest recreation of the divisional spherical will function Lamar Jackson’s Ravens paying a go to to fellow 2018 draftee Josh Allen and the Bills. Baltimore eked out a 24-17 win at Buffalo when final they met, in 2019 — however the Bills have gotten considerably higher since then, whereas the Ravens had been diminished considerably in 2020 (although they’ve appeared like their outdated selves of late). What’s left is a balanced matchup by which Buffalo holds the all-important benefit within the passing recreation however Baltimore has an edge operating the ball and on protection. Based on these two strengths, the Ravens’ path to the upset just isn’t dissimilar to the one Indianapolis almost executed in opposition to Buffalo final Saturday, neither is it even a lot totally different from the formulation Baltimore utilized in Sunday’s signature win over the rival Tennessee Titans. Look for Jackson to attempt to exploit Buffalo’s smooth rush protection (No. 20 in EPA) as a runner however for Allen to throw the ball early and infrequently, because the Bills had the league’s pass-happiest offense in “normal” recreation conditions all 12 months lengthy. Although Baltimore is a really harmful workforce, our mannequin offers Buffalo a 65 p.c probability to seize the win at home and advance to its first AFC title recreation since January 1994. Elo’s unfold: Buffalo -4½

Tale of the tape: No. 1 Kansas City vs. No. 6 Cleveland

3:05 p.m. ET Sunday

Kansas CityCategoryCleveland
10thSchedule energy31st
1722Elo score1591
thirdLeague rankninth
Patrick MahomesStarting QBBaker Mayfield
2ndQB Elo rank15th
thirdQB’s supporting solidninth
25thAvg. QB Elo protection26th
Pass offenseBiggest EPA energyPass offense
Run protectionBiggest EPA weak spotPass protection
79.0%538 forecast21.0%

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

After per week off, the defending champion Chiefs will start their postseason journey in opposition to the Cleveland Browns — engineers of the wild-card spherical’s greatest upset. Against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland relied on its protection to generate a flurry of turnovers and by no means took its foot off the offensive fuel pedal all recreation lengthy, with QB Baker Mayfield placing in probably the greatest performances of his NFL profession at the very best time. History must repeat to ensure that the Browns to have an actual shot at knocking off Kansas City. It’s true that the Chiefs (No. 18 in defensive EPA) may wrestle to decelerate Cleveland’s offense, significantly in relation to Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and the Browns speeding assault. But it is going to be harder to power so many errors from Patrick Mahomes, who’s actually the greatest QB in NFL historical past at avoiding interceptions (amongst many different issues). Barring that, the matchup between the explosive Chiefs offense and Cleveland’s suspect protection might get ugly quick. And bear in mind, though Mahomes has by no means surmounted a 28-point deficit just like the one the Browns opened up early in opposition to Pittsburgh, he did overcome a fairly related one (24 factors) in opposition to the Texans in final 12 months’s playoffs. So even when Cleveland will get off to a different quick begin, no lead is secure in opposition to Okay.C. — one in every of many causes that Elo offers the Chiefs a 79 p.c chance of getting the W right here. Elo’s unfold: Kansas City -9

Tale of the tape: No. 2 New Orleans vs. No. 5 Tampa Bay

6:40 p.m. ET Sunday

New OrleansCategoryTampa Bay
15thSchedule energy17th
1739Elo score1647
1stLeague ranksixth
Drew BreesStarting QBTom Brady
seventhQB Elo rankeighth
1stQB’s supporting solidseventh
4thAvg. QB Elo protection16th
Run offenseBiggest EPA energyPass offense
Special groupsBiggest EPA weak spotSpecial groups
70.6%538 forecast29.4%

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

If Bills-Ravens is the very best matchup of the weekend, Saints-Bucs is a really shut second. Yes, these two groups have confronted off twice already this season, with New Orleans profitable each by double digits — together with a 38-Three romp in November. That was simply the worst QB Elo recreation of the season for Tom Brady and the second-worst of his lengthy NFL profession. But Brady rallied to submit above-average numbers in seven of his subsequent eight begins, saving his greatest play for late within the season (together with a rock-solid efficiency within the wild-card recreation in opposition to the Washington Football Team). And regardless of the various parallels to be drawn between historic QBs Brady and Drew Brees of their first-ever playoff assembly, this contest may come all the way down to the supporting casts. New Orleans has the ever-so-slight edge on protection (No. Three in EPA, versus No. 5 for Tampa), the superior speeding assist (No. 2, versus No. 23 for Tampa) spearheaded by Pro Bowl RB Alvin Kamara, and the higher particular groups unit (No. 20 versus No. 28 for Tampa). If the Saints’ protection can generate large stress on Brady once more — he was pressured on a season-high 46 p.c of dropbacks in Week 9, in keeping with ESPN Stats & Information Group — and get their regular mixture of contributions from up and down the roster, New Orleans ought to ship on the 71 p.c win chance Elo is presently giving them. But on the similar time, this recreation could also be a lot nearer than the season collection would have you ever consider. Elo’s unfold: New Orleans -6

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