The 2021 NFL Divisional Round just concluded with only four teams remaining in the playoff picture. In the AFC bracket, the Buffalo Bills dispatched the Baltimore Ravens while the Kansas City Chiefs edged out the Cleveland Browns.
In the NFC, the Green Bay Packers emerged victorious against the Los Angeles Rams while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers bested the New Orleans Saints. With the top four teams left to play next weekend, fans are certainly going to be treated with quality football action.
Here are three takeaways from the 2021 NFL Divisional Round:
3. The Packers’ offense shouldn’t be overlooked.
Obviously, any team with Aaron Rodgers as the quarterback definitely has an offense no opposing defense should underestimate.
Rodgers has long been dealing with a lack of offensive weapons around him. So much so that the Packers were blasted by the public after opting to select Jordan Love with the 26th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
After failing to bring in a marquee weapon for Rodgers to throw to, the Packers headed to the new season with almost the same offensive rotation as last season. As their campaign progressed, the Packers’ offense didn’t turn out too bad at all.
Several of the team’s veteran players have stepped up to provide Rodgers with some much-needed help. Wide receiver Davante Adams remains as the team’s primary option but Aaron Jones, Allen Lazard, Robert Tonyan, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling have all found their groove on the field this season.
Not to mention that Rodgers even managed to increase his level of play despite playing in his 16th year in the league. He ended the regular season with a league-leading 48 touchdowns along with a 121.5 passer rating. His solid play also elevated him to be one of the favorites to win the NFL MVP award this season.
The team’s offensive prowess was on full display against a Rams side that’s regarded as among the league’s top defensive team. Jones led the ground game and tallied 99 rushing yards on 14 carries along with a touchdown.
Lazard notched 96 receiving yards on four catches and a touchdown while Adams also added 66 yards on nine receptions and a touchdown of his own. The nagging rib injury of Rams defensive end Aaron Donald did help the Packers’ winning cause as they cruised to a 32-18 victory to advance to the NFC Championship Game.
The Buccaneers will certainly have a long day as they aim to contain the fluidity of the Packers’ offense on Jan. 24.
2. The Bills can steal the AFC Championship Game with Patrick Mahomes dealing with a concussion
The Chiefs faithful recently held their breath for a bit as they saw Mahomes on the ground after absorbing a gruesome hit from Browns linebacker Mack Wilson in the third quarter of the NFL Divisional Round game. The 2018 NFL MVP was slow to get up and was eventually examined in the blue tent. After a while, he headed straight to the locker rooms and was diagnosed with a concussion.
His absence in the game put the Chiefs in slight danger of losing the tilt, especially in the fourth quarter. Despite fielding a 35-year-old backup playmaker in Chad Henne, the Browns simply ran out of luck to mount a comeback in the game and ultimately lost on a 22-17 defeat.
Mahomes’ playing condition against the Bills remains up in the air but he will get a week’s worth of rest before checking to see if he can play. In the event that Mahomes will get to play, there is still a chance that he has yet to be in the pink of health, which will benefit the Bills’ winning cause.
Needless to say, the Bills will have a greater chance of upsetting the Chiefs if Mahomes won’t suit up for the AFC Championship Game. At the end of the day, the Chiefs will only go as far as where their quarterback takes them. Playing a banged-up Mahomes would leave a window of opportunity for the Bills to eliminate the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium and secure their own seat in Super Bowl LV.
1. The Buccaneers’ defense deserves much more recognition.
Tampa Bay has long been bannered by its stacked offense led by quarterback Tom Brady. However, head coach Bruce Arians showed that his team can also be trouble for opponents on the other side of the field during their NFL Divisional Round matchup against the Saints.
The performance of All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas turned out to be the biggest story of the game. A year after leading the league in receptions, Thomas was shut down in the most important game of the 2020 season for his team.
He was targeted four times by quarterback Drew Brees but failed to catch a pass and ended the game with zero receiving yards. The cornerback duo of the Buccaneers in Carlton Davis III and Sean Murphy-Bunting led the team’s secondary to put the clamps on Thomas along with the other Saints receivers.
It turned out to be a key element of their victory as the Saints struggled to move the chains and put up points without Thomas’ production. Other receiving weapons like Emmanuel Sanders was also limited to 48 yards on six catches while tight end Jared Cook only had 28 yards on five receptions.
With a stifling defense and a solid offense, the Bucs ran away from New Orleans with a 30-20 victory. The team’s defense will have to put up a greater showing when they face the Packers for the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 24.