Is there a better weekend every year in the National Football League?
This year’s NFL Divisional Playoffs might be the best yet, with a recipe to satisfy every palate.
Saturday, January 22
AFC: 4:30 PM (ET) Cincinnati Bengals (11-7) at Tennessee Titans (12-5) (CBS/Paramount+)
NFC: 8:15 PM (ET) San Francisco 49ers (11-7) at Green Bay Packers (13-4) (FOX/FOX Deportes)
Sunday, January 23
NFC: 3:00 PM (ET) Los Angeles Rams (13-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-4) (NBC/Peacock/Universo)
AFC: 6:40 PM (ET) Buffalo Bills (12-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (13-5) (CBS/Paramount+)
As an appetizer, how about a game filled with compelling reasons why the league’s future is brighter than it’s ever been? The Cincinnati Bengals (11-7) travel to meet the Tennessee Titans (12-5) on Saturday (4:30 PM ET, CBS/Paramount+) in a contest that could include the return of running back Derrick Henry, only the third player since the league merger to lead the NFL in rushing yards per game for three straight seasons (minimum eight games each season). On the opposite sideline, 25-year-old Joe Burrow had two touchdown passes with a 110.4 rating in his first career postseason start and 21-year-old Ja’Marr Chase, who compiled the most receiving yards by a rookie in the Super Bowl era (1,455), had 116 receiving yards in his playoff debut last week as the Bengals’ earned their first postseason win in 31 years.
For a Saturday nightcap, how about a taste of NFL teams that have met most frequently in the playoffs over the last 26 years? The San Francisco 49ers (11-7) and Green Bay Packers (13-4) will match up that night (8:15 PM ET, FOX/FOX Deportes) at Lambeau Field, where the early forecast calls for kickoff temperatures of 13 degrees and dropping to single digits during the second half. The dynamic 49ers feature one of the game’s most electrifying players in Deebo Samuel, who last week became the second wide receiver to post 50-or-more rushing yards (72) and at least one rushing touchdown (one) in a postseason game since 1950, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer James Lofton. Consistently dangerous Green Bay, which earned the NFC’s only first-round bye as its No. 1 seed, became the first team in NFL history to reach 13 regular-season wins in three consecutive seasons.
Over brunch on Sunday, savor this: The NFC home teams this weekend, Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers and Tampa Bay and Tom Brady, feature quarterbacks who have combined for six league MVP awards and six Super Bowl MVP honors. Then, when those Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-4) host the Los Angeles Rams (13-5) on Sunday afternoon (3:00 PM, NBC/Peacock/Universo), be sure to enjoy a matchup of two of the league’s top-five passing offenses, the Buccaneers (307.6 passing yards per game, first) and the Rams (273.1, fifth).
And for the main course, get ready for the Buffalo Bills (12-6) and Kansas City Chiefs (13-5) at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday night (6:40 PM ET, CBS/Paramount+). For the first time ever in a single postseason, multiple players have thrown for at least five touchdown passes in a game, and both games took place last week. Those two players – Buffalo’s Josh Allen and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes – will square off to conclude the weekend. During the regular season, Buffalo’s offense ranked third in the NFL with 28.4 points per game while Kansas City ranked fourth with 28.2.
The NFL has reached the Divisional stage of the 2021 playoffs, and the menu is set. What’s your order?
This week, the Cincinnati Bengals are bidding to become the fourth team in 13 seasons to advance to a conference Championship Game the year after finishing last or tied for last in their division. With a win on Saturday at Tennessee (4:30 PM ET, CBS/Paramount+), Cincinnati would join the 2017 Jaguars and two clubs that won the Super Bowl, the 2017 Eagles and 2009 Saints, to follow a last-place season with a berth in their conference Championship Game. Cincinnati completed the “worst-to-first” turnaround, winning the AFC North this season after finishing in last place in 2020. At least one team has won its division the season after finishing in or tied for last place in 17 of the past 19 seasons (2003-21).
With Cincinnati playing for a berth in the AFC Championship Game, approximately 60 percent of the league (19 of 32 teams) will have played for a berth in a conference Championship Game the past four seasons (2018-21).
Chiefs Eye Fourth Straight Berth In Championship Game, Packers Third
The Kansas City Chiefs, who host Buffalo on Sunday night (6:40 PM ET, CBS/Paramount+), have hosted three consecutive AFC Championship Games (2018-20). Should the Bengals defeat the No. 1-seed Titans on Saturday and the Chiefs win Sunday, Kansas City would become the first team in NFL history to host a conference Championship Game in four straight seasons, and the seventh to play in the game in four consecutive years.
TEAM SEASONS TOTAL
New England Patriots 2011-18 8
Oakland Raiders 1973-77 5
Philadelphia Eagles 2001-04 4
Dallas Cowboys 1992-95 4
Buffalo Bills 1990-93 4
Dallas Cowboys 1970-73 4
Meanwhile, the No. 1-seed Green Bay Packers with a win against the 49ers on Saturday (8:15 PM ET, FOX/FOX Deportes), would become the first NFC team since San Francisco from 2011-13 to advance to three consecutive NFC Championship Games.
A No. 6 seed in the NFL playoffs has now advanced to the Divisional round in five straight seasons (2017-21) and seven of the past eight. The San Francisco 49ers joined that group with last week’s win.
Since the 2005 Steelers won Super Bowl XL, six teams have advanced to their conference Championship Games as a No. 6 seed, including the 2008 Eagles, 2008 Ravens, 2010 Jets, 2019 Titans and Super Bowl XLV champion Packers in 2010. San Francisco looks to become the seventh.
History may shine on Buffalo and Green Bay this weekend. Each of those teams lost its conference Championship Game last year. Over the past quarter century, losing in the Championship Game has often resulted in good fortune the following season. Since Pro Football Hall of Famer Steve Young and the San Francisco 49ers lost in the 1993 NFC Championship before winning Super Bowl XXIX, 12 teams in that span have advanced to the Super Bowl the year after losing a Championship Game. That list includes the 2019 Kansas City Chiefs, who topped the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV two years ago.
The Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs wrap up the Divisional round on Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium (6:40 PM ET, CBS/Paramount+). The Bills and Chiefs have each won two of their four all-time postseason meetings. The winner of each of those four meetings has gone on to the Super Bowl: Kansas City in 1966 and 2020 and Buffalo in 1991 and 1993.
The Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers, who match up on Saturday night at Lambeau Field (8:15 PM ET, FOX/FOX Deportes), have met eight times in the playoffs, all since the 1995 season. The winner of a Green Bay-San Francisco playoff game has advanced to the Super Bowl four times.
Including their 23-17 win at AT&T Stadium in the Wild Card round last week, the San Francisco 49ers have now played the Dallas Cowboys in the postseason seven times. The last four winners of a San Francisco-Dallas playoff game have advanced to win the Super Bowl. Overall, in six of their seven playoff matchups, the winner has earned a berth in the Super Bowl, including five total Super Bowl victories.
Joseph Santoliquito can be followed on twitter @JSantoliquito.