Not that it really needs it, but if the NFL’s Divisional Round had a catchy name two top candidates would have to be the “Elite 8,” (though the NCAA may have some issue with that), or the “Hateful 8” (same for Quentin Tarantino).
Labeling the divisional round as elite certainly applies as the eight teams who make it to the four games played in this particular round are typically the best playing teams in the league at the time if not the best out-right. Given the quality of the teams left for the divisional round, anyone who makes it this far is surely in for a fight, if not an all out brawl, to make it to the conference championship round.
“Hate” can be a little overstated in most cases (certainly for the relative love-fest between elderly quarterbacks Drew Brees and Tom Brady), but divisional games are typically closer than the average playoff game and they can carry all the emotion and unpredictability of a truly great fight.
Predictions for the divisional round started out with three of the four games expected to play within a touchdown and though only one game was decided within a score over the weekend — Kansas City 22, Cleveland 17 — it was that game that had the widest betting line, with KC being a 10 point favorite. The Browns turned out to be a great bet in its second-straight inspired playoff performance, which was topped off by being able to keep Patrick Mahomes from completing the game.
Though they didn’t have enough to overtake the defending champs, thanks to #Hennethingispossible, Cleveland made an impact as an underdog that could even carry over to a game it won’t play — the AFC Championship, where the Chiefs — hosting their third straight championship game — will welcome a rough and tumble Buffalo team that tied for the weekend’s biggest win — 17-3 over a completely over-matched Baltimore, the lone team that didn’t look like it deserved to go this far — after coming into divisional weekend as less than a field goal favorite (-2.5).
Entering the AFC title game the Bills are now giving just under a field goal as an underdog (+2.5) with a lot of that having to do with Mahomes’ availability, which will depend on his ability to get through concussion protocol.
Over in the NFC, the Green Bay Packers are getting to host their first conference championship game in the Aaron Rodgers era, a year after losing by 17 to San Francisco in the title game in California. The Pack took down the Rams in this year’s divisional by two scores (32-18), though only one score separated them from L.A. with as little as seven minutes left in the game and Aaron Donald way less than 100 percent.
Still the home field advantage is meaningful enough to have Green Bay be just over a field goal favorite (-3.5) against Tampa Bay, who themselves wiped out the line against New Orleans in the divisional round with a 30-20 win that came after the Bucs came into the game as 3-point underdogs.
Could Tom be terrific once again in order to clear what should remain a close line and give his self a chance at an 10th Super Bowl and his first as an NFC representative?
Well, given how much the turnover-prone Brees and his Saints wound up helping Brady (3 interceptions, 1 fumble) and how Aaron Rodgers has only thrown five interceptions all season while completing 70% of his passes for only the second time in his incredible career, Tampa’s going to have to do more than be opportunistic to force the NFC’s top seed and the NFC’s best player into a game they don’t want to play.
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