Featured image: The great @BengalsCaptain on twitter, he’s nothing at all to do with this blog, but as probably the most noticeable and recognisable fans it felt right
Not quite the excitement we were hoping for from Wildcard weekend as all went pretty much as expected with just the 49ers winning as Underdogs, and even then, they were the team that a lot of people expected to win against the Cowboys.
There were obviously blow-outs, the Steelers and Eagles probably didn’t deserve to get into the playoffs, but with 7 teams now at least getting tickets for the dance this may well happen, would things have been different if the Chargers got in over the Steelers? Yes, they would probably still have lost but they’d have been competitive at least. Over the NFC I’m not sure any other team would have had much of a chance against the Bucs, maybe the Saints as they seem to have Brady’s number, but they didn’t deserve to get in either really.
What I’m saying is that even with 6 teams there were blowouts, the 5th seed in the AFC got mullered by the Bills, and the 5th seed in the NFC were atrocious as well, both of them losing to divisional rivals. It is what it is.
But we’re on to what is usually the best quality weekend of football of the season and we’ve got some cracking games on deck. Three of them are re-matches from the regular season, so we’ve got some recent data points on them.
Below are the current odds at Redzone, the Moneyline for the Super Bowl is a little better at Evens on William Hill over 20/21 at Redzone, so I’ve put that price in there. They are 1.83 on the NFC. – The standard line all year has been NFC -3, so it’s come down now that they know that one of the Chiefs or Bills is likely to make it and the scoring ability those two teams have shown. A 54 point total means it would be a heck of a game at least.
Cincinnati Bengals -3.5 @ Tennessee Titans: 47.5
There’s been a bit of talk this week about the Bengals holding on and being lucky to beat the Raiders. Fuck that. They were the better team in that game, scored on 6 of their 8 drives and dealt fairly well with the late-game comeback from the opposition, fortunately, this game was overshadowed by even more ineptitude later in the weekend and the false whistle has already been forgotten. It shouldn’t have been blown, it didn’t change the play. Rules say it should have written off the play, fair enough, but the Bengals would still have been in with a chance of scoring in a time they were on top.
These two teams didn’t meet in the regular season this year, but they did last season and the Bengals were fairly comfortable winners 31-20 winners, the key that day keeping Burrow clean, it was the only game that season they didn’t allow a sack, but things have changed a lot for both teams since then.
Sure, the offensive output last weekend was a little disappointing, but we knew they didn’t match up too well with the Raiders from the regular season game and that played out again, although they schemed well to negate Maxx Crosby for the most part. The Titans too have shown this year that they’re capable of getting pressure just rushing 4 so may have a similar scheme. They finished 10th in the league with 43 sacks this year with the emergence of Jeffery Simmons helping their previously inept pass rush. Inside pressure is an issue for the Bengals.
Joseph Lee Burrow has “it”; his self-confidence hasn’t quite hit arrogance yet, although I’m sure some may be getting a little miffed with his swagger. His team definitely aren’t, nor are the fans with rose-tinted glasses quickly becoming big sellers among Bengals fans, replacing the cigars of a few weeks ago when they clinced a playoff spot.
Despite the final score being a little closer than it should have been last week without only 2 TDs, Burrow had a very good game, 70% completions and 62 QBR as they worked their way down the field. There wasn’t too many deep shots available but he did what was required, as he should with the talent the Bengals have assembled, and just the 2 sacks was low for him and the Bengals. He’s a winner and despite this being a good defense he won’t be fazed.
There’s a fair chance they’ll be trailing at some point in this one, that won’t be a worry for Burrow of the Bengals, they scored more long TDs than any other team in the league this year with Chase leading the way. The worry would be their inefficiency in the redzone where Burrow had the 3rd worst passer rating this year, the Titans finished 4th in terms of stopping opposing QBs this year.
Despite running behind a still not impressive offensive line Joe Mixon finished 3rd in yards in the regular season and while his 48 yards from 17 carries last week isn’t very good, it took a bit of the load away from the passing game, he notched up 4 receptions, and tends to get at least that in big games when he’s needed. The Titans have been pretty good agianst the RB this year, 14th in DVOA, but only 10 TDs allowed to the position, and only 3 in the second half of the season.
Offensive rookie of the year in waiting Ja’marr Chase showed up on the big stage last week to add to his record-breaking season, he finished with 116 yards from 9 receptions vs. the Raiders and was targeted from the off. If the Titans only rush 4 they’ll be looking to double him, but he showed he could get open last week and Joey rightly trusts him. Tyler Boyd scored on the broken coverage and has still yet to drop a catchable pass all season while Tee Higgins finished with just one reception from his 4 targets. He has shown he can do it though and had a good game against the Titans last year with 6 for 78.
It was CJ Uzomah who had the other score against the Raiders last week, he’s stepped up in big spots and shown he can be an important piece in the offense, the Titans allowed 3 scores to the TE this season, and his mic’d up was one of the best of the year, he’s a fun dude.
The Bengals defense was a big worry coming into this one, especially on the defensive line, but sack-leader Trey Hendrickson has passed through concussion and will be available, he will be confident in adding to his sack count in this one, the Titans allowed 47 sacks on Tannehill this year, only 4 fewer than the much-maligned Bengals offensive line did this year. The loss of Larry Ogunjobi is a hit, but they rated pretty well vs. the run and that will be key here.
Chidobe Awuzie is the 3rd highest-rated CBs according to PFF and only 3 penalties despite being the 7th most targeted, he’ll have his hands full with AJ Brown or Julio Jones, while the safeties will need to repeat their success from last week. The linebacker group had pretty good success too with Logan Wilson back in the lineup, he and Pratt did a good job.
As always, this won’t be quite as in-depth as the Bengals preview. Sorry every other team in the league.
I have proven all year I have no idea on the Titans, so I’m not sure this will be any more accurate than any other week, I’m not alone in wondering how they got the #1 seed, but they did, so they’ve got to be respected and this week they should be healthier than they have been for most of the year. It’s the first time since Hallowe’en they’ve had their “big 3” playing together with Derrick Henry, Julio Jones and AJ Brown all available, when that happened earlier in the year they went 4-1 against some good teams.
Bengals head coach trained Ryan Tannehill in Miami, so you’d like to think he knows him fairly well despite it being a long time since then, and the progress both of them have made basically makes it pointless trying to look back at that time. I’m still not sure Tannehill is great but his numbers are impressive and he finished inside the top 10 QBs according to QBR for the 3rd year in a row. He’s on a well-coached team who have played more players than anyone else this year due to injury and they’ve still managed to get the job done for the most part. He’s thrown 21 TDs this year, rushed for 7.
The passing game doesn’t rely on AJ Brown, they were still moving the ball when he was out injured, but it definitely helps having “WR Derrick Henry” out there, and his size and speed combo is a nightmare for most CBs. The Bengals corners aren’t large guys either so may struggle if he gets going. Julio Jones was their big money signing over the summer and he’s been all right, sure injuries have hampered him for most of the year, but although he’s not the player he once was he can still have good games, and again, is a big fella. Nick Westbrook-Ikhene has done well with and without the other guys and I guess it’s a credit to Tanny how well the pass offense has done without a whole lot of talent there.
The tight end position tends to do well vs. the Bengals and while Firkser is the guy on the field most from that group, the likes of Swaim and Pruitt have found the endzone more than him this year, with 2 for Firks, and 3 apiece for the other two. In fact, over the year Swaim has around double the offensive snaps of Firkser, he’s the better blocker, but being on the field always helps when it comes to big score TDs.
They have been great at running the ball with or without Derrick Henry, the numbers are actually quite similar although having one person who can do the work rather than a committee of Foreman and Hilliard is a benefit. Henry is quite obviously back for this one, he still finished 9th in rush yards this season despite only playing 8 games, and 6th in rushing TDs is even more impressive. Foreman rush yards is where i’m looking when a line pops up. I think he’ll have a decent workload despite Henry returning.
The Titans rank 11th vs. the pass and 14th against the run according to DVOA, they racked up 43 sacks, one more than the Bengals managed this year and forced one more takeaway than this weeks opposition managed over the regular season. They are in the lower reaches of the league when it comes to rushing 4 and that will help them, but I’m not sure they’ve got anyone to match Chase.
I am quite blatantly biased on this one and happy to admit that, but I think that usually means I’m more pessimistic than optimistic when it comes to the Bengals, and this week is actually no different.
Before they won last week I was thinking Titans -4 or 5. So the fact that they’re “only” 3.5 means I have to say I would take the Titans if I was betting on that line. Obviously I don’t want that to happen so I’m not taking it.
Also if this comes down to the kickers then you’ve got to fancy the Bengals over the guy they cut. Evan McPherson has been money this year, while Randy Bullock is fine as long as it’s under 50 yards.
The Bengals offensive power means they’ve got a punchers chance in any game they play in, so I’m not going to write them off, I’d say it’s 60/40 the Titans win, but it does mean I won’t be taking either covering the spread.
I do think going over the total is a sensible look though, the Titans should score and the Bengals can hit 30 with Joey B there, he won’t give up even if they’re out of it so points should be scored throughout.
- I quite like Tanny o14.5 rush yards
- a quick look at the just tackle lines make me want to take both Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson o5.5 tackles, both at plus money, they had 6 and 9 respectively. In what should be a run heavy game, they should be heavily involved. Pratt has at least 5 in his last 3 games, Wilson in his last 2 after returning from injury, the o8.5 tackles and assists seems like it’s good too.
- TD scorers, at the price, Chase at 13/8, Swaim 13/2, Burrow 7/1.
San Francisco 49ers +5.5 @ Green Bay Packers: 47
A re-match of just not an earlier regular-season game but a re-match of the 2019 Championship game which Raheem Mostert took control of with 4 TDs, as the 49ers romped to a win over the Packers only to lose in the Superbowl to the Chiefs, that made it 3-0 to the 49ers in playoff games against Aaron Rodgers.
The game earlier this season is obviously more relevant and the Packers won that one, 30-28. The score suggests it was close and it was, they were evenly matched and it took a Rodgers game-winning drive with 40 seconds left to get them in position to kick the winning FG as time expired.
The 49ers won as underdogs in Jerrah world in Dallas last week, a result that many thought would be the one shock of the weekend and that’s how it all played out. They looked good in the first half getting out to an early lead and Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel ran the ball well, but a Jimmy Garoppolo interception allowed Dallas back into it and if it wasn’t for a monumental, yet hilarious, fuck up from Dallas they could have lost it.
It is expected it to be very cold in Green Bay tonight, the latest seems to be round 4 fahrenheit, so not nice for either team, one of them is used to it, once of them isn’t…
I said last week that the 49ers game could come down to coaching and it proved so, the 49ers had the better coach and that advantage was enough to beat the Cowboys with Mike McCarthy in charge.
The worry for them is that there’s always a mistake waiting to come from Jimmy Garoppolo and the shoulder injury he had in the first half last week hampered him and the interception was building for a number of attempts before it finally came. He’s an above-average QB, but I just don’t think he’s got the “it factor” required to lift his team further. He was 12th in yards, 17th in TDs, 16th in INTs and 13th in QBR. He’s average and that’s fine, it’s enough to get to the playoffs when you’ve got a good coaching team behind you.
That coaching time maximises the work it gets from it’s running game and did a good job with whomever has been in the backfield for them this year, but Elijah Mitchell has been by far the best of the bunch and added another 96 yards and a TD last weekend, making it 4 in his last 5 games. He gets all the carries of the official RBs, but the emergence of Deebo Samuel running the ball has been the x-factor this team and made him the most watchable player in the league. Of course, he scored as well last week to make it 8 games out of 9 with a score and 10 total in that time.
Brandon Aiyuk led them in receiving yards again and looked good, he could have sealed the game earlier but Jimmy over-threw him and left him with no chance of hauling it in. He can get open, it’s just whether his QB finds him. He and Jauan Jennings have stepped up in recent weeks, Jennings only had 29 yards in the end last week but has been increasingly involved in the offense as the WR3, only 16 completed passes makes it a fairly shallow attack but the coaching means it’s generally effective.
George Kittle is one of the better blocking TEs in the league and that’s been mainly what he’s done recently, just 78 yards in his last 4 games, 1 reception last week, and just 10 yards from 5 receptions in the season finale against the Rams. He has the talent to put up big yards but it’s just not been happening recently.
There were a couple of scares on defense but it looks like Fred Warner and Nick Bosa will play after over-coming and injury and concussion respectively. Even without Bosa they were in the backfield a lot last week when pressuring Dak Prescott and they’ll be hoping to do that again against an offensive line that hasn’t played together too often.
You have to expect the week off to have done the Packers some good, they’d had injuries through the season including a niggling toe injury to Aaron Rodgers at QB which he told us about most weeks during the regular season. It didn’t seem to affect him too much as he finished the year as the probable MVP with the best QBR in there, fewest interceptions and 4th in TDs with 37 on the year. Not many go back-to-back MVPs, but Rodgers guiding his side to the #1 seed in the NFC for the second consecutive year.
Most of his production comes through Devante Adams who’s got a fantastic record against the 49ers with 5 TDs against them and averages 120 yard in 4 games against them in his career, he finished the year with 11 TDs including one against the 49ers in a game he had his highest receptions figure of the year. He’s the best WR in the league and even triple coverage isn’t enough to stop him, he should smash it here. Allen Lazard has been fine as the WR2 there, he finished the year scoring 4 in his final 3 games and 5 in his last 5 as they closed out the regular season. Behind him it’s usually MVS opening up the field with deep shots but it seems unlikely he’ll play, so they’ll welcome back Randall Cobb from the IR and he should slot straight into the offense.
Josiah Deguara socred in the walk over against the Lions in week 18, his second of the season and he’s a player who’s been targeted a few times in the endzone this year, he’s worth a quick look for a TD, but 4/1 is too short for me to take.
The running backs have been mixing snaps all year, but it might be notable that Aaron Jones was rested in the final game of the season while AJ Dillon played late into that one notching up 2 TDs in the process. He’s done well in cold weather so might find the endzone tonight, but with Jones more rested there’s every chance he gets a larger role back and he is the one generally used in the passing game, he could score 3, it wouldn’t shock me. It’s a good 1-2 punch.
The defense should be stronger than it has been for most of the year with corner Jaire Alexander returning, he adds depth and the Smith brothers should provide pass rush, it’s arguably the strongest the team have been all season.
A form team against the #1 seed coming off a bye, do you favour momentum or health? It’s a tough one to call.
The Packers win if they can slow the 49ers run game, if they slow that area they should be OK, Adams, Dillon and Jones should get a couple of TDs between them and with Rodgers playing as he has this year I wouldn’t be shocked to see one bit-part players get involved too.
The 49ers need to keep it clean. They did for the most part last week by restricting Jimmy in the passing game, but he still managed to give the ball away and it could have cost them, he is the worry for me.
The coaching is comparable, they’re both very good, it’s amazing to think they came from the same Washington team all those years ago.
I think the Packers win and cover, in a relatively low-scoring game, both teams can grind out drives which will run the clock and probably keep drives to a minimum.
- Adams anytime – 5/6 (Coral/Ladbrokes)
- A combination of Mitchell, Dillon, Deebo, Adams would be my choices for random punts here, but the odds aren’t exactly convincing on any combo of them.
- Randall Cobb o2.5 recs, or 26.5 yards – I’ll be on recs. Rodgers loves him and he’s had at least 3 in 8 of his 12 games this year.
- Both teams to score a rushing TD – 11/10 (Skybet) – Love this at plus money.
LA Rams +3 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 48.5
Coming tomorrow… keeping the lines here to track any movement over night.
Down to 2.5, 47.5
Buffalo Bills +2.5 @ Kansas City Chiefs: 54
Coming tomorrow… Down to 1.5.