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NFL Divisional Sunday Games

All times Eastern

Click here for Saturday games.

Sunday, January 15

3:05 pm Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs (-10, 56) - The Browns did a number on the Steelers Sunday night and are rewarded for that effort with a matchup against the reigning league champion Kansas City Chiefs, who took the week off after going 14-2 during the regular season.

Cleveland's 48-37 win over the Steelers was even more lopsided than it appears. After taking a 28-7 lead after one quarter of play and a 35-10 lead into the half, the Steelers never got any closer than the 11-point final score. The Browns picked off Ben Roethlisberger four times and cashed in just seconds into the game when Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey snapped the ball over Roethlisberger's head on Pittsburgh's first possession, resulting in a Cleveland score.

With a four touchdown lead after 15 minutes, the rest of the game was somewhat of a farce, with the Browns content to just not let the Steelers off the hook. Roethlisberger threw for 501 yards, but the Steelers only had 52 yards rushing. Cleveland's defense was playing pass almost the entire game, which made it difficult for the Steelers to gain any ground, though they did manage to make the game a lot closer than many figured.

The Browns are the kind of team that can deliver the unexpected at a moment's notice. Baker Mayfield was on target against Pittsburgh, hitting 21 of 34 passes for 263 and three TDs. The defense shouldn't have given up that many points, but part of that was because they played so loose with the huge lead.

This is a Cleveland team that can light it up or be duller than a butter knife, defying reason. They lost to Baltimore, 38-6 to start the regular season, and lost at Pittsburgh in week six, 38-7. The beat Tennessee 41-35, but lost to the Jets, 23-16. They just barely squeaked into the playoffs at 11-5 with a 24-22 win over Pittsburgh in week 17.

In Kansas City, all the talk is usually about Patrick Mahomes, the unconventional quarterback who has become the league's biggest star, but the latter half of the Chiefs' 14-2 season was largely the work of the defense, which made strides down the stretch. Outside of their 38-21 loss to the Chargers in week 17 - a game they did not need and subsequently did not play many starters - the Chiefs won 10 straight after their only other loss of the season, a 40-32 defeat by Las Vegas.

They're still the best team in the NFL until proven otherwise and Cleveland will have to be nearly perfect on offense because the Browns' defense is not going to control or contain Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce.

The extra week's rest gives KC the added advantage of getting some players healthy, especially Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the rookie running back who suffered a high ankle sprain against New Orleans on December 20. If he's not 100%, Leveon Bell is more than an ample replacement.

Bottom line, the Chiefs are just too good and the Browns are too erratic to lean towards Cleveland in any way.

Coin Flip: Cleveland

Prediction: Chiefs 41 Browns 24



6:40 pm Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints (-3, 52) - This is the third time these two NFC South teams meet this season, and the first time in playoff history that the starting quarterbacks are both over 40 years old.

The Saints' Drew Brees is 42. Tom Brady of Tampa Bay is 43.

In the previous two games, New Orleans emerged triumphant in each. Week one saw the Saints win at home, 34-23, but the week nine, 38-3 victory at Tampa Bay was not only a sweep of the regular season series, but the Saints' biggest win of the season. New Orleans went 12-4, winning the division by a game over the 12-5 Buccaneers, but the margin of victory in that one win was better than the 31-3 score the Saints put on Denver and the 33-7 win over Carolina to close out the season.

New Orleans advanced through the wild card round with a 21-9 win over the Chicago Bears, marking the fifth time the Saints have held an opponent under 10 points. The Bears didn't score a touchdown until the final play of the game, dominating the Bears, allowing just 210 yards of offense. Drew Brees, who missed four games due to injury, was 28-for-39 for 265 yards and two TDs. Alvin Kamara rushed for 99 yards on 23 carries. Kicker Will Lutz's missed field goal and Taysom Hill's fumble were about the only mistakes New Orleans made all day. They were dominant in every aspect.

Tampa Bay had its hands full with the Washington Football Team in their 31-23 wild card win. Washington QB Taylor Heinicke caused the Tampa defense trouble all day, throwing for 306 yards with a TD and one pick while rushing for 46 yards on six carries.

The Buccaneers held the advantage throughout the game, building an 18-7 lead at the half, and going up 28-16 midway through the fourth quarter. Washington cut the lead to 28-23 with 4:51 remaining, but Ryan Succop's 37-yard field goal completed the scoring with 2:49 left.

Tampa Bay's defense didn't distinguish itself, though the offense was in control pretty much throughout the game. Brady was not accurate, completing just 22 of 40 throws and the longest was 36 yards. He was sacked three times but threw two touchdown passes. Leonard Fournette rushed for 93 yards on 19 carries.

Overall, it was a ho-hum effort by the Bus against an overmatched opponent. They were expected to win by more, but Washington proved better than maybe even the Buccaneers expected.

Mike Evans was the leading receiver in the game with 119 yards on six receptions, but Antonio Brown was nowhere to be found, catching just two balls for 49 yards on just three targets though one was a 36 yard touchdown. Rob Gronkowski didn't catch a single ball even though Brady threw for 381 yards.

Tampa Bay was obviously looking long most of the day, and that strategy worked out for them, but they're likely to have to retool the offense because New Orleans is likely to keep receivers in front of them and pressure Brady with their usual strong pass rush and occasional blitzes.

From strictly an eyeball perspective, New Orleans seems to be more efficient and capable of sustaining long drives and their defense can be stifling. The Saints should prevail, probably by a solid margin.

Coin Flip: Tampa Bay

Prediction: Saints 34 Buccaneers 26


Click here for Saturday games.


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