2021 NFL playoffs: How each of the eight remaining teams can win in the divisional round

2021 NFL playoffs: How each of the eight remaining teams can win in the divisional round
·4 min read

It could easily be argued that the eight best teams face off in the divisional round of the 2021 playoffs, and three of these four contests represent a rematch of a regular-season game. Only the Bengals and Titans are relatively new to each other.

In Week 3, the Buccaneers were embarrassed in nearly every facet of the game by the Rams in a 34-24 loss. Week 3 was also when the Packers got out to a 17-0 lead against the 49ers before Kyle Shanahan’s team put together a furious comeback that Matt LaFleur’s squad barely kept at bay in a 30-28 nail-biter.

And in Week 5, the Chiefs had to deal with two supernatural forces — lightning storms that delayed the game over an hour, and Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who threw three touchdown passes and ran for another score in a 38-20 beatdown.

Here, in tape/stat pieces written by Touchdown Wire’s Doug Farrar and Mark Schofield, is how each of the eight remaining teams can advance to their conference championship games.

How the Bengals can beat the Titans

(Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports)

If the Bengals want to push their season forward and make their first AFC Championship game since Whitesnake was relevant, they’ll need to protect the interior of their offensive line for Joe Burrow against Tennessee’s awesome fronts, and force Ryan Tannehill to make the hero-ball throws he’s not always capable of making.

How the Titans can beat the Bengals

(AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Conversely, if the Titans want to return to their conference championship for the second time in the last three seasons, they’ll want to blow Cincinnati’s offensive line apart with productive pressure, and roll with the play-action passing game. The return of Derrick Henry should help just a bit with that.

How the 49ers can beat the Packers

(Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports)

After a catastrophic beginning to their game against the Packers in Week 3, the 49ers turned it around and proved to be the equal of the NFC’s one-seed, though they did so a bit too late. If Kyle Shanahan’s team wants to flip the script this time, the 49ers must bewitch Green Bay’s defense with motion (and Trey Lance) in the run game, keep Jimmy Garoppolo in early-processing situations, and make hay against the Packers’ atrocious special teams.

How the Packers can beat the 49ers

(Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

Meanwhile, the Packers are looking to play in their third straight NFC Championship game, and here’s how to do it: Mirror Kyle Shanahan’s run concepts with pre-snap motion as they are wont to do, go nuts in the passing game whenever San Francisco makes the ill-advised decision to play man coverage, and get the ball to Davante Adams whenever there’s just one deep safety out there.

How the Rams can beat the Buccaneers

(Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

Sean McVay was about as happy as he’s ever been after Matthew Stafford took the Buccaneers’ defense apart in Week 3. Stafford has struggled since in a lot of areas, but here’s how he can get back on track,by beating the blitz and out of empty formations. Also: Use bear fronts to completely negate whatever run game the Bucs want to throw out there. It certainly worked on September 26!

How the Buccaneers can beat the Rams

(Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports)

Bruce Arians, on the other hand, wasn’t happy at all after that 34-24 loss, and he let everyone have it at every position group. If the Buccaneers are to exact revenge, they’ll need to watch out for Aaron Donald all across the line, exploit the Rams’ safety depth, and keep McVay’s run game from bashing a run defense that has lost its legs in recent days.

How the Bills can beat the Chiefs

(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

The divisional round finale is the most-anticipated game in a national sense, with two explosive offenses and improved defenses carried by the Bills and Chiefs. If Buffalo wants to repeat the 38-20 beatdown of Kansas City in Week 5, using Josh Allen on designed runs, and reducing Patrick Mahomes’ output with the NFL’s best safety duo will be of paramount importance.

How the Chiefs can beat the Bills

(Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

If the Chiefs are to move past the Bills this time around and get to their third straight AFC Championship game, it will be crucial to spy Allen as you would Michael Vick or Cam Newton, and focus on Buffalo’s cornerbacks and linebackers in the passing game.

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