The NFL’s divisional round provided almost as much excitement as the opening round, with at least one major surprise.
That would be the Tennessee Titans, whose upset of the AFC’s top-seeded Baltimore Ravens will give them their first championship game appearance since after the 2002 season. They will face a Kansas City team that overcame overwhelming odds in the divisional round. Faced with an early 24-0 deficit at the hands of the Houston Texans, the Chiefs became first team in NFL history to trail by 24 or more points in the first half and still enjoy a lead at halftime. According to ESPN, Kansas City’s comeback win was the largest in franchise history and tied for the fourth largest by any team in postseason history.
In the NFC, the San Francisco 49ers had little trouble dispatching the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers held on to defeat the Seattle Seahawks.
Based on each team’s true talent level – which is derived by looking at its actual win rate and its projected win rate based on total points scored and allowed – we can project the playoffs 1,000 times and see which teams are most likely to reach the Super Bowl.
Here are the most likely matchups based on those simulations. Also included are the implied money line and odds for each contest:
Kansas City Chiefs vs. San Francisco 49ers (39% chance)
Odds after divisional round: 39% chance (implied money line: +150, implied odds: 1.5-1)
Odds after first round: 12% chance (implied money line: +700, implied odds: 7-1)
Original odds, after the regular season: 10% chance (implied money line: +850, implied odds: 9-1)
The quarterbacks would get top billing in this matchup, the most likely Super Bowl pairing, but the battle to watch would be in the trenches.
San Francisco defensive end Nick Bosa was nominated for the NFL’s rookie of the year award after finishing the regular season with 80 total pressures (sacks, hits and hurries) as a rookie per the game charters at Pro Football Focus, 14 more than any rookie edge defender has recorded in a single season since the start of the PFF era in 2006. Bosa had two sacks, one quarterback hit and four hurries plus three stops against the run against Minnesota on Saturday.
He will have to overcome Packers Pro Bowl left tackle David Bakhtiari, who surrendered just two sacks all season.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Green Bay Packers (31% chance)
Odds after divisional round: 31% chance (implied money line: +250, implied odds: 2.5-1)
Odds after first round: 8% chance (implied money line: +1,250, implied odds: 13-1)
Original odds, after the regular season: 5% chance (implied money line: +1,750, implied odds: 18-1)
Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams connected on 8 of 11 targets for 160 yards and two touchdowns against Seattle, pushing their overall passer rating together to 108.2 this season, including the playoffs. They would be hard-pressed to fare that well against a Chiefs secondary that allows a 56% catch rate (second lowest in the NFL) and 79.2 passer rating (third lowest) to opposing wideouts this season, including the playoffs.
Tennessee Titans vs. San Francisco 49ers (17% chance)
Odds after divisional round: 17% chance (implied money line: +500, implied odds: 5-1)
Odds after first round: 2% chance (implied money line: +3,950, implied odds: 40-1)
Original odds, after the regular season: 1% chance (implied money line: +9,400, implied odds: 94-1)
Don’t tell Derrick Henry that running backs don’t matter. Since he rested against the New Orleans Saints in Week 16, Henry has become the first back in NFL history to rush for 180 or more yards in three straight games. He’s also averaging almost five yards per carry after contact in those three games, with 19 forced missed tackles. Plus, eight of his 96 attempts have gone for 15 yards or more. He’s already taken down the AFC’s top seed; this matchup would give him a crack at the NFC’s.
Tennessee Titans vs. Green Bay Packers (13% chance)
Odds after divisional round: 13% chance (implied money line: +650, implied odds: 6.5-1)
Odds after first round: 1% chance (implied money line: +6,600, implied odds: 66-1)
Original odds, after the regular season: 1% chance (implied money line: +18,050, implied odds: 180-1)
Green Bay’s rush defense leaves a lot to be desired. Its defensive line stopped only 13% of opposing rushers at or behind the line of scrimmage during the regular season, leaving only Detroit with a worse stuff rate. Almost two-thirds of rushes on third or fourth down, with two yards or less to go, achieved a first down or touchdown against Green Bay, the seventh-worst mark in the NFL. So if both underdogs win this weekend, Henry might be licking his chops.