What an evening/early morning of drama we had last night. I’d written that turnovers or the odd field goal could well decide the first two Divisional knockout matches, and that’s exactly what happened. Not the flurry of points I’d hoped for, sadly – and certainly not at Lambeau – but drama of the highest order.

Clips courtesy of NFL Twitter

Both the No 1 seeds perished at home. Both handed the dagger to their conquerors on a velvet cushion. With instructions. Having said that, massive congratulations to the obdurate, indefatigable Bengals and 49ers who, given the merest sniff, have willed themselves into their respective Conference Finals.

So, today’s teaser is – who will be joining them? In the NFC it’s firstly the Rams/Bucs; and then later, AFC giants Bills/Chiefs. Here we go …

Sunday, 8pm UK

Los Angeles Rams @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A fantastic clash in prospect, and at a wonderfully user-friendly kick-off time for us UK viewers.

Super Bowl champions Tampa, Tom Brady et al, entertain bona fide pretenders to their crown in the Rams. LA have expensively assembled a side more than capable of lifting the Lombardi, while for Brady, he’s hunting down ring number EIGHT. Ridiculous, really.

Brady’s at the end of a stellar season personally, with huge total pass yards and completion rates. Tampa in general though, for me, have not been at the level of last term. Did we glimpse a hint of a return to their imperious best last week against the Eagles? I think they are going to need to be at that lofty height to down the Rams.

LA QB Matthew Stafford had had a standout season himself, after shipping in from Detroit. Career-equalling highs in  both pass percentage and touchdowns, and a Rodgers/Adams-type, prolific, near-telepathic relationship with receiver Cooper Kupp.

On the defensive side, LA have added Von Miller this season, who had a stormer in their defeat of the Cards last week. Corner Jalen Ramsey is as good as it gets in the position, too, and as I’ve said before – this is a team built to win a Super Bowl.

Odell Beckham Jr is another weapon, recently acquired, for Stafford to exploit. They’re a very potent outfit.

For the Bucs, running back Leonard Fournette hopes to start, and he’s crucial. In the receiving corps, Mike Evans is a favourite target for Brady, and there’s a certain Robert James Gronkowski, too. A tight end for the ages. Clutch play, game on the line – Brady to Gronk. Tale as old as time.

We have the Bucs as a 2.5 point fav, the total’s pitched around 48.5, and it’s 4/6 Bucs on the money line. The weather will certainly NOT mirror that of yesterday’s matches, with a mild, sunny intervals outlook likely. It’s yet another that could go to a field goal here, or a turnover there, for me.

I felt both of yesterday’s matches would go to the wire, and hoped both would set the scoreboard alight. I was wrong on the latter point – but I’m hoping for some redemption here at Raymond James. There’s just too much talent on view to resist.

Having tipped them up at the start of the season I must stick with Tampa, but they’ve potentially got their hands full and then some.

Total points Over 48.5 @ 20/21

 

Sunday 11.30pm UK

Buffalo Bills @ Kansas City Chiefs

The last of the four simply magnificent matchups that comprise Divisional Weekend. Another with a half-reasonable start-time for the UK, too. Bring it on.

AFC heavyweights this time meet at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City in January is often no place for the faint of heart, and for once I’m not talking about the football.

Today’s forecast though is for a crisp affair, just above freezing, sunny intervals, and dry. Fingers crossed then that the weather folks have got it spot on.

The Bills defeated the Chiefs back in October, but it’s fair to say that despite Division-winning seasons for both it’s not always been plain sailing. Far from it.

I’ve said many, many times that I feel this season has been quite remarkable in terms of shocks, thrills, and just wonderful entertainment. No-one has been able to rest upon any laurels for a moment, which of course makes these fiendishly well-matched adversaries so difficult to separate.

They are seriously good, with little to separate them offensively. KC of course have the showy, glossy triumvirate of Mahomes, Hill and Kelce; as good as it gets for QB, receiver and tight end combos.

Buffalo in turn can boast Josh Allen under centre, Stefon Diggs out wide, and Mike Singletary carrying the rock – not too shabby at all. Where I feel the Bills have an advantage though is in defense.

Mahomes and company can rip anyone to shreds if getting hot at the right moments, but this might just be the opportunity for Buffalo to strike out for a place in the Conference Final.

Whoever does prevail will fancy their chances of beating Cincinnati and making it to the big one. Dangerous to look ahead like that, but they wouldn’t be human if it wasn’t in the back of their minds.

Time to nail colours firmly to the mast – and it’s the Bills for me, in what I hope will be a thriller.

Buffalo Bills, money line, @ 21/20

Have a brilliant evening of NFL action.

Alan Firkins

Super Bowl betting