Coming off what many are considering the best weekend of football in NFL history, we will soon know what teams will be squaring off in this year’s Super Bowl. All four games last weekend were decided by six points or less, with three of the games being won on a field goal on the last play of regulation. The final game of the weekend between the Buffalo Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs saw 26 points scored in the last 1:54 of the fourth quarter before the Chiefs won by scoring a touchdown on the first possession of overtime.
With so many former Ohio State football players in the NFL, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Buckeye alums came up big last weekend. With just one win standing in the way of those that wore the scarlet and gray in college, it feels like a good time to recap who is left in the playoffs, and how they have performed in the playoffs up to this point.
Not only will a lot of people around Ohio be rooting for Cincinnati because they are Bengals fans to begin with, but the team from the Queen City has gained some more fans as they have added Buckeyes to their roster. The Bengals used to shy away from drafting or signing Ohio State players, which can probably explain why they didn’t win a playoff game for over 30 years. Now Cincinnati is just one win away from making the Super Bowl.
Now in his fourth year in the NFL, the defensive end has become one of Cincinnati’s most consistent players on the defense, registering at least six sacks in three of his first four seasons. Hubbard has registered three tackles in each of Cincinnati’s first two playoff games. Last week’s assignment was a little different since he had to try and slow down Derrick Henry and Tennessee’s rushing attack after Las Vegas preferred to pass more in the Wild Card Round. Hubbard’s lone sack of the postseason came against the Raiders.
If the Bengals want to reach the Super Bowl, they’ll need Hubbard to get in the backfield early and often on Sunday afternoon. Even though Buffalo was able to get pressure on Patrick Mahomes, the quarterback of the Chiefs is almost impossible to bring down. Hubbard and company have to find a way to make things difficult for Mahomes, keep him in the pocket, and get him on the ground.
Heading into the weekend, Hubbard is listed as questionable on the injury report because of a thigh injury. There shouldn’t be much concern about Hubbard playing, as he was a full participant at practice. It’s going to take a huge setback for Hubbard to be limited or not play on Sunday.
After a solid start to his career with the New Orleans Saints, Vonn Bell has found a home in the Cincinnati secondary. Bell recorded 114 tackles and two fumble recoveries last season, and followed that up with 97 tackles, an interception, and a fumble recovery this year. Bell has been a tremendous influence on his younger partner at safety, Jessie Bates.
Bell is never going to be a safety that has a high interception total. Instead, Bell will always be around the football, and he has a knack for recovering fumbles, as evidenced by his five fumble recoveries with New Orleans back in 2019. The former Buckeye’s biggest play of the postseason so far came early in last week’s game when he sacked quarterback Ryan Tannehill on Tennessee’s second drive of the game.
Bell, Bates, and the rest of the Cincinnati secondary are going to have their hands full with Kansas City’s passing attack. At least the Bengals have already had a look at what the Chiefs are going to throw at them. Bell will be leaned on heavily because he does have some playoff experience with New Orleans, so when the pressure rises his veteran presence will be critical.
The first few years of Eli Apple’s NFL career haven’t been the smoothest, as he bounced around to three teams before signing with Cincinnati. A return to the Buckeye State must have been exactly what Apple needed, since he has become a solid contributor in the Cincinnati secondary. Apple was credited with 10 passes defensed this year, which is second-most on the team.
The biggest play of Apple’s NFL career might have come late in last week’s game against the Titans, where his tip of a Ryan Tannehill pass allowed Logan Wilson to intercept the pass and give the Bengals a shot to get in position for a game-winning field goal. Apple has now recorded at least one pass defensed in eight of the last nine games.
It will be interesting to see how Apple responds on the field to his positive performances of late. Hopefully his play on Sunday isn’t as distracted as his Twitter of late, as Apple seemed more concerned with trashing New Orleans. It’s also hard to knock another city’s food when Cincinnati has Skyline, which is pretty much the contents of a used diaper poured over spaghetti.
New Orleans is the dirtiest smelliest city and has the worst food ever it’s that swine and crawfish thts killin yall brains— Eli Apple (@EliApple) January 24, 2022
At least that tweet took place on Monday and there hasn’t been anything crazy since then. If Apple can help hold the Chiefs passing game in check, he can definitely say he is one of the NFL’s most improved players this year.
Joe Burrow was sacked nine times against the Tennessee Titans. That should tell you just about everything you need to know about the state of the offensive line of the Cincinnati Bengals. Even with let their quarterback get continuously put on the ground, the Bengals still found a way to win last weekend.
Either Cincinnati is going to have to come up with some wrinkles on offense to keep Burrow on his feet, or the offensive line is going to have to play the exact opposite of how they did against the Titans. Kansas City has a lot of skilled rushers, so it’s likely Burrow is going to be in for a long afternoon when it comes to pressure. That doesn’t mean Cincinnati is cooked though, since they already have a win over Kansas City this year.
I didn’t put Burrow at the top of this list since he did transfer out of the program when Dwayne Haskins was on track to win the starting quarterback job. That doesn’t mean Burrow isn’t a Buckeye. Add in his roots in Athens and there’s no question that Burrow is a fan favorite pretty much in every corner of the state. Burrow could add to his already lengthy list of accomplishments if he is able to lead the Bengals to their first Super Bowl in over three decades.
Burrow will be facing the Chiefs for the second time in less than a month. In the first meeting in Cincinnati, Burrow threw for 446 yards and four touchdowns in the comeback 34-31 win. Burrow’s first playoff start a couple weeks ago saw him finish with 244 yards and two touchdowns in the win over the Raiders, and last week he threw for 348 yards and an interception against the Titans. Even though Burrow didn’t find the end zone against Tennessee, he was able to get the Bengals in position for some critical field goals, including the game-winner with no time remaining.
It might sound a little crazy to call this year a “breakout year” for a guy that won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2019, but that’s how good Nick Bosa was this year. The younger brother of Joey Bosa is just one win away from playing in his second Super Bowl in three years after the 49ers edged the Packers 13-10 on Saturday night. Bosa was huge for the San Francisco defense, getting a few shots in on Aaron Rodgers and sacking the future Hall of Famer twice in the victory.
Now the 49ers will head down the California coast to take on the Los Angeles Rams, who they have beat twice already this season. In the first two victories over the Rams, Bosa has been credited with 1.5 sacks and three tackles for loss. With an offense that failed to score a touchdown against the Packers, San Francisco is going to need another huge performance from Bosa if they want to score their third win against Los Angeles this year, and make sure they are the NFC’s representative in the Super Bowl in Los Angeles in a couple weeks.
While Sermon is on San Francisco’s roster, he hasn’t carried the football since November 21st against Jacksonville, or played on special teams since the following week against Minnesota. It’s highly unlikely we will see Sermon in action on Sunday against the Rams.
Los Angeles Rams
The only Buckeye playing for Los Angeles is safety Jordan Fuller. Unfortunately, Fuller was injured in the regular season finale against San Francisco. The ankle injury Fuller suffered ruled him out of the rest of the playoffs, leading to the Rams calling up Eric Weddle and coaxing him out of retirement to take Fuller’s spot on the roster.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs were already public enemy number one in my book since I’m a Bills fan. Now since I’m sure plenty of Bengals fans are reading this, we can all hate the Chiefs together since Kansas City doesn’t have any Ohio State players on their roster. Kansas City had just signed former Buckeye cornerback Damon Arnette to a futures contract, but Arnette was arrested on Friday night in Las Vegas for assault with a deadly weapon and a number of other charges after pulling a gun on a valet. Kansas City released Arnette on Saturday morning.