It’s safe to say that last week’s Super Wildcard Weekend by the NFL was a smashing success. In fact, I don’t think fans would object to double triple-headers on Wild Card Weekend every year. Even the game that started 28-0 became interesting in the end.
Things are about to get a lot more intense in the Divisional Round.
Last week helped to separate a lot of the contenders from the pretenders and now we have eight teams that all have a chance to go to the Super Bowl. Of course, the challenge for us is not just picking winners but rather picking winners against the spread.
Here are our betting predictions for all four Divisional Round playoff games.
Green Bay Packers -6.5 vs Los Angeles Rams
The Rams deserve a lot of credit for a gutsy win over Seattle last week. Jared Goff, in particular, was far from 100% after his late-season thumb injury but found a way to make a few decent throws. Even with an injured Goff under center, don’t count out the Rams from making this an interesting game.
Behind Cam Akers, the Rams can still run the ball. Plus, the Los Angeles defense is arguably the best in the NFL and could keep the Rams competitive in this one, especially if Jalen Ramsey can keep Davante Adams in check.
That being said, keeping up with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers for 60 minutes will be a monumental task for a team that lacks a viable passing attack. Rodgers has Adams and Aaron Jones at his disposal, and he occasionally finds a use for the other receivers on Green Bay’s roster.
The Rams would have to play close to perfect to keep Rodgers and company under wraps all game. Sooner or later, the Packers will score points, and when that happens, the Los Angeles offense may not be able to answer. As long as the spread remains less than a touchdown, we’re comfortable picking Green Bay to cover.
Baltimore Ravens +3 at Buffalo Bills
Now that Lamar Jackson has won a playoff game, look out! Even if there’s a little snow on a cold Buffalo night, that shouldn’t interfere too much with the Baltimore offense.
The Ravens will run the ball behind Jackson, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards all night. Based on the way Buffalo defended the Indianapolis running game last week, that should be a winning formula for the Ravens, who slowly but surely got their running game going against Tennessee last week. With the Baltimore defense also playing at a high level over the last month, the Ravens are looking like the team we thought they’d be at the start of the season, which is a team that poses a legitimate threat to the Chiefs as the best team in the AFC.
To be fair, the Bills are also an outstanding team that’s more than capable of challenging Kansas City. Josh Allen poses a serious threat with both his legs and his arm, especially with the way Stefon Diggs has played all season. However, the Buffalo defense hasn’t been able to match the play of Allen and the offense. The Bills were a little lucky to hang on against the Colts last week and they may not be so lucky this week.
Unless Allen can out-perform Jackson by a wide margin, he won’t be able to overcome the fact that Baltimore is the more balanced and well-rounded team. Look for the Ravens to atone for last season’s playoff failure by upsetting Buffalo on the road.
Cleveland Browns +10 at Kansas City Chiefs
We keep waiting for all of Cleveland’s absences due to injuries and COVID-19 testing to come back to hurt the Browns, but it hasn’t happened yet. They’ve found a way to beat the Steelers in back-to-back weeks and should be healthier this week than they’ve been over the last two weeks.
The secret to Cleveland’s success all season has been the ability to run the ball. Granted, there are some concerns with multiple offensive linemen questionable due to injuries. But the tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt is good enough to pick up yards even if the Browns have to plug a couple of holes along the O-line. It’s not as if they’ll be facing an elite defense, so we expect the Browns to have success on the ground and score a few points while keeping Patrick Mahomes off the field.
Meanwhile, we have a few small concerns about Mahomes and the Kansas City offense. Keep in mind that the Chiefs scored just 17 points against the Falcons in Week 16. Mahomes then sat out Week 17 before the Chiefs got a bye last week. It’s been nearly a month since the Kansas City offense was clicking on all cylinders. If the Chiefs can’t flip a switch and get back on track right away, this will be a more difficult game than the 10-point spread suggests.
By no means are we suggesting that the Browns will pull off the upset. But the Chiefs are coming off a long hiatus and haven’t beat a team by more than six points since Week 8, so we’ll take our chances with Cleveland beating the 10-point spread.
New Orleans Saints -3 vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It’s not easy to beat a team three times in one season, but the Saints have beat the Bucs so soundly twice already that it’s easy to envision New Orleans pulling off the three-game sweep. The Saints outscored Tampa Bay 72-26 in their two games, including a 38-3 win. We’re not naive enough to think that the Bucs are going to get blown out like that again given all of the talent around Tom Brady. The Buccaneers have looked particularly potent down the stretch. However, none of Tampa’s five straight wins came against a team with a winning record, including last week’s playoff victory over Washington.
Brady and Co. might be potent offensively, but the New Orleans defense is one of the best in the NFL. The Saints have the personnel to challenge Tampa’s receivers and apply consistent pressure on Brady, two things few teams have been able to do against Tampa over the last month.
On the other side of the ball, the Saints are starting to get healthy with both Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas returning for last week’s win over the Bears despite missing time late in the season. To be fair, the New Orleans offense wasn’t exactly clicking, but the pieces are in place for Drew Brees to get it going this week.
In the end, it should be enough for the Saints to win and cover three points, especially with their defense getting a handle on the Tampa Bay offense.
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