The AFC and NFC have now been whittled down to their respective final fours and leave us with two intriguing matchups on both sides. In the AFC, the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs are back in action after a week of rest and will be taking on a Browns squad who is coming off an emotional win over the Steelers. Despite not having their head coach Cleveland, stormed out to 28-0 lead and then held on late as they ultimately ended up scoring 48 points against what was supposedly one the best defenses in the NFL.
Kansas City isn’t likely to make the same mistake Pittsbrugh did (in terms of letting them go up by 28) but this Cleveland team has proven it can run and score on anyone. The other AFC game features two teams and QBs who want to take a step up to the next level. Both Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson are in their third-years in the league and have led their teams to 13+ win seasons already. Allen’s Bills have been the better team of late as they’ve now won seven straight, but they needed a late defensive stop against Indy to get past the first round and have some tendencies against the run that the Ravens may be able to exploit. Baltimore rushed for 185 yards last week and will be looking to emulate that performance against the Bills.
In the NFC, the Packers will be taking on the Rams who will be providing the drama this week in terms of personnel decisions. Both of the Rams QBs are now questionable, although at least Jared Goff (thumb) is now practicing. Goff seems likely to start here but his ball placement was off on many throws against Seattle and was lucky not to get picked a couple of times. Cooper Kupp (knee) and Aaron Donald (ribs) both didn’t practice early in the week here and would be massive losses if they missed or were even limited. Donald seems sure to at least suit up but Kupp is trending towards being a true gametime decision. The Packers are coming off a week of rest and have now won six games in a row by eight-points or more.
The final battle features a matchup of two of the NFL’s most prolific passers and two QBs whose birthdates outdate the internet. Tom Brady and the Bucs already lost two regular season matchups to the Saints this year by a combined score of 72-26. It’s a tough spot but the Bucs offense has been rolling of late with Brady himself averaging 335 yards passing per game, over the Bucs last five games. The Saints are finally healthy on offense with Michael Thomas back and have only allowed 16-points against their last two games. This one should be a war and offers the most wide ranging appeal to the masses of the four.
Divisional Playoffs preview (lines and totals)
- Los Angeles Rams vs. Green Bay Packers (-6.5, 45.5)
- Baltimore Ravens vs. Buffalo Bills (-2.5, 50.5)
- Cleveland Browns vs. Kansas City Chiefs (-9.5, 55.5)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saints (-3, 51.5)
There’s little doubt that this year presents Aaron Rodgers with his best opportunity of returning to the Superbowl since his 2010 SB win over a decade ago. Rodgers is currently the massive MVP favorite so a Superbowl here would really put the cherry on top of what has already been a fantastic career filled with superhuman plays.
And this year, it really feels like the Packers have a chance. Their injury report is essentially non-existent this week and they’ll be facing a Rams team here who has three key players in Kupp, Goff, and Aaron Donald all at less than 100%. From an Against the Spread perspective, both of these teams were solid this year as the Rams have gone 10-7 ATS while the Packers sit at 10-6. Green Bay was 5-3 ATS at home this year and 7-1 straight up. This game has my favorite ATS bet of the week in it so look below for more.
The other game on Saturday sets up to be a potential classic, with two first round QBs from the 2018 draft class going at each other. Josh Allen is coming off an MVP like season himself and was phenomenal again last week against the Colts, completing 74% of his passes for 324 yards and two TDs. The Ravens did well in limiting another solid QB in Ryan Tannehill last week though, who ended last week with just 165 yards passing and a 83.0 passer rating. The Ravens rush attack is going to be an issue for Buffalo who allowed 4.5 YPC against this season, but BUF has been so efficient on offense you almost have to give them the nod here. Both of these teams are 11-6 ATS this year and were great teams to ride with during the regular season.
The Browns are coming off one of the wilder playoff games in recent memory as they and the Steelers combined for 85 points in round one. Maybe the Steelers aren’t what we thought they were but the Browns offense has proven it can move the ball against anyone this year and come in ranked third in rush yards per game. Nick Chubb led the league in YPC and is going to be an issue for the Chiefs this week:
This spread feels wildly big given Kansas City is ranked 12th worst in YPC against and gave up the 10th most rush yards to opposing RBs this year. It’s still hard not to see this one end with a ton of points given that Tyreek Hill (hamstring) is coming off a week of rest and will be up against an undermanned secondary who gave up over 500-yards passing last week.
The final game of the week features two of the NFL’s most recognizable stars and two QBs who could legitimately be playing in their final playoff game (if they lose). The Saints come in after hammering down the Bears at home last week and sit at 10-7 ATS on the year. As mentioned above, they had zero issues handling the Bucs the first two times these teams played so there’s at least some kind of psychological advantage for New Orleans here. Despite the two lopsided losses during the regular season, the spread here remains within +/-3.0 and for me, the place to look here might be with the total. Tom Brady is playing well, posting passer ratings of 104 or more in his last 10-games, and Bruce Arians is now 22-11 at hitting overs since taking over as HC for the Bucs in 2019.
Wildcard Week early conviction play
- Wildcard results
- Colts +7 O
- Season record: 10-4 ATS (Totals 1-2)
Bet: Packers -6.5
The Rams did well to get themselves into the playoffs and get past a dysfunctional Seahawks team whose offense hasn’t looked right since Week 8. The QB issues will be the big story around this team, but it doesn’t really seem to matter who is starting at that position for the Rams. L.A. is a team who has either been able to impose their will on defense–and win low scoring games–or they lose. We saw this scenario play out in Weeks 15 and 16 where the Rams defense didn’t even play poorly, allowing 23 and 20 points to their opponents, and they still took the L.
Enter Aaron Rodgers and the Packers whose offense hasn’t been held under 24 points since Week 8 and you have a huge problem. The Rams have lost twice to SF this year–another team with a young head coach who is creative enough to move the ball against an elite defense–and will be facing a Packers team here who has run the ball just as well as they’ve passed it of late, with Aaron Jones having averaged 6.25 YPC over his last four games of the season. Lost in all the hoopla this week too, the Packers defense has really tightened up the last part of the season and now have now held their last three opponents to 16 points or less.
For me, there’s too many avenues for the Packers to cover here and while the line might seem big, Green Bay has been beating these lines all year given they currently sit at 10-6 ATS in 2020-2021.
Bonus: Bucs/Saints over 51.5
Wildcard NFL game props
- Wildcard results: 1-2
- Colts over 21.5 pts O
- Colts/Bills over 3.5 FGs X
- Hawks/Rams under 4.5 TDs X
This one shouldn’t need much explanation after the Colts hit their over vs. the Bills last week. Baltimore’s offense really amped up at the end of the regular season, scoring 27 or more in their last four regular season games, while the Bills defense continues to be vulnerable against the run. The Bills were lucky to only allow 24 points last week as the Colts faltered numerous times in the red zone. Baltimore led the league in YPC in the regular season and were a more proficient red zone offense than Indy. Expect a higher-scoring, faster paced game here than what we saw between BAL/TEN last week, and for the over to hit here again against Buffalo.
I’m also going to take the over on the Bucs team total here. The spread in this game is tight at +/- 2.5-3.0 as bookmakers clearly are giving some respect to the Bucs emergence at the end of the regular season. New Orleans defense has played well in their last two outings but this low number feels like an overreaction to them shutting down a bottom tier offense last week. Prior to that, they’d allowed 29 and 33 points against and Tampa just finished putting up 31-against another top tier D-Line in Washington. Despite being far more out of synch (and not having Antonio Brown) Tampa still managed to put up 23-points in New Orleans in Week 1. I’d look for a better effort here.
The fear here is that KC gets out in front and forces Cleveland to abandon the option of taking FGs late in the game. Still, these two teams both rank in the bottom-12 in terms of FGs allowed to their opponent per game and play at quicker paces. Given how well KC moves the ball, we may only need one FG from Cleveland anyways and, as we saw last week, the Browns secondary and pass rush is undermanned and not all that effective so KC will be flying up and down the field, most likely. With the O/U at 55.5 taking the plus money on the over here seems like the right call.
Wildcard Week players props
Check back later in the week…