And then there were eight. The Divisional playoffs kick off this Saturday with a date for the respective conference championships on the line. I’ve got you covered here with a breakdown of each game as well as some props and picks I’m targeting for each matchup. As of now, we have the games with the two lowest O/U of the week scheduled for Saturday so the books are expecting a little more defense in this first batch of games.
The Rams will be the team to watch in terms of injury news this week too. Three of their key players–Jared Goff, Aaron Donald and Cooper Kupp–are banged up heading into this week. Unfortunately for them, they have drawn the earliest start so they’ll have a little less time for healing. Goff (thumb) only completed 9 of 19 passes in his relief appearance last week and many of his passes looked like wounded ducks that could have easily been picked. Backup QB John Wolfrod hasn’t even practiced this week so it looks like L.A. will have to hope Goff’s thumb is improved and allows for better efficiency. Aaron Donald has already said he’ll be playing but Cooper Kupp (knee) has missed two practices and seems like a true gametime decision. Kupp could be active just for decoy purposes as well.
Green Bay comes in off a week of rest and with what is essentially a clean injury sheet. They’ve won five in a row now and are the second biggest favorites of the weekend.
The other game doesn’t carry a ton of injury drama either. Buffalo and Baltimore will be near full strength for their clash. The Bills Cole Beasley is dealing with what appears to be a semi-serious knee injury but he played a nearly full complement of snaps last week and there were no reported setbacks. The drama here will centre around the QBs as we have two first-round draft picks from 2018 going up against each other for a chance to take their team to the conference title game for the first-time. This game currently has the closest spread of the entire week and has been stuck at -2.5 Bills since opening with no dominant public side for betting.
- Cooper Kupp (knee)
- Jared Goff (thumb)
- John Wolford (stinger)
- Aaron Donald (ribs)
The Rams come into this game a little banged up but still sporting one of the toughest defenses to score against in the league. The team ranked 1st in several defensive metrics this season, including fewest yards and points allowed per game. There’s no doubting the talent here. The Rams have one of the more ferocious defensive fronts in the game, anchored by superhuman Aaron Donald, who allows the likes of Leonard Floyd to create havoc when he gets double or tripled teamed. Their secondary is equally impressive and anchored by all-pro Jalen Ramsey, who has seemingly upped the play of Troy Hill and Darious Williams.
The Rams are not without flaws though. This team only beat two teams all year who rank in the top-10 in points scored this year and did cede 24 plus points to the Bills/Bucs and 49ers (with their backup QB). In short, they spent a lot of time beating up on weaker offenses which really hid their lack of production on offense, particularly down the stretch. The Rams scored over 20 points for the first time in four games last week against Seattle and needed a pick-6 and some late game botchery by the Hawks to get there.
Enter the Packers, whose defense has really come on towards the back half of the year and now allowed 16 points or less in their last three games. Green Bay’s defense can sometimes get a bad rap but this is a team who has allowed just 3.9 YPC over their last three games and just three passing TDs over their last five games. Their secondary and D-Line are starting to create havoc too as they’ve now forced five turnovers in their last three games and were responsible for turning a couple of solid QBs in Teddy Bridgewater and Ryan Tannehill back into proverbial pumpkins.
Offensively, don’t expect a ton of fireworks in this game. If the Rams are going to score points it’s likely going to come via Cam Akers, who put up a solid 4.7 YPC against a good Seahawks rush defense. Green Bay will be ready for it though and should be able to stack the box here given Goff’s limitations. The real chess match will come when Aaron Rodgers is on the field. The Green Bay QB has thrown for 19 TDs vs one INT over his last six games of the year and the Packers were last held to under 24-points in a game in Week 8.
If Green Bay can get to 24 points or more here, the task seems far too big for a beleaguered and potentially undermanned Rams offense. The Packers are 10-6 ATS this year and 7-1 straight up at home. L.A. has been a nice story, getting a round deep with a backup QB, but the clock strikes midnight here for me. Look for Davante Adams to continue his reign of terror, the Packers defense to potentially outplay their counterparts and for Aaron Rodgers to propel Green Bay to another TD+ win.
Prediction: Packers 27 Rams 17
- Cole Beasley (knee-questionable)
- Matthew Judon (illness-questionable)
This game features two of the most dynamic teams and QBs in the league at full strength. The Bills were an absolute revolution in a tumultuous year as the team transformed into one of the most efficient offenses in the NFL. Buffalo ranked fourth in yards per play and third in passing yards per game as Josh Allen took a major leap forward, ending the season with a 69.2% completion rate, which is over 10% higher than what he posted last season. That kind of jump is unheard of for NFL QBs and when you combine it with his rushing prowess (420 yards and eight TDs) you get a player who is very difficult to stop.
The Ravens defense was suffocating last week against Ryan Tannehill, holding him to just 165 yards, although much of that had to do with gameflow, as the Titans were up early and chose to sit back rather than keep the pedal down. The Ravens were fantastic against the run versus Tennessee, allowing Derrick Henry just 40 yards on 18 carries, but stacking the box against Buffalo won’t help much. This is a team who passes to set up the run and has a QB who has improved his passing while under pressure metrics, bigly this season. The matchup will likely come down as to whether or not Baltimore’s elite secondary, led by Marcus Peters, can come up with a couple of big plays to keep Buffalo’s offense off the field.
One thing the Ravens should be able to do here is run the ball. The Ravens averaged 5.6 YPC this year–the best mark in the league–and Buffalo’s rush defense is still likely the team’s biggest achilles heel. They did hold Jonathan Taylor to just 3.7 YPC last week but now face a different kind of rushing attack with Lamar Jackson, who has averaged 6.96 yards per carry over the last four regular season games of the year.
Both these teams sit at 11-6 against the spread and there’s not much to discuss in terms of massively relevant trends here. We should expect points though and the Bills have been great for over bettors, hitting overs at an 11-5-1 rate this year. This game is tougher to handicap than the other, but I would still side with the superior-coached Bills winning a higher scoring game. The Ravens team total and the over on the underrated Beasley’s reception number rounds out the plays here.