NFL Divisional Round Picks
Saturday, Jan. 16
Green Bay Packers vs. Los Angeles Rams
As good as Aaron Rodgers has been over the past few months, the Rams defense has been even better. In a league that has skewed everything to favor passing attacks, this group is allowing just 181.3 passing YPG on the road. The Rams held Seattle to just 4.9 yards per play last week and are capable of containing Rodgers. They even have enough depth to generate a pass rush should Aaron Donald (ribs) be active or diminished.
The Packers offense is so dependent on Davante Adams (league-high 34.1% target share) that if Jalen Ramsey is able to even play him even, the Rams should hang in this game. Ramsey only allows 6.0 yards per target and gave up just 2 TDs all year. The All-Pro is smart enough to anticipate Adams’ ad-libs with Rodgers and athletic enough to deny those key conversions. We expect the Packers to pull this out after a week off, but think the Rams (+7) could cover or at least keep Green Bay below a projected total of 26.5 points.
Buffalo Bills vs. Baltimore Ravens
While the Bills received a scare last week in a 27-24 win over the Colts, they were still far more impressive than the Ravens. Baltimore’s defense led the way in a shutdown performance against Derrick Henry, and Lamar Jackson provided the biggest highlight of Wildcard Weekend with his 48-yard TD scramble. Yet the Ravens are averaging the second-fewest passing YPG (156.3) over the past month. They’re too dependent on the run to come from behind and the Bills have been starting fast with the most PPG (22) in the first half among AFC teams over the past 3 weeks.
Baltimore is only allowing 140.3 passing YPG over their last 3 games, but the Bills passing attack simply won’t be stopped. Brian Daboll is calling brilliant games and Josh Allen can keep plays alive even when his primary reads are covered. Allen is simply more of a well-rounded player than Jackson at this stage of their careers. Jackson is too quick to try and abandon the pocket to lean on his athleticism, which is exactly the temptation Allen had to overcome to hit the next stage of his evolution.
Sunday, Jan. 17
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Cleveland Browns
After kicking the crap out of the Steelers, the Browns are still getting disrespect from the vanquished. They will use that talk as motivation to play their hearts out against the defending champions and have a good chance to at least cover a 10-point spread.
The Chiefs can’t stop the run. They allow 131 rushing YPG at a 4.5 YPC in home games and their defense ranks dead last against power run plays per Football Outsiders. The Chiefs offensive line ranks fourth in RB Yards (4.91) per run and Nick Chubb is averaging 5.1 YPC. With Kareem Hunt likely to run like he’s on fire against the team that released him years ago, the Browns can keep the clock moving and keep Patrick Mahomes off the field.
Of course Mahomes is going to produce points when he gets opportunities. Andy Reid is an offensive mastermind who has been lights out with an 18-3 record when coming off a bye week. The Browns gave up 501 passing yards to the maligned Steelers offense last week and are now ranked 25th in DVOA pass defense. We’re confident in the Chiefs lighting up early and late to get this game Over the implied total (56) and would feel even better about the Browns topping their small team total (10.5) for the First Half.
New Orleans Saints vs. Tampa Bay Bucs
Tom Brady has pulled off some amazing performances in his career and he’ll be very tough to flummox for a third time this season. Yet even the smartest 43-year-old QBs will be helpless in the face of a consistent pass rush. The Saints average 2.8 sacks per game at home and sacked Brady thrice in each of their meetings this year. Their elite defense is forcing 1.7 turnovers per game over the past 3 weeks and Brady has struggled against teams with winning records all season, throwing 5 interceptions in his losses to the Saints.
New Orleans simply has no weaknesses on defense. They can deploy Marshon Lattimore on old friend Mike Evans, are able to track Chris Godwin with Janoris Jenkins, and have finally shored up their issues in slot defense with Chauncy Gardner-Johnson. The Bucs have the third-lowest rush-play percentage (36.8%) this year and Brady is averaging 10 yards per attempt over his last 3 starts. It’s hard to develop routes down the field when the defensive line doesn’t have to respect the run.
And we discussed all that without mentioning that the Saints offense is finally intact with Michael Thomas healthy and Alvin Kamara off the COVID/Reserve List. Deonte Harris has emerged as a versatile weapon and Drew Brees has been lights out with a 107.1 passer rating and 21 TDs over 10 career playoff games at home.