By Sam Bennett
Rams at Packers (-6.5)
The divisional round of the playoffs begin with the lowest projected score of the week. Let’s begin with Green Bay, who won the final 6 games of the season in order to clinch the top seed in the NFC, giving them their first round bye and the opportunity to play the lowest remaining seed. Aaron Rodgers has been on one of the hottest streaks of his career alongside top receiver this season, DeVante Adams. However, the two meet Jalen Ramsey this week, who has been shutting top receiving options down all year. If Ramsey can do the same against the league’s (arguably) top receivers, it will be difficult for Green Bay to win. Yet, they will still have a top 10 rushing attack to try to face Aaron Donald. On top of all this, Green Bay is 7-1 at home, and with the bad weather expected, their prowess in Green Bay could be on full display on Saturday.
While last week was an upset based on seed, it wasn’t a huge upset, as the Rams had shown their abilities against the Seahawks in week 7, though they lost just a few weeks ago. Los Angeles won last week through pretty much shutting down Mr. Unlimited, allowing only 174 yards, while forcing 11-27 passing and an interception. On the offensive side, the Rams relied heavily on rookie Cam Akers, with a clearly still somewhat injured Jared Goff. This could be slightly difficult to do again, as Green Bay has really upped their defensive performance against the run over the second half of the year. And as for the passing game, Green Bay has been pretty good all year, especially when all-pro Jaire Alexander is out there. If the Rams hope to pull off another upset, their offensive line and Akers will have to have another phenomenal game.
Pick: Packers 30, Rams 21
Ravens at Bills (-2.5)
A tale as old as time, a battle between an unstoppable force and an… unstoppable force? Wait, that’s not right. Anyway, both teams come off hard fought and impressive wins against each of their adversaries. Both of these teams have been on fire recently, the Bills really all year. The question is, do the Ravens have enough to outgun and slow down Buffalo. Baltimore has seemed to have really figured it out since Lamar came back since his COVID missed time, averaging over 34 points per game. Going against a rush defense only slightly better than Tennessee’s, who Lamar set on fire on the ground last week, he is likely to have another good one against the Bills. This also goes for the two headed attack of J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. The goal for Lamar’s passing this week should be to eliminate the turnovers. If he does this, their chances of winning drastically increase.
As for the Bills, Josh Allen has dazzled for the entire season, and continued his run last week against the difficult Colts defense. Stephon Diggs has also been phenomenal all year, and seems to be the true number one that the much improved quarterback has needed. Buffalo once again faces one of the top defenses in the league, one that does not forgive mistakes easily and will not make it easy for this fiery offensive attack. However, I don’t think it will be very easy to slow down Allen and Diggs, but it certainly helps that Zack Moss is out, which takes away from an already poor ground game. This one is likely to be extraordinarily close, with the teams throwing punches back and forth, and it is very difficult to pick against the Bills…yet.
Pick: Ravens 31, Bills 28
Browns at Chiefs (-10.0)
It’s weird to see a line this lopsided in the divisional round of the playoffs, but it only makes sense that it’s the Browns on the bad end. As much as I would like to say the Browns are going to pull off the playoff upset of the century against the reigning champs, I just can’t see it happening. While the Browns have looked really good, especially against the Steelers last week, these are two very different beasts. The Steelers have shown they are very beatable, while the Chiefs seem to not even need to try that hard to go 14-2. Yet, let’s look at a few ways the Browns could attempt to win. Their rushing attack of Chubb and Hunt should continue to have success against a Chiefs defense that has not been very good against the run. Baker Mayfield has certainly looked better in the past half of the season without Odell, but unfortunately for him, the Chiefs have been rather good against the air attack. It just feels like the defense of Kansas City has not really needed to try so far this season, and could show up in full for their title defense run.
There’s not much to say for the Chiefs. They have possibly the best quarterback we’ve ever seen, a top 5 wide receiver, and one of if not the best receiving tight ends ever. On top of that, they have rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire. While the dogs in Cleveland have been holding it down all year, it’s difficult to see them having as much success this week.
Pick: Chiefs 34, Browns 24
Buccaneers at Saints (-3.0)
In the regular season, the Saints were dominant in this series. They wanted to show that the Golden Boy wasn’t going to take the NFC South without a fight. And I expect this week to be exactly that. A fight. Tom Brady and Antonio Brown seem to have really hit a stride over the past few games, much more than they could say when they lost to New Orleans 38-3. When you add the best receiver since Jerry Rice to a team with two already pro bowl-level wide receivers, it’s inevitable that the offense would open up, and Tom Brady’s Bucs seem to have figured out how to do so. Over the past two years, Marshon Lattimore has taken care of Mike Evans and the rest of the defense really only had to focus on Chris Godwin. But with AB there, they are likely to have more difficulty. Not to mention there is still Ronald Jones, who has been an excellent surprise this season. However, they did have a bit of a rough go against the Washington Football Team and Taylor Heineke, but they may have had their eyes set for a more fierce foe and been caught a bit off guard.
There is no denying that Drew Brees has lost a step since even last year. But his partner in crime, Michael Thomas, is back for the playoffs and hopes to continue his success this week. The reliability of Thomas cannot be underestimated, and he should be a huge factor on Sunday. Along with Thomas, Alvin Kamara seeks to continue his reign of terror with Drew Brees on the field, as he was, pretty much in consensus, the second best back this year. Just Brees and Kamara have been enough to dismantle Tampa’s defense in their past two meetings, and the addition of Thomas will certainly help. With all this said, this is, for me, the most difficult game to pick this week. Going against all rational thought, I won’t pick against Tom Brady (yet) in the playoffs, and I think this may be Drew Brees’s final heartbreak in his career.
Picks: Buccaneers 30, Saints 27