We’ve finally made it to the playoffs. All of those 18 weeks of games have paid off (at least for some teams). It’s kind of bittersweet, though. Because there are significantly fewer games this week, just six, but, in theory, those games are better because we have eliminated the likes of the Bears and the Texans and the Cardinals. But, the thing is, that might not be the case. Half of the games have points spreads over a touchdown, thanks to injuries to key players such as Lamar Jackson and Tua Tagovailoa and a relatively weak NFC wild-card group. I still have hope for this weekend, though. Not just for me to redeem myself by picking every game correctly (not gonna happen), but for the league to put on a full slate of entertaining games. We’ve already witnessed a football playoff blowout (thanks Georgia), and I think I speak for football fans everywhere when I say we would like to avoid another one. But, I can’t control what happens in the games. I can only control who I pick in them. And speaking of my picks, here they are.
San Francisco 49ers (-9.5) over Seattle Seahawks
And, right off the bat, we have a game that I am predicting to not be close at all. But it’s not my fault that I’m predicting that, these teams played twice in the regular season and the 49ers won fairly easily both times. And since the most recent of those games was in week 15, I don’t think enough has changed since then that will lead to a different outcome. The 49ers have the best defense in the league with multiple All-Pro players, including the likely Defensive Player of the Year in Nick Bosa. And the Seahawks simply were unable to figure out a way to beat that defense in 120 minutes of action. It’s hard to beat a team three times in the same season, that is true, but I just think the Niners are on a different level. Even if the Seahawks are able to suddenly put up points on that defense, they’ll still have to stop the Niners on offense, which is a tough ask. Brock Purdy just must be the child of destiny because he has yet to lose and seems like he’s very well on his way to the Super Bowl. And Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk are also there to help put up points, and lots of them. I would lose for this game to be a close, competitive game like we saw from this rivalry about 10 years ago but I just don’t see that happening.
Los Angeles Chargers (-2.5) over Jacksonville Jaguars
Now here’s a game that should be far closer than the one we just got done talking about. These teams are pretty even and are both riding hot streaks that got them into the playoffs. Obviously, the Chargers are more talented and better set up to succeed in the playoffs because that was their goal heading into the year, but the Jaguars have home-field advantage and will be looking to play spoiler. I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb here when I say that the winning team depends on which young quarterback plays better. That is the case for most games, but especially with these two teams that aren’t really built to overcome struggles from their signal-caller. Luckily, Justin Herbert and Trevor Lawrence are both incredibly talented and should be up for the challenge. And that is where my pick of the Chargers comes from. I just trust Herbert more. Not only is he older and more experienced in the NFL, although both guys will be making their playoff debut, but I also like his weapons better. Keenan Allen is a very good receiver and should be able to make up for the unfortunate absence of Mike Williams, and Austin Ekeler is one of the most dangerous offensive players in the league, despite the lack of respect that he gets. I also trust the Chargers’ playmakers on defense (joey Bosa, Khalil Mack, Derwin James) more than anybody the Jaguars have so I’m expecting the Chargers to emerge in a very tightly contested game.
Buffalo Bills (-13.5) over Miami Dolphins
And we’re back to another probable blowout, but it’s not the Dolphins’ fault. Not having Tagovailoa (or even backup Teddy Bridgewater) makes this game far less interesting. Miami would have been able to put up a real fight in this game if it wasn’t starting rookie Skylar Thompson at quarterback (no disrespect, Skylar). The Dolphins had a very explosive offense this year with several fantastic playmakers, most notably Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, and a defense that could hold its own in big games, but none of that will matter if they don’t get anything good from the quarterback position. It also doesn’t help that they’re playing the Bills, a team that is one of the two or three best in the entire league. Buffalo came into the season with the goal of winning the Super Bowl and nothing that has happened since then has changed that. So, unfortunately for the Dolphins, they are standing in the way of a freight train that is barreling down the tracks toward its destination. And that freight train has a name; his name is Josh Allen. The Bills are going to be incredibly motivated in this game, and not just because of the whole Damar Hamlin situation. Even if the Miami defense steps up big time and slows down the Buffalo offense, there is no way Thompson and the Dolphins’ offense can have enough success against the Bills’ defense to win the game. I hope I’m wrong because that would mean we get an entertaining game instead, but I highly doubt that I will be.
New York Giants (+3) over Minnesota Vikings
It’s time for a bit of honesty. I thought the Giants were going to be horrible this year. It wasn’t a crazy idea because they had been horrible for most of the seasons previously, but I was very wrong. I wasn’t expecting Brian Daboll to turn this team around so fast and for Daniel Jones to emerge as a starting-caliber quarterback. But, alas, here we are. I admit that all to say that I have changed my mind completely on the Giants and am picking them to win this game. I’m very intrigued by this matchup because there are a lot of interesting items to follow. How will the Giants defend (or try to defend) Justin Jefferson, who is one of the best players in the entire league? How will Jones and Kirk Cousins look under the very intense lights of playoff football? Will the Vikings’ defense be competent or completely crater like it has recently? I don’t know any of the answers to those questions, obviously, but I do have a feeling that the Giants will be the better team on Sunday. The Vikings deserve a lot of credit for getting this far and having a great season but at some point, their luck will run out. They have a negative point differential on the season and have won several one-score games needing fourth-quarter comebacks. Those things do not add up to a dangerous postseason team. Those things add up to a team that overachieved in the regular season and shows its true colors in round one of the playoffs. Hence, my pick of the Vikings to win this game.
Cincinnati Bengals over Baltimore Ravens (+8.5)
I wouldn’t feel like I was being true to myself if I didn’t pick a team to cover and not win this week. So, here I am, picking the Ravens to do exactly that. This game would be much different if Lamar Jackson was playing, but he’s not, which is the main reason the Bengals are favored by so much. And while the Bengals are a legit Super Bowl contender, they are not flawless, and I think some of those flaws may be exploited by the Ravens. The biggest flaw that the Bengals have is their offensive line. Yes, I know they made it to the Super Bowl last year with a historically bad offensive line and that the group was improved in the offseason, but it’s still a problem. Mainly because Cincy will be down both its right guard and right tackle in this game. The Ravens also are in a great position to take advantage of that weakness because they have been playing dominant defense lately. Ever since acquiring Roquan Smith at midseason, Baltimore has had one of the best defenses in the entire league. The Ravens are getting great play from several players but Justin Houston, who leads them in sacks, will be the one most likely to feast on a vulnerable Bengals’ o-line. But, with all that being said, I still think the Bengals win because of one major difference between the teams. The Bengals have Joe Burrow at quarterback, who has proven to be able to weather adversity in big moments and lead his team to victory, while the Ravens will likely be starting Tyler Huntley in the wake of Jackson’s absence. The Baltimore offense is so reliant on Jackson to be successful because there isn’t much talent outside of him, and I don’t see the Ravens being able to score enough against a good Bengals’ defense to win this game. But I do think the Ravens’ defense is good enough to at least keep this game close enough for Baltimore to cover.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+2.5) over Dallas Cowboys
It seems like there are far more reasons to be wary of each team than there are to be confident in either squad. The Bucs had a very disappointing season and Tom Brady looks to have taken a step back this year. The Cowboys are still the Cowboys and haven’t had playoff success since rotary phones were still a thing and also did not end their season on a high note. With that being said, I’m taking the Bucs for two reasons. The first one is that they are getting points so even if they lose I can still technically get this pick right. The other is that they have Brady, and it’s never a good idea to go against him in the postseason. The Tampa Bay offense against the Dallas defense should be very fascinating, though, because there are great players on each side. The number one thing to watch will of course be Micah Parsons because he is one of the most exciting defensive players in the league. How the Bucs are able to block him up front and mitigate his impact on the game will be their number one key to success. And then there are the other playmakers on the Cowboys such as DeMarcus Lawrence and Trevon Diggs, either of whom could change the game with a big play. How Brady is able to navigate that elite defense and use his weapons such as Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Leonard Fournette (aka Playoff Lenny) will be fun to watch. But the Bucs’ defense is the real reason I trust them. That unit is good and has demonstrated before how influential it can be to a Super Bowl run. And the Cowboys’ offense led by Dak Prescott just does not seem to be in a place right now where they can take on that defense and win. I like CeeDee Lamb and Tony Pollard, but I also like Devin White and Antione Winfield, so it’s a tossup. In the end, I’m going with the team that has proven that it can win when it matters, and that’s the Buccaneers.