NFL Divisional Round Picks: Only Big Dogs Remain

Despite a late interception that could have proved costly, Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers prevailed over the Cowboys last week. Can they continue their roll at frigid Lambeau Field on Saturday night?

Let’s clear up something about “dogs,” for a second: it wasn’t a good week for the underdog in the wild card round. Favorites went 5-1 against the spread and straight up, with only the 49ers emerging victorious. Are we due for a few underdogs this weekend, or will the cream rise again in the form of usual suspects like Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, and Aaron Rodgers?

I’m back to .500 after finishing the regular season over it, so without further ado here is my attempt at redemption:

Last week: 2-4

Season: 25-25 (.500)

Cincinnati at Tennessee (-4)

Tennessee is one of the most disrespected top seeds I’ve seen in years, but I get it. People don’t believe in them because, for one thing, they lost to the Jets and Texans in the regular season. The return of Derrick Henry could be big, but it remains to be seen if he’s rusty. The Bengals feel like a classic “monkey off the back” team that, after waiting 31 long years for another playoff win, now they become dangerous. The Larry Ogunjobi injury hurts against a physical Titans team that likes to run the ball, but Joe Burrow could pose big problems for Tennessee’s secondary. A Bengals win would also keep consistent with the theme that the Chiefs’ road to the Super Bowl be made as easy as possible, which means Patrick Mahomes avoiding playing his first road playoff game (although the Super Bowl was essentially one last year). If Cincy emerges victorious, Arrowhead Stadium could host the AFC championship game for a fourth consecutive year, a first in NFL history. Pick: Bengals.

San Francisco at Green Bay (-6)

Wow is this a hard one to pick. The 49ers are such a fundamentally sound football team, but ultimately it will be up to Jimmy Garoppolo to avoid mistakes for them to get to the promised land. The Packers are the team facing all the pressure here, honestly, as a team that has lost four straight conference title games that it has appeared in. On top of that, Aaron Rodgers is facing the reality of ending his illustrious career with only one championship brought home to Titletown. The first meeting was a thriller, with Green Bay prevailing on a last-second field goal, and it feels like this one could play out in similar fashion. Pick: 49ers.

Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay (-3)

Ah, Tom Brady vs. the Rams. This has gone Brady’s way in spectacular fashion twice on football’s grandest stage, but things feel different this time around. The Bucs already lost to the Rams in Week 3, and Brady is 0-2 against the Rams as a member of the Bucs. But can you ever really pick against the GOAT in January? In short, no. The Bucs may not be quite the same team as last year, but it feels like every time there is a sexy underdog pick against Tom Brady, that team fails miserably. I don’t believe that will quite be the case with the Rams, but I can’t go against Tom Terrific here. He is 14-2 lifetime in the divisional round, and he just might not be ready yet to lose as many playoff games (12) as his jersey number. Pick: Buccaneers.

Buffalo at Kansas City (-1.5)

You want offense? You want the de facto AFC championship game? You got it right here. For the world to avoid watching the sea of red host a fourth straight title game, Josh Allen will need to play about as well as he did last week, and the Bills will likely need at least half as many turnovers as they got in these two teams’ first meeting (four). When you look at Patrick Mahomes’ career playoff numbers, they are frightening, as are those of the Chiefs as a whole. Consider this: in 2019, when they won the Super Bowl, they trailed all three games by 10+ points — and still won by 11+ points, outscoring foes 100-14 (!) from the time they were trailing. In the five career postseason wins that Patrick Mahomes has finished (remember he was knocked out early against the Browns last year), his team has won by 11+ points, and in all but one (last year’s Super Bowl) his team has put up at least 31 points, including the 2018 AFC championship game loss to New England. Simply put, Buffalo will need a virtually perfect game to go into Arrowhead twice and win this year… and I don’t think they will. I believe Allen will match Mahomes most of the night but commit one costly mistake and keep the Bills from moving on. Pick: Chiefs.

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