NFL Divisional Round Picks: Can Top Seeds Avoid 2021-Style Letdowns, or Will Road Dogs Keep Barking?

Dak Prescott led the Cowboys to their first road playoff win in 30 years Monday in Tampa Bay. Can the Cowboys do it again Sunday in San Francisco and avenge last year's playoff loss to the 49ers?

Alright, a 5-1 weekend to start my postseason! That’s what I’m talking about. Now, to keep the momentum rolling. Speaking of rolling momentum, how much will the two top seeds have coming off bye weeks? It didn’t go so well last year for the Titans and Packers, who lost on last-second field goals off their byes. Of course, bye weeks have never been a problem for Andy Reid, and our Saturday slate features two sizable spreads compared to Sunday, but don’t forget that last year not only did road teams go 3-1 (with the Bills being 13 seconds away from making it 4-0), but all four games were decided on the final play of the game.

Anyway, let’s make some picks as I try and stay scorching-hot here:

Wild Card Round: 5-1 (83.3%)

Regular season: 35-33-3 (51.5%)

Overall: 40-34-3 (54.1%)

Jacksonville at Kansas City (-9)

I really do have great confidence that one road team will win this weekend, and I’m not sure which one — I only know which one it won’t be, and as much as it pains me to say it, it won’t be the Jaguars. Why am I so sure? Patrick Mahomes is 4-0 in the divisional round, but much more telling, Andy Reid is 27-4 (!) in his coaching career off of a bye week, and that includes a postseason mark of 6-1. His former assistant coach and former quarterback, Doug Pederson, has done an unbelievable job with this young Jaguars team. They are so easy to root for, and rallying from a 27-point deficit — even against the AFC version of the Falcons, the L.A. Chargers — is nothing to sneeze at. Jacksonville figures to be a force for years to come, but the Chiefs are a force now (and presumably for years to come as well). The first meeting was not as close as the 27-17 score would lead you to believe, with Mahomes throwing 4 TD passes and only a late pick once the game was decided leading to a garbage-time Jags TD making the final look more gentlemanly. I feel like this game will play out in the same manner, especially considering teams that rally from big deficits one week seem to be emotionally spent (the 2013 Colts, who rallied from 28 down to beat the Chiefs before getting hammered by New England, come to mind here). It would be nothing short of shocking if the Chiefs don’t reach — and potentially host — their fifth straight AFC championship game. Pick: Chiefs.

New York Giants at Philadelphia (-7)

Could that one road team be the Giants? That would not shock me at all, as the G-Men played a complete game last week in Minnesota while the Eagles really haven’t played one in about a month. Is Jalen Hurts healthy? Is Lane Johnson? The Giants always seem to be boom or bust in their postseasons, and some people are already comparing this team to the 2007 and 2011 versions that went into January with underwhelming records before shocking the football world by winning it all. I’m not sure that will be the case in the 2022 season, but I do fully expect the Eagles to have to scratch and claw to make it a three-game sweep over Big Blue. Both of these teams are extremely well-coached and do not beat themselves, and I think New York’s momentum will be enough to offset some of the talent discrepancy here. Pick: Giants.

Cincinnati at Buffalo (-5.5)

There are so many things to unpack with this matchup, which will officially be the first one between Joe Burrow and Josh Allen. Obviously, no matter who wins this game, both teams are already winners in the sense that Damar Hamlin continues to make an amazing recovery after nearly losing his life on the field the last time these teams squared off. But from a football standpoint, the Bengals enter this game with a big chip on their shoulder. Many feel this game should be played at a neutral site just as a Bills-Chiefs AFC championship game will be, and I can understand why. Both teams had to struggle to get by tough-but-ultimately-inferior division opponents last week, but I can’t shake the feeling that at some point, the Bengals’ offensive line injuries are going to catch up to them. Needless to say, if Cincinnati permits nine sacks to Buffalo the way it did to Tennessee in last year’s divisional round, it will not advance. I really feel like the Bills control their own destiny here in the sense that if they avoid turning the ball over, they are close to unbeatable. The problem is that almost never happens, which invites a talented team like Cincinnati to hang around and that’s a dangerous proposition. My gut feeling is that the Bills will find a way to take advantage of their home turf as they always have (they are 12-1 in home playoff games all-time in the Super Bowl era), but it will be a grind. Pick: Bengals.

Dallas at San Francisco (-4)

A very common trend in the NFL is that when a team breaks a long playoff drought of some sort, it suddenly starts winning a bunch of games in a row. That was the case for the Bengals last year after a 31-year drought, just like it was the case for the 2005 Seahawks and 2006 Bears, who broke two-decade droughts and then reached the Super Bowl. But will it happen for Dallas after losing eight straight road playoff games before last week’s drubbing of the Bucs? I feel like if the 49ers are going to lose, at least in the NFC portion of the playoffs, it will be in this round and not a second straight NFC championship game. Dallas has to feel good about itself, especially on defense, and something tells me Brock Purdy is going to have a down game at some point. The 49ers are still the better team and I’m leaning towards them winning the game, but this has the feel of a last-possession kind of game, meaning I’ll take the points. Pick: Cowboys.

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