NFL picks, predictions against spread: Chiefs crush Steelers, Cowboys survive 49ers in wild-card playoffs

The 2022 NFL playoffs have arrived, providing another action-packed six-game “super” wild card weekend. There are a fair number of close spreads, but also strong favorites for the unofficial Week 19.

That makes the latest picks and predictions against the spread just as complicated as the typical regular season slate, only with far fewer matchups. Here’s Sporting News’ forecast for all six NFL playoff games over three days, starting with a historic NFC classic.

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NFL playoff picks, predictions against the spread

  • Game of the Week: 49ers at Cowboys (-3, 47 o/u)

Sunday, 4:40 p.m. ET, CBS, Nickelodeon and Amazon Prime Video

The Cowboys decided to play their starters in Week 18 and were rewarded by Dak Prescott turning red hot in their playoff buildup. The 49ers expended some good offensive energy coming back to beat the Rams in overtime. Both teams can run when needed, but the 49ers are more committed to doing so. The Cowboys, however, have the most reliable matchups across the board in the passing game, while Jimmy Garoppolo is also playing through a right thumb injury.

San Francisco will try to slow down the game to keep Prescott off the field and also protect their defense. Dallas will be eager to force Garoppolo into mistakes, with Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs leading the combination of pressure and coverage again. A few more weapons and a more efficient Prescott allow the Cowboys to survive a shootout.

The Cowboys win 31-24 and cover the spread.

Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET, NBC

The Bengals decided to rest Joe Burrow and other key starters in Week 18 and were also without running back Joe Mixon due to COVID-19 protocols. That will make Cincinnati fresh in the hunt for its first playoff win since 1990 in its first playoff appearance since 2015. Burrow is the key to stopping the streak as he will dismantle a flashy but generally shaky Raiders defense. .

This is a tough trade for the Raiders, who grew tired of playing in overtime on Sunday night. The Bengals can do whatever they want offensively and their pressure will ensure Derek Carr has no chance to come back.

Bengals win 34-17 and cover the spread.

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  • Upset of the week: Cardinals (+4, 50.5 o/u) over Rams

Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Cardinals and Rams split their season series, with Kyler Murray and Matthew Stafford trading rotation issues. The Cardinals were a skilled road team in the regular season, while the Rams struggled more at home. Murray can dig deeper to make big plays while reducing errors and being a little more confident in his running form. Stafford has been in more heat lately and has been more careless when throwing downfield.

In general, Arizona is more versatile and multiple to work around Los Angeles’ defensive strengths, while their defense will make up for what they miss out on running and passing with key sacks and a takeout.

The Cardinals win 30-27.

  • Patriots at Bills (-4.5, 43.5 o/u)

Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET, CBS

The Patriots and Bills are also meeting for the third time after winning once each in the AFC East. New England ran over Buffalo the first time on the road, while Buffalo figured out how to win at Foxborough by diversifying the offense around Josh Allen. Expect a well-coached defensive attrition battle between Bill Belichick and Sean McDermott. Mac Jones will get good support in his first playoff start, but he’s still a rookie, while Allen is a youngster with favorable playoff experience.

Tickets win 23-20 but fail to cover the spread.

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Sunday 1:05 p.m. ET, Fox

This is another rematch from the regular season. Tampa Bay won at Philadelphia 28-22 on a Thursday night in Week 6. Unfortunately for the Eagles, their offensive strengths and defensive weaknesses don’t add up to beating the Buccaneers this time either. The run-heavy approach won’t work against the Bucs’ solid run defense.

Trouble stopping the run and handling bigger tight ends and wide receivers doesn’t bode well against Tom Bradys backs and receiving targets. Brady led the Bucs over a weak NFC East team to open last year’s playoffs. He got more focused, didn’t adjust to Chris Godwin or Antonio Brown in Week 18 and should also get defensive and running reinforcements to better support him this week.

The Buccaneers win 27-17 and cover the difference.

Sunday, 8:15 p.m. ET, NBC

The Steelers were no match for the Chiefs in Week 16, losing 36-10 at Kansas City. While it’s nice that Ben Roethlisberger gets one more playoff game to cap his run, he also needs to exorcise the demons of last year’s disastrous home loss to the Browns in the same round. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs have found their ideal methodical approach with a tight offense. They will keep turning into a strong run setting up downfield passes.

The Steelers will try to stay grounded with Najee Harris and put TJ Watt and the defense in more favorable spots to go after Mahomes. But they need a lot more from Roethlisberger and the passing game, which disappoints despite the weapons. Big Ben recedes into the sunset, while Mahomes continues to shine.

Heads 33-19 and covers the spread.

  • Week 18 against the spread: 8-8
  • Week 18 in a row: 8-8
  • Season against the spread: 149-121
  • Direct season: 181-90