Making the right NFL picks and predictions against the playoff spread is always tricky. After surviving and doing well on the six-game wild-card weekend slate, it’s time to build on that to improve for the divisional round.
The AFC favorites handled their business, with the first surprise results in the NFC. As the stakes for the games rise and the competition becomes more compelling, there should be more exciting action in four matchups.
Here’s how Sporting News forecasts against the latest critical numbers:
NFL playoff picks, predictions against the spread
- Game of the Week: Bills at Chiefs (-2.5, 54 o/u)
Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET, CBS
The Bills won big at Kansas City 38-20 in Week 5, but they won’t really get revenge for their 38-24 loss in the AFC championship game there last year unless they win a round early in this year. Buffalo is back to that level of relentless offensive play after Josh Allen fueled their flawless win over New England in the wild card game. At the same time for the Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes also got his full groove back after trashing the Steelers in one of his trademark massive passing performances.
This game will come down to patience. Allen and Mahomes had to adjust in the middle of the season with their big plays eliminated and their offenses have also been forced into more effective running attacks. Everything has come full circle to open up passing games with more diversity and less pressure on quarterbacks. The Bills have had the best defense all year, but the Chiefs have plenty of experience with the advantage of a hostile home environment.
It looks like it will all come down to which elite young gun gets the ball on the final possession in regulation. It’s a little easier to bet on Mahomes there as he’s been there, done that more.
The Chiefs win 30-27 and cover the difference.
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET, Fox
The Packers struggled to beat the 49ers for a while during the 2019 season sweep, including in the 2020 playoffs. They had lost six of seven. That changed when Green Bay beat injury-plagued San Francisco last season. Their matchup in September was exciting, with Aaron Rodgers leading a game-winning field goal in the final minute.
Kyle Shanahan’s team pairs well with former offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur’s team. The running game and personnel depth in the passing game have been issues. But Rodgers should also like his matchups against a high-performing secondary, especially if there’s no Nick Bosa (concussion) to provide pressure in the front four.
Where the Packers will succeed is where the Cowboys failed. They won’t mind controlling the game with their own running game, with the healthy 1-2 hitting of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. That will keep the chains moving with Rodgers and limit Jimmy Garoppolo’s chances. The Packers nearly blew a 17-0 lead early and 24-14 late in the previous meeting. They’ll learn from that and finish better against the 49ers to remove a huge hurdle for the NFC championship.
The Packers win 34-27 and cover the difference.
- Upset of the week: Bengals (+3.5, 47 o/u) over Titans
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, CBS
The Titans are the most physical team left in the playoffs. They want to crush opponents with their powerful running game, which they hope will reintroduce a healthy Derrick Henry. They also have a solid run defense with good tight end coverage.
The Bengals have decided they will go as far as Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase and the depressed passing game will take them. The Titans’ secondary is their weak spot and they have an inconsistent pass rush. His goal will be to get a good early lead with a combination of big plays and strong red zone drives to get the Titans out of their ideal game plan with Ryan Tannehill.
Cincinnati has the momentum of the regular season and beating Las Vegas also gave their defense confidence. The visitors are better positioned to better use their strengths towards victory.
Bengals win 27-24.
- Rams at Buccaneers (-3, 48.5 o/u)
Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, NBC
The Buccaneers can’t seem to shake off key injuries to their offense as they hope All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs (ankle) can leave and running back Leonard Fournette (hamstring) can return as they are already out with injuries. at wide receiver without Chris Godwin (knee).
They are still filling the race up front. They can cover better with their linebackers and defensive backs intact. They can also rush the passer and make other big plays with the ball with veterans Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul in their 2021 playoff form.
The Rams have a lot of star power, but they remain limited in their depth and versatility around Matthew Stafford and his defensive stars. Tom Brady and the Bucs are showing laser focus, capitalizing on much of what made them super successful in last year’s run, this time with the advantage of a second “home” game. Brady is less likely to make crucial mistakes and he’s more likely to come out ahead at the critical moment.
The buccaneers win 31-23 and cover the difference.
- Wild Card Weekend Against The Spread: 3-3
- Straight Wild Card Weekend: 4-2
- Season against the spread: 152-123
- Direct season: 185-91