Few thought the Los Angeles Rams or Cleveland Browns would get this far, and the Buffalo Bills had far more success than one might expect. The Baltimore Ravens stormed back into contention, a pair of 40-quarter quarterbacks face in New Orleans, and everyone is (or should be) afraid of the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs. The wheat is separated from the bait and the division round will narrow things down further.
Here’s a look at this weekend’s NFL playoff matchups. Unlike in the regular season, the choices are not made against the point spread.
Los Angeles rams on Green Bay Packers, 16:35, Fox
Line: Packers -6.5 | Total: 45.5
Much will be done about the relationship between Coach Sean McVay of the Rams and Coach Matt LaFleur of the Packers. LaFleur served as McVay’s offensive coordinator in 2017, and they were offensive assistants together in Washington’s staff from 2010 to 2013. They’s key figures in an offensive revolution, but if you’re hoping for a senior affair, you might want to try another game.
Green Bay led the NFL in scoring thanks to a turn-the-clock-way-back season from Aaron Rodgers that has him in contention for the most valuable player award. His success came with the help of the run by Aaron Jones (1,459 yards from scrimmage), the vertical threat from Marquez Valdes-Scantling (20.9 yards per reception) and the all-round brilliance of Davante Adams (115 catches, 1,374 yards and 18 touchdowns)).
But if there’s one team designed to slow down the Packers, it’s the being.
Few defenses can match the relentless pass-rush of Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd, and while Rodgers is not buzzing easily, the few times he has shown weakness in recent years have come when he is under constant pressure. Complicating matters is the absence of star left tackle David Bakhtiari, whose season ended with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in week 16.
Jones could be neutralized by a Rams front seven that ranked third in the NFL in driving defense – yes, Donald leads the way there, too. Green Bay, which relies on Valdes-Scantling’s home delivery, is risky thanks to his penchant for dropped passes.
That leaves the most exciting matchup as the one between closing cornerback Jalen Ramsey and Adams, who can make a case as the NFL’s best and most underrated current receiver.
“You know me, I want to go against someone and have good-on-good as much as possible,” Adams said this week when asked about Ramsey.
On neutral ground and with the same health, this can add a frame disturbance. But Green Bay fought hard to get the home field advantage through the playoffs, and that hard work could be the team’s saving grace. It is expected to be about 30 degrees at kickoff in Green Bay, Wis., And Rams quarterback Jared Goff is just a few weeks removed from the surgery on the thumb of his throwing hand. He seemed to be struggling with his grip last week, and the cold, combined with a good enough Packers defense, should give Green Bay all the advantage it needs. Pick: Packers
Baltimore Ravens on Buffalo Bills, 20.15, NBC
Line: Bills -2.5 | Total: 50
The Ravens have not lost a game since December 2nd. The bills have not lost one since November 15th. Both have weatherproof offenses and defenses that are capable of changing games. And both overcame some psychological weight in the wildcard round – Buffalo got its first win of the season since the 1995 season; Lamar Jackson of the Ravens won a playoff game for the first time.
There are countless reasons to pull for both teams – and a persistent belief that both teams who smoke just sign up to lose to Kansas City in the next round – but it’s hard to believe that Buffalo, even at home, can slow Baltimore’s juggernaut race. game.
When the Ravens hit the “reset button” after a mid-season silence, the team focused almost its entire attack on the driving of quarterback Lamar Jackson and running backs JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards. That led to Baltimore rushing for 230 yards or more in four of its last five games of the regular season, including a ridiculous 404 – the fifth most rushing yard in NFL history – in a week-17 win over Cincinnati. It held up in the wild-card round, where the Ravens ran for 236 yards.
Buffalo ranked 17th in driving defense this season, but this ranking would have been worse if teams had not been forced to pass to keep up with the bills’ electric offense. It shows in the fact that Buffalo ranked among the NFL’s six worst running defenses in yards per carry (4.6) and rushing touchdowns allowed (21).
Bill’s defense has several players who are capable of serious disruption, but much of it comes in secondary. On a chilly day in Orchard Park, NY, the Ravens could focus on running the ball, and it’s hard to see the bills being able to stop them. Buffalo’s offense can’t be counted, even against a solid Ravens defense, but Baltimore must control the clock and the game. Pick: Ravens
Cleveland Browns on Kansas City Chiefs, 15:05, CBS
Line: Chiefs -10 | Total: 56.5
For all intents and purposes, Cleveland advanced to the division round after just over 13 minutes of its wild-card game against Pittsburgh. A playoff game has rarely gone sideways so fast, with Brown’s defense forcing three quick turnovers, and their offense handles the end of the deal by running up a 28-0 lead with 1 minute and 56 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Brown’s ’48 -37 win should not be written off as a fluke – Cleveland have their best team since Coach Bill Belichick roamed the sidelines in the mid-1990s – but exploiting Ben Roethlisberger’s mistakes is very different from forcing Patrick Mahomes some, so it would be foolish to expect a repeat of the lightning-fast start.
Kansas City may be running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire from a terrifying hip injury in Week 15. Even if they do not, a combination of Le’Veon Bell and Damien Williams provides enough balance for Mahomes to be able to shred Cleveland’s secondary with deep passes to wide receiver Tyreek Hill and throws down to tight end Travis Kelce.
Cleveland’s offense has occasionally shown some burst – last week’s effort was the franchise’s highest scoring post-season game since the 1954 NFL Championship – and the Browns can chew up the clock thanks to the amazing combination of returning Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. But even Baker Mayfield’s most ardent believers should fight to take him in a head-to-head matchup with Mahomes. The Browns are not pushovers, but they probably can not do much to stand in the way of Kansas City. Pick: Chiefs
Tampa Bay Buccaneers on New Orleans Saints, 18:40, Fox
Line: Saints -3 | Total: 52
The oldest starting quarterback left in the AFC playoffs is Baker Mayfield, who will not turn 26 until April. Three of the four starters in the conference were the first round of the 2018 draft. By the time any of the four had started a game in the NFL, Tom Brady had already won five Super Bowls, and Drew Brees was approaching Dan Marino’s record for career-passing yards.
The young players have largely reimagined the quarterback position by using their mobility to boost their passing while contributing to a league-scoring explosion. Still, Brady and Brees, examples of museum quality of a forgotten age of pickpockets, continue to lead serious Super Bowl contenders in the second week of the playoffs.
In fact, this game should not be defined solely by its famous quarterbacks. The Brees’ Saints had plenty of offense this season – returning Alvin Kamara led the NFL with 21 total touchdowns – but relied as much on defense as Dennis Allen, the team’s defense coordinator, built into a powerhouse.
Tampa Bay also has a talented young defense – the support on that side of the ball undoubtedly played a role in Brady’s decision to sign there – and in recent weeks, the Buccaneers have started to really click on offense. The team’s wealth of reception options – wide receivers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown; tight end Rob Gronkowski – drove Brady to his best statistical season since at least 2017 and one of the best in his career.
The regular season meetings between these teams were ridiculous. The Saints won both, with an overall score of 72-26. And they play at home, which plays a role for them, though the impact is diminished by the small crowds that the team is allowed to host. The Buccaneers are a good enough team to be respected – in many ways this feels like a toss – but the Saints are rightfully narrow favorites in what may be the weekend’s most competitive game. Pick: Saints.
All times are eastern.