Six NFL playoff games are on the docket this weekend. A three-day festival of football, fun, snacks and potential investments. Six games, six packs, food spreads, point spreads. I like it. I’m in. And if that isn’t enough there’s a forecast of snowy weather for The Lou. Are you ready to go cozy?
My thoughts on the six games:
LAS VEGAS (10-7) + 5.5 at CINCINNATI (10-7)
The Bengals haven’t been great at home this season, going 4-5 against the spread … They’re 4-4 as betting favorites, and 2-3 as home favorites … the Bengals are 2-4 against teams that allow less than 25 points per game. But Cincinnati ripped the 10-7 distracted Raiders in Vegas by a 32-13 score during the regular season … the Bengals have a significant advantage with their skill players: quarterback Joe Burrow, wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Martin, and running back Joe Mixon, Tyler Boyd. But can the Cincinnati offensive line keep the Vegas pass rushers away from Burrow? The Bengals give up too many sacks, and the pass rush will be the key for Vegas in the effort to slow the home team and take away explosive plays. Interesting stat: ESPN ranks the Cincinnati offensive line No. 30 in pass-blocking win rate … The Raiders have been in the desperate must-win mode for the past month, so they’re already in the postseason mode. That could help them. But the Bengals offense is sixth in the NFL with an average of 28 points per game since Week 11, and has the horses to outrun the Raiders. Oakland’s path to victory can be found on the path to Burrow – if they can get to him.
Prediction: Bengals 28, Raiders 20
NEW ENGLAND (10-7) + 4.5 at BUFFALO (11-6)
Can Bill Belichick do it again? Take his Patriots into cold and windy Buffalo, keep the ball on the ground for 200+ rushing yards, all but remove rookie QB Mac Jones from the game plan, and steal another win from the Bills? I can’t rule it out. But in that memorable 14–10 regular-season upset the Bills blundered by deploying five defensive backs on defense for much of the evening. It made no sense. Since then the Buffalo coaches have corrected that strategic gaffe by using fewer defensive backs to put more focus on stopping the run. Their defensive alignment was more normal when the Bills went into Foxboro three weeks later for a 33-21 win in the rematch. As one scout noted to The Athletic, the Bills still like to split their safeties in a way that makes them vulnerable against the run. So we’ll see … Mac Jones had to throw it in the rematch and completed 14 of 32 for 145 yards and two interceptions. Except for a layup-drill win over pathetic Jacksonville, Jones wasn’t effective late in the season … Bills quarterback Josh Allen can take any defense apart with his downfield throws and dangerous runs. But Allen had the third-most interceptions in the league this year (15) and can lose this game if he’s off … the Bills were 4-3-2 as the home favorite this season … the Bills defense was mediocre in covering tight ends during the regular season; keep an eye on that. This is an interesting matchup.
Prediction: Bills 26, Patriots 21
PHILADELPHIA (9-8) +8.5 at TAMPA BAY (13-4)
A lot of the sharps have been drawn to the 8.5 point spread, and that’s where the money is heading. The theory: Philly should be able to run it, and quarterback Jalen Hurts has been a real asset in the rushing attack. That’s why the Eagles have a shot at an upset, and a solid chance of covering the spread. According to Football Outsiders the Tampa Bay defense slipped to 17th in run defense from Week 10 until the end of the regular season. Some of that can be attributed to injuries, but the Buccaneers just weren’t as stout this season. All of that said, this is what gives me pause to board the upset special: Tampa Bay ranked in the top five in scoring and in scoring defense, was No. 1 in passing offense, and ended up third in rushing defense. Tampa Bay is getting healthy at the most important stage of the season. Oh, yeah: Tom Brady, the guy who has a career postseason record of 34-11 … the Eagles did not defeat a single postseason-bound team this season.
Prediction: Buccaneers 31, Eagles 21
SAN FRANCISCO (10-7) +3 at DALLAS (12-5)
I was ready to buy in on the Niners getting out of Arlington with an upset victory … until I noticed a few things. Dallas was 13-4 against the spread this season, and that includes a 10-3 mark ATS as the favorite. The Cowboys aren’t as dominant at home as the favorite – 5-3 ATS – but let’s face it, they’ve been a consistently good target for bettors that like to throw down on favorites. But if you are tempted to go with the underdog here, here’s something to think about: the Niners average 128 yards rushing per game, have a superb receiving-rushing threat in Deebo Samuel, and the Cowboys are much better at stopping the pass than the run. This leads to another question: does SanFran coach Kyle Shanahan have the discipline to keep pounding the ball on the ground, or will he bail and dial up throws? And if Dallas gets the lead, and grows the lead, Jimmy Garoppolo could freak out – especially Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory are crashing his space. Getting Trent Williams back at left tackle will help the 49ers’ cause. And though Dak Prescott has been oddly consistent at times, he should thrive against a so-so San Francisco secondary. And while flaky, Dallas still led the NFL with 407 yards per game. Really this game comes down to one thing: will the Cowboys choke? Recent editions of the Cowboys have folded under postseason pressure and tossed into the offseason.
Prediction: Cowboys 27, Niners 25
PITTSBURGH (9-7-1) + 12.5 at KC (12-5)
Ben Roethlisberger’s likely NFL farewell won’t be a happy ride as he moves onto the next chapter of his life. The tough, future Hall of Fame QB looked worn out and faded when the Chiefs thumped the visiting Steelers 36-10 in Week 16. Big Ben averaged only 168 yards passing in the final four games of the regular season. The Chiefs defense appeared vulnerable during the closing stretch but the Steelers don’t have the firepower to take advantage of any slippage. Sack demon T.J. Watt could give Patrick Mahomes a hard time in this one, but all in all the KC offensive line has passed most tests. Even if the Chiefs play a flat kind of game, the Steelers are too limited to take advantage of it. KC averaged 28.5 points per game this season, and Pittsburgh scored 26+ points only five times … by the way in two career games vs. the Steelers, Mahomes is 2-0 and has completed 46 of 58 passes for nine touchdowns and 584 yards.
Prediction: Chiefs 31, Steelers 13
ARIZONA (11-6) + 4 at LOS ANGELES (12-5)
This looks too good. It’s unnerving. What am I referring to? Each team’s showing against the spread this season.
+ The Cardinals are 8-1 on the road, 6-0 against the spread as the underdog, 5-0 ATS when the opponent is favored between 3-to-6 points, and 6-0 ATS against teams that have won 55% percent of their games.
+ The Rams? 4-4 at home, 6-9 ATS as a favorite, 3-4 ATS as a home favorite, 2-4 ATS against teams that allow an average of 21 to 25 points per game.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford has been extremely erratic, spitting up 15 turnovers since Week 9 – the most by an NFL player over that time. In the final four regular-season games, Stafford had as many INTs (eight) as touchdown passes, was sacked 10 times, fumbled twice, and had a lousy passer rating of 83.8. The Cardinals are shaky, having lost four of the last five games. I don’t have a lot of confidence in QB Kyler Murray or AZ coach Kliff Kingsbury. But the Rams have seemingly lost their mojo, and all of the against-the-spread samples are shouting ARIZONA at me. The Rams defense has struggled against the run and comes into this game with an injury-ravaged secondary. The Rams will need Arizona to just give the game away to them.
Prediction: Cardinals 27, Rams 21
Thanks for reading and I hope you have a fantastic weekend!
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
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