The divisional round is here.
Jacksonville (10-8) at Kansas City (14-3)
Saturday at 3:30 p.m. STL time on NBC.
Betting Line: The Chiefs by 9 as of 2 p.m. Friday
Analysis: Let’s not overthink this. The Chiefs are the best all-around team in the NFL according to the highly-valued metric at Football Outsiders. They aren’t perfect, but the coach-quarterback combination of Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes is as good as it gets. Since Mahomes became the starter in 2018, Kansas City is 64-18 in the regular season and 8-3 in the postseason.
The Chiefs won the regular-season game between these teams by 10 points in Week 10, and Kansas City got that done despite being a minus-3 in the turnover margin. That day KC had a massive 486 to 315 edge in yardage. The Jacksonville defense is 22nd in pass allowed yards per play, 29th on third down and 24th in the red zone. The points should come in flurries for the home team.
With No. 1 seed KC having the bye last week, Reid had more time to prepare. Accordingly, in their careers, Reid is 28-5 straight up and Mahomes is 9-1 straight up when coming out of bye weeks. The Jaguars need to get off to a fast start and play a clean game; that might be difficult considering that they’ve turned the ball over 12 times in the last five games.
My only hangup here is the point spread. I’m confident that the Chiefs will win this game, but they haven’t been a good bet to cover the spread this season: 7-10 overall, 3-5 at home, 6-9 as the betting choice, 3-4-1 as a home favorite and 1-5 against opponents that have won at least 55 percent of their games this season … as Jacksonville has. KC has taken large point spreads into games this season and is 1-7-1 ATS in the last nine home games. The numbers say take the Jags and the points to cover. That’s plausible. But I’ll go against the number and take the Chiefs and win and cover. If Kansas City gets a nice lead early on, their pass rush will cause real problems for Jax.
Bernie’s Pick: Chiefs 30, Jaguars 20.
New York Giants (10-7-1) at Philadelphia (14-3)
Saturday at 7:15 p.m. STL time on Fox.
Betting Line: Eagles by 7.5 points.
Analysis: Daniel Jones (NYG) vs. Jalen Hurts (PHIL) in a matchup of two of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in existence. And they can lean on two highly effective running backs in Saquon Barkley (NYG) and Philly’s underrated Miles Sanders. The Giants have been one of my favorite teams to watch this season, and Jones is having a breakthrough campaign. In his first career NFL postseason game Jones was absolutely fantastic in last week’s opening-round upset win at Minnesota.
The Eagles defeated the Giants in both of their regular-season meetings, but don’t read too much in that. Injuries were a factor in the first game, and the Eagles rested their starters in the teams’ second meeting late in the schedule.
The respective quality of each defense should go a long way in determining the outcome. Per Football Outsiders, the Eagles ranked 6th in overall defense this season and were No. 1 against the pass. The Philly defense led the NFL with 70 sacks and were second in QB pressures – and did it without much blitzing. On the other side, Football Outsiders ranks the Giants 29th overall defensively and tags them with the worst run-defense ratings in the league. The Giants gave up 5.2 yards per rushing attempt, and their cornerbacks are adequate but nothing special.
Jones will have to make quick decisions in this one, and his set of receivers aren’t as dangerous as Philadelphia’s. (The Eagles have quite the fleet in A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert.) In that context, Hurts has an advantage. But is Hurts filly healthy after healing from a late-season shoulder injury. Will he be sharp with his passing? Will he limit his exposure to punishment by not running as often as usual?
Giants head coach Brian Daboll has done a superb job with creativity on offense, and Barkley is the NYG’s best chance to pull off the upset with his explosive-play running. Winning in Philadelphia will be tough for a Giants team that went 2-4-1 against Top 10 defenses this season. But all but one of those losses were tight, and that tells us that the Giants can hang around to cover.
This season the Giants are 14-4 overall against the spread, 11-2 ATS as an underdog, 9-2 ATS in games that have a point spread between six and nine points, and 9-2 ATS against opponents (like the Eagles) that have won 55% or more of their games.
Bernie’s Pick: Eagles 30, Giants 23.
Cincinnati (13-4) Buffalo (14-3)
Sunday, 2 p.m. STL time, on CBS
Betting Line: Bills by 5.5 points.
Analysis: Not an easy game to pick … not for me, anyway. But much of this scintillating matchup will evolve around Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen. He’s been careless as of late, turning the ball over seven times in his last three games. Allen’s errors gave the Miami Dolphins a prime chance to spring an upset last week in the opening round at Buffalo, but the Bills survived for a 34-31 win and will need to play a lot better against the Bengals.
Cincinnati undoubtedly took note of Miami’s defensive tactics against the Bills. Last week the Dolphins were able to pressure Allen on 25 percent of his dropbacks, sacking him seven times and forcing three fumbles. The Bengals’ top pass rusher, Trey Hendrickson, can cause problems Sunday. And defensive tackle Sam Hubbard is one of the top run stuffers in the game.
One note: the Bengals haven’t been good against mobile quarterbacks who love to take off and run … and Allen is that guy. Perhaps Allen will get his mojo back by using his speed and elusiveness to sting Cincinnati with some early runs to keep the chains moving. Allen should do well against Cincy’s cornerbacks, and the Bengals come in as the 19th ranked defense according to Football Outsiders.
Joe Burrow is a big-game, big-play quarterback who never loses his poise or confidence. The Bengals are missing three starting offensive linemen in this game, and that could be a huge negative for the visiting team. But the numbers show that Burrow has cut down on his release time in recent weeks, getting his passes off much faster than he was before the O-line troubles. Without the presence of injured pass rusher Von Miller, Buffalo will probably blitz early and often.
Buffalo owns a +169 point differential this season; the Bengals are +96 this season. Allen’s QBR is 71.2; Burrow’s is 58.5. Buffalo also has the edge on special teams, and is more effective in the red zone than Cincinnati. Finally, the Bills are 4-0 in home postseason games under head coach Sean McDermott.
I hesitate to take the Bengals lightly, and as usual the point-spread factor tells us a story. Cincinnati was 12-5 overall ATS in the regular season including a 7-2 mark ATS on the road. Including the first round close call over Miami, the Bills are 3-6 ATS at home this season, 8-10 ATS as the favorite, and 1-6 ATS against teams that have won at least 55% of their games.
Bernie’s Pick: Bills to win; Bengals to cover. Buffalo 27, Bengals 23.
Dallas (13-5) at San Francisco (14-4)
Sunday 5:30 p.m. STL time on Fox.
Betting Line: 49ers by 4 points as of Friday afternoon.
Analysis: I realize that much of the football nation is jacked up after seeing the Cowboys humiliate the carcass of the Tampa Bay Bucs in Monday night’s first-round playoff game. But let’s sober up, OK? The 49ers aren’t the Buccaneers, a faulty team that went 8-10 this season including the playoff game.
San Francisco has won 11 in a row, has the league’s No. 1 defense, and is rated as the league’s best overall team and the second-best offense per the Football Outsiders’ metric that puts more emphasis on recent performances.
In his four home starts, rookie QB Brock Purdy is 4-0 and the 49ers have won those games by a whopping average margin of 22 points.
The Cowboys are of course the most overhyped team in professional sports history. After reading that sentence, consider this note from The Athletic: Head coach Kyle Shanahan has won as many playoff games for San Francisco since 2019 as the Cowboys have won since 1995. Shanahan is 5-2 in the postseason. And Shanahan can win with any quarterback that lines up for him. The Niners are too tough defensively, and have too many versatile, multi-dimensional weapons on offense, and are the best offense in the league in rolling up yards after the catch. They can line up with their rugged fullback and pound you on the ground, and since Week 12 they’ve led the NFL in explosive plays.
Finally: the Cowboys are playing this game on five days’ rest. The 49ers are coming in with seven days’ rest. Via ESPN, in NFL postseason history teams with seven days of rest have a 24-9 record when facing teams that have only five days off between games.
The Cowboys can win if QB Dak Prescott has an epic performance and the rookie Purdy has a nightmare game with multiple turnovers. The 49ers have been very strong this season as a betting favorite,,
Bernie’s Pick: 49ers 31, Cowboys 24
Thanks for reading …
Enjoy the games!