The idea the NFL slows down once the regular season ends is a pipe dream — there are obviously less games going on, but somehow it’s busier than ever. If you don’t believe me, just check the last 24 hours or so of action. Multiple general managers and coaches hired, with the rumor mill rolling fast and furious as we get prepped for the best sports weekend of the year.
But I would like to make a request of the teams currently in the hiring (and firing, I suppose) cycle: Please use your brains when making announcements.
To wit, the Jacksonville Jaguars allowed the likelihood of them hiring Urban Meyer to leak out on Thursday morning, with just about every single major news outlet reporting a deal was impending. We then had to spend the entire day waiting for news of Meyer’s official hiring, except it didn’t happen until 6:30 p.m. ET. What’s the point? To soak up an entire day of headlines and discussion about Meyer coming to Duval? Didn’t anyone learn from the Colts on this front?
The Jets‘ timing on hiring Robert Saleh was even more annoying. Around 10:30 p.m. ET on Thursday night, the Jets officially announced the Saleh hire. It’s an exciting time! They came to an agreement and knocked out a press release, I reckon. But this is the same team that took 17 weeks to fire Adam Gase despite it being QUITE APPARENT he was not the man for the job. You couldn’t wait until 8 or 9 a.m. ET on Friday to announce the news? Was making sure «Good Morning Football» had 7 a.m. fodder to talk about that important?? Maybe that angle actually makes sense, but some of us have young children, Jets.
Whatever, teams can do what they want. I just feel like bellyaching. If you want to hear how we graded the Meyer and Saleh hires make sure and check out the Pick Six Podcast feed — we’ll have emergency pods for every hire and fire made in the coaching cycle as well. Our Best Bets pod is in there too, and yours truly is looking to build off a 4-1-1 week ATS from Super Wild-Card Weekend. Let’s stay hot (everyone’s divisional round picks can be found here).
NFL divisional round playoff picks
No. 6 L.A. Rams (11-6) at No. 1 Green Bay (13-3)
Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET (Fox)
I’m going to take a stand here and I will NOT discuss the Davante Adams/Jalen Ramsey matchup, since it appears that’s the only thing anyone is interested in talking about before this game (guilty as charged for much of the week). I do think it matters, but it’s really more of a microcosm of a chess match between Matt LaFleur and Brandon Staley. Any correlation between rushing yards and victories is completely foolish, but it might work for the Rams here. In all seriousness — Cam Akers‘ rushing production in this game might directly correlate to whether or not the Rams are able to win and/or cover. If Akers is running wild, the Rams are going to stay in this game. I don’t think it’s a complete shootout, but I feel VERY confident in suggesting if Jared Goff is the primary focus of the Rams’ offense, they aren’t hanging around. I love Akers to topple his over in rushing yards and think Adams has a better game than people anticipate. I’m on board with the Rams keeping it close, so would prefer to put the Packers in a teaser as oppose to taking them against the spread.
The Pick: Packers 21, Rams 17
Best Bets: Cam Akers Over rush yards 71.5; Tease Packers with Ravens
No. 5 Baltimore (12-5) at No. 2 Buffalo (14-3)
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET (NBC)
With all due respect for the excellent Sunday game on CBS, it’s hard not to look at this as the best game of the weekend. Josh Allen vs. Lamar Jackson is an outstanding matchup and provides a glimpse into the future of the quarterback position in the NFL. It’s a lovely juxtaposition with Brees vs. Brady. But more importantly, there’s a chance we get some snow-filled playoff football in this affair, and it’s also possible we get some hefty winds too. That should impact your thought process here a little — a really windy game is a boost for the Ravens, while snow blanketing the field would benefit Buffalo. I think there’s a chance this game could get a little out of hand depending on the script, although the Ravens were kind enough to stuff the «can’t come back from double digits» narrative into a locker last week against the Titans. If the Bills get up two scores I do worry about Lamar flying back against a much better defense. But I don’t think that happens here. You can run against the Bills, and their three losses and two other close games this year featured teams putting up 160+ rushing yards against them. No one runs better than Baltimore and I anticipate big games from Lamar and J.K. Dobbins on the ground in this one. If they get going early, I think Baltimore can take out Buffalo on the road here.
The Pick: Ravens 24, Bills 21
Best Bets: Lamar Jackson Over rush yards
No. 6 Cleveland (12-5) at No. 1 Kansas City (14-2)
Sunday, 3:05 p.m. ET (CBS)
A few weeks back I suggested the Browns could «give the Chiefs fits» if the two teams met in the playoffs. I was BOMBARDED with feedback and most of it was not positive! It’s a hot take, but now there’s an opportunity for the Browns to back up my confidence in what is absolutely the most difficult underdog matchup of the divisional round. As noted by Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders, the Browns are 29th in DVOA against deep passes, 29th in DVOA on third-down passes and 28th in DVOA against tight ends. Fortunately for Cleveland, Patrick Mahomes is only second in 20+ yard passes, the Chiefs are only third (49%) on third-down conversion and Travis Kelce merely set the single-season record for most receiving yards by a tight end in NFL history. This is fine.
Look, it’s hard to find a path for the Browns to win. Andy Reid is off the bye but I do wonder if the Chiefs might start slowly in this game. They won a bunch of games by a single score down the stretch of the regular season, and last year in the playoffs they trailed in all three of their games en route to a championship. If things don’t go well for them early, Cleveland should be able to score points and lean on the run game. The concern about Cleveland actually winning the game is the Browns defense stopping the Chiefs offense. They might need a 35- or 42-point lead to feel safe against Mahomes. I think Kelce eats, the Chiefs win, but the Browns stay within the number.
The Pick: Chiefs 35, Browns 31
Best Bets: Over 57; Kelce Over receptions/receiving yards
No. 5 Tampa Bay (12-5) at No. 2 New Orleans (13-4)
Sunday, 6:40 p.m. ET (Fox)
As my colleague and podcast partner John Breech pointed out in his divisional round picks column, this is the first time Tom Brady and Drew Brees have ever matched up in the playoffs. For two future Hall of Famers who have played in the NFL for a combined forty years or so, that’s pretty surprising! If this were Brady and Bill Belichick matching up against Brees and Sean Payton, I’d roll with the Bucs in this spot. But I have concerns about Bruce Arians here. Not that he isn’t a good coach. He is. But he really likes to operate his offense, and I’m not sure it’s the most prudent thing for Tampa in this spot. The Bucs are now 1-4 straight up and 0-5 against the spread when facing top-10 defenses by DVOA this season. Two of those losses were to the Saints (the Rams, Bears and WFT were the other teams) and all of the teams who gave them fits in that regard can rush the passer without blitzing and generate pressure up the middle.
The Saints will pressure Brady unless the Bucs change their offensive approach, and I simply don’t see that happening. If New Orleans was bad on offense maybe it wouldn’t create as big an issue, but I think the Saints will start rounding into form here for a Super Bowl push. Any other quarterback and I would feel great about this spot. Obviously fading Brady as a ‘dog in the playoffs is concerning. I just think the Saints defense will be too problematic. People say it’s supposed to be «hard to beat a team three times in one season» … but it’s actually not. It happens more times than it doesn’t. It’s because the team doing the sweeping is usually a terrible matchup for the other team. And the Saints are just a bad matchup for the Bucs.
The Pick: Saints 24, Buccaneers 17
Best Bet: Saints -3