After a crazy Wild Card Weekend, the NFL Divisional Round is here, and four games this weekend means we are that much closer to the Super Bowl. I went 5-5-2 in the Wild Card round, so let’s have a winning weekend for the Divisional Round!
Tail or fade with caution!
Rams @ Packers
Spread: Packers -6.5
The Packers secured the No. 1 seed in the NFC after winning six straight games to close out the regular season. Their last loss came back on November 22 on the road to the Indianapolis Colts in overtime. Aaron Rodgers is in MVP-caliber form, and the Packers led the league in scoring this season, putting up 31.8 points per game. They will host the Los Angeles Rams up in the frozen tundra at Lambeau Field, and the Rams are coming off a very impressive win in the Wild Card round.
Last week, I thought Russell Wilson and the Seahawks were going to get things figured out against a Rams team that was very banged up and had some question marks at the quarterback position. Boy was I wrong. The Rams dominated the Seahawks, pretty much from start to finish, and walked away with a 30-20 win. Back-up QB John Wolford got hurt in the first quarter, so regular starter Jared Goff needed to come in just a few short weeks after having thumb surgery on his throwing hand. Goff completed just 9-of-19 passing attempts for 155 yards and a touchdown, but the defense and running game really stepped up. Cam Akers ran for 131 yards with a touchdown on 28 carries, and the defense held Seattle to under 300 total yards and forced two turnovers. LA held Seattle to just 11 first downs, sacked Russell Wilson five times, held him to his lowest QBR this season, and scored yet another defensive/special teams touchdown, with Micah Kiser returning D.J. Reed fumble on a kick-off for a touchdown. It was a very impressive performance.
Can the defense show out yet again up in Green Bay against Aaron Rodgers? Maybe, but I don’t think it will be enough to pull off the upset.
Not only are the Packers rested and playing at home, but I think they are the better team. Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs is a scary thing, and his 48:5 TD/INT ratio this season is just insane. He is also completing 70.7% of his passes, and the offense has been clicking on all cylinders.
Overall, I think Green Bay’s offense will be too much for LA to keep up with. LA’s defense is insane, but their offense is where I don’t have that much confidence. Jared Goff’s thumb will be a big issue up in that cold weather, and I think the Rams will be a little one-dimensional, choosing to run the ball early and often. If LA falls behind, I’m not sure what they are going to do.
The Rams defense will give Green Bay a very tough challenge, but I see the Packers walking away with a win and cover at home. GB -6.5.
Total: Under 45.5
I am also rolling with the Under. There are two key matchups that I think are most important in this game:
1. Rams CB Jalen Ramsey on Green Bay WR Davante Adams: Ramsey is known as one of—if not the best shutdown corner in the league. Top WR’s have very tough days against him, and he was able to shut down DK Metcalf (again) last week, holding him to 3 catches for 33 yards. Ramsey has not allowed over 50 receiving yards in a game since Week 1, and Davante Adams is averaging 98.14 yards/game this season. He is often Rodgers’ top target, so watching this matchup will be very entertaining. Another wrinkle that Rams DC Brandon Staley could throw at the Packers is a double team on Adams with Ramsey on another receiver like Marquez Valdes-Scantling. That could mix up the coverages and present another challenge to the Packers passing attack.
2. The Packers rushing defense effectiveness at limiting Cam Akers: As mentioned, Akers went off last week with 131 rushing yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. With Goff’s thumb on his throwing hand fresh off surgery, as well as the colder weather up in Green Bay, I don’t think the Rams will be airing it out with Goff. That means Akers will be leaned upon again. The Green Bay rushing defense was fairly middle-of-the-pack this season, as they allowed 112.8 rushing yards per game (13th in the league), but with Goff’s injury, the Rams could be a little one-dimensional in their offensive attack. Not only that, but even if Goff does throw, I expect a lot of shorter passes to Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods who will want yards after the catch. Without the threat of the deep ball, that leaves a lot on the running game, and I think the Packers defense will be ready.
I think both of these factors favor an Under. The Rams defense has been amazing all season, and even though the Packers average over 31 points per game, I don’t see them reaching that number in this one against the No. 1 ranked defense in the league. Donald will be a menace up front, and Ramsey will give Adams some trouble, forcing Rodgers to find other options. Offensively, Los Angeles will focus on running the ball, which will move the clock, and they will want to keep Aaron Rodgers off the field as much as they can, and keep their defense fresh. I also think Goff will have a hard time throwing the ball down the field with his injured thumb, and I think the Rams offense will struggle to move the ball with a bit of a one-dimensional approach. Give me the Under.
Ravens @ Bills
Spread: Ravens +2.5
Lamar Jackson had the most to lose last week. If he and the Ravens would have lost to the Titans in the playoffs again, Jackson would have moved to 0-3 in his career in playoff games, and the narrative that he was incapable of winning in the postseason would have been a tough one to face. However, Lamar and the Ravens got it done. In a very impressive performance, the Ravens took down King Henry and the Titans 20-13. Baltimore fell behind 10-0 early, but dominated the last three quarters, with Jackson running the ball 16 times for 136 yards and a touchdown. They got their revenge on Tennessee, and I think they will take that momentum and swagger up to Buffalo when they take on Josh Allen and the Bills.
The Bills got their first playoff win since 1995 last weekend when they defeated the Colts 27-24. It was a historic win, and it was very cool to see them get it done. That being said, they narrowly escaped with the win. The Colts left so many points on the board, and some questionable decisions from head coach Frank Reich showed just how quickly the analytics can burn you. But nonetheless, the Bills got it done, and they deserve credit. Josh Allen is emerging as a star, and his connection with Stefon Diggs is a huge reason why the Bills find themselves in the AFC Divisional Round. Diggs had 128 receiving yards and another touchdown in that game against the Colts, and if the Bills want to move on to the AFC Championship Game, he will have to have another big day.
As good as the Allen to Diggs connection is, they may have some trouble against this stout Baltimore defense. The Ravens were 6th in the league against the pass this season, giving up an average of 221 yards per game through the air. They are tied for second in fewest passing yards per attempt allowed (6.4), and they held Ryan Tannehill to just 165 yards in the Wild Card round, and Marcus Peters put the game on ice with a late interception. They were also able to hold Derrick Henry in check, limiting him to just 40 yards on 18 carries (2.2 YPC). Tennessee only managed 209 total yards of offense, and they managed just 12 first downs, compared to Baltimore’s 401 total yards and 22 first downs.
I think the Ravens defense will be tough for Allen and company to figure out, and I think Baltimore is playing with some real swagger after that win in Tennessee. Lamar Jackson needs to limit his mistakes throwing the ball, but even after throwing an awful interception against Tennessee, he bounced back and did some serious damage with his legs. The Buffalo defense was just below average against the run this year (17th in the league, 119.6 yards/game), and the Ravens were the best running team all year (191.9 yards/game). Buffalo struggled stopping the run last week, as the Colts ran for 163 yards against them, and I am not convinced they will suddenly have all of their issues fixed against the No. 1 rushing team in the league. The Ravens will use their ground and pound approach, and I think Lamar Jackson and the Ravens give the Bills all they can handle, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they leave Buffalo with a win. Ravens +2.5.
Total: Over 49.5
I also think the Over makes sense here.
I loved the Under in the Ravens/Titans game last week because both offenses wanted to the run the ball a lot. Two teams that prioritize running the ball do not usually generate shootouts, and only 33 total points were scored, staying well under the total of 54.5. I think this game is different. Yes Baltimore loves to run, and they will early and often, but Buffalo is very much the opposite.
The Bills ran the ball just 10 times with their running backs last week for a total of 42 yards. Yet, they still put up 27 points, and I don’t even think the offense looked as good as they can be. The Bills were outgained 472-397 by Indianapolis, and the Bills were just 2-of-9 on third down. Buffalo had the best third down efficiency in the league during the regular season (49.7%), and I think they will be better in this one. The Buffalo offense relies on big plays down the field, and they had the 4th-most passing plays of 20+ yards this season. The Ravens have been good against the deep ball, and it will be difficult, but I think Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs will be able to make some big plays.
That means Lamar Jackson and the Ravens are going to have to make big plays as well, which they are more than capable of. When Jackson has the ball in his hands, he can produce an electric play at any given moment. This was evident in his 48-yard touchdown run against the Titans, and the Bills rushing defense isn’t anything special, so I think he has the potential for some big plays on the ground again.
What makes Baltimore so dangerous is that more than one runner can beat you. J.K. Dobbins has a very impressive 6.0 YPC average this season, and Gus Edwards isn’t far behind at 5.0. Either of these backs can burst a big run at any given time, and it makes this Ravens offense so difficult to slow down, especially when they are clicking.
I think the Ravens have the edge defensively, but Josh Allen and company are too talented to completely shut down. Similarly, the Ravens have too much offensive talent for me to go with the Under here. The Bills will counter the Ravens rushing attack with quick-striking passing plays, and I think these two teams should be able to push this one Over.
Title Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel / USA TODAY Sports