If you followed me here last week, then you’re aware that my picks for the wild card games went up in flames faster than Anakin Skywalker on Mustafar. Seriously, it was a colossal disaster. I stupidly ignored so many playoff gambling rules and simply went with what I wanted to see happen.
For example, I took the Bills +2.5, ignoring the rule of never betting on a young quarterback making his first playoff start on the road. Josh Allen looked good to start out, but Buffalo blew a 16-0 lead (eventually losing in overtime) and late in the game, Allen looked more lost than Kevin McCallister.
I also picked the Patriots -5 over the Titans because, if this really is the end, I wanted one last hoorah for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. I dumbly ignored the fact that, while Tennessee might not be the most intimidating team we’ve ever seen, they finished the regular season a hell of a lot better than New England did. Once again, the Pats couldn’t muster enough offense, they dropped the ball (no pun intended) in crucial situations, they couldn’t score a touchdown when they had first-and-goal at the one-yard line, and they allowed Derrick Henry to run them into the ground.
I picked the Saints -7.5 at home over the Vikings because … well … who would actually bet on Kirk Cousins in a playoff game? Turns out, that’s actually what we all should’ve done. Kirk came through in overtime with his sensational 43-yard toss to Adam Thielen that set up Kyle Rudolph’s game-winning score, getting the playoff monkey off his back at last and leading Minnesota to the upset.
Only the Seahawks actually delivered for me, covering as 1.5-point road favorites in Philadelphia and giving me my only win of the weekend. At 1-3 heading into the divisional round, I’m not looking too hot right now. But, since I refuse to give up, I’ll give it another go this weekend and see if I can get this train back on track.
However, for those of you reading this, I strongly advise you to not take a word you read here seriously. If you’re making picks yourself, always pick the team that I don’t pick. Nobody curses playoff teams better than yours truly. I’ve been trying to get this right for years, and I’ve just never been very good at it. I’m holding out hope that one of these years, everything will just click at the right time.
In the meantime, I apologize in advance to the teams and fan bases that I’m about to jinx.
So without further ado, it’s time to make some picks for the divisional round …
(Home teams in all caps, and lines courtesy of OddsShark.com)
49ERS (-7) over Vikings
Fresh off their huge upset in New Orleans, the Vikings are in an interesting spot here. If they can upset San Francisco as well --- knocking off two 13-3 teams on the road on back-to-back weekends, each with a pair of quarterbacks who are considered significantly better than Cousins, to reach the NFC Championship Game --- then that would probably put an end to the Kirk Cousins jokes, at least for the foreseeable future.
But another important rule for playoff gambling is to not get sucked into underdog teams that seemingly overachieved in the wild card round. It’s been known to happen a time or two. I’m going to stick with the notion that Cousins captured lightning in a bottle last week, and that he won’t be able to deliver the goods two weekends in a row. If he proves me wrong again, then all the more power to him. If he wins this game in Santa Clara, he can tell all of the doubters, myself included, to go stick it where the sun don’t shine.
But until I see that happen, I’m putting my faith in the Niners, who beat the Seahawks in Seattle in Week 17 to clinch the NFC West. I’m putting my faith in Jimmy Garoppolo (the former heir to the Brady throne), hoping to see him feed George Kittle all afternoon long, and hoping that San Fran will use its trio of dynamic running backs (Breida, Coleman and Mostert) to attack that Minnesota defense.
Prediction: 49ers 33, Vikings 16
RAVENS (-9.5) over Titans
Tennessee is on an incredible Cinderella run right now, and I don’t feel comfortable picking them to lose by 10 or more points. However, betting against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, even with a 9.5-point spread, feels like gambling suicide.
The 14-2 Ravens rattled off 12 straight wins to end the season, having not lost since Week 4 back on Sept. 29. Among those 12 wins, only three of them were by six points or less. This Baltimore offense appears as unstoppable as any offense we’ve ever seen. Remember last year when Patrick Mahomes set the NFL on fire in his first season as starting quarterback for the Chiefs? He now seems like an afterthought in the wake of Jackson, who is proving to be arguably the most electric QB the league has ever seen.
The Titans are a really fun story. After starting the season 2-4, head coach Mike Vrabel benched Marcus Mariota for Ryan Tannehill, who then led Tennessee to victories in eight of its last 11 games, including last week’s wild card win in New England. Nobody gave the Titans a chance when they snuck into the playoffs at 9-7, but here they are, just one win away from their first trip to the AFC Championship Game in 20 years.
Tennessee is an easy team to root for. They are the kind of underdog team you want to see make a run deep into January. But I’m not picking against a rested team that has won 12 straight games, in dominating fashion most of the time, with an absolute assassin of a young quarterback.
Prediction: Ravens 36, Titans 21
CHIEFS (-9.5) over Texans
I’ll admit it, I tried to talk myself into the Texans in this game. Something just feels off about this Kansas City team, and for some reason, I don’t fully trust them. Maybe it’s because Mahomes only threw 26 touchdowns this year instead of 50. I can’t put a finger on it, but something just feels off.
But then I remembered that Houston needed a comeback from a 16-0 deficit as well as overtime, fueled purely by the grittiness of Deshaun Watson, to survive the Bills at home last week. After thinking about that, it’s hard to feel confident about them going into Arrowhead Stadium this Sunday and getting a win. That feeling becomes amplified when you consider that Houston’s pass defense is ranked 29th in the NFL, and few quarterbacks can sling the football better than Mahomes.
Some gamblers will feel good about Watson and the Texans snaking this upset, or at least covering as 9.5-point underdogs, but this feels like really dangerous territory. As Bill Simmons once wrote, you should only pick an underdog or a road team if you’re convinced it has a chance to win the game outright. The Texans haven’t convinced me.
If you’re itching to bet against the Chiefs (like me, for some reason), it would probably be a better idea to wait until next week when they’ll likely be traveling to Baltimore.
Prediction: Chiefs 30, Texans 20
Seahawks (+4) over PACKERS
At least one underdog always covers in both the wild card and divisional rounds of the NFL playoffs. Sometimes it’s harder to predict than others, but the Seahawks are fully capable of going into Lambeau Field on Sunday and pulling it off.
On paper, the Packers look good at 13-3, champs of the NFC North with a first-round bye. But are they as good as all of that suggests? They barely beat the 3-12-1 Lions in Week 17, scraping by on a last-second Mason Crosby field goal. Green Bay’s rush defense also ranks 23rd in the league, meaning this could be a golden opportunity for us to see the Marshawn Lynch of old.
It may also take another great game from rookie receiver DK Metcalf, who had seven receptions for 160 yards and a touchdown in Philadelphia last week. But don’t forget that his quarterback is Russell Wilson, who has delivered in the clutch on enough occasions that I rarely ever doubt him anymore.
Oh, and one more thing: remember the 2014 NFC Championship Game? Seahawks fans remember it. Packers fans definitely remember it. I know that game happened in Seattle, but the point remains the same …
Prediction: Seahawks 24, Packers 23