NFL Divisional Round Preview; Browns, Rams look to play spoiler
The NFL Divisional Playoff Round is here! Number 1 seeds Green Bay and Kansas City are NFL Divisional Round Preview; Browns, Rams coming off a well-earned bye week. Super Wild Card Weekend featured a solid group of games, including a Browns upset of the Steelers and a Rams upset of Seattle. Christian and Brandon had a solid week (5-1), with the rest of the boys not far behind.
This week we have a lot of great football to look forward to. 4 of the top young quarterbacks in the game (Mahomes, Allen, Jackson, and Mayfield) square off. Aaron Rodgers tries to lead Green Bay back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2010. And finally, a matchup between two future Hall-of-Fame Quarterbacks in New Orleans caps the weekend on Sunday evening.
There is a lot of football left to be played and without further ado, here are the picks from The Cut contributors this weekend. Records are based on picking the games correctly straight up.
Saturday, January 16th
Steph Chambers, Getty Images
#6 Los Angeles Rams @ #1 Green Bay Packers (-7) O/U 46.5, 4:35 PM ET, FOX
Brandon: The Rams pulled off the upset in Seattle thanks to an excellent game plan on offense and the number one defense in football hassling Russell Wilson. In this game against the top seeded Packers, they will need to do more of the same. Green Bay has been pretty decent against the run, allowing only 112.8 yards per game (13th in the NFL). The Rams had the number one passing defense in the league this season. It’s clear the matchup will come down to the Packers offense vs. the Rams defense, in particular Jalen Ramsey against Davante Adams. I’m really excited for this matchup and am ready to see how Aaron Rodgers fares against another top defense in the playoffs. I think this one will be a close game and believe the Packers will ultimately pull it out in a classic Lambeau Field January playoff game.
Prediction: Packers 34-24
Christian: The Los Angeles Rams did exactly what I thought they'd do in the Wild Card Round, tossing around the Seattle offensive line, making Russell Wilson uncomfortable, and nabbing the win. But Aaron Rodgers and company are playing on another level right now. If Jalen Ramsey locks up Davante Adams, Aaron Jones will go off. If Aaron Jones doesn't go off, Robert Tonyan will go off, etc. etc. etc. I fully expect this to be a competitive game, but I'm not sure how a team without a healthy quarterback will be able to keep up.
Prediction: Green Bay wins 31-23.
Adam: Rams easily handled the Seahawks last week. This week they will have their hands full. The Packers are playing incredible football lately and I feel the bye week last week is a huge benefit for them. Green Bay has too many offensive weapons and the MVP for the Rams defense to handle. I feel the Rams offense and Packers defense are on the same level. If the Rams can score on defense and special teams they will win this game, but I do not think they can.
Prediction: Green Bay wins 27-20
Randy: I have been saying for weeks now that I do not have faith in Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs. In our show a couple weeks ago I even had the Packers lose to the Bucs in this round. With that being said, they are facing the Rams instead, which ironically provides an even worse matchup for the Packers. The Rams are the best defense left in the playoffs with the 3rd rank rush defense and ability to get pressure with just the defensive line. They shut down Seattle last week, but I don't think you can shut down this prolific Packers offense. Everyone's eyes will be on Ramsey and Adams as well to see who comes out on top in a battle of possibly best vs best. I am feeling bold here though, and maybe that is because I am losing in the standings for these picks, but I am going to roll with the underdog here and pick the Rams to win.
Prediction: Rams win, 27-24
Sean: Now's where the real fun begins. I've been saying for weeks that I think this Packers team is going to be the one representing the NFC in Tampa Bay on February 7th. Aaron Rodgers is playing like we went back to 2014, the ground game with Aaron Jones is one of the best in the league, and oh yeah that Davante Adams guy is pretty good too. I was wrong on the Rams when they went into Seattle and knocked off Russell, but I don't think that will be the case here. Aaron Donald will surely cause some issues inside and Jalen Ramsey may slow down Davante, but Rodgers is playing too well and going into Lambeau will be too much for the Rams to overcome.
Prediction: Packers 28-20
Adrian Kraus, The Associated Press
#5 Baltimore Ravens @ #2 Buffalo Bills (-2.5) O/U 50, 8:15 PM ET, NBC
Brandon: Baltimore and Buffalo might be the sexiest matchup on paper in the divisional round. The NFL truly agrees and that is why this game is in Primetime on Saturday night. The Bills are a slight favorite (less than a field goal) at home. The Bills have been a great story all season with the drastic improvement from Josh Allen. Baltimore is hot as well, coming off an emotional victory against the Titans in the Wild Card Round. Lamar Jackson’s ability to make plays with his legs is truly incredible to watch. Josh Allen can do the same and has a much better ability to throw the ball downfield. The matchup to watch for me is going to be Stefon Diggs and either Marcus Peters or Marlon Humphrey. Baltimore’s ability to run the ball gives them a slight edge in this game. If Buffalo can somehow stop the running game, they will have a significant chance to win this game. However, when it comes down to brass tax, I’m going to believe in the Ravens in the postseason more times than not.
Prediction: Ravens 26-23
Christian: The Baltimore Ravens have really come into their own in the last 5 or 6 weeks. Their defense is firing on all cylinders, their offense is kind of competent, and JK Dobbins has shown everyone why I had him as my pre-draft RB1. The Bills, however, are playing better than anyone in football. Their offense is scary and their defense is built to stop a team like the Ravens. But I have to stick to my original prediction for this game.
Prediction: Baltimore wins 28-24.
Adam: The Ravens picked an excellent time to start playing incredible football. They have won 6 games in a row. Josh Allen played incredible against the Colts and the Bills won that game because of his passing. The Ravens are one of the best pass coverage defensive teams in the NFL. Josh Allen is going to have a tough game because of that, and the Bills will have to rely on the run. With Zach Moss hurt, the Ravens are in prime position to win their 7th game in a row.
Prediction: Ravens win 21-17
Randy: The Ravens are playing incredible ball of late, but so are the Bills. Everyone has rightfully been praising the Ravens for shutting down King Henry and forcing Tannehill to try and win the game. Tannehill and the Titans came up short in a great game, but that strategy can't work against the Bills. The Bills have a sufficient running game that is now solely on the shoulders on Singletary to get it done. I think him and the occasional scramble of Josh Allen can do enough on the ground, combined with the explosive passing game to come out on top here in a cold weather game at home.
Prediction: Bills win, 27-23
Sean: I didn't expect Buffalo to struggle against Indianapolis, but that game came down to the last possession. The Ravens didn't look all that inspiring when it came to their offense against Tennessee, but Jackson showed how deadly he can be at times with his feet. I'm not sure he's going to have the same type of success in Buffalo as the Bills should have no problem putting up points, meaning Lamar is going to have to do it with his arm. Here's a little spoiler alert: He won't.
Prediction: Bills 31-21
Sunday, January 17th
#6 Cleveland Browns @ #1 Kansas City Chiefs (-9.5) O/U 55, 3:05 PM ET, CBS
Brandon: Cleveland heads into Kansas City as a serious underdog, as they should be. Patrick Mahomes and company were 14-2 in the regular season and are the defending Super Bowl Champions. The Chiefs are going to come ready to play. The Browns need to do a couple of things to win this game. Significantly win the time of possession, over 150 yards rushing combined between Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and win the turnover battle by a significant margin. Cleveland had a +5-turnover differential in the regular season, but Kansas City had a +6 margin. Turning over the Chiefs is no easy task, but its something the Browns must do to win. Red zone defense will ultimately determine this game as I believe both teams are going to be able to move the ball on offense. Cleveland was fourth in the NFL in scoring a touchdown in the red zone at 72%. Kansas City was 14th at 61%. Ultimately, the Browns will compete to the end, but I like the Chiefs to advance to the Conference Championship for the 3rd season in a row.
Prediction: Chiefs 41-30
Christian: Opened at 9.5 huh? Seems rude, honestly. The Cleveland Browns have the blueprint to beat the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. Kansas City ranks 31st in rush DVOA, and the Browns have two of the best running backs in football. They're getting their fearless leader back and very likely some of their other important coaches/players. The Chiefs haven't been playing their best ball down the stretch, but I fully expect them to turn that around in the Divisional Round. This is going to be a shootout, and I, for one, cannot f*cking wait.
Prediction: Kansas City wins 45-42.
Adam: Who would ever think that the Browns would be playing in the divisional round? I really can not see anyone beating the Chiefs. However, this game is so much closer than people are thinking. I get the Steelers are extremely overrated, but that beatdown in the Wild Card round was amazing. I think the momentum from that games rolls over to this game against the Chiefs. However, we are talking about the Kansas City Chiefs. They are my Super Bowl pick, and I have to stick with that. Mahomes and co are going to have a field day on this Browns defense.
Prediction: Chiefs win 42-24
Randy: The Browns came out swinging on both sides of the ball last week in the domination of the cry baby Steelers. They actually are one of the teams who are built the right way to stop the Chiefs. They can get this done by obviously keeping up with the Chiefs explosive offense on the scoreboard, but more specifically holding the ball for 5-8 minute drives at a time. I think the best start for the Browns will be them receiving the kickoff and taking 7-9 minutes off the clock with a touchdown. This would make the Chiefs offense sit around on the bench and most likely make it so they can't get into a rhythm early on. They would also most likely need a turnover or 2 to really win. While I would love to see this, I think the Chiefs speed and explosion is just too much to deal with for the Browns. The Browns have also been destroyed by speed on defense all season so that spells a rough matchup for a bottom feeder defense in the passing game. Add in the fact that the Chiefs defense has been really good this year and I think its just too much for the Browns to overcome. Great season, build on it for next year, improve the defense, and the Browns are a lock for the playoffs again.
Prediction: Chiefs win, 34-24
Sean: Sunday night sure was a lot of fun for Browns fans. From the opening snap we got to watch Cleveland exercise every demon possible when it came to the nightmare that has been the past 18 years. What the hell do they have to lose now? This is what one would call playing with house money. Granted Patrick Mahomes is like that kid that you play monopoly with that bought Park Place and Boardwalk and seems to make you land there every single time, but house money is house money. Cleveland is going in as the underdog and that seems to be a mentality they're thriving with. Kansas City's defense struggles to stop the run, but their offense can surely put up points the other way. One thing going against them is that history has showed how hard it is for a team to repeat. And hey, have to go against the grain at some point right?
Prediction: Browns 45-42
Brad Mills, USA Today Sports
#5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ #2 New Orleans Saints (-3.5) O/U 50, 6:40 PM ET, FOX
Brandon: I recently did an article on the top 5 Super Bowl Contenders heading into Week 17. Perhaps the Buccaneers should have been on that list. After a close victory in Washington last week, Tampa Bay looks to be getting hot at the right time. Brady and company look better than they have at any point during the regular season. My only concern is their ability to run the ball, with God knows what’s happening in the backfield from week-to-week. Will Ronald Jones see the field or will they trot out Fournette for 99% of the snaps? The Saints need to get to the Super Bowl. Plain and simple. Too many postseason failures have to end at some point, right? Perhaps this could also be Drew Brees’ last postseason run in the NFL. The Saints defense has to show up in this game because I just don’t see them winning in a shootout. I have lost confidence in Drew Brees ability to win big postseason games, even at home.
Prediction: Buccaneers 37-24
Christian: Tom vs. Drew for the last time ever? Yeah, I'll be tuning in. Unfortunately, I can't see a world in which Tom Brady loses this game, partially because the Tampa Bay offense is so loaded with talent, but also partially because Drew Brees tends to choke a little in the playoffs. Tom is the ultimate winner, and sending Drew out with a loss would be incredibly fitting.
Prediction: Tampa Bay wins 35-31.
Adam: There is so much hype for this game, but I have a feeling this game will not live up to its hype. The Buccaneers did not play well against a 7-win Washington team. Brees does not have a good track record in the playoffs lately. Tom Brady has some incredible offensive weapons around him and so does Drew Brees. This is more than likely that this will be the last game between these two GOATS. The difference maker is Alvin Kamara, if the Buccaneers can contain him they will win. I do not think they contain him
Prediction: Saints win 35-27
Randy: I originally predicted this for the NFC Championship game with a Saints win. Both teams are playing well, but seemingly looked past their Wild Card opponents last week. This lead to rough games for the most part. The Saints have won both regular season matchups with a close win early and a dominant performance late in the season. Both teams should be healthy making this a really compelling matchup between two of the greats. I wanted to root for Brees to go out on top being propped up by a quick read offense and a stellar defense. Unfortunately, I have never betted against Brady in the playoffs and I don't think I can do it now and feel comfortable with it. In my opinion this is the hardest matchup to decide on, but I don't think the Saints can beat the Bucs 3 times in the same season so I am rolling with the GOAT.
Prediction: Bucs win, 31-24
Sean: This should be a game everyone tunes into. Tom Terrific versus Drew in a divisional matchup to be one win away from Raymond James Stadium. Two wins would mean that the Buccaneers would be the first team in NFL history to play at home for the Super Bowl. But this isn't an ordinary divisional matchup. The Saints offense is healthy, and their defense is hot right now. Look at what they did to the Bears for 58 minutes. This to me screams close game, but eventually gets us to the Rodgers vs Brees NFC Championship matchup that we all want to see (well I do anyway).
Prediction: Saints 31-27