Super Wild-Card Weekend really lived up to its name, as just two of the six favorites covered the spread and the higher seeds went an even 3-3 straight up. It was fun to watch Taylor Heinicke of the Washington Football Team give Tom Brady a game in Landover, Maryland, and to see Lamar Jackson get his first postseason win over the Tennessee Titans. As far as my initial bracket went, we did alright. We went 4-2 in terms of winners, but I do have to apologize for my pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers to get to the AFC Championship game. I thought they had gotten the monkey off of their back by defeating the Indianapolis Colts in the regular season and that some rest was going to serve them well, but I was wrong. The Cleveland Browns were much more excited to play the game of football last Sunday night, and they deserve to advance deeper into the postseason. My initial Super Bowl pick is still a possibility, but did my mind change after watching what some of the lower-seeded teams accomplished this past weekend?
Below are my picks against the spread and straight up for the divisional round. Also, I'll complete the playoff bracket and give you my picks for championship Sunday and then of course Super Bowl LV. Let's jump in.
All NFL odds are via William Hill Sportsbook.
The Rams' win over the Seattle Seahawks was one of the most impressive victories of Super Wild-Card Weekend. Jalen Ramsey and the defense completely shut Russell Wilson and the offense down, and even got Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer fired! Cam Akers led the offensive attack with 131 yards and a touchdown on the ground while Jared Goff passed for 155 yards and a touchdown. You have to give him credit for suiting up and playing with a broken thumb on his throwing hand even though he was supposed to be a backup.
You've heard the phrase "defense wins championships," and the Rams have the best in the business. Their pass defense led the NFL in yards per attempt and passing touchdowns. They ranked second in sacks behind the Steelers, but now rank first if we include the playoffs. It will be fun to watch Davante Adams go up against Ramsey, but is this Rams team talented enough to upset the Packers?
Green Bay is on a six-game win streak, and has won each game by seven or more points during that span. Additionally, Aaron Rodgers has covered the spread every time he has played the Rams and has only lost to them once. I had the Packers going to the Super Bowl in my first bracket, and I'll again take them to at least make the NFC Championship game.
The pick: Packers -6.5
Projected score: Packers 28-21
The Ravens received some major help from the Browns last week, as it will be Cleveland who will take on Kansas City in the divisional round instead of Baltimore. Since Jackson returned from his bout with the coronavirus, the Ravens have won six straight games. During that span, they have rushed for 1,573 yards (262.2 rushing yards per game), which is the most in any six-game span since the 1949 Philadelphia Eagles, who won the NFL Championship that year. A recipe for a Ravens win on Saturday against the Bills includes limiting quarterback Josh Allen both through the air and on the ground. One of Allen's worst games of his career actually came against the Ravens last year, as he completed 46 percent of his passes and averaged just 3.7 yards per attempt in a 24-17 loss. Baltimore is coming off of an impressive defensive performance against Tennessee, as the Ravens held the Titans to just 209 yards of total offense and rushing champ Derrick Henry to just 40 yards on the ground. I predicted the winner of the Ravens/Titans matchup was going to the AFC Championship earlier this month, and I haven't changed my mind. Baltimore has won and covered in three straight meetings with Buffalo, and I say the Ravens upset the Bills in the divisional round.
The pick: Ravens +2.5
Projected score: Ravens 30-27
(6) Browns at (1) Chiefs: Sun. Jan. 17, 3:05 p.m. ET (CBS)
Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield have faced each other just once in their NFL careers, back in Week 9 of 2018 when the Chiefs beat the Browns by 16 points. It's not the only time they have ever faced off in their football careers, however, as the two set a college-football record with 1,279 combined passing yards when Oklahoma and Texas Tech matched up in 2016. It's more about the run game when it comes to the Browns, however, as in 14 games with Nick Chubb active, the Browns have rushed for 160.2 yards per game and 23 touchdowns, and finished the regular season with the No. 3 rushing offense in the league. Interestingly enough, the Chiefs have allowed 122.1 rushing yards per game this season, which is worst among all playoff teams. Still, I have a hard time believing that the Browns will upset the Chiefs in the divisional round. I do think that they can cover the spread, however, as the Chiefs haven't won a game by more than six points since Week 8. Since Week 9 they are 1-7 against the spread, which is worst in the NFL!
The pick: Browns +10
Projected score: Chiefs 38-30
(5) Buccaneers at (2) Saints: Sunday, 6:40 p.m. ET (Fox)
Drew Brees and the Saints defeated the Buccaneers by 11 points in the season opener as four-point favorites, and then crushed them again by 35 points in Week 9 while being listed as three-point underdogs. The Buccaneers have certainly improved since that beatdown, but can Brady do enough to secure a victory against his old rival this time around? Since 1990, teams to sweep a regular season series are 12-5 straight up and 8-8-1 against the spread when meeting for a third time in the postseason. Tampa Bay defeated Washington 31-23 in the wild-card round, but the Bucs did not cover the 10-point spread. That makes the Buccaneers now 0-5 against the spread this season when kicking off at a time later than 5 p.m. ET, and Brady will have to play at night on the road yet again this weekend.
The Chicago Bears have a great defense, but Brees and the Saints still found ways to create success on offense this past weekend. Alvin Kamara came just one yard shy of 100 rushing yards and rushed for a touchdown, Michael Thomas caught five passes for 73 yards and a score and versatile weapon Deonte Harris caught a game-high seven passes for 83 yards. The Saints didn't play up to their potential last week and it still felt like they dominated the whole game, so I'm going to take them to sweep the Buccaneers this season. Tampa Bay is going to be a popular upset pick this week, so I would consider waiting a day to see if this line falls below NO -3.
The pick: Saints -3
Projected score: Saints 31-27
(2) Saints at (1) Packers
The Saints and the Packers are the two best teams in the NFC in my opinion, so I'll go ahead and predict they meet in the NFC Championship Game. These two teams actually met on "Sunday Night Football" back in September, and the Packers escaped the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with a 37-30 win. Rodgers didn't even need Adams, as Allen Lazard led all receivers with 146 yards and a touchdown, while Rodgers threw three scores. Brees also threw three scores but it was Kamara who kept New Orleans in the game, as he accounted for 197 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. Will the return of Thomas be enough for the Saints to change the outcome this time around, or are the Packers destined to go to the Super Bowl after coming so close last year? Unfortunately, I have Brees retiring without winning another Super Bowl, as the Packers get back to the big game.
Projected score: Packers 30-23
(5) Ravens at (1) Chiefs
This could end up being the most highly-anticipated matchup of the postseason. These two teams faced off in Week 3, and despite the fact that the Ravens were favored, they were dominated, 34-20. Mahomes threw for 385 yards and four touchdowns, but it was the defense that really won the game for Kansas City. The Chiefs secondary held Jackson to just 97 passing yards and one touchdown, as they put the burden on him to throw accurately downfield, and he could not do so effectively. Expect the Chiefs to replicate that defensive game plan if these two teams face off during the course of the postseason. The Ravens are a legitimate AFC contender, but it's hard to pick them to upset the Chiefs.
Projected score: Chiefs 31-24
Super Bowl LV
(1) Packers vs. (1) Chiefs
Articles will be written about the importance of securing the first-round bye in this new playoff structure heading into Super Bowl weekend, as I predict both teams that did not play in Super Wild Card Weekend will be playing in the final game of the 2020 NFL season. Both the Chiefs and Packers feature explosive offenses, which means it could come down to which defense finds the most success on Super Bowl Sunday. Matt LaFleur is on his way to a very, very successful NFL coaching career, but Andy Reid and Mahomes appear ready to repeat as NFL champs.
Projected score: Chiefs 30-28