OK let's get this out of the way: after rolling in the regular season, my NFL picks have fallen off a cliff in the playoffs. I'm not scared of my record, just embarrassed. I'm 1-7 straight up in the playoffs. I'm not even mad, I'm amazed, 3-5 against the spread isn't great either. It makes me start to think about just going the opposite of what I've been doing, George Costanza style. (Not helping matters with this thought process was the steadfast belief that Clemson would take care of LSU in the national championship. Spoiler: that did not happen).
And it's been a weird year for the playoffs. We've seen a bunch of heavy favorites and they either lost outright or they absolutely blitzed the other team. The Patriots, Ravens and Saints were all touchdown favorites who just LOST. It's wild that it was teams with great coaches and great quarterbacks too. The 49ers and Chiefs obliterated the opposition, albeit taking very different paths to get there.
So, yeah, there's some precedent for a big favorite blowing out the underdog in these playoffs. But if you think the Titans or Packers are going to cover, you should probably a) believe they can win and b) sprinkle a little on the moneyline while you're at it.
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Chiefs -7.5 vs. Titans
What I would like to do here is have the huevos to take the Titans. I absolutely see a path to them winning: it's a similar formula to how Tennessee beat Baltimore and we saw the Chiefs fall prey to the possibility of it last week. The Titans need to get a lead and then unleash Derrick Henry downhill on the Chiefs' run defense. Kansas City is vastly improved on 'D' and Chris Jones' return would be a huge benefit, but if the Titans are up, oh, 24-0 early in the second quarter, they will cut the game in half and wear down the Chiefs on defense with punishing Henry runs. At some point he'll break one, and the Titans' defense is good enough to force a couple stops.
The Titans beat the Chiefs earlier this season despite trailing early in the game. Down 10-0, they got a Ryan Tannehill touchdown and a Rashaan Evans scoop-and-score from 53 yards out to take the lead. Derrick Henry would finish with 188 rushing yards and the Titans would win on a crazy last-second field goal block. What's notable about that game is they trailed multiple times, so we know they can potentially come back as well. If the Titans are up 24-0 I don't know that the Chiefs come back from it; I definitely don't think they come back before halftime to take the lead.
My problem is I know what the Chiefs have the capability of doing on offense. And I think that 24-0 lead to Houston might have changed things with Andy Reid. He saw the path KC had to the playoffs. They came out nervous knowing what an opportunity they had in front of them. After a season of powerhouse football, some playoff upsets happened and they just needed to beat the top half of the AFC South to give Reid a shot at his first Super Bowl. When things went south, they got aggressive and I believe they'll be aggressive here. The defense, especially if Jones is back, is really underrated. The Texans should have scored -- maybe -- 14 points in that game, max.
Predicted Score: Chiefs 31, Titans 17
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49ers -7 vs. Packers
Again, chalk here for me. The 49ers are laying a full touchdown in the NFC Championship game against a team with Aaron Rodgers. There are plenty of people who will say "take the points with Rodgers!" and I get it. The dude was nails last week against the Seahawks, particularly on third down, where he went 7-for-9 for 121 yards, one TD, no INTs, one sack and a ridiculous six first downs. Davante Adams quietly has a crazy playoff resume -- seven games, 36 catches, 549 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Against Seattle, Adams was targeted 11 times and caught eight passes, all eight of which went for first downs. We're not talking enough about how good he was and how good he is/can be. But Adams won't be getting a bunch of mismatches like he did against Seattle. It stands to reason he'll see a healthy dose of Richard Sherman, although Green Bay is good about moving its top target around and TBD on whether Sherman follows him at all. Either way, it's going to be more difficult for the Packers to just keep banging out long third-down conversions.
Green Bay will need to score to win (momentum is real!) which means Adams needs to win matchups and Rodgers needs to be as locked in as he was last week. Additionally, will he be protected in this spot? The 49ers pass rush is lethal, man. The Seahawks were able to loop rushers towards the interior right side of the Packers' line and generate a ton of pressure. Suffice to say Robert Saleh probably noticed that. You can expect a heavy dose of Dee Ford and Nick Bosa there. How will the Packers counter that? Can they counter that? My concern here if I'm a Packers fan is that Green Bay gets down early and can't mount a comeback. The 49ers are probably the most difficult team to chase in terms of losing. They crank up the pressure and they can suffocate you on the back end as well.
That's why I'll lay the points here too. San Francisco is the better team and already beat Green Bay once. The Packers' offense is impressive but the 49ers' defense is better. And I don't know if Green Bay can stop the run this week they way they did against Seattle. Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith were excellent additions in free agency and Brian Gutekunst deserves a world of credit for picking them up, but I expect the play-action pass and a better offensive line can neutralize them.
Predicted Score: 49ers 28, Packers 14