This weekend’s divisional round of the NFL playoffs is stacked with four more great matchups. Our NFL Nation reporters bring us the keys to every game, a bold prediction for each matchup and final score picks.
Additionally, ESPN Stats & Information provides a stat to know for each game, and the Football Power Index (FPI) goes inside the numbers with a matchup rating (on a scale of 1 to 100) and a game projection. ESPN Chalk‘s Dave Bearman hands out helpful nuggets, and Matt Bowen points out a key matchup to watch as well. It’s all here to help get you ready for a loaded weekend of NFL playoff football.
Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET | FOX
Matchup rating: 82.8 | Spread: GB -6.5 (45.5)
What to watch for: The Packers were No. 1 in the NFL in scoring. The Rams were the No. 1-scoring defense. The Packers ranked first in ESPN’s pass block win rate and run block win rate. The Rams’ defensive duo of Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd combined to create 90 pressures, the most of any pass-rushing pair. Throw in All-Pro Green Bay receiver Davante Adams against All-Pro L.A. cornerback Jalen Ramsey and this is the ultimate battle of strength versus strength. — Rob Demovsky
Bold prediction: From 75 and sunny to the frozen tundra, the Rams’ defense isn’t afraid of cold temperatures. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers may have thrown only 89 picks in 6,587 passes over his career, but the Rams’ defense is on a takeaway roll. Watch for one of the Rams’ cornerbacks to pick off Rodgers and return it for their sixth defensive touchdown of the season. — Lindsey Thiry
Stat to know: The Packers’ Rodgers and Adams connected on 76.7% of their attempts this season, the second-highest rate among the 60 QB-WR duos with 150 attempts in the past 20 seasons. But will Ramsey be up to the task on the other side of the line of scrimmage? Pro Bowl receivers have caught 37% of their passes when Ramsey was the nearest defender this season, according to NFL Next Gen Stats data. That’s the lowest allowed by any defensive back. Ramsey also ranks in the top five in lowest completion percentage over expectation allowed (minus-9.3%), per NFL Next Gen Stats.
Bowen’s matchup key: Rookie Rams running back Cam Akers looked like a veteran in the wild-card win over the Seahawks. Now look for coach Sean McVay to mix his personnel with one- and two-tight-end sets, using inside/outside zone and gap schemes, to open clean lanes for Akers. Read more.
Betting nugget: The over has hit in each of Green Bay’s past five playoff games. But although the Rams’ wild-card upset win went over the total, under tickets cashed in on 11 of Los Angeles’ final 13 regular-season games. Read more.
Thiry’s pick: Rams 23, Packers 20
Demovsky’s pick: Packers 24, Rams 20
FPI prediction: GB, 65.1% (by an average of 5.1 points)
Matchup must-reads: Floyd latest first-round pass-rusher to be revived by Rams … The good (cold) and bad (Donald) for Packers against Rams … Donald on rib injury: ‘Feel real good’ … Packers’ Rodgers has just 89 interceptions in 6,587 passes — and he hates every one of them … Wolford ruled out, Goff to start
Dan Orlovsky foresees the Rams’ defense causing offensive problems for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET | NBC
Matchup rating: 94.3 | Spread: BUF -2.5 (50)
What to watch for: The Ravens blitzed their opponents more frequently than any other NFL team this season at 41% of opponent dropbacks — but Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen is ready for it. He faced more blitzes than any other quarterback during the regular season. And he did damage against them. Facing a blitz, he led the NFL in passing touchdowns with 17 (and had two more last week in the wild-card round), was second in QBR (93.4) and finished fourth in yards per dropback at 7.4. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Bold prediction: The Ravens’ Lamar Jackson will become the first quarterback to rush for 100 yards in consecutive playoff games. He produced just the sixth 100-yard rushing game by a quarterback in the playoffs in last weekend’s wild-card round when he ran for 136 at Tennessee. The Bills haven’t allowed a quarterback to gain more than 61 yards rushing over the past two seasons, containing Kyler Murray, Cam Newton and even Jackson — who was held to 40 rushing yards in Buffalo 13 months ago. — Jamison Hensley
Stat to know: Bills receiver Stefon Diggs posted 128 receiving yards in last week’s win. The only players in Bills franchise history with two 100-yard receiving games in a single postseason are Hall of Famers James Lofton (1990) and Andre Reed (1992). Diggs led the entire NFL in receiving this season with 1,535 yards.
Bowen’s matchup key: Anticipating that we’ll see more Cover 3 from the Bills this week, Baltimore has to get receiver Marquise Brown loose on defined concepts that allow Jackson to attack middle-of-the-field voids or hit on shot plays down the field. Read more.
Betting nugget: The Ravens have covered seven straight games. The only team with a longer streak this season? The Bills, in Weeks 9-17 (eight straight games; bye in Week 11). Read more.
Hensley’s pick: Ravens 24, Bills 23
Louis-Jacques’ pick: Bills 24, Ravens 21
FPI prediction: BAL, 51.4% (by an average of 0.5 points)
Matchup must-reads: From logo stomp to beer chug: Ravens’ Peters has unpredictable passion … Daboll went beyond X’s and O’s to revive the Bills’ offense and his career … Silencing their critics: Ravens’ Jackson has his MVP award, is Bills’ Allen next? … Allen’s growth on display in first playoff victory with Bills … Bills again to host limited fans for divisional-round game vs. Ravens
Sunday, 3:05 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating: 62.4 | Spread: KC -10 (57.5)
What to watch for: The Chiefs have unsuccessfully fought a season-long battle to force opponents to kick more field goals and score fewer touchdowns when they are in the red zone. They allowed a TD on 77% of opponents’ trips inside the 20, which was the worst in the league. This game would be a good time to fix the problem. The Browns are efficient offensively inside the 20, scoring a touchdown 74% of the time. That was third best in the NFL. — Adam Teicher
Bold prediction: Reprising their 2016 college shootout, Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes and Browns QB Baker Mayfield will combine for seven touchdown passes. But Mahomes gets the ball last this time and propels K.C. into the next round with a winning drive. — Jake Trotter
Stat to know: Browns running back Nick Chubb has scored a TD in seven straight games, the longest streak by a Browns player since 1970 (Bo Scott also went seven straight). The Browns are 10-3 when Chubb plays this season, scoring a rushing TD in 12 of those 13 games, averaging 163.0 rushing yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry as a team. Without Chubb? Cleveland is just 2-2 with 95.5 rushing yards per game, 3.9 yards per rush and zero scores on the ground.
Bowen’s matchup key: With a zone-heavy approach, out of two-deep shells, the Browns can “top” the Chiefs’ seams and outside verticals. That will force Mahomes to throw into underneath windows and contain the deep-ball game. Read more.
Dan Orlovsky advises the Browns to play explosively and focus on defense to have a chance to beat the Chiefs.
Betting nugget: The “Andy Reid off a bye” narrative gets plenty of attention, and his 8-3 record outright off of byes (regular season or playoffs) with the Chiefs is nice. But he is just 6-5 against the spread in those games, with unders going 6-4-1. Read more.
Trotter’s pick: Chiefs 35, Browns 34
Teicher’s pick: Chiefs 27, Browns 22
FPI prediction: KC, 81.3% (by an average of 11.7 points)
Matchup must-reads: Ghostbuster Mayfield exorcising playoff demons, giving Browns confidence … Smoked Sausage, Black Pearl, Ferrari Right: How Chiefs creatively name their wild plays … The legend of Mayfield and Mahomes’ 2016 epic … Since releasing Hunt, Chiefs have had seven different backs lead them in rushing … Kingsbury gave Chiefs’ Mahomes and Browns’ Mayfield a chance when others passed
Sunday, 6:40 p.m. ET | FOX
Matchup rating: 97.0 | Spread: NO -3 (52)
What to watch for: You might have heard this game will feature a pair of future Hall of Fame quarterbacks named Tom Brady and Drew Brees. It’s their first playoff meeting, and it might be their last because Brees is contemplating retirement after the season. Brady is trying to reach a conference championship game for a staggering 14th time, while Brees is seeking his fourth appearance. They’re both flanked by top-six defenses, too. And while New Orleans dominated the regular-season series (winning 34-23 and 38-3), the Bucs have been one of the hottest teams in football during a current five-game win streak. — Mike Triplett
Bold prediction: Buccaneers receiver Antonio Brown will score two touchdowns. He has been a difference-maker on offense, lining up all over the field and really picking it up since the Bucs last faced the Saints — when Brown still had just three practices with the team under his belt. Brown has scored in four straight games, including last week’s win. — Jenna Laine
Stat to know: New Orleans cornerback Marshon Lattimore has lined up across from Bucs receiver Mike Evans on 72 routes over their past three games against each other, according to NFL Next Gen Stats data. Evans had zero receptions on six targets on those plays. But Tampa Bay has options even if Evans is again bottled up. Tight end Rob Gronkowski has 12 receiving TDs in the playoffs, tied with John Stallworth for the second most all time (Jerry Rice had 22). And receivers Brown and Chris Godwin each have five receiving TD catches since Week 14 (including playoffs), tied for the most in the NFL over that span with Stefon Diggs and Davante Adams.
Bowen’s matchup key: Pressure is a big part of the Tampa Bay defense’s identity. I think we will see sim pressures from Tampa, working to speed up the process for Brees. Todd Bowles’ defense had a blitz rate of 37.5% in the Week 9 matchup against the Saints. Read more.
Betting nugget: Think the Saints cover? If so, it’s worth noting that unders are 7-1 in the past eight New Orleans covers. Read more.
Domonique Foxworth breaks down the keys for the Buccaneers to beat the Saints, emphasizing the importance of Rob Gronkowski.
Laine’s pick: Saints 27, Buccaneers 24
Triplett’s pick: Saints 26, Buccaneers 23
FPI prediction: NO, 53.6% (by an average of 1.2 points)
Matchup must-reads: Brady’s Bucs an improved team since last facing the Saints … Latest round in Brees-Brady rivalry could be the most consequential … Brady’s Tampa timeline: Events that defined his first year as a Buc … A beautiful mind: How Saints’ Kamara stays ‘two moves ahead’
Source : ESPN