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Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams

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Are you ready for the biggest game of the season?

Super Bowl 56 will feature two teams that everyone counted out. Although the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams were solid throughout the regular season, most pundits expected either the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the Green Bay Packers to represent the NFC. The Kansas City Chiefs were the favorite to represent the AFC, though many also backed the Bills. Almost nobody on the planet predicted a Super Bowl between these two franchises. Now, for the second consecutive season, a team will host and participate in the Super Bowl. Can the Los Angeles Rams do what Tom Brady and the Bucs did last season?

Although the Rams exceeded expectations, it’s not mind-blowing that they made it this far after acquiring Matthew Stafford in the preseason. This will be their second trip to the Super Bowl in the last four years. However, the Bengals have defied the odds throughout the entire season, particularly in the playoffs when they defeated the Las Vegas Raiders at home in the Wild Card Round before heading to Tennessee where they beat the top-seeded Titans in the AFC Divisional Round. Then, the craziest upset of them all occurred when Cincinnati overcame an 18-point deficit to beat Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrow Head. Nobody ever gave the Bengals a chance, yet here we are, with the big game just days away and Cincinnati slight underdogs in the game for all the marbles. This is Cincinnati’s first Super Bowl appearance since 1988. I wasn’t even born yet!

Enough of my salivating over what Zac Taylor and Joe Burrow have done with this Bengals franchise in just a short period of time. We are here to look at the odds, analyze the matchups, and make some cash-winning picks. This postseason, we are 9-3 overall against the spread and 10-2 on moneyline picks. Let’s finish this wild season with a bang as we gear up for our Super Bowl 56 betting preview.

Los Angeles Rams at Cincinnati Bengals (+4.5)

Although the Rams are technically listed as the visitor, the Los Angeles crowd will be going crazy at SoFi Stadium. This is not a neutral stadium by any stretch of the imagination. The Rams are used to playing on this field and the fans will do everything they can to make Cincinnati’s offensive line commit false starts. That said, the Bengals are a well-coached organization in all three phases of the game and they are game-planning to deal with the noise. Cincinnati had to win their last two contests on the road to get to this point, including their last victory at Arrow Head, so I don’t think the Bengals’ offense will be flustered by the Los Angeles crowd.

Although the Bengals opened as 4-point underdogs, the spread has increased to 4.5 points at some sportsbooks after the majority of the money was backing the Rams. However, that half-point could make a significant difference when it comes to who will cover the spread. Many have been saying that “Super Bowl LVI is shaping up to be a classic ‘David vs. Goliath’ matchup,” but I don’t believe the Rams are the far superior team. Yes, they have the home-field advantage but plenty of Cincinnati fans will be in the stands. Yes, the Rams had the better regular-season record but the Bengals had a much tougher road to the Big Game. While some say the odds are stacked against the Bengals, I think this is going to be a dog fight that comes down to the final few minutes of the game. Anybody who thinks the Rams are going to blow the Bengals out hasn’t been watching Joe Burrow this year.

Let’s take a look at the moneyline, spread, and Over/Under numbers to better understand how to analyze this matchup.

Please Note: These numbers were updated on Wednesday, February 9 at 1:00 PM. Be sure to check for changes before submitting your wagers.

Interestingly enough, these teams have been almost identical when it comes to points scored and point allowed. Both scored 27.1 points per game in the regular season while the Rams allowed 0.2 fewer points per game in the regular season (22.1 to 21.9). The total, which opened at 50, has dropped to 48.5 following strong support backing the under. It makes sense that sportsbooks have set the total here considering each team averaged about 49 combined points per game during the regular season.

Although each team is much more efficient in the passing game than the rushing game despite talented running backs, there are some trends that suggest this won’t be the high-scoring affair that some pundits have predicted. Did you know that the Under has hit in each of Cincinnati’s last seven postseason games? Cincinnati has failed to hit the Over in five of their last six games as an underdog as well. Plus, in two of the three playoff games that the Rams participated in, the Under hit. Some may say these trends are just random facts. But studying these types of trends is exactly what led me to such a profitable postseason.

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While I do believe that each team will rely on their respective aerial attacks rather than the running game, there will still be a fairly balanced approach from each offensive coordinator. No team wants to become predictable in the biggest game of the season. Los Angeles has one of the most dominant and fearsome defensive lines with Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd, not to mention the mid-season signing of Vonn Miller coming off the edge. Burrow will need to get the ball out quickly if he doesn’t want to get chased around all night like Patrick Mahomes did last year against the Bucs.

Los Angeles' defense has been lights out this postseason, particularly against the run, allowing just 54 rushing yards per game. They will need to keep the pressure up against the talented Joe Mixon. Mixon, who finished third in the NFL in rushing yards (1,205) and fourth in rushing touchdowns (13), posted his best rushing game in two months, gaining 88 yards on the ground in the AFC Championship. Something tells me that Mixon won’t have the same type of success against the Rams as he did against the Chiefs. Kansas City was very vulnerable against the run while Los Angeles has shut down opposing teams running backs fairly easily as of late. In fact, Los Angeles has not allowed a running back to break 100 yards in 16 consecutive contests. For this reason, the Bengals’ passing game will need to be on point, especially if they give up an early lead.

Joe Mixon Joe Mixon, Cincinnati BengalsGetty Images

Ja’Marr Chase will see a lot of Jalen Ramsey in the secondary but the Bengals will find ways to get the ball into the hands of their most talented playmaker. Tee Higgins also erupted this season, so Los Angeles can’t forget about the dangerous second-year wideout. And Tyler Boyd is an underrated slot receiver who doesn’t get the attention he deserves given the athleticism of his teammates. It was also encouraging to hear C.J. Uzomah say that he will not sit out of this game despite spraining his MCL two weeks ago. He may not be at full strength, but the tight end has been a particularly dangerous weapon on third down and in the red zone. It is clear that Cincinnati will rely on their passing game but they have only averaged 24 points per game in the postseason. So don’t expect fireworks.

On the other side of the ball, Matthew Stafford has put his turnover struggles behind him with a 6:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his club’s three victories in the playoffs. He has even added two rushing touchdowns. Without Stafford, the Rams would not be here. However, the Rams will face a Bengals secondary that has forced six interceptions in the postseason. The Bengals’ defense has picked off a quarterback in four of their previous five outings. It’s not that the Bengals are that talented in the secondary, it’s more that they take advantage of mistakes. Stafford will have to continue to play mistake-free football if the Rams are going to lift the Lombardi Trophy. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rams won despite one interception thrown but Stafford cannot turn the ball over twice.

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Cooper Kupp will be the player the Bengals have to approach very carefully. Kupp had an unbelievable season, leading all wideouts in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. And he’s been just as unstoppable in the postseason with 25 receptions for 388 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Given all the attention that Kupp will garner, Odell Beckham has a great chance to impress in the biggest game of the season. Following Robert Woods’ season-ending ACL injury, Beckham has now caught a touchdown in six of the team’s 11 games. In the NFC Championship, he surpassed the century mark for this first time all year. Beckham is clearly gaining rapport with Stafford. Tight end, Tyler Higbee, could prove to be pivotal as well.

The Rams may have all three of their talented running backs healthy for the first time all season. Darrell Henderson seems to be on pace to return, Cam Akers has been back for a few weeks now, and Sony Michel continues to see some usage. Still, Akers fumbled twice against the Bucs in the Divisional Round and although he’s shown flashes of brilliance, he has also failed to surpass 55 rushing yards in any of his four outings since returning from what was expected to be a season-ending injury. Just like the Bengals, the Rams will rely heavily on the pass, though I think they will be a bit more balanced than the Bengals. However, due to Los Angeles’ propensity to turn the ball over, I think the Bengals will keep this game close.

I like the Under for all the reasons stated above, but what about the spread? The Bengals have covered the spread in seven consecutive matchups and are 5-0 in their last five games against the spread as an underdog. This bodes well for Cincinnati, especially since the Rams are 2-5 ATS in their last seven postseason games as the favorite.

That said, football is a game of inches and it is won in the trenches. I am worried about Cincinnati’s offensive line holding up against Aaron Donald and the rest of Los Angeles’ dominant defensive line. The Bengals could end up too one-dimensional for Joe Burrow to pull off another miracle. While I expect the Bengals to cover, the Rams life the Lombardi Trophy in front of their home crowd for the second consecutive year. I am following the "smart money" with all three of my game picks. Sometimes, I like to fade the public but it's clear that the big-money gamblers are thinking exactly the way I am, which is a good sign. Let's finish the season on a strong note with the picks below.

The Picks:

  • Under 48.6 Points (-110)
  • Bengals +4.5 (-110)
  • Rams ML (-199)
Prediction: 24-23 Rams

Bengals-Rams Game Information

  • Location: SoFi Stadium, Inglewood, CA
  • Date: Sunday, February 13, 2022
  • Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
  • TV: NBC

Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

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After a plethora of blowouts during Super Wild Card Weekend, the Divisional Round was much more entertaining. All four games were determined by one score and came down to the wire.

Fortunately for the readers of this column, I nailed all four of my predictions for the Divisional Round. I have now correctly identified the winner of all but one game and am 8-2 against the spread in the postseason! We have netted over a grand in the past two weeks. Let’s keep this hot streak going as we gear up for the Conference Championship

After only one underdog was victorious in the Wild Card Round, three of the four road teams moved onto the Conference Championship this past weekend.

Divisional Round Recap

Despite Derrick Henry’s return to the top-seeded Titans, things couldn’t have started any worse for Tennessee. Ryan Tannehill threw the first of three interceptions on the first play from scrimmage and the Bengals were immediately in scoring position. Tennessee’s defense played well and held the Bengals to a field goal. After taking a 6-0 lead, the Titans tied it up behind a goal-line touchdown from King Henry. However, they failed to convert the two-point conversion. Rookie kicker Evan McPherson nailed a 54-yard kick to give the Bengals a 9-6 lead at the half. To begin the second half, Joe Burrow led Cincinnati down the field before Joe Mixon capped off the drive with a 16-yard touchdown scamper. However, Tennessee scored 10 unanswered points, including a 33-yard touchdown to A.J. Brown. But despite sacking Burrow nine times, the Bengals won the turnover battle. After picking Tannehill off with just 28 seconds to go in the game, Burrow hit Ja’Marr Chase on an absolute dart to the sideline, which set up McPherson’s game-winning 52-yard field goal. The rookie kicker was the player of the game despite strong performances from Mixon, Chase, and Tee Higgins.

After upsetting the Dallas Cowboys, the San Francisco 49ers traveled to Lambeau Field to take on the reigning MVP, Aaron Rodgers, and the Green Bay Packers. After Rodgers led Green Bay down the field on the opening drive, rookie running back A.J. Dillon found the end zone on a six-yard scamper. From then on out, it was a defensive and special teams battle. To end the first half, San Francisco blocked Mason Crosby’s 39-yard field-goal attempt. That wouldn’t be the only critical special teams play of the game. After swapping field goals in the second half, San Francisco blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown to tie the game at 10-10. Although the Niners did next to nothing on offense all day, Jimmy G found a way to get Robbie Gould into field-goal range for a game-winner. He nailed a 45-yard attempt as time expired, upsetting the NFC’s top seed. Davante Adams and Aaron Jones had solid games, but San Francisco’s defense and special teams were tremendous.

Sunday’s games kicked off with what looked to be a blowout. The Rams were in complete control mid-way through the third quarter with a 27-3 lead. However, you can never count out Tom Brady. Brady led three touchdowns drives in the final minutes to tie the game up at 27 with just 46 seconds remaining. However, the Bucs simply could not cover Cooper Kupp. After catching a 70-yard touchdown pass in the first half, Kupp hauled in two massive receptions (20 and 44 yards) to set up a game-winning field goal by Matt Gay. For the third straight game of the weekend, the road underdog was victorious.

Last but not least, we witnessed a game for the ages between the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs. Both quarterbacks were flawless. Patrick Mahomes threw for 378 yards and three touchdowns while adding 69 rushing yards and an additional score. Josh Allen totaled 329 yards through the air, four touchdowns (all to Gabriel Davis), and 68 rushing yards. Down by five points and facing a 4th and 13, Allen threw a dart to a wide-open Davis in the end zone. The Bills then converted a two-point conversion to take a three-point lead. But there was way too much time left on the clock. Mahomes tossed a 64-yard touchdown to Tyreek Hill to take a 33-29 lead with just over a minute remaining. Allen then drove his team 75 yards in 75 seconds to take a 36-33 lead with 13 seconds left. Somehow, Mahomes got Harrison Butker into field-goal range on two intermediate passes to Hill and Travis Kelce. The game went into overtime. How fitting? Unfortunately for Bills fans and bettors, the Chiefs won the coin toss and marched down the field fairly easily. On the eighth play of overtime, Mahomes hit Kelce in the right corner of the end zone, ending Buffalo’s postseason hopes. Sean McDermott’s Bills will be back with a vengeance next season and there is officially a rivalry between Buffalo and Kansas City after this epic contest.

So now that we reviewed this past weekend’s contests, let’s take a look at the upcoming matchups in the Conference Championship, as the Chiefs host the Bengals and the Rams host the 49ers. The spreads have changed slightly, so let’s take a look at the opening lines as well as the current lines.

AFC Conference Championship

Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs (-7)

After each team won their respective games in thrilling fashions in the Divisional Round, bettors will be treated to a Week 17 rematch when the Bengals found a way to defeat the Chiefs, 34-31, on the road. However, Kansas City led 28-17 at the half of that game and it looked like the Chiefs would end up routing Cincinnati before a lackluster second half. Ja’Marr Chase erupted for the most receiving yards in franchise history, the refs made a few horrible calls, and the Chiefs’ offense completely stalled out. I don’t foresee that happening in a playoff atmosphere when everything is on the line.

The Chiefs are the more talented and well-rounded team with more offensive firepower and they arguably have the best quarterback in the NFL. With Patrick Mahomes under center, the Chiefs are 8-2 in the postseason contests. Those two losses occurred against Tom Brady. Although Joe Burrow is becoming one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, he is not the GOAT. Burrow and his weapons at the wide receiver position will create tons of mismatches against Kansas City’s depleted secondary (especially if Tyrann Mathieu doesn’t play), but the Bengals’ offense can be slowed down by a solid pass rush and zone coverage.

The Chiefs have scored 42 points in back-to-back outings and should have no trouble against a middle-of-the-pack defense after dominating Buffalo’s top-rated defensive unit last week. Kansas City has all of their playmakers back at full strength on the offensive side of the ball and even their running game looked solid against the Bills. Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jerick McKinnon both should have pivotal roles in the Conference Championship, but the Chiefs are still going to rely on the passing game.

Although the total is a very high number (54.5 points), this is going to be a shootout, so I would suggest taking the over. A whopping 97% of the money thus far on Over / Under bets is on the Over. I’m following the smart money on this one. And despite a full touchdown spread, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Chiefs blew the Bengals out this week. Chiefs win and cover.

  • Pick: Chiefs (-7)
  • Prediction: 37-26
  • Bonus: Over 54.5 Points

NFC Conference Championship

San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams (-3)

The Niners snuck into the postseason after overcoming a 17-point deficit to the Rams in Week 18 and eventually winning in overtime. Kyle Shanahan has beaten Sean McBay six times in a row and San Francisco seems to be the more physical team at the line of scrimmage, though Aaron Donald does make that difficult for San Francisco’s offensive line. Trent Williams’ return to the offensive line will certainly help the Niners’ pass protection and run blocking. Expect Eli Mitchell to get a ton of touches in order to keep the ball out of Stafford’s hands.

Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp have been phenomenal all season long, but the Niners realized that they were even better when facing the blitz. Stafford was the fourth-highest graded quarterback this season when facing blitzes. That’s why he was so effective against the Bucs last week, as Tampa blitzed Stafford a season-high 17 times, including on the game-winning pass to Cooper Kupp that set up Matt Gay’s field goal. Meanwhile, San Francisco managed to get pressure by just rushing four players. They blitzed Stafford a combined 14% in both games this season. Since the Niners are a little weak in the secondary, they have forced Stafford to make tough decisions by dropping linebackers into coverage. That’s the only way to defeat this Rams team and Shanahan knows it.

On offense, Jimmy Garoppolo has been very effective in throwing the ball down the middle of the field against Los Angeles. In their two meetings this season, Jimmy G completed 29-of-36 attempts for 319 yards and three touchdowns over the middle of the field. Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle will play pivotal roles in San Francisco’s upset bid.

All that said, the Rams are still the more complete team and their quarterback is far superior to Garoppolo. After losing Robert Woods to a season-ending ACL injury, they signed Odell Beckham Jr., who now has scored six touchdowns since joining the team after failing to find the end zone with Cleveland over the first half of the season. Beckham’s chemistry with Stafford has improved every week and Cooper Kupp remains unstoppable. Nobody in the 49ers’ secondary is going to be able to cover Kupp one-on-one so expect a ton of zone coverage. Still, Kupp should be able to find open space, and when he is double-teamed, Stafford will look for OBJ, Van Jefferson, or Tyler Higbee.

And don’t forget that the Rams did not have Cam Akers in the lineup for the previous two meetings between these two franchises. Akers provides much-needed explosion out of the backfield for the Rams. Although I expect the Niners to cover the spread and make this game a nail-biter, Los Angeles should come out on top if they can avoid costly turnovers.

  • Pick: 49ers (+3)
  • Prediction: 24-23 Rams

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Davante Adams of Green Bay Packers

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Super Wild Card Weekend featured some great games that came down to some riveting finishes.

We also saw our fair share of blowouts. It was a wild beginning to the NFL postseason, specifically the way the Dallas Cowboys were unable to snap the ball before time expired against the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners were the only road team to win in the first week of the playoffs. We went 4-2 with our Best Bets of the week but correctly identified all six winners in their respective matchups.

Super Wild Card Weekend Recap

In the first playoff game of the season, the Cincinnati Bengals snapped their 31-year playoff game drought, as they dispatched the Las Vegas Raiders, 26-19. Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase were absolutely fantastic in their first playoff appearance, connecting nine times for 116 yards. Still, Derek Carr managed to march the Raiders down the field for a final attempt to force overtime. Unfortunately for Raiders' bettors and fans, Carr was picked off by Germaine Pratt with 17 seconds remaining, officially clinching the Bengals’ first playoff victory in 31 years.

The second game this weekend was not nearly as exciting. In what was expected to be a tight game between the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots, Josh Allen dominated from start to finish. The game was over before the second half began, as Buffalo led 27-3 at halftime. Allen had a perfect passing rating after completing 25 of 31 passes for 308 yards and five touchdowns. He additionally turned six carries into 66 rushing yards. And miraculously, he hit nine different receivers in this game. Mac Jones threw two late touchdowns to Kendrick Bourne in garbage time, but the Bills defeated the Patriots, 47-17.

Sunday kicked off with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers smoking the Philadelphia Eagles. Jalen Hurts looked uncomfortable all day as the Bucs’ defense was finally at full strength. Tom Brady tossed two touchdowns, and despite missing Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones, the Buccaneers’ running game was actually pretty solid. Both Ke’Shawn Vaugh and Gio Bernard scored touchdowns. At the end of three quarters, the Bucs led 31-0. Hurts led the Eagles to two late touchdown drives, but it was too little too late. The Bucs moved on easily after defeating Philly, 31-15.

In the most exciting game of the weekend, the San Francisco 49ers pulled off the upset in Dallas. San Francisco dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, Eli Mitchell and Deebo Samuel both had excellent days on the ground, and San Francisco sacked Dak Prescott five times and forced an interception. However, the Cowboys marched back from a 16-point deficit and had an opportunity to win the game on the final drive of the game. With 14 seconds remaining, Prescott took off from midfield and slid at the 33-yard line. Before the Cowboys could get set and spike the ball for a final throw to the end zone, time expired. The Niners won, 23-17.

After a slow start on offense and a defensive touchdown by T.J. Watt that gave Pittsburgh a 7-0 lead, the Kansas City Chiefs got it going in the second quarter. Mahomes tallied over 400 yards and five touchdowns. Even Travis Kelce threw a touchdown of his own. The Chiefs won this game with ease, 49-21. Ben Roethlisberger has likely played his last game in the NFL.

The final game of the Wild Card Round was expected to be a close divisional matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams. Instead, the Rams went up 21-0 by the end of the first half and never looked back. Odell Beckham Jr. had a great game and Matthew Stafford did an excellent job protecting the football. It was also great to see Cam Akers playing with some serious burst and speed considering it’s been just six months since he tore his ACL. Meanwhile, Kyler Murray was atrocious in the first playoff game of his career. He threw two interceptions (including one head-scratching desperate heave from his own end zone that resulted in a pick-six). The Cardinals have a talented roster, but without DeAndre Hopkins, they simply imploded late in the season. They will be back with a vengeance next season and for many years to come.

So now that we reviewed this weekend’s contest, let’s take a look at the upcoming matchups in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs. The spreads have changed in certain games, so let’s take a look at the opening lines as well as the current lines.

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Saturday Divisional Round Picks

Cincinnati Bengals at Tennessee Titans (-3.5)

The Bengals and Titans could not be more different when it comes to their respective offensive identities. The Bengals are a pass-heavy team with a stud quarterback in Joe Burrow and one of the best receiver tandems in the league featuring Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd. Don’t get me wrong, they can absolutely run the ball well too with superstar Joe Mixon, but Zac Taylor will look to exploit Tennessee’s secondary. The Titans allowed 245.2 passing yards per game, the eighth-worst in the NFL. It will be difficult to find any running room for Mixon, as Tennessee permitted just 84.6 rushing yards per game, the second-fewest in the league.

On the other side of the ball, the Titans will attempt to run the ball down Cincinnati’s throats, especially with the triumphant return of Derrick Henry. Henry may not be at full strength, but he is an upgrade over D’Onta Foreman, though Foreman should still get some carries in this matchup. That said, Cincinnati allowed the fifth-fewest rushing yards per game this season. Ryan Tannehill is going to have to air it out so that the offense doesn’t become so predictable. A.J. Brown is a matchup nightmare for the Bengals’ secondary and Julio Jones could serve as a solid red-zone threat after scoring his first touchdown of the season in Week 18.

Last week, I only picked one upset, but this week’s matchups seem much more even. The Titans are a good football team and are incredibly well-coached, however, the Bengals have a much more explosive offense. If Burrow and Chase can perform as they did against the Raiders, I expect Cincinnati to pull off the upset and knock out the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

  • Pick: Bengals (+3.5)
  • Prediction: 27-23 Bengals

San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers (-5.5)

After getting some much-needed rest, the Green Bay Packers will host the red-hot San Francisco 49ers. Although the Niners are in good spirits, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a minor shoulder injury, and defensive stud Nick Bosa suffered a concussion in San Francisco’s thrilling victory over the Cowboys. Without Bosa, I’m not sure the Niners have much of a chance at defending Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones, and Davante Adams. If Bosa is active, an upset isn’t out of the question. The 49ers’ secondary is the weakest unit on their roster. Without Bosa to put pressure on Rodgers, the reigning MVP will have way too much time in the pocket to find his talented receivers.

Kyle Shannahan will continue to do what the Niners do best and that is run the ball. Eli Mitchell and Deebo Samuel should combine for 30 touches in this game. San Francisco will attempt to move the chains and kill some clock to limit the number of possessions that Rodgers gets. Fortunately for San Francisco, the Packers allowed the third-most rushing yards per game this season.

Both offenses should thrive in this game, as each team’s offensive has several matchups to exploit. Davante Adams is going to have a massive game. Don’t be surprised if he catches 10 passes for 150 yards and multiple touchdowns. However, the 49ers are a very physical team, and if they can dominate the line of scrimmage as they did against the Cowboys, they have a shot at upsetting Green Bay at Lambeau Field. With the weather forecast calling for snow, that benefits San Francisco’s style of play, though the Packers are used to playing in cold weather. It may be a bit harder for Rodgers to get the passing game going in these conditions, but he’s a veteran with years of experience in these types of games. While I expect the 49ers to cover the spread, Green Bay will sneak into the Conference Championship by converting a last-second field goal.

  • Pick: 49ers (+5.5)
  • Prediction: 26-24 Packers
  • Bonus: Over 47.5 Points

Sunday Divisional Round Picks

Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3)

The Rams played mistake-free football Monday night against the Arizona Cardinals and now must head to Raymond James Stadium to take on Tom Brady and the reigning Super Bowl champions. Although the Bucs handled the Philadelphia Eagles quite easily, the Rams are a completely different type of foe with one of the best head coaches in the NFL. Los Angeles has defeated Tampa Bay twice over the past two seasons and will look to make it three straight. We all know that the only way to make Tom Brady uncomfortable in the pocket is to pressure him up the middle. Fortunately for the Rams, they have a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Aaron Donald. Plus, Leonard Floyd and Von Miller will make life difficult for TB12.

Without Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, Brady performed well against the Eagles. He hit Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski each for a touchdown. Cameron Brate made a few decent plays, but Tyler Johnson, Breshad Perriman, and Scotty Miller are no match for the Rams’ secondary. Jalen Ramsey will likely shadow Evans, which will force the Bucs to run the ball or throw to their least trustworthy pass catchers. Even if running back Leonard Fournette returns to action, the Rams allowed the sixth-fewest rushing yards per game this season. Something tells me Brady is going to have to play one of his best games to move on in the postseason.

All that said, Matthew Stafford and the Rams’ offense need to show up. We can’t get the inconsistent Rams that we saw towards the end of the regular season. Los Angeles needs to remain balanced on offense, mixing in Cam Akers and Sony Michel, while utilizing Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham Jr., Tyler Higbee, and Van Jefferson.


Cooper Kupp Cooper Kupp of the Los Angeles RamsGetty Images

Stafford needs to protect the football. Whoever wins the turnover battle in this contest will move on to the NFC Conference Championship.

Although only 50% of the bets on the spread right now are backing the Rams, a whopping 91% of the money has been wagered on Los Angeles covering the three-point handicap. I’m following the smart money and taking the Rams, though I’ll go a bit further and say that Los Angeles upsets Tampa Bay on the road, ending Tom Brady’s hopes of back-to-back Super Bowl titles with the Bucs.

  • Pick: Rams (+3)
  • Prediction: 30-23 Rams

Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs (-2)

This is the matchup that we have all been waiting for. Many pundits expect the winner of this game to win the Super Bowl, myself included. Both Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes were excellent during the Wild Card Round. In fact, Allen actually had a perfect passer rating. Mahomes was close, but he did throw an interception in the first quarter. Each quarterback threw for five touchdowns apiece. They also have some of the best weapons in the league in their respective arsenals. Will Buffalo’s league-best defense be able to limit Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce? That’s the big question.

Last year in the Divisional Round, the Chiefs defeated the Bills in a fairly comfortable fashion. This year’s Buffalo squad is much better than it was last year with the improvement of Devin Singletary, Gabriel Davis, Dawson Knox, and Isaiah McKenzie, plus the addition of Emmanuel Sanders. And don’t forget Stefon Diggs. This offense has some serious firepower and the defense has shut down opponents all year long.

If Buffalo’s defensive line can out-work Kansas City’s offensive line, Mahomes could be scrambling for his life, much as he did in last year’s Super Bowl. That’s clearly the recipe to success against this high-powered Chiefs offense. If this game were being played in Buffalo, I am convinced that Josh Allen would lead the Bills to victory. However, playing at Arrowhead is no easy task. Kansas City’s fans will make things difficult for Buffalo’s offensive line. And although the Chiefs have improved through the year on defense, Buffalo has too many skill players to cover on any given down. This is going to be an absolute shoot-out. Buffalo is more well-rounded, but if their defense doesn’t get to Mahomes, the Chiefs will light up the scoreboard just as they did against the Steelers last week.

Overall, this is a bit of a coin flip. I don’t love betting on this game as both teams deserve to move onto the Conference Championship, but if I had a gun to my head, I have to go with Mahomes and the Chiefs.

  • Pick: Chiefs (-2)
  • Prediction: 34-31
  • Bonus: Over 55 Points

Tom Brady

Boston Globe

Following the first 18-week regular season in NFL history, the playoff matchups are now set for Super Wild Card Weekend.

The opening round will take place over three days, with the Tennessee Titans and Green Bay Packers out of action until the Divisional Round after earning the No. 1 seed in their respective conferences. The Las Vegas Raiders (after winning perhaps the most exciting game of the regular season in the very last game on Week 18) will head to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals on Saturday. Following that game, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots will face division rivals, the Buffalo Bills, Saturday night. There are three games on Sunday’s slate, as the Philadelphia Eagles will visit Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to kick off the action on Sunday. The biggest underdogs of the first round, the Pittsburgh Steelers, head to Arrow Head to take on Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. The Dallas Cowboys host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday as well. The Wild Card Round wraps up with the Arizona Cardinals heading to Los Angeles to face Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and the Rams’ high-powered offense on Monday night.

The spreads have changed in certain games, so let’s take a look at the opening lines as well as the current lines.

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Saturday Wild Card Picks

Las Vegas Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals (-5.5)

This game opened at a 6.5 point spread, but it has dropped a point due to a significant amount of the early action backing the Raiders. The Bengals are at home and are clearly the better team, so this seems like the right number.

The Bengals will be rested after most of their key players sat out their Week 18 loss to the Cleveland Browns. This includes quarterback Joe Burrow and star running back Joe Mixon. The Bengals are very inexperienced and all of their skill players are very inexperienced, especially in the postseason. That said, Cincinnati is the more talented team of the two. In his last two starts, Burrow accumulated 971 passing yards, eight touchdowns, and zero interceptions. He is on an absolute role. Not to mention, rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase was the AFC’s leader in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. Chase broke Chad Johnson’s franchise record by producing 266 receiving yards in a single game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 17. Cincinnati’s victory over the Chiefs certainly gives them confidence against a much less talented Raiders squad.

Joe Burrow of Cincinnati Bengals Joe BurrowGetty Images

The one thing we can fully bank on is that the Bengals are going to score plenty of points. Cincinnati ranked seventh in the NFL with 27.1 points per game this season. Will Las Vegas be able to match the Bengals’ offensive output? The Raiders were very inconsistent on offense this season. Their 22 points per game ranked 18th in the NFL. It’s hard to envision Derek Carr leading Vegas to another 30-point output, but then again, anything can happen on any given Sunday.

The Raiders are riding high after their amazing overtime victory over the Los Angeles Chargers, simultaneously knocking the Chargers out of the postseason and clinching a playoff berth for themselves in the process. However, the Raiders are an extremely tough team to judge on a weekly basis. We have not seen solid outputs from the running game lately (outside of Week 18) and Derek Carr was good this season, but not great. Vegas will need to get Josh Jacobs going if they have any chance at pulling off this upset. And Darren Waller needs to be much more involved than he was in his first game back from injury against the Chargers. Now that he has one game under his belt, Waller should be the focal point of the Raiders’ passing attack.

These two teams are very close in terms of talent and the Raiders’ defense has improved drastically throughout the season. Max Crosby was unstoppable in Week 18 (two sacks) and pressured Justin Herbert all night long. If the Raiders can make Burrow uncomfortable in the pocket, they have a shot. Overall, I expect this game to be very tight. While I think the home favorites hold on, 73% of the money bet on this game’s spread are backing the Raiders. I’m following the “smart money” in this instance.

  • Pick: Raiders (+5.5)
  • Prediction: 27-23 Bengals

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills (-4)

After falling flat against the Miami Dolphins in the final week of the regular season, the Patriots have a sour taste in their mouths as they prepare for their third meeting with the Buffalo Bills this season. In their previous two meetings this season, the teams went 1-1 against one another.

When the weather wasn’t much of a factor, the Bills’ offense moved as a cohesive unit. Josh Allen threw for 314 passing yards and three touchdowns while chipping in with 64 rushing yards. The Bills defeated the Patriots comfortably, 33-21 in Week 16. However, back in Week 13, the Patriots handled business on the road, allowing Mac Jones to only attempt three passes. The Pats ran the ball down Buffalo’s throats behind Damien Harris and rookie Rhamondre Stevenson. They won 14-10.

The weather is expected to be quite cold in Buffalo with the potential of snow and strong winds. If the weather is severe, I’d give the edge to the Pats. However, if there is not too much wind, expect Josh Allen to dominate. Overall, I would wait to see the exact weather forecast before placing a wager on this game. But with a gun to my head, it’s difficult not to back the uberly talented Bills.

Buffalo is one of the most pass-heavy teams in the league and Stefon Diggs is a top-five receiver in the NFL. However, in the Bills’ Week 16 victory over the Pats, it was Isaiah McKenzie who led the team with 11 receptions for 125 yards and a trip to the end zone. Diggs wasn’t too far behind him with seven catches for 85 yards and a touchdown. And they won that game without the services of Gabriel Davis, who has really stepped up late in the season. Plus, Buffalo has Emmanuel Sanders, Cole Beasley, and tight end Dawson Knox in their arsenal of weapons.

New England’s defense is elite but Buffalo was even better. This game features the top two defenses in the NFL. Considering Buffalo is at home, I have to give them the edge, though I do not expect them to cover the spread. I’m anticipating a late drive by Josh Allen that leads to a game-winning field goal by Tyler Bass.

Bonus: Although only 41% of bets are on the Under, 98% of the money is backing the Under. With the two best defenses going up against one another, I’ll ride the Under as well and you should too.

  • Pick: Patriots (+4)
  • Prediction: 20-17 Bills
  • Bonus: Under 43.5 points

Sunday Wild Card Picks

Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-8.5)

Although the Bucs are missing stand-out wide receiver Chris Godwin and the franchise’s release of Antonio Brown, the NFC’s No. 2 seed will smoke the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

The Bucs won their last three games of the season despite missing several key players. Aside from Godwin and Brown, Tampa was missing the services of lead running back Leonard Fournette, who should be good to go in the first round of the playoffs. Key defensive players, Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul are also expected to be activated ahead of this week’s key postseason contest against Philly.

In Week 8 of the regular season, Fournette dominated Philadelphia’s defensive line. He totaled 127 yards and two touchdowns. Fournette was also pivotal in Tampa’s Super Bowl run last year, earning the nickname “Playoff Lenny,” as he has averaged over 100 all-purpose yards in seven career playoff games. Not to mention, Barrett and Pierre-Paul combined for 1.5 sacks and three tackles for loss on Jalen Hurts in the last meeting between these two organizations.

The Bucs are at home at Raymond James Stadium and have the greatest quarterback under center of all time. Despite missing Godwin and AB, Mike Evans should be healthy and Rob Gronkowski will likely play a pivotal role in Tampa’s aerial attack. Brady owns almost every single postseason record while Jalen Hurts is making his playoff debut for the Eagles.

While I wouldn’t call this game a blowout, I anticipate the Bucs winning this game by two possessions. Scotty Miller, Cyril Grayson, and Tyler Johnson will have to step up at the wide receiver position with so many of Tampa’s pass-catchers no longer available, but the Bucs should have no problem putting up points against a mediocre defense.

Although the Bucs run defense has struggled in recent weeks, allowing five 100-yard rushing games over the last seven weeks, they were missing important pieces of the defense. With just about the entire defense healthy now, I expect Tampa to return to their elite status as one of the top rushing defenses in the league.

The Eagles’ game script will likely be very run-dependent, so this will be a matchup to watch. With JPP and Barett back in action, I’m not expecting the three-headed committee of Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard, and Boston Scott to do anything substantial on the ground, forcing Hurts to resort to the passing game. Outside of rookie DeVonta Smith, Philadelphia lacks any serious weapons in the passing game.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Philly keeps this game close through three quarters, but Brady and the Bucs will pull away in the fourth quarter. They will win by double-digits against the inferior Eagles, who snuck into the postseason with a 9-8 record.

Bonus: Although only 62% of the bets are on the over, a whopping 99% of the money placed on Over/Under bets expects this game to produce more than 49 points. I’m following the “smart money” in this situation and I suggest you do the same.

  • Pick: Buccaneers (-8.5)
  • Prediction: 31-20 Bucs
  • Bonus: Over 49 points

San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys (-3)

This is the matchup I am most looking forward to and it is the only game in which I expect the underdog to pull off a road upset. The 49ers just squeaked into the postseason after an extraordinary 17-point comeback against the Los Angeles Rams that resulted in a thrilling overtime victory. The Niners have a ton of momentum heading into the playoffs. However, Dallas got into a groove as well in Week 18.

Despite playing against Philadelphia’s backups, Dak Prescott threw five touchdown passes (four in the first half) and became the franchise’s top touchdown passer in a single season. You would think Troy Aikman or Tony Romo would hold that record, but it now belongs to Prescott. Although Dallas lost Michael Gallup for the rest of the season, Dallas played one of its most complete games in the final game of the season. Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb did their thing, but it was Cedrick Wilson who proved he can step up in Gallup’s absence. He finished with 100+ receiving yards and two touchdowns. The Cowboys’ passing game seems to be at a high point, however, the running game with Ezekiel Elliott remains somewhat stagnant.

San Francisco employs an incredibly run-heavy offense, featuring rookie running back Elijah Mitchell and speedy wideout Deebo Samuel. Dallas isn’t exactly stout defending the run, as they allow 4.5 yards per carry, the 23rd-worst in the NFL. The Cowboys have allowed 100 or more rushing yards in 11 of their previous 12 outings. Although the Niners will run the ball a lot, Jimmy G has looked great as of late, leading San Francisco to their come-from-behind victory over the Rams in Week 18. Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle will certainly see plenty of targets, as Aaron Donald and the Rams defensive line will attempt to force Garroppolo to beat them via the pass. That won't be an easy task with Jalen Ramsey in the secondary. However, Aiyuk has made tremendous strides since the beginning of the season and Kittle is the second-best tight end in the league behind Travis Kelce.

San Francisco has also been very good on defense this season, though their secondary is exploitable. That said, the Niners have not permitted 300 total yards in four straight contests and have held opponents to less than 25 points in five consecutive games.

This matchup comes down to whether or not the 49ers can prevent the Cowboys from putting up 30 points. If the Niners can get pressure on Prescott, I believe they will be the only team to pull off an upset on Super Wild Card Weekend.

  • Pick: 49ers (+3)
  • Prediction: 24-23 49ers

Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs (-12.5)

Despite missing out on the No. 1 seed in the AFC, Kansas City gets a favorable matchup at home against the mediocre Pittsburgh Steelers. In Week 16, the Chiefs absolutely blew out the Steelers, 36-10, behind three touchdown passes from Patrick Mahomes. Travis Kelce didn’t even play that game and Tyreek Hill managed just two receptions for a measly two yards. Something tells me that Kelce and Hill will play big roles in the Wild Card Round.

Although Kansas City isn’t playing flawless football, they are arguably the best team in the AFC. The offense is probably the best in the league and their defense has made improvements throughout the season.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh just squeaked into the playoffs by defeating the Baltimore Ravens in overtime in Week 18. It took overtime to beat a team missing former MVP, Lamer Jackson. Ben Roethlisberger is no longer the quarterback he once was and the Steelers’ only hope of keeping this game respectable is Najee Harris. The rookie running back is very skilled in running between the tackles and catching passes out of the backfield. He was the lone bright spot for Pittsburgh in the previous meeting between these two franchises, as Harris totaled 110 yards from scrimmage.

Despite a significant spread for a playoff game, I fully expect Mahomes and company to crush the Steelers. Kansas City rolls easily in this one.

  • Pick: Chiefs (-12.5)
  • Prediction: 34-17 Chiefs

Monday Wild Card Pick

Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams (-4)

Bettors will be treated to a divisional rematch on Monday night. Both the Cardinals and Rams started to trail off towards the end of the season. The Cardinals were in a position to get the top seed in the NFC before a brutal second half of the season. Arizona ended the year by losing to the Seattle Seahawks. However, Los Angeles is also coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Niners.

When the Cardinals and Rams have played this season, they have combined for 110 points. So expect another high-scoring affair in this one. In their last meeting in Week 14, the Rams defeated the Cardinals on the road, 30-23. Stafford was practically flawless and Kyler Murray was pretty dreadful, with two interceptions and no touchdowns.

Both of these quarterbacks are mistake-prone. Stafford was in the early MVP talks before committing a ton of head-scratching turnovers in the second half of the season, including several pick-sixes. Murray hasn’t been the same without DeAndre Hopkins on the field. And unfortunately for the Cardinals, there is a chance that James Conner won’t be able to suit up after sustaining a rib injury in the final week of the season after a two-game absence.

The Rams have not been the same team since Robert Woods suffered his season-ending injury. Odell Beckham Jr. has played decently, but he isn’t the same playmaker that Woods is and he certainly doesn’t have the same chemistry with Stafford. However, Cooper Kupp is practically unstoppable. He is going to have another huge outing. In their last meeting, Kupp hauled in 13 receptions for 123 yards and a touchdown. Expect a similar output for Kupp on Monday night.

This is a bit of a toss-up but the Rams are the more talented team on both sides of the football, just slightly. I’d be more comfortable taking them if the spread dropped to three points, but I still think the Rams will cover.

  • Pick: Rams (-4)
  • Prediction: 33-27 Rams
  • Bonus: Over 49.5 points