Really dodged a bullet a last week.
If not for the Texans’ miraculous comeback against Buffalo, I would laid a goose egg in the Wild Card round. I fell to 148-1112 overall on the year after last week, but I feel irrationally confident this week!
Perhaps Vegas is expecting the top seeds to dominate this weekend, as some of these lines are large from the get-go. As always, I’m going to take a deep dive into every game and make the best educated guess I can.
So without any further ado, let’s try not to get embarrassed!
#6 MINNESOTA VIKINGS vs. #1 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS [-7.0]
All of the games this week are fantastic, but this one has me gravitating towards the end result.
The Minnesota Vikings thoroughly outplayed the New Orleans Saints last week, a team that many (including yours truly) expected to either make a run or win the NFC Championship. Mike Zimmer wasn’t having any of that talk however, and his elite defense was able to neutralize the potent New Orleans offense led by Drew Brees.
San Francisco has been the second best team in the league this year behind Baltimore, and they’re doing it with a very similar formula that the Vikings have: outstanding running game and a ferocious defensive line that can pressure any quarterback with ease. So why hasn’t Minnesota experienced the same praise and success as the Niners?
It starts with Kyle Shanahan. Many people believe John Harbaugh of Baltimore should win Coach of the Year, and it wouldn’t be a problem whatsoever if he did, but what Kyle Shanahan is doing with this offense surpasses anything Sean McVay has done. Yeah, I said it.
Shanahan doesn’t have a #1 overall pick at quarterback in Goff (although he didn’t play to that stature this past season). He doesn’t have an elite running back like Todd Gurley, and he certainly doesn’t possess the wide receiver trio of the same caliber as Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and Brandin Cooks. What he does have is an elite blocking unit, headlined by George Kittle, and a much more diverse scheme where he finds the right plays for his offense to succeed. The innovation that Shanahan has shown this year on offense is mesmerizing, and the capital reason for the team’s success.
This Minnesota team won’t be an easy challenge, however. Mike McGlinchey is a great young right tackle, but after seeing what Danielle Hunter did to Ryan Ramcyzk all game last Sunday, McGlinchey may be in for a long day. I haven’t even brought up the Minny offense, with Kirk Cousins playing the best ball of his life and Dalvin Cook running as spry as ever.
This game is going to be great, and I believe it’ll come down to the wire. At the end of the day, I trust the offense of San Fran slightly more, and since their defenses are about equal, I’m picking the Niners outright but the Vikings to cover.
THE PICK: Vikings (+7.0)
FINAL SCORE: 49ers def. Vikings 28-24
#6 TENNESSEE TITANS vs. #1 BALTIMORE RAVENS [-10.0]
Another #6 vs. #1 matchup in the AFC, but this game is much more harder to select gambling wise.
I’m not going to be all hot-takey and say the Titans are going to march into Baltimore and beat the Ravens, because I don’t believe they will. However, what I will say is that Tennessee is a sneaky team that I believe is well-equipped to somewhat neutralizing this all-time great rushing offense.
First off, the Titans have their own elite run game led by Derrick Henry, who was so dominant in the Pats game that one drive he accounted for all 75 yards of offense in the scoring drive. That is unheard of for a player, and Henry doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.
Second, for all of the love that Ryan Tannehill has received this year along with Derrick Henry and rookie phenom A.J. Brown, this defense remains insanely underrated. I see a lot of similarities to the Minnesota defense here despite the difference in scheme in both cities. Both of these teams have elite players at every level of their defense. Tennessee has perennial Pro-Bowler Jurrell Casey and rookie stud Jeffery Simmons on their line. Harold Landry is a star in the making rushing off the edge. Rashaan Evans and Jayon Brown are good starting linebackers, and a secondary with Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Adoree’ Jackson and Kevin Byard is phenomenal. They have the dudes to slow down Lamar Jackson.
That’s easier said than done however, and this is the second consecutive week Tennessee faces a great defense. The Ravens will need to make sure if in the event they lose this game, it’s because of Ryan Tannehill playing like Joe Montana. That’s not to say Henry won’t have his success, but their primary focus will be stopping him.
Baltimore also has a solid speed advantage overall over Tennessee, and I can easily see Lamar Jackson breaking off some monster runs in this game. The ten-point line is scary and it’s the type of game where I need to pick the final score before the gambling spread. I foresee a Baltimore victory, but it won’t be a huge blowout.
THE PICK: Ravens (-10.0)
FINAL SCORE: Ravens def. Titans 34-17
#4 HOUSTON TEXANS vs. #2 KANSAS CITY CHIEFS [-10.0]
This is the only game on this week’s slate In which the two opponents have squared off before, and the Chiefs will be looking for redemption.
It was all the way back in Week 6 when Houston visited Arrowhead Stadium and earned arguably their biggest win of the season, defeating the Chiefs 31-24. In that matchup, Kansas City jumped out to a 17-3 lead in the first, but an offensive onslaught led by Deshaun Watson scored twenty unanswered in the second to give the Texans a 23-17 lead. The Chiefs retook the lead in the third but allowed one more Watson rushing score that ultimately decided the game. So what has changed since then?
Well, the massive improvement of the Chiefs defense first comes to mind. Major credit to defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who coached this unit to skyrocket all the way up to #11th in the league. Kansas City has seen their pass-rush spear-headed by All-Pro Chris Jones and edge rusher Frank Clark play at the highest level it possibly could.
For Houston, they’ve kind of been the same team all season long, which doesn’t bode well for their chances in this matchup. This defense does have J.J. Watt back, but an old secondary against this passing offense should be terrifying.
Overall, the magic that Deshaun Watson displays at least once a week should at least keep this game close, but I simply don’t see Houston covering this spread no matter the size. Kansas City hasn’t given up more than 17 points since Week 10, and while Houston may surpass that, expect Patrick Mahomes and company to get into the 30s.
THE PICK: Texans (-10.0)
FINAL SCORE: Chiefs def. Texans 38-24
#5 SEATTLE SEAHAWKS vs. #2 GREEN BAY PACKERS [-5.0]
It is crazy how we have come to a point where the Seahawks led by RUssell Wilson and the Green Bay Packers led by Aaron Rodgers square off in the playoffs, and NOBODY want’s to see them in the Super Bowl.
Perhaps it was the luck that these teams possessed this season. I’ve brought up before how the Seahawks went 11-5 but only had a +7 point differential. While I do believe they are in for some regression to the mean next season, that record is a testament to the clutch play of Russell Wilson and the coaching of Pete Carroll.
Green Bay has been somehow criticized for being the “worst 13-3 team ever”. Their offense was middle of the pack this year while the defense was barely top-10, which equates to around a 10-6 team. A majority of their success can be attributed to finally having such a good defense led by the pass-rush of Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith and cornerback Jaire Alexander leading the secondary.
At this point in their careers, I do trust Russell Wilson more than Aaron Rodgers, especially given the dearth of pass-catching options for the Packers outside of Davante Adams. The area on offense where Green Bay does have a decisive advantage is the run-game, and that will be their key to victory. Aaron Jones has had a special year, and he will need to have another big game if the Packers want to advance. The Seahawks have been cursed at the position this season, and have been trotting out rookie Travis Homer and washed-up Marshawn Lynch and the results haven’t been good.
This game is going to be tight, but I’m picking the Packers to win ever so slightly. Running the ball and controlling time of possession will be key, and I do believe their secondary will be able to neutralize the potential impact of Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf.
THE PICK: Seahawks (+5.0)
FINAL SCORE: Packers def. Seahawks 24-20
#3 CLEMSON TIGERS (14-0) vs. #1 LSU TIGERS (14-0) [-6.0]
What a championship game. This may be the best CFB Playoff championship game in the short history of the format.
We get the consensus #1 QB in the 2020 NFL Draft vs. the consensus #1 QB in the 2021 draft. Joe Burrow vs. Trevor Lawrence is going to be pure quarterback magic. The only problem is LSU’s offense has been so potent, the only way I see them losing is if Clemson matches them in every possession. Their defense led by future top-10 pick Isaiah Simmons will have it’s hands full, and for as good as Trevor Lawrence is, he hasn’t been AS GOOD as Mr. Burrow.
This may come off as me picking LSU to win. Well, sometimes guys, you have to stand by your original picks. I think Dabo Swinney is the best coach in college football right now, and I picked Clemson to win it all before the playoff started. If they lose, just make it competitive, please.
THE PICK: Clemson (+6.0)
FINAL SCORE: Clemson def. LSU 41-38