My Wild Card picks went 3-3, bringing my 2020 season mark to 175-86.
Here are my Divisional playoff picks. Each section details which team is predicted to win and provides a quick summary of why that selection was made. The picks also contain a confidence value for each selection, based on a 1-10 scale with “10” being the most confident and “1” being the least confident.
Now on to the picks!
Saturday, January 16
Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay
KC’s pick: Green Bay
Confidence level: 7
Brandon Staley is being called the Sean McVay of defense in part because the Rams defense is now on a six-game streak of allowing fewer than 200 net passing yards and fewer than 300 total offensive yards. That trait pairs quite well with a Los Angeles ground attack that has racked up 100+ rushing yards in all but two contests this season. Maybe more notably the Rams had zero giveaways last week, which is the first time this season Los Angeles posted a goose egg in that column.
The Packers offense is a scoring machine, as the Green and Gold have scored 30+ points in all but four contests this season, but don’t overlook the fact that Green Bay has held four of its last five foes to 16 or fewer points. The Packers have also been opportunistic on defense by tallying two or more takeaways in four of their last seven games.
Part of the Green Bay story this year also has to include the stretch where the Packers lost three out of six against foes that could power rush the football the way the Rams can. It’s also worth pointing out that the Packers have the lowest strength of schedule among the remaining playoff teams, meaning that their matchup slate was arguably the easiest among the Divisional clubs.
Having noted all of this, the Rams have significant injuries to Aaron Donald, Jared Goff and Cooper Kupp and have scored 20 or fewer points in eight of their 17 games this year. That lack of offensive firepower and the Packers strong suits combine to make this a highly favorable pick for Green Bay.
Baltimore at Buffalo
KC’s pick: Buffalo
Confidence level: 3
The Ravens are turning the idea that you have to have an explosive passing game to move the ball on its head. Baltimore has averaged 34.3 points per game over the past six contests in large part due to racking up 230+ rushing yards in five of those contests and posting 159 rushing yards in the sixth game. Being able to lean so heavily on the ground game is a main factor in the Ravens having only three games with 2+ giveaways this season.
The Ravens rush defense has also played lights out, as they held Derrick Henry and the Titans powerhouse rushing attack to only 51 yards on the ground. That is the fourth time in the past seven contests that Baltimore has held a foe to under 70 rushing yards.
Buffalo has a hit-miss rush defense, as the Bills held four of the last seven opponents to under 90 rushing yards, but also gave up 163 to the Colts last week, 140 to Denver in Week 15, and 145 to New England in Week 16.
The Bills had a scoring slump in the middle of the year after Tennessee showed the league how to slow this offense down, but Buffalo has since made adjustments to their approach and those alterations have led to the Bills scoring 26+ points in nine straight games.
All of these elements lean towards this being a high scoring game. Buffalo is 5-1 in track meets this year (games where each team scores 24+ points), while the Ravens are 2-2 in that type of contest. Add those track records to the game being in Buffalo and the Bills are the pick here.
Sunday, January 17
Cleveland at Kansas City
KC’s pick: Kansas City
Confidence level: 7
The Browns are something of a Jekyll and Hyde team, as they have scored 32+ points in eight games but have also tallied 16 or fewer points in five contests this season, but they have shown consistency in some of the most important statistical areas this season.
Cleveland is great at protecting the ball, having posted one or zero giveaways in ten of the past 11 games. The Browns have been tough to run against, allowing 85 or fewer rushing yards in four of the past six, and they boast a superb rushing attack, with 100+ ground yards in all but one contest since Week 7.
One element that slipped under the radar for Kansas City during their 2019 Super Bowl run is that they went to a much more run-heavy approach in the last ten games of that season.
Keep that in mind when noting that the last four regular season games of this season prior to the meaningless Week 17 contest versus the Chargers may indicate that the Chiefs are switching back to a similar mode for a 2020 Super Bowl run. Kansas City tallied 524 rushing yards in those matchups and posted fewer than 280 passing yards in two of those games. This may be part of an effort to help the Chiefs rush defense, as that platoon allowed 100+ rushing yards in seven of the first nine games of the year but has since given up 100+ ground yards in only two of the last seven.
That last factor could keep this a low scoring game and make a major upset more likely than it would be under other circumstances, but no team in the league can match up with the Chiefs playmaking trio of Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill. Add that to the injury issues Cleveland has on their offensive line and defensive secondary and this being a home game for Kansas City and this selection easily lands in the Chiefs column.
Tampa Bay at New Orleans
KC’s pick: New Orleans
Confidence level: 1
We have become so inured to Tom Brady’s excellence that his leading the Buccaneers to 365 passing yards, 507 total offensive yards, and 31 points against a very stout Washington defense seemed to fly under the radar this past weekend. This trend is not an outlier for Tampa Bay, as the Bucs have scored 31+ points and posted 410+ offensive yards in four straight games, while posting only two giveaways in that span.
Tampa Bay’s defense has also returned to close to its early season elite form, as this platoon has allowed fewer than 100 rushing yards in three of the past four games and has racked up five takeaways in the past three contests.
The Saints are no longer a pass-centric offense, as they have thrown for 300+ yards only one time since Week 5 and have rushed for fewer than 100 yards in only two games in that same span. That does tend to make low scoring games like last week’s 21-9 win over Chicago more possible than usual and it also at least partially explains why the Saints are only 4-3 this season in track meets.
The biggest factor in this contest may be turnovers, as the Saints tallied three takeaways in each of their victories over the Buccaneers earlier this season and had a total of only two giveaways. The problem for New Orleans is the Week 13 bye may have solved the giveaway issue for Tampa Bay, as the Bucs offense has only turned the ball over twice in the past five games.
Combine all of these elements and this contest is the true definition of a pick’em matchup, so the Saints get this one due to home field advantage.