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NFL Divisional Round Picks

January 16th, 2021

LA Rams (+6.5) at Green Bay
I’m not sure this game is the cakewalk for Green Bay that it’s widely perceived to be. Don’t get me wrong: I’ll be surprised if the Rams actually pull off an upset — though definitely not shocked. And if the Rams were healthy at QB, I’d probably think they had a real chance. As it stands, the Los Angeles offense needs to be both productive and consistent on the round for the Rams to have a chance. If the Rams fall behind by more than 10 points at any time, I think the game’s over. In the Rams favor is that they have the ability on defense to disrupt and make the Packers’ O one-dimensional. And that’s how you beat Green Bay. Because Aaron Rodgers, in the great tradition of gunslinger QBs, will make fatal mistakes if you can get him into a mindset where he believes he has to carry the team. So if the Rams can generate enough offense to keep it close, and take the run away from the Packers, they can win. But it’s hard to see everything going right for the Rams in a road game against a talented and well rested opponent. Packers by six.

Baltimore (+3) at Buffalo
I think the Ravens might be the best equipped team in the AFC to beat the Bills. I know. I know. The Chiefs are a team of destiny and all that. Fine. And we can talk about whether the Bills match up well against the Chiefs next week if that’s the AFC Championship we get. Because the Bills have to get by the Ravens first. And the outcome will depend on how well Buffalo handles the pressure of this game. The Bills are going to need to be disciplined enough to stick with the run no matter what happens here. Because if they start trying to sling the ball all over the field, the Ravens pass D will destroy them. And in order to stick with the run on offense the Bills are going to have to limit the run on D. Force Lamar Jackson to use his arm rather than (or perhaps it’s just as much as) his legs and Buffalo should be able to handle Baltimore. I think we’re going to get a hell of a game. And in the end, I expect the Buffalo D to make the big play that determines the outcome. Bills by a point.

Cleveland (+9.5) at Kansas City
This is the one game this weekend that I expect to disappoint everyone except Kansas City fans (assuming everyone else is rooting either for the Browns or for a good game). It’s really hard to envision a path to victory for Cleveland. Defensively, the Chiefs and Browns are pretty much identical. And Kansas City just has more and better options on O. I think it’s really that simple, and I expect this game to be over not long into the third quarter. Chiefs by 14.

Tampa Bay (+3) at New Orleans
The thing where it’s supposed to be hard to beat a team three times in a season is nonsense. Not because it isn’t true. There aren’t many opportunities for a three-game sweep given the structure of the NFL season and postseason. But when those opportunities arise, the sweep is completed more than half of the time. That doesn’t make the sweep an easy thing. Good teams are hard to beat. Every time. Harder when they’re in your division and know you well. And the only thing that ever really matters, regardless of what happened during the regular season, is what happens in that third game. What’s happening in this third game? The Bucs have improved over the course of the season as their offense has come together. The Saints at best, are they team they’ve been since week one. And they’re probably not quite even that. This game is going to come down to the wire. And the outcome is going to turn on whether Tampa’s mediocre coaching or outstanding quarterback play ends up making the difference. My money in that situation is on the guy with the ball in his hands. Buccaneers by three.

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