We are down to just three weeks more football on the NFL season with the Championship games next weekend before the Super Bowl in Vegas on February 11th (remember to book those Mondays off if you're planning on watching it!).
It's safe to say there were a few upsets last week, although with hindsight they maybe weren't quite as shocking as they seemed at the time, the Texans smashed the Browns who typically weren't very good defensively on the road and were running out a QB who was on his sofa until last in the season. The Chiefs won in the freezer, but the biggest upset of the weekend was the Packers dismantling the 2 seed Cowboys who's defense put in one of the worst performances you'll ever see for them to retain their record of not making the Championship game in 30 years. The Lions won their first playoff game in forever, meaning that the Dolphins (of all teams) now have the longest playoff-win drought in the league. The Bills took care of business easily and the Bucs beat a poor, poor Eagles side.
This week though the 1 seeds come into the equation and both are installed as 9.5 point favourites against their opponents. The games kicks off at 2130 on Saturday night in the UK and finish with a nice 2300 game on Sunday evening meaning we might not have to be up until 4am on Monday!
Texans +9.5 @ Ravens: 43.5
C.J. Stroud is having an historic rookie year and the way he went about taking down the Browns last week was great to see for the neutrals. They protect him well and they have players running wide open down the field on seemingly every play and he's got the cool and calm-ness to find his receivers more oft than not. Importantly they came out of last week without any more injuries, Laremy Tunsil is fine to play despite a worrying knock to his knee last week so the left side of the line will keep it's elite protector.
The run-game has stepped up towards the end of the season with Devin Singletary running well and the passing game hasn't missed a beat regardless of who is out there. Nico Collins will be the main target as always, he's showing he's got all that's needed to be a WR1 in the league, but behind him is a bit muddled. Dalton Schultz is probably going to be second in targets with Robert Woods probably next up as Noah Brown has been placed on IR so will miss the rest of the season. They may get speedster John Metchie a little more but it's a shallow offense and I think that will be their downfall.
The Ravens main players have now had 3 weeks without a game as they rested most of them in the finalé against the Steelers so they'll definitely be coming in rested but will they be rusty? The last time they did this Lamar Jackson had a stinker. That was a few years ago though and this is the best Ravens team they've had since their Super Bowl win 10 years ago. It's far more rounded than it has been over the past few years.
Lamar is the odds-on bet for the MVP despite not having the numbers of others, he offers so much more than a standard QB with his rushing ability, 821 yards and 5 TDs on the ground for him this year and it doesn't even seem like he's been trying in that area of the game. The worry for him is his 1-3 record in the play-offs, it's all good winning in the regular season but can he do it when it counts?
He has weapons for the first time now and Mark Andrews could return at TE after an ankle injury (he's likely a game-time decision) to add to Zay Flowers, Odell Beckham and Rashod Bateman who have been a good trio in the passing game. If Andrews doesn't go then Isiah Likely will get the full workload and he's been great in relief of their star TE towards the end of the year.
It's boring and I don't like taking big spreads, but I think the Ravens dominate this game, they've probably got the best defense in the league and with the Texans being such a shallow talent-pool on offense they should be able to restrict them. Lamar is playing his best football since his last MVP and they're a well-coached team. I like the Ravens to cover the spread, and it might be worth an outside punt on Dalvin Cook who will be in as the 3rd choice RB – He's best priced 17/2 at LiveScoreBet – He may not even get a touch, but he's a talented back and has fresh legs after the Jets didn't bother with him this year.
Packers +9.5 @ 49ers: 50.5
The other 1 seeds close out the Saturday slate and are also 9.5 point favourites against the NFC's version of the Texans as Jordan Love's Packers roll into town.
The Packers second half of the season has been arguably the most impressive in the league as WR's got healthy and they merged it all together into a top 2 offense to finish off the year. Jordan Love had to wait a long time to get his chance as starter and it was rough to being with but he's showing he's an exciting signal-caller and should run this young, exciting offense for years to come. He gets good protection up front and his ability to buy time and find an open man is reminiscent of Rodgers at his best in GB. He negated the Cowboys pass-rush last week with a lot of deep dropbacks where he trusted his arm to make plays to open WR's and I'd imagine there will be a similar plan tonight.
The WR group has stepped up at the end of the season with Jayden Reed and recently Romeo Doubs having huge games allowing them to ease Christian Watson back into action after his injury. They use Dontayvion Wicks and Bo Melton well as deeper options as well, all in all it's a fun corps in that area. They've drafted well at TE as well with Luke Musgrave returning recently and Tucker Kraft both having good performances recently.
The run game was dominant last week with Aaron Jones looking back to full health and scoring a hat-trick against a dismal Cowboys defense, it was his 4th game in a row with 100+ rushing yards showing his value to the team. They may have AJ Dillon back here after a stinger, but he will be a game-time decision, his role won't be huge even if he does return but he's a good RB2.
They have always been susceptible to the run on defense but the passing D has been very good especially with Jaire Alexander in there.
The 49ers destroyed most teams in the regular season especially their opponents in the NFC and will look to keep that going here. I'll admit I have reservations over Brock Purdy being able to do it when things get tough, but I don't think that will be an issue here or next week whoever they have to play (if they get through) – He's a good player who runs the scheme well and finds the open man frequently but I don't think he's got the ability to do it against the best teams. He should be fine in this one.
Christian McCaffrey is the best RB in the league and he should have a field day in this one as the odds of 4/11 to score a TD show, I wouldn't even put that in an acca at the price. He'll get 15+ on the ground and probably around 5 receptions as well and with the run-blocking on the left-hand side of that line he should run riot as he has done many times this year. Elijah Mitchell scored a couple in the final game of the season and Jordan Mason has provided good depth there as well.
The mid-season slip-ups for the 49ers came without Deebo Samuel, since he's returned they've been lights out on offense. Deebo has 10 TDs in 9 games both through the air and rushing on end-arounds. He's electric and opens up so much for the offense. Brandon Aiyuk had a great season as well as he adds a deeper threat for the team and George Kittle topped 1,000 yards this season as well. Jauan Jennings adds a little when required as a depth piece.
Much like the Ravens I think the 49ers will win this one quite easily although I'm a little more apprehensive on the spread here, the Packers have more depth in their passing game so shouldn't be slowed down as easily. I do like the Packers +3 in the first quarter – they took the ball first last week to get off to a good start and with the 49ers probably deferring I think they'll get it first here. There are alternates here, I like the 8/5 on “Team to score first wins game – NO” – available on the team props on Bet365, getting better odds on the Packers getting the ball first, essentially. Over 50.5 looks good as well. Longshot? Jordan Love – 11/1 (PaddyPower/Betfair) – They tried to get him in at the start of the game last weekend.
Buccaneers +6 @ Lions: 50
The Buccs easily beat the Eagles on Monday night last week while the Lions held on to take care of the Rams at home on Sunday night.
It was a comfortable win in the end for The Buccaneers as they took advantage of offensive injuries to the Eagles to stroll to a win AND they even managed to stop the “tush-push” on the goal-line, one of the first times this year that has failed. The thing for me here though is whether Baker Mayfield has had a sudden return to form or whether it was just match-up based? We know he's confident and frankly, he'll be facing a poor defense here so he may be able to continue his good form at the end of the season.
They've got a talented WR group with Chris Godwin stepping up in the final few weeks of the year after a rough year, he and Mike Evans will lead the team in targets, Evans usually the go-to for TDs as he led the league in that aspect in the regular season and would have had one last week if he didn't drop one that was easy for his talent. TE Cade Otton actually led them in targets and yards last weekend taking on the Eagles LBs. Trey Palmer came on well as his rookie season came to an end to give them another option in the passing game and my boy David Moore scored again last week although it was a play that should never have ended in a TD as he strolled through some terrible tackling
Rachaad White has been reliable on the ground and with dump-off passes to him as they've moved the ball well enough on the ground.
The Lions had Sam LaPorta available last week and he scored a TD despite being hampered with a knee injury that I thought would keep him out of the game, he and Amon-Ra St. Brown were enough overcome their opponents in the passing game. St. Brown finished with 7 for 110 yards as he hit 100+ for the 4th time in 5 games at the end of the season. Josh Reynolds had a lot of the ball early on in the slot and could be important for them in this one and Jameson Williams will add a deep threat.
The run game though is where the Lions want to dominate and they tend to do that with David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs looking like the best duo in the league, a little Thunder and Lightning as Gibbs is showing why they drafted him so high this year, he's a great player to watch with the ball in his hands, both scored a rushing TD last weekend but this week will be tougher as the Bucc defense tends to tighten up in the redzone.
Jared Goff has a clean game last weekend, 22 from 27 attempts as they looked to control the game and this passing defense isn't too fearsome so things should be good for him again here.
I actually like the Bucs to keep this fairly close and I think they'll cover the spread which has been coming down through the week. I prefer the UNDERs in terms of a bet on the main line though, the Bucs redzone offense is bottom 5 in the league, their redzone defense is top 3 so that could keep scoring low. I do, however like Jahmyr Gibbs at 5/6 (QB) and if you want a player prop, Baker Mayfield o258.5 passing yards.
Chiefs +2.5 @ Bills: 45.5
The weekend closes with one of the frequent post-season matchup as this time the Bills host the KC Chiefs in a big game. The Chiefs had an easy game in sub-zero temperatures last weekend while the Bills strolled to a win in a rearranged game against the Steelers.
This should be a fun affair although I do think it could be lower scoring than it would have been in recent years.
Patrick Mahomes is still the best QB in the league despite his numbers this year, the pass-catching for the Cheifs has let them down significantly and even did so last week as the mighty Travis Kelce even popped up with a number of drops early on. Mahomes tends to get his wheels on in the playoffs and his rushing increases so I do like the look of o29.5 rushing yards for him. I don't want to go near his passing yards though as his team-mates have been utterly unreliable all season, although the Bills defense is banged up so they may be able to move the ball easier in this one.
The WR group does have one reliable star in the form of rookie Rashee Rice who had 130 and a TD last week, he and Kelce combined for 201 of Mahomes' 262 passing yards. They'll get the majority of the targets again as the only decent pieces in that area. Kadarius Toney returns, will he get any targets in such an important game? He'll probably go and score now…
Isiah Pacheco runs like a cartoon character but it works well for him, and his 62.5 rushing line looks a nice one to take the overs on, he is fun to watch and gets some work in the passing game as well as they look to get the ball in his hands.
The Chiefs defense is the main reason they reached the post-season and they know their opponent pretty well so will be prepared.
The Bills and Josh Allen got the job done easily against a Steelers team which had no right being in the post-season in the first place as they dominated early on before letting off the gas. Allen himself rushed in a 50+ yard TD as his mobility and strength came to the fore. They have tried to limit his turnovers by leaning on the run game in the latter parts of the year and I think that may be the case here as well. When you've got a QB who can convert 3rd and longs with his legs you don't need to force throws too much.
James Cook has been the beneficiary of the change of OC as his production stepped up in the last month or so of the season, he is the main man on the ground and capable in the short passing game as well, but they have got a few options at RB. Leonard Fournette is available on a weekly basis, Latavius Murray tends to be in on 3rd downs and Ty Johnson gets more work than I'd expect as well.
The passing game falling off a bit hasn't helped Stefon Diggs who still topped 1,000 yards despite seeming to have a down year, he had his worst game of the season with just 24 yards against the Chiefs in the regular season and he'll be the one they try to stop here. If Diggs is shut down then Khalil Shakir will be used more but the TE's Knox and Kincaid may well be the key to the game, both scored last weekend and I'd imagine they'll be the targets in the redzone in this one as well.
The defense has been beaten up all season long and they suffered more injuries last week which could hurt them in this one.
There are a number of factors pointing to the Chiefs, the extra rest and the injury disparity the main ones, but I think this is finally the Bills time to get one over their rivals and make the Championship game. It would be somewhat poetic for the Chiefs to win in Overtime though after the rules were changed to help the Bills… TD scorer? I'm fine with 9/2 for Dawson Knox at Bet365 – He was 6/1 last week but it's still a good price. Josh Allen should score, of course, but I won't take odds-on for him. My player prop here is a rare “under” u62.5 receiving yards for Stefon Diggs.
That's a very long preview for the games this weekend. Ravens v Bills and 49ers v Buccs look like my predictions for next weekend, although I'd prefer the Lions to get through from a fun standpoint!