We are through the first week of the NFL playoffs, which means it’s time for the Divisional round. The weekend begins with the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots hosting the Chiefs and goes through the late game on Sunday, with the Steelers visiting the Broncos. I correctly picked three of the four winners last week, but went just 1-3 against the spread.Here are my picks against the spread for this weekend’s games.
No. 5 seed Kansas City Chiefs (11-5, Wild Card) at No. 2 seed New England Patriots (-5.0) (12-4, AFC East champions)
The Chiefs are coming off a strong performance in the Wild Card round, when they shut out the Texans 30-0. But they face a much tougher challenge this week with the Patriots. QB Tom Brady is unlikely to throw 4 interceptions like Brian Hoyer did last week in Houston. New England’s offense struggled toward the end of the regular season, with injuries taking their toll on the team. With some time to recuperate, including last week’s first-round bye, the Patriots appear to be getting healthier, with WR Julian Edelman expected to suit up Sunday against the Chiefs and see his first game action since injuring his foot in Week 10. TE Rob Gronkowski is going to be a game-time decision, although the Patriots are thinking he will play. The news may not be as good for Chiefs WR Jeremy Maclin, who suffered a high ankle sprain last week, which has kept him from practicing so far this week and it’s not looking good for him to play this week. I think this game is a bit of a mismatch, especially if Maclin — the Chief’s biggest offensive threat — is limited or out. The Patriots should win the game, likely by at least a touchdown to cover the five-point spread.
No. 5 seed Green Bay Packers (10-6, Wild Card) at No. 2 seed Arizona Cardinals (-7.0) (13-3, NFC West champions)
Saturday’s doubleheader concludes with a rematch of a Week 16 game that saw the Cardinals beat the Packers 38-8. The Packers looked good in their win against the Redskins last week, but that was against a mediocre Washington defense. Arizona’s defense is significantly better and will pose more of a challenge for Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, who hasn’t thrown more than 2 touchdowns in a game since Week 9. It’s looking like Rodgers will be without WR Davante Adams this week after he injured his knee in his last week’s victory. On the other side of the field, the Cardinals developed a running game late in the season, as rookie RB David Johnson stated to take off, including a 29-carry, 187-yard effort in Week 15. While it’s hard to pick against Rodgers — especially since the Packers were my preseason pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl — but he’s not the same Aaron Rodgers that he has been in the past. The Cardinals could be the best team in the conference, and they should beat the Packers and cover the seven-point spread.
No. 6 seed Seattle Seahawks (10-6, Wild Card) at No. 1 seed Carolina Panthers (-1.0) (15-1, NFC South champions)
The NFC’s top seed, the Panthers, host the Seahawks in Sunday’s first game. Panthers QB Cam Newton is the front-runner to win the league’s MVP award after throwing 35 touchdown passes during the season. He’ll look to carry that momentum into the playoffs as the Panthers take on a Seahawks team that struggled to beat the Vikings in the Wild Card round. The team’s played each other in Week 6, with the Panthers winning 27-23. I think there will be a similar result here. Newton has had success this season throwing the ball to TE Greg Olsen, which I expect to continue in this one. The Seahawks defense allowed the fewest points in the league during the regular season, but I think Newton will have some success against them. And the Panthers defense is pretty good, as well, ranking sixth during the regular season. The Panthers are just one-point favorites, which I think they’ll cover en route to advancing to the NFC Championship.
No. 6 seed Pitsburgh Steelers (10-6, Wild Card) at No. 1 seed Denver Broncos (-7.0) (12-4, AFC West champions)
The Steelers survived a physical game with the Bengals to get the win last week, but it could have been a costly win with QB Ben Roethlisberger and WR Antonio Brown both suffering injuries in the game. Roethlisberger was able to return to the field before the end of the game after suffering the shoulder surgery. He has been limited in practice this week, but there’s a chance he’ll be able to play on Sunday. The situation isn’t looking so good for Brown, who suffered a concussion last weekend against Cincinnati. He is still in the concussion protocol and has not been practicing. It’s looking likely that he’ll miss this week’s game. It’s also not looking good for RB DeAngelo Williams, who has missed a couple games with a foot injury, to return to action this week. Those injuries could be the difference in the game against a strong Broncos defense. The Broncos’ offense has had its ups and downs this season, but having the bye week last week could help veteran QB Peyton Manning, who has been dealing with injuries all season. With both offenses banged up, I think I have to give the advantage to the Broncos. They have the better defense, and I think that’ll be a key to their success in this game, particularly if Roethlisberger can’t go or can’t make it through the whole game. I expect the Broncos to win, and they’ll probably cover the seven points.
All four road teams won last week, but I’m predicting the home teams to win every game this weekend, which would set things up for the top two seeds in each conference playing each other for the chance to play in Super Bowl 50.