The NFL playoffs are here for 2021. That means 13 more picks and predictions to make against the spread through Super Bowl 55.
Through the 256 games of the 2020 regular season, the results here were pretty good, but there’s always room to keep getting better and deliver when the stakes are raised the most in the postseason.
This year, the playoffs kick off with a “super” wild-card weekend, which means six games — three on Saturday, three on Sunday — instead of only four. That gives us more chances to get games right. Unfortunately, that also creates more chances to get things wrong.
Without further ado, here’s cracking into the breakdown of the half-dozen games coming up on the schedule:
NFL playoff picks, predictions against the spread
Sunday, 8:15 p.m. ET, NBC
The Browns got their needed win over the Steelers in Cleveland in Week 17 to make the playoffs and force this rematch, but it took everything from them defensively and offensively to survive against a resting team not starting QB Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers will show their normal, stouter run defense and that will set them up to put consistent pressure on Baker Mayfield.
Mayfield doesn’t respond well when throwing at a high volume with guys in his face. Roethlisberger, meanwhile, will go to work on a Browns’ secondary that has plenty of coverage holes away from Denzel Ward. Losing Olivier Vernon up front to flank Myles Garrett also hurts. The Steelers ended up making a wise decision to not show the Browns much in way of a real game plan. Back for another tilt in Pittsburgh, the Steelers’ defense reasserts itself with more offensive help than usual.
Pick: Steelers win 27-17 and cover the spread.
Lock of the Week: Saints (-10, 45 o/u) over Bears
Sunday, 4:40 p.m. ET, CBS
The Saints are the biggest favorites of wild-card weekend with this double-digit number against the Bears. They have owned this matchup rather easily the past two seasons, with both games being played in Chicago. The Saints will have a rested backfield with Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray not playing in Week 17, and they will pound away often at the Bears with them.
The Saints won’t sleep against another NFC North wild-card visitor like they did against the Vikings a year ago. The Saints can contain the running of David Montgomery and put the game in the hands of Mitchell Trubisky, which won’t end well against the Saints’ pressure on the road.
Pick: Saints win 34-17 and cover the spread.
Saturday 4:40 p.m. ET, Fox
The Rams expect to have Jared Goff and Cooper Kupp back for the rubber match after the Week 16 loss at Seattle cost them the NFC West title and forced them to have this matchup on the road. But the Seahawks don’t have the same home-field advantage, and also their defense has played better of late, the Rams are the ones with the dominant, big-play unit led by Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey.
The Seahawks’ running game will be contained and Russell Wilson won’t see much open downfield for D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. The Rams will mix up personnel, running the ball well and spreading it around in the intermediate passing game to Kupp, Woods and the tight ends.
Pick: Rams win 20-17.
Colts at Bills (-6.5, -51.5 o/u)
Saturday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
The Bills have a pesky opponent in their first home playoff game since 1996. The Colts can cause them some offensive problems with Jonathan Taylor against a shaky run defense. The Colts can also cause them some defensive problems with their sound zone fundamentals, forcing Josh Allen to be patient and sustain long drives instead of getting his typical big pass plays with his big arm.
The concern here is Allen is playing well and is capable of spreading the ball around well, working the middle of the field to Cole Beasley (who is “week to week” with an injury) and also getting some help from Dawson Knox at tight end. The Colts also don’t have a true shutdown corner for Stefon Diggs. Then it’s also easier to trust Allen over Philip Rivers to make the clutch throws to win a game this season.
Pick: Bills win 31-27 but fail to cover the spread.
Buccaneers (-8, 46.5 o/u) at Washington Football Team
Saturday 8:15 p.m. ET, NBC
The Buccaneers’ offense hopes to have Mike Evans healthy to help red-hot Tom Brady along with Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski and the running game. As well as Brady is playing, this isn’t the greatest spot for his pass protection against Chase Young and Washington’s ferocious front four. The Bucs’ defense will contain the run, but Alex Smith has three dangerous receiving weapons in Terry McLaurin, Logan Thomas and J.D. McKissic with whom to have success moving the ball on short-to-intermediate throws. Ultimately, Tampa Bay wins comfortably as expected, but Washington works the number and keeps it to a touchdown loss with inspired play for Ron Rivera.
Pick: Buccaneers win 24-17 but fail to cover the spread.
Ravens (-3.5, 54 o/u) at Titans
Sunday, 1:05 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC
Take your pick: The Ravens will be focused on exacting road revenge here, either for the brutal 28-12 divisional playoff upset from a year ago or the heartbreaking 30-24 overtime loss from Week 11, both in Baltimore. The Ravens weren’t in the same offensive grove then with Lamar Jackson, J.K. Dobbins and Marquise Brown as they are now seven weeks later. They also have a decided defensive advantage because of a capable pass rush and deep secondary. The run defense also has shored up of late, which is good for slowing down Derrick Henry.
Jackson is still looking for his first playoff win after two home losses. He’s relaxed and revved up as a passer, and he keeps running at a high level, sparked by Dobbins sharing the backfield with him. Look for the Ravens to get aggressive passing with him to build a lead, and limit Henry from being a consistent gateway to Ryan Tannehill’s play-action downfield passing. The Ravens and Titans are playing similar offensive games at the moment, but the Titans’ defensive woes catch up to them here.
Pick: Ravens win 34-31 but fail to cover the spread.
Stats of the Week
Week 17 straight up: 12-4
Week 17 against the spread: 7-9
Season straight up: 164-92
Season against the spread: 132-117
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