NFL Playoff Picks
This season, I’ll be providing my picks every week for you, our readers. Last year, I was Gridiron’s top NFL Pick’em guru on Tallysight, going 167-99-1 (63%). We’re hoping to have even more success this year! Each week, I’ll give you my picks for the game, and a short write-up centered around the key reason why I’m making the pick that I am. You can also click over to see all our Free NFL picks for the week with more than a dozen Gridiron Experts picking each game.
And we’re off!
Indianapolis @ Buffalo (-6.5)
Josh Allen and the Bills will host the Colts to kick off Super Wild Card weekend. Both of these squads tout formidable defenses, and top-10 scoring offenses. Allen’s play has placed him firmly within the MVP conversation, and Stefon Diggs’ season was nothing short of remarkable, as he led the league in both receptions and receiving yardage. As of late, the Colts’ offense has revolved around breakout rookie RB Jonathan Taylor. When Taylor has helped Indy control the clock, and tallied up the rushing yards in the process, it has been a recipe for success. He’s averaged 140 rushing yards/game over his last 4 contests, and converted 7 touchdowns over that span — talk about production. Taylor will have to be at his absolute best to give the Colts a chance. The odds for this game are very tempting at popular online casinos, however, these offenses are very different. Indy grinds you down and relies on the run game to set the pace, while Allen and the Bills are made for big plays between Diggs, John Brown, and young WR Gabriel Davis. However, when defenses take the big play away from the Bills, they still have the ever-reliable Cole Beasley to convert underneath. When the chips are on the table, I trust Allen later in the game. Philip Rivers is no stranger to throwing away close games in the 4th quarter and has notoriously struggled in cold-weather games in his career. Given that, I like Buffalo to win and cover on Saturday. Pick: Bills 30-21.
Los Angeles Rams @ Seattle (-3.5)
The Rams sputtered late in the year, losing 2 of their last 3 games. One of those games was in Seattle, where they travel for Saturday’s showdown… the other loss was to the lowly Jets. Not exactly the ideal way to enter the playoffs. Seattle, on the other hand, ended the season by winning 4 straight and 6 of their last 7 contests. Jared Goff’s health is the primary concern for Los Angeles, as he recently underwent surgery to repair a broken thumb. Goff stated he felt “good” on Thursday, but remains questionable for Saturday’s contest. Should Goff need to sit out, the Rams will turn to backup QB John Wolford to keep their playoff hopes alive. In any event, if Goff plays, I have to assume he’ll be doing so at less than 100% and that the Rams’ offense will be hampered accordingly. They’ll still have the likes of Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and a surging run game led by budding rookie RB Cam Akers. With Goff on the sideline, Akers would have to shine for LA to stay competitive. In any event, Russell Wilson will quarterback the opposing Seahawks. While Wilson’s performance in the second half of the year was significantly down compared to his stellar first half, he does have quite a bit of playoff experience and can take over a game at any moment. With home run threats in DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett on Wilson’s side, Seattle can put up points in a flash. Overall, I just think that Seattle has too many weapons for LA to compete with, especially if Goff is limited or on the sideline. Give me the Seahawks to win & cover at home. Pick: Seahawks 24-18.
Tampa Bay (-8.5) @ Washington
Tom Brady is entering the playoffs with a new team for the first time. Even more shocking, this is the first time Brady will play on the road in a wild card game. With the Washington Football Team pulling out the NFC East title, they get the luxury of hosting the legendary Brady and Tampa Bay on Saturday Night. The Bucs come into this matchup at 11-5 and have won 4 straight games since their Week 13 bye. The Football Team enters with a lowly 7-9 record; but as Bruce Arians pointed out, they are 4-1 with Alex Smith as their starter. Now, Smith’s stats aren’t elite, but he’s a crafty veteran with playoff experience who knows how to win games. Smith’s comeback story is just another reason why he’s one of the most respected competitors in the game today. With that said, Smith would surely benefit from the presence of his two best skill players– RB Antonio Gibson and WR Terry McLaurin. Aside from Gibson and McLaurin, TE Logan Thomas has provided a spark for Washington and carried the load down the stretch. Thomas, a converted QB out of Virginia Tech, has taken kindly to his new position on the Football Team and has asserted himself as one of the NFC’s best tight ends in 2020. On the other side of the ball, Brady will be hoping that Mike Evans (knee) can suit up, as he remains questionable. Without Evans, Brady will still have a plethora of options at his disposal between TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Chris Godwin, RB Ronald Jones II, and, of course, WR Antonio Brown. In the past few games, Brown has found his stride, scoring 4 times in the last 3 games of the season. His performance in the season finale against Atlanta (11/138/2) was a blast from the past and reminded America just how dangerous AB can be. Both of these teams excel defensively also, as they each rank top 8 in scoring defense, sacks, and interceptions. I do think this will be a low-scoring affair, and that Evans’ limitations will hurt the Tampa Bay offense. DE Chase Young can turn the tables by making Brady uncomfortable and forcing turnovers, and he’ll need to if he wants to give Washington a fighting chance. In the end, I’m just not convinced that the Football Team’s 25th ranked scoring offense can score enough points to keep up with this elite Tampa Bay scoring attack. I do think their defense will keep this close to the end but feel that Brady will have just enough to pull this one out on the road. Give me Tampa to win, but Washington with the points. Pick: Buccaneers 24-21.
Baltimore (-3) @ Tennessee
On Sunday, we have a rematch of last year’s AFC Divisional Playoff. As we know, the Titans took it to the Ravens in Baltimore last year, and again late this season. However, in their most recent clash, the Ravens were without stud DL Calais Campbell. With Campbell back in the fold this weekend, the Ravens will key in on stopping the league’s most dominant running back, Derrick Henry. Last week, Henry thrashed the Texans for 250 yards and 2 TDs while eclipsing the 2,000-yard mark for the season and putting the icing on his second straight rushing title. The last time these teams met, Henry ran for 133 yards and an overtime, game-winning score. Ryan Tannehill was also solid in that game, throwing for 259 yards and 2 scores against this strong Ravens defensive unit. Tannehill’s favorite targets this year have been star second-year WR AJ Brown, and breakout veteran WR Corey Davis. With Henry’s threat constantly looming, Tannehill can target Brown and Davis down the field when opposing defenses over-commit to the run. On the other side, the former MVP, Lamar Jackson will look to outscore this prolific Titans offense. In fact, his will be a showdown of the league’s top 2 rushing offenses. Jackson is the catalyst of Baltimore’s attack, having rushed for 1,005 yards and 7 scores this season. However, the Titans were able to contain Jackson’s rushing attack when they played in November, holding him to only 51 yards on 13 carries. Instead, it was JK Dobbins who did most of the damage that day. Dobbins has been a spark as of late for Baltimore, logging 805 rushing yards and 9 scores in his rookie campaign. This effort is made even more impressive by the fact that he had the 3rd most rushing attempts on the team, and was a part of a 3-way timeshare with Mark Ingram II and Gus Edwards. Dobbins is also flanked by quality pass-catchers in WR Marquise Brown, and one of the game’s best TEs in Mark Andrews. Not to mention, the Ravens tout the league’s 2nd best scoring defense. I think the key to this game is Jackson’s ability to throw on this Titans secondary. While Tennessee has improved late in the season, they’re still prone to getting gashed through the air. Jackson and the Ravens, however, rank dead last in passing yardage. Something’s got to give. One X-factor for Tennessee has been the return of Adoree’ Jackson, who missed most of the year. With Jackson back in the fold, it gives the Titans another quality option at corner to pair with Malcolm Butler and Desmond King II. If Jackson can throw at will, the Ravens will likely outscore the Titans… but I think Mike Vrabel will have his team ready to slow down Jackson to a point where they stand a fighting chance. Ultimately, I think Tennessee can control the clock with Henry’s rushing attack. They did lead the NFL in time of possession this season. Look for King Henry to touch the ball 30+ times and for the Titans to pull this one out as home underdogs. Pick: Titans 26-24.
Chicago @ New Orleans (-10)
Chicago snuck into the playoffs by winning 3 of their last 4 games. Before that, though, things were a bit rocky in Chicago, as the Bears lost 6 in a row. In any event, once they made the switch back to QB Mitchell Trubisky, they started scoring points and became much more dangerous overall. David Montgomery has also been a huge asset on this offense, as he eclipsed 1,000 yards for the first time in his career, adding 8 TD along the way. On the outside, Trubisky has one of the game’s best WRs in Allen Robinson II (102/1,250/6) and breakout rookie speedster Darnell Mooney (61/631/4). Mooney has been a nice addition to this offense, as Anthony Miller hasn’t quite asserted himself as a WR2 in this offense. TE Jimmy Graham has also proven to be a reliable red-zone target, while rookie TE Cole Kmet has flashed some potential late in the season. On the other side, New Orleans touts a top-5 scoring offense (30.1 ppg) and a top-5 defense to boot. New Orleans also ranks 1st in the NFL in interceptions (18) and 8th in sacks (44.) Most of this defensive surge has come late in the season, so the Saints seem to be peaking at the right time. Drew Brees will take this team into the playoffs and the focal point of his offense is undoubtedly RB Alvin Kamara. The explosive dual-threat RB should play this week after missing the season finale on the COVID list. Kamara was the team’s leading rusher and receiver this year and can dominate any time he steps on the field. Brees should also benefit from the return of Michael Thomas in this game, giving him yet another deadly target. I feel that New Orleans should control this game, but that the Chicago pass rush has the potential to make Brees uncomfortable. I have no doubt the veteran will pull this one out for the Saints, but I’m less confident that he’ll cover the huge 10-point spread. Pick: Saints 28-21.
Cleveland @ Pittsburgh (-6)
The Browns were dealt a huge blow when COVID hit their coaching staff. Accordingly, they’ll be without head coach Kevin Stefanski and other key staffers for Sunday Night’s showdown. To make things worse, it seems the NFL won’t allow Stefanski to call plays remotely. This is probably the worst possible moment for Cleveland to lose their leader, but Baker Mayfield and the Browns will toe the line anyway. These teams met last weekend with Cleveland pulling out a 24-22 victory, albeit over a Steelers team quarterbacked by Mason Rudolph. On Sunday, Ben Roethlisberger will be across the line, and will surely be a more imposing threat for Cleveland to contend with. Roethlisberger has had a nice bounce-back campaign and runs a beautifully balanced offense flush with dangerous skill players. His quartet of receiving options, WRs JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, and Chase Claypool, along with TE Eric Ebron, is one of the league’s most well-rounded units. Then, on the ground, they have James Conner, who has the capacity to produce when given the chance. Conner should be well-rested, as he’s only handled 24 carries since November. Cleveland will be led by QB Baker Mayfield, who has made good on his promise to return the Browns to the postseason. Mayfield has one of the league’s best running back duos with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Mayfield’s success has been aided by the threat of his backfield, and if Chubb and Hunt get the ball rolling on Sunday, it might be hard for Pittsburgh to figure out what’s coming next. With that said, Pittsburgh holds a major advantage on the defensive side of the ball. The Steelers lead the league in sacks (56), interceptions (18), and rank 3rd in scoring defense. To win a road playoff game in Pittsburgh is a tall task by itself, but doing so without your head coach and play-caller is a whole different disadvantage. I do think that the Browns have some magic up their sleeve and wouldn’t be shocked if they pulled this one out. However, I do think the loss of Stefanski will loom large, and that the Steelers will squeak this one out at home. Give me the Steelers to win by a field goal, and thereby, the Browns +6. Pick: Steelers 29-26.
Enjoy the games! Until next week…