The San Juan Daily Star
NFL playoff predictions: Our picks in the divisional round
By Emmanuel Morgan
And then there were eight.
The NFL’s playoff field has whittled predictably: Last week’s slate of wild-card games saw only one upset. That may change this weekend. The spreads are close, with only one remaining team — the pesky San Francisco 49ers — that didn’t win its division, a sign of greater parity between those left.
This weekend’s divisional-round games will be the playoff introductions for the Tennessee Titans and Green Bay Packers, the two top seeds, which had byes in the first round. The time off may prove pivotal as major contributors — hi, Derrick Henry — look to return from injuries.
Below is a look at the NFL postseason’s divisional round, with all picks made against the spread.
Last week’s record: 6-0
All times are Eastern.
No. 4 Cincinnati Bengals at No. 1 Tennessee Titans
4:30 p.m., CBS
Line: Titans -3 | Total: 47
Because the Titans secured a first-round bye, Henry had another week to rest and rehabilitate the surgically repaired foot that has kept him sidelined since October. With him back on the field, Tennessee can return to its methodical, grinding strategy.
Cincinnati, conversely, is dealing with an assortment of injuries along the defensive line. Larry Ogunjobi (foot), who ranks third on the team in sacks (7) and is an effective run-stopper, is out, and Trey Hendrickson, who leads the team in sacks (14), is in the concussion protocol. The Bengals finished the regular season ranked fifth in fewest rushing yards allowed per game (102.5) but those losses may hinder any effort to slow Henry and Tennessee’s other backs.
If the Titans limit explosive plays, like the ones Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow and receiver Ja’Marr Chase have produced for much of the season, they should win. Pick: Titans -3
No. 6 San Francisco 49ers at No. 1 Green Bay Packers
8:15 p.m., Fox
Line: Packers -5.5 | Total: 47.5
Upset alert? Again?
Aaron Rodgers is 0-3 against the 49ers in the playoffs, and it took a last-second field goal for Green Bay to beat them in Week 3.
This time around, the 49ers are unsure if defenders Nick Bosa (concussion) and Fred Warner (ankle) will be available, and the team expects quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to again play through a shoulder sprain and a torn thumb ligament in his throwing hand.
But San Francisco can still thwart Green Bay’s Super Bowl plans by attacking the Packers’ weakness against the run. In narrow victories over the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns, Green Bay allowed more than 140 rushing yards, which should excite 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, whose offensive strategy leans on misdirection runs, motion, and exploiting contact-averse defensive backs by targeting Deebo Samuel. The forecasts may necessitate that type of game plan, as the temperature at Lambeau Field should hover around 4 degrees.
It’s unclear if the Packers will have pass rusher Za’Darius Smith (back), cornerback Jaire Alexander (shoulder) and offensive tackle David Bakhtiari (knee) available, providing even more reason that San Francisco could win outright, or at least cover. Pick: San Francisco +5.5
No. 3 Los Angeles Rams at No. 2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
3:30 p.m., NBC
Line: Buccaneers -3 | Total: 48.5
Which quarterback do you trust more in the playoffs — someone with seven Super Bowl championships or a 13-year veteran who just last week won his first postseason game?
On paper, the Rams have the better, and healthier, team. Odell Beckham Jr. has caught six touchdown passes in nine games with Los Angeles, Cooper Kupp leads the league in every receiving category that matters and Von Miller has become a nightmarish sidekick for Aaron Donald. But the Buccaneers have Tom Brady, whose vast playoff experience far outclasses Matthew Stafford’s.
Tampa Bay took two big hits to its offensive line last week with injuries to Tristan Wirfs (ankle) and Ryan Jensen (back), who are both questionable to play. If they’re absent, that may hinder an offense that is relying on second-string receivers in the absence of Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown and that cannot count on running back Leonard Fournette (hamstring) to be ready.
The Buccaneers do have defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, though, and his exotic blitz packages may fluster Stafford, who threw 17 interceptions in the regular season, tied for the league lead. Even at 33, Stafford is still a relative postseason newcomer while Brady has proved he can elevate those around him. If Tampa Bay’s defense plays well, he should do it again. Pick: Buccaneers -3
No. 3 Buffalo Bills at No. 2 Kansas City Chiefs
6:30 p.m., CBS
Line: Kansas City -2.5 | Total: 55
No one should want to play the Bills, especially after they pitched a perfect offensive game against the Patriots in the wild-card round. After a short slump in the middle of the regular season, Buffalo appears to have caught fire — its offense has become more balanced and the defense, which finished the regular season with the fewest yards allowed and points scored, has created at least one turnover in four of its past five games.
Kansas City, as expected, easily dispatched the Steelers in the wild-card round, but only after failing to score in the first quarter. A lethargic start against the Bills could be too much to overcome. Pick: Bills +2.5