NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round

Richard Graves

Richard Graves

Presenter, Writer and Broadcaster

NFL Week 11: Overcoming The Odds - 3 Games to Watch

Houston Texans @ Baltimore Ravens (Total Points over 44.5)

The Divisional round of the playoffs kicks off with the AFC’s number 1 seeded team, Baltimore Ravens hosting the Houston Texans. A Texans team brimming with confidence, riding the arm of a rookie quarterback, who seemingly has no fear.

CJ Stroud torched the number 1 ranked defense of the Cleveland Browns last weekend as they put 45 points on Cleveland. It was a near flawless display – 3 passing TDs, 274 yards, 0 interceptions. The question is, can he do it again in Baltimore, against the league’s top scoring defense, which gives up only 16 points per game?

Well, the Ravens will certainly have taken notice as they put their feet up and watched last weekend’s drama unfold. They’ll have also seen how Kareem Hunt enjoyed early success with 2 TDs in Houston. The Ravens have the running game in the NFL this year – despite losing 2 running backs to season ending injuries. Of course, it helps when your quarterback is Lamar Jackson.

Two different styles of offense, which likely makes for an entertaining game. Being on the road in itself, holds no fear for Stroud and the Texans. We’ve already seen them go into Cincinnati (when Joe Burrow was healthy) and Indianapolis on the final week of the regular season and win! Of course, back in week 1 CJ Stroud’s first professional game was here, in Baltimore, so he has that experience to call upon and learn from as well. The Ravens were 25-9 winners.

Baltimore themselves, have been outstanding this year! Only losing 2 of their last 12 games – and one of those was the regular season finale when they rested their starters. They average 28.4 points per game and their offense and defense both ranked number 6 overall this year. It would be a surprise if the Texans were to pull off the upset here but in 2019, the upstart Titans did exactly that – at this stage, at this venue when the Ravens were once again the number 1 seeded team. Both Lamar Jackson and the Ravens will be aware of that and keen for history not to repeat itself.

This will be a competitive game – different to the season opener. Expect both teams to put points on the board and leave it all on the field.

PICK: Total Points – over 44.5

 

Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers (49ers over 30.5 points)

Did anyone see the Green Bay Packers going into Dallas and just having their way with the Cowboys last weekend?! I certainly didn’t but it was as impressive a performance as you could wish to see.

Jordan Love – playing in his first post season game – looked like a veteran. He relished the stage and wowed anyone watching. Now he leads Green Bay into San Francisco. The home of the 49ers and the number 1 seeded team in the NFC. As impressive as the Cowboys record was this season, San Francisco’s is better. A top 10 ranked team in all major offensive categories. A top 10 ranked team in all major defensive categories – aside from the passing game where they rank 14th.

Yet, there have been cracks – most notably against the Bengals and Ravens, who both had their way with this 49ers team. In San Francisco!

That is certainly reason for optimism if you’re a Packers fan. Less so, is Green Bay’s recent playoff record against the 49ers. Since 2013, the San Francisco 49ers are 4-0 in the post season when playing Green Bay. As successful as Packers head coach Matt LeFleur has been since arriving at Lambeau, the 49ers have been a thorn in his side. In the 5 games under his tenure, he’s won twice – both in the regular season, never in the playoffs.

And while everyone’s still purring about Green Bay’s performance in the Wild Card round, the fact remains, they come into this game with a defense which ranks 17th overall and perhaps crucially are one of the worst in the entire league when it comes to stopping the run – 28th! Who runs the ball as well as anyone? The San Francisco 49ers. Who is the best running back in the league? Without question, Christian McCaffrey.

Last weekend, it was the passing game which Green Bay knew they had to focus on to stop Dallas and they completely baffled Dak Prescott. This is different. Even if Jordan Love is able to points on the board, the 49ers and Brock Purdy won’t change their game plan – they don’t need to! Whether it’s through Deebo, Ayuik or Kittle in the air or McCaffrey and Deebo on the ground, this team moves the ball and puts points on the board. Right now, the 49ers, under head coach Kyle Shanahan have Green Bay’s number and they have the tools to expose the Packers defense.

PICK: San Francisco 49ers – over 30.5 points

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Detroit Lions (Lions -5.5)

The Detroit Lions hosted a playoff game for the first time in 32 years last week – and just like London buses, here comes another!

It was the best game of Super Wild Card weekend in the playoffs and the Lions found a way to win it. Not only that, but in the second half it was their defense which came up big when Matthew Stafford and the Rams tried putting together a game winning drive. Now they face a Buccaneers team with a chip equally as big as that which the Lions have on their shoulder and there might not be a quarterback, you’d want more to lead you in this situation than Baker Mayfield.

A week on from taking down last season’s NFC Champion, Philadelphia Eagles, the Bucs head into Detroit as even bigger underdogs but you just know this is a situation Mayfield relishes. The gameplan for Tampa remains the same as it’s been all year. Don’t turn the ball over, lean on the defense and make the most of opportunities when they present themselves. It was enough to squeeze them into the playoffs and it was certainly enough to end the Eagles season last weekend!

They’ve got a deep threat in Mike Evans but even though Rachaad White has given the run game a spark, the Buccaneers have the worst run game in the NFL this year – the Lions run defense is the second best in the league!

So, this game does come down to the Buccaneers defense – top 10 in points allowed (19.1ppg) but this is playoff football. The stakes are higher. It’s win or go home, and scoreboard pressure is a real thing! The Lions have the number 5 ranked scoring offense (27.1ppg). If they make a fast start, as they did against the Rams, it’s difficult to see how the Buccaneers keep up. That would also force Tampa out of their offensive game plan and put Baker Mayfield in a position where he has to take chances. It’s not a scenario that has benefitted the Bucs this year. 6 of their 8 defeats this season have been by 6 points or more.

The Lions will put points on the board and as long as they play a clean game, they win it comfortably.

PICK: Detroit Lions -5.5

 

Kansas City Chiefs @ Buffalo Bills (Chiefs +2.5)

Saving the best for last – the game of the weekend! A Kansas City Chiefs team filled with renewed hope on the back of their demolition of Miami against a Buffalo Bills team who’ve caught fire since the start of December.

It marks the first time in Patrick Mahomes’ NFL career that he’ll play a post season game on the road, and it comes against a team who’ve already beaten the Chiefs this season – in Arrowhead! Yet, it was a game Kansas City really should have won, but for an absent minded moment from Kadarius Toney, leading to an offside penalty which wiped off the game winning play. It meant the Chiefs lost 20-17.

However, that was the result which kickstarted Buffalo’s season. The next week they demolished the Cowboys. They took down Miami to gain the number 2 seed and they were far too good for Pittsburgh last weekend. QB Josh Allen’s play has been much smarter as well through this stretch BUT there were glimpses of his gun slinger approach when the pressure was on in Miami – and that is the position the Chiefs must put him in this weekend if they are to pull off the upset win.

Manny observer – this write included – now like Buffalo to win it all. Yet, in this game, only a fool wouldn’t hesitate when making that declaration. This is the Chiefs after all. This is Patrick Mahomes. The owner of two Super Bowl winners rings and runner up in a third. Twice named Super Bowl MVP and when it matters most, in the post season, he’s had Buffalo’s number. In 2 of the last 3 years, these two have met and they’ve been great games but it’s Mahomes and the Chiefs who’ve won on both occasions. Both of those games were at Arrowhead though, this is in Buffalo. Homefield advantage for the Bills and their fans – but they had that last season and lost to the Bengals.

They are the form team right now. There’s so much to not like about the Chiefs offense this season – mental errors, dropped catches, missed opportunities in big moments. BUT it’s still Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes. Kansas City’s defense is the standard unit for KC this year, not their offense. 6 weeks ago they held Josh Allen and the Bills to only 20 points. If that’s the case this weekend, it’s anybody’s game! And with the weather forecast set cold but dry, it should be a barnstormer of a game!

PICK: Kansas City Chiefs +2.5

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