NFL Divisional Picks – Beat the Swami!

Last week, a long-time friend called to talk about the first round of the NFL playoff games.  Though he is still depressed about his Dallas Cowboys getting obliterated by Green Bay, he still predicted four of the six games correctly.

I didn’t fare as well and lost three of those six games!  I goofed by picking the “experienced” quarterback Joe Flacco and Cleveland (over Houston), Philadelphia (to beat Tampa Bay), and, like most everyone, Dallas to easily handle Green Bay.

That is just a 50% winning percentage – without the point spread involved!

Another long-time friend joked about which of us is a bigger jinx with our predictions.  He is a math major, so you might believe that this particular friend would be statistically savvy with his football picks.

Wrong again!  We tend to make our picks based on gut feelings and emotions.  If either one of us should ever decide to visit a casino, I’m pretty sure “the house” would be very happy to see us walking in.

We only make our football picks for fun.  It’s really hard to squeeze any money out of either of us.  We’re really that cheap! 

I thought it might be fun to put my neck on the line with my predictions for the four “semifinal” NFL games for this weekend.  Besides, the cold weather is still lingering around the South again this weekend.  I am looking forward to watching all or portions of the weekend’s games from the great indoors – my living room.

The NFL certainly knows a captive audience when they see one.

Even though the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Philadelphia Eagles were all eliminated in Round 1, millions of their fans will be tuning-in to watch the proceedings as they continue to ponder, “What if…?

Let’s examine each of the four NFL Divisional playoff games on this weekend’s schedule.  All game times are Central (of course!):

Game #1 – Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens – Saturday 3:30PM on ABC and ESPN

Vegas Favorite – Ravens by 10 points

Weather – Sunny and 29 degrees

The Houston Texans are on a roll.  The NFL’s likely Coach of the Year will be Houston’s DeMeco Ryans.  The NFL’s likely Rookie of the Year award is securely in the hands of Texans’ quarterback C.J. Stroud (sorry about that, Carolina).  The Texans posted a 10-7 record in the regular season.  That’s a terrific seven game improvement from last year’s 3-13-1 team.

The #1 seed in this year’s AFC playoffs are the Baltimore Ravens.  That’s what a 13-4 regular season will get for you.  Baltimore plays its games in an outdoor stadium, so the cold weather will factor into this game.  In fact, it is snowing in Charm City today (Friday) so a few snowballs may be flying Saturday afternoon.

The Ravens will have their own MVP running the show in quarterback Lamar Jackson.  He was able to stay healthy this season and has continued to cut down on costly turnovers.  The real question for Saturday’s game will be whether “Playoff Jackson” (just 1-3 for his career) will stumble again.

The 27-year old Lamar Jackson wants to prove that he can win in the post-season and lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl.  We’re going to find out soon.

Prediction – Baltimore 28, Houston 21

The Ravens’ home field and defense will force the Texans to make mistakes.  The wild-card is whether Lamar Jackson will stay calm under pressure.  Houston will bring the heat and try to make Baltimore’s quarterback turn the ball over in key moments.  I think the Ravens will prevail.

Game #2 – Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers – Saturday at 7PM on Fox

Vegas Favorite – 49ers by 10 points

Weather – Breezy with rain and 55 degrees

The first thing which I noticed was the expected weather forecast and conditions.  The city by the bay will have a dreary day of rain on Saturday with more than ½ inch of precipitation expected.  A wet football could mean mistakes and turnovers will play a big role in the expected sloppy field conditions.

The Green Bay Packers (like Houston) were not predicted to even make the NFL playoffs this season.  Both teams have advanced into Round 2, though.  After going to Dallas and “packing” the Cowboys for vacation last weekend, it’s hard to see Green Bay (9-8 in the regular season) playing at that level in consecutive weeks.

Green Bay’s running game has improved after getting Aaron Jones back from injury.  He torched the Dallas defense for nearly 120 yards last weekend.  I expect that quarterback Jordan Love will have to run more this weekend than he did in Dallas for the Packers to stay close in this game.

On the San Francisco side of the ball, the machine-like 49ers offense can run, run, run with Christian McCaffery bulling his way for chunks of yardage.  Quarterback Brock Purdy does a “Purdy good” Tom Brady imitation at mixing short and long-yardage passes.  The 49ers defense has been reliable in nearly every game as the team finished 12-5 in the regular season.

Prediction – San Francisco 34, Green Bay 14

Yes, I expect a Frisco “Blow-out by the Bay” on Saturday night.  Green Bay is likely to have an emotional letdown after last week’s easy win in Dallas.  The rain and chilly temps will have Green Bay doing the “packing” this week.  Frisco should roll-on.

Game #3 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Detroit Lions – Sunday 2PM on NBC

Vegas Favorite – Lions by 7 points

Weather – Indoors at Ford Field in Detroit

The Tampa Bay Bucs play in the worst division in the NFL.  They won the NFC South division with a paltry 9-8 record.  The Bucs were able to end the weekly suffering for the woebegone Philadelphia Eagles franchise Monday night in Round 1 of the playoffs.

The 32-9 final score on Monday was more reflective of the Eagles’ late season implosion than a dominant offensive performance by Tampa Bay.   The Bucs’ offense has shown some spark in recent weeks behind the resurrected career of quarterback Baker Mayfield.  At other times, Tampa Bay looks like a team which was lucky to finish 9-8 this year.  To win on Sunday in Detroit, Tampa Bay must convert every scoring opportunity into touchdowns.  Field goals in Detroit are unlikely to win this game.

The NFC Central Division champion Detroit Lions (it sounds funny to say that, eh?) had a thrilling 12-5 regular season.  They will be at home with 65,000 fanatical fans eager to motivate the Lions into the NFC Championship game for the first time in 33 years (1991).  The Lions, you might remember, are one of just four teams which have never even played in a Super Bowl game.  The Lions have become America’s darlings this season.

The Lions’ offense can be a bit quirky from week-to-week.  Some games will be dominated by an efficient passing attack, while the running game has carried the burden in other weeks.  The Detroit defense must be in the “attack” mode on Sunday with the home crowd roaring approval.

Prediction – Detroit 31, Tampa Bay 17

Yes, it’s another blow-out win for a home team this weekend!  Tampa Bay must win the turnover battle by a sizable margin on Sunday to capture this game.  As a New Orleans Saints fan, I don’t believe that Tampa Bay is a good enough team to win two playoff games in a row.  Prove me wrong, Bucs!

Game 4 – Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills – Sunday at 5:30PM on CBS

Vegas Favorite – Bills by 3 points

Weather – Cloudy, cold and temperature in the mid-20’s

Taylor Swift’s favorite team (the Chiefs) will escape from Peacock’s streaming service TV and return to play on CBS Sunday evening.  The defending AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs have never been to lovely Buffalo in January for a playoff game during the career of quarterback Patrick Mahomes.  Kansas City’s offense rolls depending on how hot or cold Mahomes is playing.  The Chiefs’ defense is capable of putting a lot of pressure on turnover-prone Bills quarterback Josh Allen, too.

Though Buffalo would like to advance into the AFC Championship game, this team must first take down the champs.  That won’t be an easy task on Sunday.  If Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen remains patient throughout the game and doesn’t force the action, the Bills have a solid chance to advance.  The home field advantage is a big plus for Buffalo on Sunday night.

Prediction – Kansas City 24, Buffalo 21

This is the only road team which I am picking to win this weekend.  However, I do not believe that the Chiefs are championship material this season.  I am a bit concerned that Buffalo and its confident fans may be looking past Kansas City and toward next week’s AFC Championship game.  I predict that this game will be decided on a chip-shot field goal (make or miss) in the final seconds.

There you have it!  In summary, I am picking the home teams (except Buffalo) to advance into the Conference championship games next weekend.

Of course, I am a notorious jinx, too.  Never trust a guy who goes 3-3 in the first round of the NFL playoffs.  Stay warm and enjoy the games!