Sports

N.F.L. Playoff Predictions: Our Picks in the Divisional Round

Few thought the Los Angeles Rams or the Cleveland Browns would get this far, and the Buffalo Bills had way more success than may very well be anticipated. The Baltimore Ravens stormed again into rivalry, a pair of 40-something quarterbacks will face off in New Orleans and everyone seems to be (or must be) frightened of the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs. The wheat has been separated from the chaff, and the divisional spherical will slim issues additional.

Here is a have a look at this weekend’s N.F.L. playoff matchups. Unlike in the common season, the picks are usually not made towards the level unfold.

Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay Packers, 4:35 p.m., Fox

Line: Packers -6.5 | Total: 45.5

Much might be made about the relationship between Coach Sean McVay of the Rams and Coach Matt LaFleur of the Packers. LaFleur served as McVay’s offensive coordinator in 2017, and so they have been offensive assistants collectively on Washington’s employees from 2010 to 2013. They are key figures in an offensive revolution, however in case you are hoping for a high-scoring affair, you would possibly need to attempt one other sport.

Green Bay led the N.F.L. in scoring due to a turn-the-clock-way-back season from Aaron Rodgers that has him in rivalry for the Most Valuable Player Award. His success got here with assist from the operating of Aaron Jones (1,459 yards from scrimmage), the vertical risk of Marquez Valdes-Scantling (20.9 yards per reception) and the all-around brilliance of Davante Adams (115 catches, 1,374 yards and 18 touchdowns).

But if there’s a workforce designed to gradual the Packers, it’s the Rams.

Few defenses can match the relentless move rush of Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd, and whereas Rodgers doesn’t fluster simply, the few occasions he has proven weak spot in latest years have come when he’s underneath constant strain. Complicating issues is the absence of the star left sort out David Bakhtiari, whose season ended with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in Week 16.

Jones may very well be neutralized by a Rams entrance seven that ranked third in the N.F.L. in run protection — sure, Donald leads the approach there too. Green Bay counting on the residence run risk of Valdes-Scantling is dangerous due to his propensity for dropped passes.

That leaves the most intriguing matchup as the one between the shutdown cornerback Jalen Ramsey and Adams, who could make a case as the N.F.L.’s finest, and most underappreciated, present receiver.

“You know me, I’d like to go against anybody and have good-on-good as much as possible,” Adams mentioned this week when requested about Ramsey.

On impartial floor, and with equal well being, this might add as much as a Rams upset. But Green Bay fought arduous to realize the home-field benefit all through the playoffs, and that onerous work may very well be the workforce’s saving grace. It is anticipated to be round 30 levels at kickoff in Green Bay, Wis., and Rams quarterback Jared Goff is just a few weeks faraway from surgical procedure on the thumb of his throwing hand. He appeared to wrestle along with his grip final week, and the chilly, mixed with a good-enough Packers protection, ought to give Green Bay all the edge it wants. Pick: Packers

Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills, 8:15 p.m., NBC

Line: Bills -2.5 | Total: 50

The Ravens haven’t misplaced a sport since Dec. 2. The Bills haven’t misplaced one since Nov. 15. Both have weatherproof offenses and defenses able to game-changing performs. And each overcame some psychological weight in the wild-card spherical — Buffalo obtained its first postseason victory since the 1995 season; Lamar Jackson of the Ravens received a playoff sport for the first time.

There are myriad causes to drag for each groups — and a persistent perception that both workforce advancing is simply signing as much as lose to Kansas City in the subsequent spherical — however it’s arduous to consider that Buffalo, even at residence, can gradual Baltimore’s juggernaut operating sport.

When the Ravens hit the “reset button” after a midseason lull, the workforce targeted practically all of its assault on the operating of quarterback Lamar Jackson and operating backs J.Okay. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. That led to Baltimore’s speeding for 230 or extra yards in 4 of its ultimate 5 video games of the common season, together with a ridiculous 404 — the fifth-most speeding yards in N.F.L. historical past — in a Week 17 win over Cincinnati. That saved up in the wild-card spherical, with the Ravens operating for 236 yards.

Buffalo ranked 17th in run protection this season, however that rating would have been worse had groups not been compelled to move to maintain up with the Bills’ electrical offense. That exhibits up in the incontrovertible fact that Buffalo ranked amongst the N.F.L.’s six worst run defenses in yards per carry (4.6) and speeding touchdowns allowed (21).

The Bills’ protection has a number of gamers able to critical disruption, however a lot of that comes in the secondary. On a cold day in Orchard Park, N.Y., the Ravens might give attention to operating the ball, and it’s arduous to see the Bills having the ability to cease them. Buffalo’s offense can’t be counted out, even towards a strong Ravens protection, however Baltimore ought to management the clock and the sport. Pick: Ravens

Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs, 3:05 p.m., CBS

Line: Chiefs -10 | Total: 56.5

For all intents and functions, Cleveland superior to the divisional spherical after barely greater than 13 minutes of its wild-card sport towards Pittsburgh. A playoff sport has not often gone sideways so shortly, with the Browns’ protection forcing three fast turnovers and their offense dealing with its finish of the deal by operating up a 28-Zero lead with 1 minute 56 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Browns’ 48-37 win shouldn’t be written off as a fluke — Cleveland has its finest workforce since Coach Bill Belichick was roaming the sideline in the mid-1990s — however benefiting from Ben Roethlisberger’s errors is rather a lot completely different from forcing Patrick Mahomes into some, so anticipating a repeat of that lightning-fast begin could be silly.

Kansas City would possibly get operating again Clyde Edwards-Helaire again from a scary-looking hip harm in Week 15. Even in the event that they don’t, a mix of Le’Veon Bell and Damien Williams offers sufficient stability that Mahomes ought to have the ability to shred Cleveland’s secondary with deep passes to huge receiver Tyreek Hill and throws beneath to tight finish Travis Kelce.

Cleveland’s offense has sometimes proven some burst — final week’s effort was the franchise’s highest-scoring postseason sport since the 1954 N.F.L. championship — and the Browns can chew up the clock due to the very good mixture of operating backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. But even Baker Mayfield’s most ardent believers ought to wrestle to take him in a head-to-head matchup with Mahomes. The Browns aren’t pushovers, however they in all probability can’t do a lot to face in Kansas City’s approach. Pick: Chiefs

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints, 6:40 p.m., Fox

Line: Saints -3 | Total: 52

The oldest beginning quarterback left in the A.F.C. playoffs is Baker Mayfield, who doesn’t flip 26 till April. Three of the 4 starters in that convention have been first-round picks in the 2018 draft. By the time any of the 4 had began a sport in the N.F.L., Tom Brady had already received 5 Super Bowls and Drew Brees was closing in on Dan Marino’s report for profession passing yards.

The younger gamers have largely reimagined the quarterback place, utilizing their mobility to empower their passing whereas contributing to a leaguewide scoring explosion. Yet Brady and Brees, museum-quality examples of a forgotten age of pocket passers, keep it up, main critical Super Bowl contenders in the second week of the playoffs.

In reality, this sport shouldn’t be outlined simply by its well-known quarterbacks. Brees’s Saints had loads of offense this season — operating again Alvin Kamara led the N.F.L. with 21 complete touchdowns — however relied simply as a lot on the protection, which Dennis Allen, the workforce’s defensive coordinator, constructed right into a powerhouse.

Tampa Bay has a proficient younger protection as effectively — the assist on that facet of the ball undoubtedly performed a task in Brady’s choice to signal there — and in latest weeks, the Buccaneers have began to really click on on offense. The workforce’s wealth of receiving choices — huge receivers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown; tight finish Rob Gronkowski — powered Brady to his finest statistical season since not less than 2017 and one in all the better of his profession.

The regular-season conferences between these groups have been laughable. The Saints received each, with a mixed rating of 72-26. And they’re taking part in at residence, which performs a task for them even when the impression is lessened by the tiny crowds that the workforce is allowed to host. The Buccaneers are a ok workforce that they need to be revered — in some ways, this looks like a tossup — however the Saints are rightly slim favorites in what may very well be the best sport of the weekend. Pick: Saints.

All occasions are Eastern.

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