NFL Divisional Round Picks: ATS Predictions For All Four Matchups

Sunday should be especially fun

by and

January 19

The good news is that we have reached the NFL’s divisional round, the league’s best on-paper selection of games the entire season. The bad news, though, is that we have just seven games left this season for which we can make picks and bets.

It’s hard to argue the credentials of the remaining teams: All six of the NFL’s top-ranked teams by DVOA remain in the field of eight. The other two, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New York Giants, sure earned their way into the party with impressive victories last week in the wild-card round.

Of course, all of that makes handicapping this week’s games even more difficult, but NESN.com’s Mike Cole and Ricky Doyle believe they’re up to the task. The duo laid out their best divisional bets on this week’s episode of “The Spread,” NESN’s football picks podcast, which you can listen to below before diving into their against-the-spread selections for each game.

Before getting into their full picks, here’s how the guys fared last week.,

And here are their full divisional round picks based on consensus betting lines from the NESNBets live odds page.

SATURDAY, JAN. 21

Jacksonville Jaguars at (-9) Kansas City Chiefs, 4:30 p.m. ET
Mike: Jaguars. I’m not sure how much value there is with the Jags at less than double digits, but I’m going to grab the points, anyway, for two reasons. The first is that Jacksonville obviously has the sort of offense that can put up points in a hurry. The Jags scored 31 points in the final 30:24 last weekend against the Chargers, and they had the NFL’s seventh-best second-half scoring rate in the regular season. Even if the Chiefs open an early lead, the Jaguars have the offense to sneak in the backdoor. There’s also something to like about the defense. Though unspectacular, you have to give the Jacksonville defense credit for bowing its neck last week despite the offense putting it in a tough spot early. Two of the Chargers’ touchdowns came on drives of 18 and 16 yards, respectively. And on a potential game-ending muffed punt late in the second quarter, the Jaguars dug in and kept LA to a field goal before, of course, nearly pitching a shutout in the second half. Assuming Trevor Lawrence doesn’t throw four interceptions in the first half again, Jacksonville is a well-coached team that should put forth a competent effort to keep them in the game against a Chiefs team that is just 6-6 against the spread as favorites of nine points or more dating back to the start of last season.
Ricky: Chiefs. You know who else sneakily has had a solid defense? Kansas City. Since their Week 8 bye, the Chiefs’ defense ranks ninth in EPA/play, sandwiched between the Philadelphia Eagles and Cincinnati Bengals, two other teams still playing this weekend. It ranks third in success rate, with KC’s pass defense (ninth in DVOA in that stretch) being especially good. That obviously coincides with an elite offense and a head coach in Andy Reid who’s been dominant in his career with an extra week to prepare. Credit to the Jags, who clearly are building toward something in Jacksonville and could be a problem in the AFC for the foreseeable future, but these teams are in different weight classes right now.

New York Giants at (-7.5) Philadelphia Eagles, 8:15 p.m.
Mike: Eagles. Two of Daniel Jones’ four highest-graded games by Pro Football Focus came against the Vikings. The other two came against Chicago and Indianapolis. The Bears and Colts are just bad teams. The Vikings defense, as evidenced by New York getting everything it wanted last week, is really quite bad. This week represents a major step up in competition against a borderline elite Philadelphia defense, and it’s unlikely Jones looks like the same player. The Eagles punked the Giants back in Week 14, going into the Meadowlands and cruising to a 48-22 win that saw Jones produce a negative EPA per play. The question marks about Jalen Hurts’ health do give cause for concern, and the under would probably be a preferred play. But even if the Giants’ defense — ranked 29th by DVOA — plays above its head, it’s hard to see the offense scoring enough to keep pace regardless. The Giants’ best chance is just a ton of Saquon Barkley, but the Eagles showed marked improvement in stopping the run from the first half of the season into the second.
Ricky: Giants. Fully expected to lean Eagles here, as there are mismatches across the board that could make this a long day for the Giants. Philadelphia should own the trenches, on both sides, and there’s no question which team has the better playmakers, with Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert being a potential X factor against a Giants defense that just got kicked around by T.J. Hockenson. But here’s the thing: When was the last time the Eagles played a meaningful (and healthy) game? It’s been over a month. And while that’s a testament to their early season success, it’s not always easy to just flip the switch, especially when there are lingering injury concerns surrounding your quarterback and All-Pro right tackle. That could lead to a sluggish start and ultimately a slimmer margin than Philly would like.

SUNDAY, JAN. 22

Cincinnati Bengals at (-5.5) Buffalo Bills, 3 p.m.
Mike: Bills. Getting this at 5.5 after it ballooned from 3.5 is less than ideal, but the Buffalo juice might send it to a touchdown before too long. So, for now, the Bills still feel like the right play — assuming Josh Allen plays a more responsible game. He singlehandedly kept Miami in last week’s game with his turnovers, and the Dolphins took advantage with 78 yards of interception returns that obviously set them up well to score despite being outmanned. But Buffalo outgained Miami by nearly 200 yards. It was a pretty dominant performance, aside from the turnovers. The Bengals, meanwhile, needed a 98-yard fumble return just to survive the Ravens. A big reason Baltimore was able to hang around was the injuries on the Bengals’ offensive line. That figures to be just as big this week with Cincinnati likely down three starters. Add in some injuries in the secondary, and this just feels like a bad matchup for Joe Burrow and company.
Ricky: Bengals. Cincinnati’s injuries along the offensive line are the biggest concern here. But consider this: Of the 36 NFL quarterbacks with at least 200 dropbacks this season, only Tom Brady got rid of the ball quicker on average than Joe Burrow. While Cincinnati’s offense, like Buffalo’s offense, has big-play capability, the Bengals rely more on a short passing attack that should allow them to cover up their problems in protection. Burrow is fifth in pass yards after the catch and 27th in intended air yards per pass attempt (6.8). By comparison, Josh Allen ranks 13th and third, respectively, highlighting the difference in how these QBs operate. The Bills might emerge victorious, but there’s a large enough sample size to worry about their turnover issues keeping the Bengals in the game. Only Indianapolis and Houston had more giveaways than Buffalo during the regular season. Cincinnati, meanwhile, had the fourth-fewest.

Dallas Cowboys at (-4) San Francisco 49ers, 6:30 p.m.
Mike: Cowboys. If you look at this game as a seventh-round rookie quarterback taking on the most talented defense he’s faced to this point, it makes all the sense in the world to grab the points with Dallas. It obviously isn’t and won’t be that simple, and 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy has passed every test he has faced to this point. And while the Dallas defense has looked increasingly vulnerable, it still ranked second by both DVOA and EPA allowed this season. Granted, the 49ers finished first in both, but if Dak Prescott can look anything like he did last week in Tampa Bay, then the Cowboys have the clear edge at the most important position. Dallas is a good tackling defense that should be able to limit the after-catch explosiveness of the 49ers and keep it competitive. San Francisco has the better coach and arguably better special teams, which should give them the edge to win outright, but it should be a tight one.
Ricky: Cowboys. Putting a lot of stock in Dallas’ defense making life difficult for Brock Purdy. While he’s been mostly excellent — certainly better than anyone could’ve imagined — and San Franciso’s offense is designed to lean less on its quarterback, there still have been a few instances where Purdy has put the ball in harm’s way. And that simply won’t cut it this week. The Cowboys pressure the quarterback at the highest rate in the NFL. Their pass defense ranks third in DVOA and their rush defense fifth, so they’re fully capable of providing the type of resistance that’ll force Purdy to make big-time throws. A sloppy end to the regular season overshadowed how good Dallas was for most of the campaign. An outright upset is very much in play this Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.

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Thumbnail photo via Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports Images

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