The NFL divisional playoffs are here. That means the games to pick and predict agianst the spread dwindle from 6 to 4 for the 2023-2024 season with only three matchups left afterward — the conference championships and Super Bowl 58.
For many pro football fans, this upcoming Saturday and Sunday make for the best combination of games with twice the excitement of the penultimate round. That’s because you get two more top teams into the fray, and once again, there’s one monumental AFC matchup whose winner can win it all.
The wild-card round was solid against the spread but so-so straight up. Sporting News makes our picks for who will end up playing for the AFC and NFC titles:
(Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook)
NFL POWER RANKINGS: Re-ranking teams 1-8 for the divisional playoffs
NFL playoff picks, predictions against the spread
AFC Game of the Week: No. 3 Chiefs at No. 2 Bills (-2.5, 46 o/u)
Sunday 6:30 p.m. ET, CBS
The Chiefs’ defense made a statement in the first game at home but the offense wasn’t clean enough in a 20-17 loss in Week 14. Patrick Mahomes faces his first true playoff road challenge and will be helped plenty by the power running game and other side of the ball.
Mahomes won’t mess around and stay efficient by making the Bills stop both Rashee Rice and Travis Kelce, while the hard-pounding Isiah Pacheco will wear down the pass rush with good volume. The Bills need to stick more with the run to James Cook, but they will once again get too confident with Josh Allen in a tough matchup where he’s bound to be pressured into the key giveaways Mahomes won’t make.
Pick: Chiefs win 24-20.
NFC Game of the Week: No. 7 Packers at No. 1 49ers (-10, 50.5 o/u)
Saturday 8:15 p.m. ET, Fox
The Packers played their guts out with big defensive plays against the Cowboys that padded their early strong offensive start with Jordan Love. Dallas’ effort and focus were off overall and Green Bay took advantage with an aggressive approach. San Francisco won’t make the same mistake of underestimation.
The 49ers’ offense will have great success rushing with a rested Christian McCaffrey and between Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle and Deebo Samuel, they will stretch the Packers’ defense thin vertically and horizontally with Brock Purdy playing well off the run. Love won’t get the same benefit from Aaron Jones as he did vs. the Cowboys and face a stronger overall pass rush with tighter intermediate coverage.
Pick: 49ers win 38-22 and cover the spread.
MORE PLAYOFFS: Updated bracket | TV schedule | Divisional round picks
No. 4 Texans at No. 1 Ravens (-9.5, 45.5 o/u)
Saturday 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC
C.J. Stroud and the Texans are benefiting from well-schemed 49ers-mirroring offense with lesser weapons. A similar thing is happening for DeMeco Ryans as the rookie leader of the defense with another high-drafted rookie, Will Anderson Jr. leading the way. Much like the Packers, the Texans won’t get the big interceptions to spark them for a second straight week. But Stroud can hang in there with help from the run to keep Houston in it much better than in his NFL debut in Baltimore in Week 1.
Lamar Jackson, however, makes the big difference by being sharp passing all over the field and finding holes in the Texans zone. He also can elude pressure with bursts downfield to boost a limited traditional running game. In the end, Stroud will face plenty of the Ravens’ pass rush, led by former Texan Jadeveon Clowney, to close the door late.
Pick: Ravens win 27-20 but fail to cover the spread.
No. 4 Buccaneers at No. 3 Lions (-6, 48.5 o/u)
Sunday 3 p.m. ET, NBC
The Buccaneers couldn’t get any offense going into the Week 6 matchup against the Lions at home, losing 20-6 in Week 8. They should be more game for the rematch with Baker Mayfield red-hot after ripping the Eagles all over the field in the passing game. The concern for Mayfield will Aidan Hutchinson and the Lions’ pass rush, containing the big plays. His counterpart Jared Goff will feel a little more comfortable at home and also get more help from an efficient rushing attack.
Pick: Lions win 27-24 but fail to cover the spread.
Stats of the Week
Wild-card playoffs straight up: 3-3
Wild-card playoffs against the spread: 4-2
Season straight up: 185-93
Season against the spread: 146-126-1