Well, well, well, if there were ever a time for a person handicapping NFL games to gloat, a 6-0 mark against the spread during wild-card weekend would be one. However, I’ve had too many weeks of eating humble pie of late to get carried away.
We have a quartet of what should be wonderful football games. There was a bit of line movement in the early part of the week. Let’s attempt to deliver the goods for a second consecutive week:
Saturday at 4:30 p.m.: Cincinnati Bengals (11-7) at Tennessee Titans (12-5)
The Line: Tennessee -3
Let me be up front. While these are two solid and in some ways improving teams, I don’t see either of these teams making it to the Super Bowl, to be played at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles Feb. 13. But this has a chance to be one heck of a football game. A return to the playing field by monster running back Derrick Henry is not 100 percent certain, but it seems to be trending that way.
I’ll give the coaching edge to Mike Vrabel over Zac Taylor, but Taylor just may be building something lasting in Cincinnati. This is no knock at Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but I see this one as a growing-up game for former Heisman winner Joe Burrow.
I think the Bengals have a solid chance for an outright win, but even if they don’t quite make it, that extra half-point — this game opened at Titans -3.5 — is a bridge too far for me.
The Pick: CINCINNATI 24, Tennessee 20
Saturday at 8:15 p.m.: San Francisco 49ers (11-7) at Green Bay Packers (13-4)
The Line: Green Bay -6
The old adage is to watch which way a spread is moving, because that indicates where the smart or “late” money is moving. This game came out of the gate at Green Bay -4.5. It has since moved to Green Bay -6. On the face of it, what the 49ers have pulled off — starting at 3-5 and going 8-2 since — seems to mark them as a highly dangerous team.
Historically, the Packers hold a 38-32-1 edge since the two teams played for the first time in 1950. More recently, Green Bay has won four of the past six against San Francisco, including a 30-28 win at Levi’s Stadium in September 2021.
I am not saying the 49ers aren’t a dangerous team or that it would be some sort of gigantic upset if they won the game. It also wouldn’t be a shock to the system if this is a close game and the 49ers cover. In fact, when the spread was Green Bay -4.5, I liked San Francisco +4.5.
But I am going with that old adage, and I am also looking at the predicted temperatures for Saturday night in Green Bay. The high temperature is supposed to be 2 degrees, and I think that will take away a bit of the speed edge the 49ers have. I also watched 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo almost singlehandedly allow Dallas to make that late comeback. I think the difference at the quarterback position is too great to go with the upstart 49ers.
The Pick: GREEN BAY 29, San Francisco 19
Sunday at 3 p.m.: Los Angeles Rams (13-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-4)
The Line: Tampa Bay -3
This is a matchup of two really special coaches. Sean McVay is new school and Bruce Arians is the epitome of old school. The quarterback matchup is really ironic, with the GOAT Tom Brady going up against a talented gunslinger in Matthew Stafford who had never won a playoff game prior to Monday night. Given the Lions’ sorry history, who would really raise their hand if I asked for a show of hands from people who thought that was Stafford’s fault.
If folks want to fall asleep on the Rams this week, that’s A-OK with me. I am not. Their defense was flying across the field against the Cardinals, as they thoroughly defeated and deflated that Arizona team. What I don’t think has really gotten calculated into this line and more deeply into the assessments of the Rams are the two big moves they made during the season. They picked up linebacker Von Miller for two high picks this coming draft and took a chance on wayward wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who had pretty much flamed out in Cleveland.
When Beckham chose the Rams over other suitors, he simply said, “This is a tremendous team. Have a great opportunity to do some great things, and I just want to be a part of it.”
I saw too much speed out of the Rams in the wild-card round, and that duo of Cooper Kupp and Beckham will be too tough to handle. I like the Rams in an upset here.
The Pick: LOS ANGELES 25, Tampa Bay 17
Sunday at 6:30 p.m.: Buffalo Bills (12-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (13-5)
The Line: Kansas City -1.5
Both of these teams had blowout wins in the wild-card round, with the Bills obliterating the Patriots with an exclamation point, putting a marker down in the AFC East that they are the alpha dogs now. As such, they go into Kansas City as one very confident football team. That’s not to say the homestanding Chiefs aren’t equally as confident.
I am just not sure the Chiefs are the better football team. My friend Gary Stein, one of the smarter football minds with whom I confer, told me last week before the Pats-Bills game that Josh Allen would beat the Pats with his legs and his arm. Two long runs helped the Bills get off to a great start. Maybe those runs won’t happen out of the gates this time, but I think Allen cashes in a couple big runs at some point. Allen and Stefon Diggs are really tough to stop, too.
I think on this night, the Bills are the ones standing at the end. That would mean that Sean McDermott would have beaten Bill Belichick and Andy Reid in back-to-back games to get to championship week.
The Pick: BUFFALO 27, Kansas City 23
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox