We’ve reached the Divisional Round of the NFL postseason. Here’s a preliminary look at our predictions and picks for all four games. The following betting odds are for picks against the spread as well as moneylines based on DraftKings Sportsbook.
NFL Divisional Round Predictions and Picks
Just like during the NFL regular season, the playoffs feature the expected, the moderately unexpected, and the completely unexpected. When betting on point spreads and moneylines, we need to focus on the first two outcomes.
What are the highest-probability game scripts? Which interesting subplots could emerge? For example, we cannot anticipate when a little-used fullback will fall into the end zone twice in one half. But we can assess the likelihood that one team’s backfield will earn more scoring opportunities.
With that in mind, here are our preliminary assessments of how each game might proceed.
Kansas City Chiefs (-8.5) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
- Date: Saturday, Jan. 21
- Start time: 4:30 p.m. ET
Entering this season, the last time the Chiefs were No. 1 in points per game was 2018. Entering this season, the last time the Chiefs weren’t top 10 in fewest points against was also 2018. In fact, KC yielded the second-most passing yards and the third-most yards per carry.
Their inability to stop great offenses contributed to their postseason demise versus Tom Brady and the Patriots, which converted three 3rd-and-10s late in the fourth quarter and in overtime to vanquish Kansas City and advance to the Super Bowl.
This season, the Chiefs are No. 1 in points scored and No. 16 in points against. They’ve surrendered the most passing TDs, but along other metrics, they’re stingier against the run and the pass than they were in 2018 — when they were oh-so-close to reaching the pinnacle of football success.
On the one hand, this year’s Chiefs should be the favorites to win the title. Their three losses were by four points or less. In one, they lost the lead midway through the fourth. In the other two, their opponents scored their game-winners in the final minute.
Yet, this franchise has struggled against non-playoff teams, including two narrow victories over Denver, edging the Raiders by a point, and overcoming Houston in overtime.
They’ve also struggled to close out teams. Kansas City’s Week 10 faceoff against these Jaguars is one example, in which a 20-0 lead became 27-17, with the Chiefs needing to convert on 3rd-and-7 and then 4th-and-2 to stall the Jags’ comeback.
Facing an increasingly confident Jacksonville squad, Kansas City can’t realistically hope to lead by 20 again. Yes, their offense looks nearly unstoppable. But their defense isn’t strong enough to turn this into a blowout.
Against-the-spread prediction: Jaguars
Moneyline winner: Chiefs
Philadelphia Eagles (-7.5) vs. New York Giants
- Date: Saturday, Jan. 21
- Start time: 8:15 p.m. ET
This point spread is giving me heartburn. How many times have I dismissed the Giants as a mostly one-dimensional offense with a subpar passing attack and barely middling defense?
And in fairness, that’s how they looked most of the regular season, when the loss/dismissal of their top four preseason WRs “led” to the sixth-fewest passing yards, the sixth-fewest passing touchdowns, and absorbed the fifth-most sacks.
On defense, no team had fewer interceptions (six), and only one team (the Chargers) surrendered more yards per carry (5.2). But somehow, a bunch of preseason backup WRs fighting for roster spots have looked objectively good to great. Somehow, a generational talent of a running back ravaged by injuries for two years has returned to near-elite form.
And somehow, a quarterback whose fifth-year option was denied last spring — a guy who entered this season with 50 touchdowns and 49 turnovers in 38 career games — has defied the laws of the NFL by becoming the greatest version of himself, despite throwing to one of the least heralded receiving corps in recent league history.
Still, New York’s worst loss of the season (48-22) was against these Eagles in Week 14. Last season, the Giants’ final victory came against Philadelphia in Week 12. Daniel Jones missed the rest of his campaign with a neck injury. Saquon Barkley scored only one more time the rest of the way. The only other Giants playmaker we might see in this one — Darius Slayton — had a net minus 10 yards in that Week 12 victory.
Much has changed. The Giants arguably look as tough as they looked in their Super Bowl-winning 2007 and 2011 seasons.
On that note, I’ve been struck by how many social media personalities referred to the Vikings as “frauds” after losing to New York last weekend. The Vikings were 12-0 in games decided by a touchdown or less. They easily could have been 8-9 and out of the playoffs. But they persevered and stepped up time and time again with the game on the line.
But they fell short against New York. Why? Perhaps it has more to do with the Giants.
And that’s the danger for Philly in a game that, on paper, they should win comfortably. The Eagles are rested, and their key starters are healthy (or healthy enough). At the same time, they’re 7-1 in games decided by one score. Similar to the Vikings, they easily might have been 11-6 or even 10-7.
It should be quite a battle — and a close one at that.
Against-the-spread prediction: Giants
Moneyline winner: Eagles
Buffalo Bills (-5) vs. Cincinnati Bengals
- Date: Sunday, Jan. 22
- Start time: 3 p.m. ET
It’s hard to grasp the emotional context of this matchup. Only a few weeks ago, Damar Hamlin suffered a heart attack on the field and nearly died. The resulting outpouring of humanity and connectivity altered the tenor of the season. What seemingly mattered most at the opening kickoff no longer mattered.
And now, 35 years after the last time the NFL canceled a regular-season game, these same two teams will reunite in brotherhood and fierce competition. Two evenly matched and ascending franchises vying for their first-ever Super Bowl title. It’s a shame only one can move on to the AFC Championship Game.
It doesn’t bode well for Buffalo that they struggled to put away a Dolphins squad starting a third-string rookie QB and the 49ers’ recent No. 3 RB.
Now, wait, that’s not entirely fair. Jeff Wilson Jr. has played well in this league when healthy. The Bills bottled him up for 23 yards on 10 carries. Buffalo also limited Skylar Thompson to 220 yards on 45 throws and a paltry 44.7 QB rating. Essentially, the Bills’ defense did their job.
Yet, three Josh Allen turnovers (not all his fault, but still . . .) turned a blowout into a nail-biter. They can’t advance much further if those mistakes continue.
Fortunately, the Bills are facing a Bengals squad that might not be as great as their nine-game winning streak suggests. Seven times this season, Joe Mixon has rushed for 3.0 yards per carry or less while netting only 1.5 yards after contact. We all fondly remember his blow-up performance in Week 9 versus Carolina. But remove that game, and Mixon’s averaging 3.5 yards per carry with four touchdowns.
Through the air, Joe Burrow and his elite-tiered receivers are tough to beat. However, Burrow continues to get hit, taking 41 sacks (plus four more on Sunday) after leading the league with 51 in the 2021 regular season (plus 19 more in the playoffs).
The Bengals have fewer QB hits on defense than the Dolphins, and the Bills have more than the Ravens. I expect Burrow to feel more heat — to be under more duress when throwing — than Allen. And that, I believe, will prove to be the difference between a small Cincy upset and a fairly comfortable Bills victory.
Against-the-spread prediction: Bills
Moneyline winner: Bills
San Francisco 49ers (-3.5) vs. Dallas Cowboys
- Date: Sunday, Jan. 22
- Start time: 6:30 p.m. ET
After picking the Cowboys to beat Tom Brady for the first time in franchise history, I’m picking them to return to the NFC Championship Game for the first time in 27 years — the last time they won the Super Bowl.
When Caesars posted the first betting line for this game on Monday night, it stood at -4.5. I proposed to my PFN colleagues that it would narrow to -3 by Wednesday because momentum is a huge favor in line setting and market response.
Dallas played nearly flawlessly against the Bucs, sending Brady to his worst home defeat in more than two years, and the second-worst home playoff defeat of his career.
Meanwhile, the 49ers looked human against the overmatched Seahawks. Seattle had the lead at halftime and was 15 yards away from retaking it on first down late in the third quarter. Credit the Niners’ sterling defense for making big plays.
But let’s put some perspective on this upcoming matchup. Both teams have fantastic offenses and defenses. The 49ers have the best turnover differential, and the Cowboys are close behind at No. 2. Both teams have catch-friendly backfields and exceptional playmaking receivers.
My belief with the point spread was that the Niners would get the slight edge for playing at home. Beyond that, these are two evenly matched teams. But there are two key areas where Dallas has the edge.
First, are we ready to anoint Brock Purdy as a “great” QB alongside Dak Prescott? I’m not. Yes, Purdy deserves all the accolades he’s getting and more. But I would argue that he hasn’t faced an opponent as tough as Dallas. How will the rookie respond?
Second, 16 of San Francisco’s regular-season games were against teams that averaged only 6.6 wins this year. Their toughest opponent among those 16 was the eventual 10-7 Chargers — who faced the 49ers without Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.
Their other game was versus their only Super Bowl-caliber opponent, the Chiefs, which crushed them 44-23.
I would argue that these two things can be true: (a) the 49ers are a great team, and (b) the Cowboys will be by far their second-toughest opponent of the season. By the end of the first quarter, if we see San Francisco struggling, we’ll know why.
Against-the-spread prediction: Cowboys
Moneyline winner: Cowboys