Midweek NFL Picks, Predictions Against the Spread: Expect more from Cam Akers and Ja’Marr Chase, less from Elijah Mitchell and Clyde Edwards-Helaire

Are you making NFL predictions and picks against the spread for this weekend's AFC and NFC title games? Here are the most likely outcomes.

PFN’s NFL betting midweek picks against the spread have hit over 60% the past seven weeks, including 7-3 in the NFL playoffs. We’ve run through the most likely game script for each of this weekend’s conference title games: Bengals vs. Chiefs and 49ers vs. Rams. Let’s take a look at our NFL picks and predictions against the spread and break down the fantasy implications for dozens of players.

Bengals (+7.5) vs. Chiefs: NFL playoffs picks and predictions

Will the Bengals reach their first Super Bowl in more than three decades? Or will the Chiefs earn their third consecutive appearance? We’ve run through dozens of potential game scripts to assess how this game might unfold to make our NFL picks.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals are 7.5-point underdogs against one of the most sustainably dominant offenses in years. Cincinnati averaged the eighth-most points in the league during the regular season (27.1). Yet, that might not be enough on Sunday against a Chiefs team that’s hung 42 on their two postseason opponents, as well as 28+ in each of their last seven games.

Joe Mixon will feature prominently unless Kansas City builds a big second-half lead. The Chiefs are giving up 4.8 yards per carry — the NFL’s second-worst mark. While Mixon has struggled on the ground these past seven games, never topping 3.9 ypc and never exceeding 65 yards, his passing-game usage has been through the roof: 23 receptions in his last four contests. Assuming that continues, he’s a strong fantasy and DFS play.

Burrow and Co. may struggle in fantasy

These teams last faced off only a month ago in Week 17, when Joe Burrow amassed 446 passing yards and 4 touchdowns. He’s seemingly unbenchable, though his home-road splits are concerning, particularly against proficient defenses.

Specifically, Burrow dominated with 3 touchdowns apiece in three road games against the Jets, Ravens, and Lions, all of which are among the seven worst teams against fantasy QBs. But in his other five road games, he’s averaged only 13.4 fantasy points. Last week marked only his second road game since before Thanksgiving. While his floor should remain solid, he is not as automatic as his overall stats suggest, even against a middling KC pass defense.

That might cap Cincinnati’s otherwise terrific receiving corps. Last week, we witnessed solid performances from Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and C.J. Uzomah. Yes, this offense is strong enough to feed three receivers per week. And it’s hard to imagine a similar degree of parity.

More likely, as we’ve seen for much of this season, either Chase or Higgins will come up big. Our money is on Chase. Tyler Boyd is TD-dependent as usual. The normally TD-dependent Uzomah can’t be expected to replicate last weekend’s 7-reception and 71-yard performance.

Kansas City Chiefs

In the 2019 AFC title game against New England, Patrick Mahomes had 39 seconds left in the fourth quarter to throw 2 completions for 48 combined yards to set up a game-tying Harrison Butker field goal (sound familiar?). But the Patriots won the toss in overtime, and Tom Brady miraculously converted three third-and-10’s to lead a game-winning touchdown drive.

Had the Chiefs won that game, they might be playing Sunday for a fourth consecutive Super Bowl appearance — something only the Bills have achieved. This Kansas City squad is the real deal, thanks in large part to a passing attack that, at its best, is unrivaled.

The Chiefs offense is unstoppable

We can trust Mahomes on Sunday with an arsenal of pass catchers ranging from the elite (Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce), to the high-performing complementary (Byron Pringle and Jerick McKinnon), to the situationally useful (Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson).

Last week, we pushed Tennessee’s A.J. Brown as a breakout fantasy and DFS option, with the opposing Bengals yielding the league’s third-most 20+ yard pass plays. The same goes for Hill, Kelce, and Pringle, all of whom should be worth investing in at their price points, with Hill and Kelce obviously offering sky-high ceilings.

The Jerick McKinnon show

As for the running game, Jerick McKinnon is one of this postseason’s unsung heroes. After signing a $30 million deal in 2018 with the 49ers, he missed that season with a torn ACL and then the following campaign with a knee injury. Turning 30 this May, his career seemed all but over this season, as he earned only 17 touches in the first 17 weeks.

But KC’s depleted backfield forced this team to turn McKinnon loose, and he’s come through with a 14-161-2 receiving line in the last three games, along with a healthy 27-109-0 rushing line. He’s facing a defense yielding the fourth-most receptions to opposing RBs. McKinnon remains the safest best among Kansas City backs.

The Bengals should keep this one close, but we expect them to fall short.

Bengals vs. Chiefs Prediction: Chiefs 37, Bengals 31

49ers vs. Rams (-3.5): NFL playoffs picks and predictions

Will San Francisco reach their second Super Bowl in three years, or will the Rams get there for only the second time in the last 20 seasons? We’ve run through dozens of potential game scripts to assess how this game might unfold to make our NFL picks.

San Francisco 49ers

To reach the NFC title game, the Niners had to beat the highest-scoring offense in the Wild Card round. Meanwhile, the Rams had to overpower the second-highest-scoring offense in the Divisional Round. Both paths were difficult, yet San Francisco’s was arguably more surprising. Jimmy Garoppolo played some of his worst football of the season, averaging only 152 passing yards per game while throwing 2 picks and scoring a grand total of zero times.

That this team can win in spite of their quarterback is a testament to how good the 49ers are. That’s not to say Garoppolo is not deserving of this moment. But his job is not to make mistakes, more than it is to lead his team to victory. Advocates will point to his strong performances against the Rams this season, in which he averaged 249 passing yards a game while throwing 3 touchdowns (and 2 interceptions). However, he is easily the riskiest fantasy and DFS QB playing this weekend.

Are Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel safe DFS targets?

Elijah Mitchell remains the unquestioned bell cow, though we’ll see how he performs against a fairly strong Rams defense yielding only 4.0 ypc and the seventh-fewest fantasy points to backfields. We also might be concerned with his workload, which topped out at 198 rushing attempts across 14 games his junior year in college. This year, he’s up to 251 in 13 games. He’s run far less efficiently in the playoffs (3.4 ypc) and, more likely than not, will disappoint.

On the other hand, Deebo Samuel is a must-start, given his elite talent and versatility. George Kittle began to reverse his slump last weekend, and that trend should continue Sunday; he’s too important to this team not to be featured more prominently. And Brandon Aiyuk has nowhere to go but up after inexplicably seeing only 1 target against the Packers — the same number as third-string TE Charlie Woerner. Between Jauan Jennings and Aiyuk, I’d bet on 8+ points for Aiyuk.

Los Angeles Rams

Consider for a moment what the Rams did against the Buccaneers after blowing a 24-point lead and facing second-and-11 at their own 24-yard line with 35 seconds left in regulation. If they failed to score and Tampa Bay won the overtime coin toss, the game probably would have ended differently. Instead, Tampa Bay’s heroics forced Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp to elevate their games.

That elevation should carry them to victory this weekend. This team is locked in on offense and defense. Ignore Cam Akers’ fumbles. Basically, ignore 17 of the final 18 minutes of last week’s game. The Rams sport a running back who could be a top-seven fantasy RB in a full season next year — a complete back in a high-powered offense. They have the league’s top receiver, and they have a terrific 32-year-old quarterback in the midst of a career year.

They also have Odell Beckham Jr., who’s a good bet for 12+ fantasy points. Tyler Higbee has grown into a weekly threat for 10+ points. And Van Jefferson is one of the league’s better No. 3 wideouts. Despite his recent downturn, he has 6 touchdowns on the season and can transform DFS fortunes on one play.

The 49ers have been the thorn in the Rams’ side

The Niners have won six straight against the Rams, including both matchups this year. But one of those was in Week 10 in OBJ’s first game with his new team (and LA’s first contest without the injured Robert Woods). The second matchup was in Week 18 after the Rams had already clinched a postseason berth.

Those making a big deal about San Francisco’s win streak are missing the bigger picture: man to man, the Rams match up evenly or better at most key positions. They are peaking at the right time. They’re much better positioned to win this one.

49ers vs. Rams Picks and Prediction: Rams 27, 49ers 19

BJ Rudell is the Fantasy Football and Betting Product Director for Pro Football Network. You can read all of BJ’s work here and follow him on Twitter: @BJRudell.

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