PFN’s NFL betting midweek picks against the spread have hit over 60% the past few weeks, including 5-1 in last weekend’s opening round of the NFL playoffs. We’ve run through the most likely game script for each of this weekend’s four contests. Let’s take a look at our NFL picks and predictions against the spread and break down the fantasy implications for dozens of players.
Saturday Playoff Games: NFL playoffs picks and predictions
This weekend’s winners will play the following week for a spot in the Super Bowl. Each team has different strengths and weaknesses. How do the sportsbooks think these games will play out, which side are we taking, and which players will rise (or fall) to the occasion?
Cincinnati Bengals (+3.5) at Tennessee Titans
In one of those strange scheduling oddities (and due to many starters sitting in a meaningless Week 18 matchup in Cleveland), Joe Burrow and much of his offensive corps have played only one road game since Week 12.
Cincinnati’s passing game was lights out against the Ravens and Chiefs in Weeks 16 and 17, respectively. But let’s not get carried away. In Burrow’s seven other games since Week 9, he’s thrown only 8 touchdown passes. Tee Higgins has struggled in three of his last four contests. Tyler Boyd’s yardage output keeps dropping, though a touchdown in each of his last four games has kept him afloat fantasy-wise.
Joe Mixon a risky RB2/3?
Most notably, after a blistering first three months, Joe Mixon has been largely a shell of his former self since Week 13, failing to crack 3.9 yards per carry in any of these six games while averaging just under 3.3 ypc. While receptions have kept him viable (17 in his last three games), he’ll run into a Tennessee defense that’s second-best in fantasy against opposing backfields while yielding a league-low 3 rushing attempts for 20+ yards.
To win this matchup, the Bengals passing game must exploit a defense giving up 41.1 fantasy points per game to opposing receivers — the second-highest total in the NFL. It’s entirely achievable, and will also require Cincinnati to make the most of its opportunities. Tennessee is second-best in the league in controlling time of possession. Burrow is more boom-bust than many people realize. Ja’Marr Chase is a must-start. Mixon is a shockingly risky RB2/3, while Higgins, Boyd, and C.J. Uzomah are flyers as usual.
All eyes on Derrick Henry
If Derrick Henry helps lead the Titans to the Super Bowl, it will be worthy of a Hollywood script. The elite running back has been sidelined since injuring his foot during a Week 8 contest in Indianapolis. Somehow, the Titans won that game in overtime, and since then have compiled a 3-1 record against playoff teams while claiming the AFC’s No. 1 seed.
It’s hard to know how much work Henry will get. He was on pace for 465 carries before landing on injured reserve. The all-time single-season record is 416. Simply put, Henry’s workload was historically and unconscionably high. Tennessee could keep running him with reckless abandon and hope for the best. Or they could “limit” him to 14-18 touches while cycling in the commendable D’Onta Foreman and Dontrell Hilliard. Both have done more to keep this team afloat than any other offensive playmaker during Henry’s absence.
Then, there’s the boom-bust A.J. Brown and mediocre-bust Julio Jones. The Bengals’ defense is middling. Tennessee should be able to control the clock by moving the chains on the ground. Yet, it’s easy to imagine Ryan Tannehill picking his moments against a defense yielding the third-most 20-plus-yard pass plays in the league. Brown is a must-start. Jones, Anthony Firkser, and Geoff Swaim are positional flyers.
Game script will dictate how much the Titans lean on their backfield. This has the makings of a very close contest that could come down to the final drive. Tennessee has the advantage with its lock-down run defense. Cincinnati has more big-play ability. It should be a fascinating game.
Bengals vs. Titans Prediction: Titans 23, Bengals 20
San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers (-5.5)
We’re anticipating single-digit wind-chill degrees in Green Bay Saturday evening, which right off the bat should favor the home team. But for the 49ers, their last two games offer road maps for winning Saturday night. Both of those contests were close wins against the Rams and Cowboys — two fairly complete teams on offense and defense.
Elijah Mitchell earned a combined 48 carries in those matchups. He is literally the driving force in this offense, allowing Jimmy Garoppolo to pick his spots. In fact, Garoppolo has 30 or fewer pass attempts in 11 of 16 games. When he’s attempted more than 30 passes, the 49ers are 2-3, including a narrow home loss to Green Bay in Week 3 that ended on a last-second Mason Crosby 51-yard field goal.
Mitchell is not utilized much in the passing game, and his worst running (4.3 ypc) has occurred while playing from behind. Interestingly, 5 of his 19 receptions came in a Week 9 loss to Arizona when San Francisco found themselves down 24 points in the third quarter. So utilizing Mitchell in catch-up mode is possible. And the Packers are giving up a healthy 4.7 ypc.
It would appear that the 49ers’ path to victory lies with feeding Mitchell (and of course Deebo Samuel) heavily, limiting Garoppolo’s exposure to a fairly fierce pass defense that might get back two key defensive stoppers in Jaire Alexander and Za’Darius Smith. This is not a game to bet on Brandon Aiyuk or Jauan Jennings, unless you’re using Jennings as a cheap DFS plug-in. This is not a game to bet on Garoppolo or to go big on George Kittle. Nearly everything rests on Mitchell and Samuel.
The Packers’ X-factor remains Aaron Rodgers
Even at 38 years old, Aaron Rodgers remains an elite quarterback in fantasy and on the field. The question is how patient the Packers will be on offense. Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon comprise one of the league’s best RB tandems. Davante Adams is elite, and a healthy and locked-in Allen Lazard has given Rodgers a terrific No. 2 receiver this team has lacked for years. Anything they can get from Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Josiah Deguara, or Marcedes Lewis would be icing on the cake.
Nick Bosa (concussion) and Fred Warner (ankle sprain) could return. But let’s face it: the Packers are No. 1 in the league in offensive time of possession and QB rating. Furthermore, Jones and Dillon have combined for 1,602 ground yards, as well as 704 receiving yards on 86 receptions.
The Packers can win many different ways. They’re averaging 0.46 points per play at home — the NFL’s fourth-highest mark. Given the weather conditions, the personnel, and the tangible talent disparity at quarterback, Green Bay should win this one by at least a touchdown. Rodgers and Adams are terrific DFS plays. Lazard and Jones are solid. Dillon is TD-dependent.
49ers vs. Packers Prediction: Packers 26, 49ers 16
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