What's Your Confidence Level?
By Geoff Schwartz
FOX Sports NFL analyst
The second round of the NFL playoffs is a matchup nirvana.
We've got future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, dominant running games, suffocating defenses and prolific passing attacks.
I like multiple wagers in these four NFL divisional playoff games, and I’ll give you my confidence in each pick along the way.
There's also more than $500,000 and a Ford F150 truck on the line this week in the FOX Bet Super 6 contests, with two chances to win. Make your picks now for Rams-Packers and Bucs-Saints on the Super 6 app.
Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay Packers
NFC divisional playoff
Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET, FOX
FOX Bet Line: Packers by 6.5
FOX Bet Over/Under: 46
My pick: Green Bay -6.5
Confidence meter: 7/10
With this line going under a touchdown, I’m backing the Packers here. I believe people are overthinking this game because of the Rams' performance last week, which I’d argue had more to do with Seattle’s offense being a mess than the LA's overall performance.
For starters, quarterback Jared Goff is still healing from thumb surgery and was just OK in Seattle. Now he’s starting in cold weather, something he has been awful at in his career. When the temperature is under 35 degrees (and the sample size is only two games), Goff has a passer rating of 34.5 and only completes 47.2% of his passes. But even in warmer weather, between 36-50 degrees, Goff is only at 54.7%. There’s a clear drop-off when it’s cold, and now he’s dealing with a thumb injury.
Even before the injury, Goff was not good down the stretch, especially when trying to throw the ball 10-plus yards. Since Week 10, Goff has the eighth-worst passer rating when trying to throw it deep. That will make the Rams passing game one-dimensional, and I worry about that in the playoffs.
The Rams can run the football and will try to establish that early, but the Packers defense has continued to improve in stopping the run. Even if the Rams can run the ball, they haven’t shown the ability to score. Since Week 4, the Rams have scored more than 27 points just twice, including last weekend when they added a score on defense. This game will be won by the Packers defense.
This game also features one of the best individual matchups of Round 2, Packers receiver Davante Adams against Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey. The Rams have the best pass defense in the NFL, and they are also the best at defending the deep ball, both areas were Ramsay can slow down Adams. However, there’s one spot where the Packers have the advantage. That is with play-action passes.
Entering this season, there was discussion about the Packers offense having to adapt even more to what coach Matt LeFleur wanted. Aaron Rodgers was hesitant about adding more play-action passing into the offense, something he didn’t do often in his old offense under Mike McCarthy.
From 2016-2019, which does include LaFleur’s first season, the Packers used play action on 19% of Rodgers' throws, while only completing 63% of those. This season that play-action pass number is up to 28%, with Rodgers completing 73.5%. He has thrown 20 TD passes with no interception off the run fake.
This is important because while the Rams defense is excellent in defending dropback passing, they aren’t good against play action. LA allows 4.4 yards of separation on play-action passes this season, worst in the NFL. This is where the Packers offense will feast. Rodgers know this. LaFleur knows this.
I'm picking Green Bay, 31-20.
Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills
AFC divisional playoff
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET, NBC
FOX Bet Line: Bills by 2.5
FOX Bet Over/Under: 49.5
My pick: Ravens money line (+120)
Confidence Meter: 6/10
I could take the points with the Ravens, but I’ll make it simple. I’m wagering on Baltimore winning this game straight up. And the reason is simple. The Ravens' rushing attack will dominate this game, just like the Colts did last week.
In Buffalo's closest games over the final three months of the season, the common thread in all of them was the opponent’s ability to rush the football. In the Bills' two losses since the middle of October, the Chiefs rushed for 245 yards and the Cardinals for 217. In their two close victories, the Patriots rushed for 188 yards and the Colts for 163.
These are not blowout games where the opponent's rushing numbers are inflated because of a large lead. These are specific game plans to attack the Bills rushing defense, which ranks 23rd according to advanced stats, 25th in yards-per-attempt allowed and 31st by Pro Football Focus. Now they get the Ravens, who are an exceptional rushing team.
The Ravens got the playoff "curse" off their backs with a wild-card victory over the Titans. They started slow on offense again, got behind and then finished strong. It was the first time they’ve shown the ability to come from behind in a high-profile game. It was great to see, and I think it makes their team, and specifically their offense, more confident.
They dominated on the ground, something that has been their calling card for the last six games after the Ravens changed their rushing scheme, moving to a more spread-out attack. In their last six games, all victories, the Ravens averaged 262 yards on the ground. They can target the Bills run defense by keeping their formations spread out.
The Bills defense is last in defending the run against a light box, while the Ravens are the best in the NFL in this spot. For Baltimore, 19% of its runs with a light box go for more than 10 yards – and that is exactly the same percentage the Bills defense is allowing in this situation. I think this matchup is just brutal for the Bills defense.
But what about the Bills offense? They are fantastic with Josh Allen. I can’t deny that. The Buffalo QB is locked in, but I’m betting on the Ravens defense doing enough to slow him down. The Colts were able to disrupt the Bills' rhythm with sound defense, something the Ravens are known for. These defenses do it differently, with the Colts sitting in zone and the Ravens bringing pressure.
Baltimore lead the NFL in blitz rate, which could be scary Saturday night. Allen is fantastic against the blitz, but there’s a specific spot where I think the Ravens will win this game with their defense. When this game is close at the end, I’m not sure I can trust Allen. He’s still prone to the YOLO (you only live once) plays, where at the end of games he tries to do too much.
Allen had a potential costly fumble at the end of the Colts game. The Ravens defense, because of their pressure schemes, are more likely to force Allen into these plays if they can get home. I know it’s difficult to wager on hope, but I do believe the Ravens defense can do enough to slow down the Bills offense.
My pick: Lamar Jackson rushing yards over 59.5
Confidence meter: 10/10
I made my point about Baltimore's running game above, but just for giggles, I’ll throw this number out there. Jackson is averaging 11.83 yards per rushing attempt when he keeps the ball on a zone read. That’s ridiculous. This is my favorite bet of the weekend.
Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs
AFC divisional playoff
Sunday, 3:05 p.m. ET, CBS
FOX Bet Line: Chiefs by 10
FOX Bet Over/Under: 57
My pick: Kansas City Chiefs over 32.5
Confidence meter: 9/10
This will be a popular bet this weekend and for good reason. The Chiefs score a ton of points after a bye week, especially when playing a poor defense. In the six games when Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes are coming off a bye, they’ve scored 40, 31, 40, 51, 31 and 35 points.
The games when they "only" scored 31 points where against a pesky 2018 Colts defense that finished the season 11th in defensive DVOA and then in the Super Bowl against an outstanding 49ers defense. Otherwise, they victimize bad defenses, which is how you’d characterize the Browns unit. And yes, Cleveland might get Denzel Ward back, but having one good corner is nothing for the Chiefs.
The Browns defense is 25th in overall DVOA, 29th on deep passes, 29th on third-down passes and 28th on passes to the tight end. I understand the urge to point to KC's struggle scoring against the Falcons as evidence the Chiefs can be stopped, but I’d caution you that logic doesn’t work here. The last game Mahomes played was against the Falcons, and it was the worst game of his career. He was not good. And while it’s hard to find games where Mahomes wasn’t good – because his worst games are still above league average for his position – he tends to have bounce-back performances following a "down" outing.
For example, Mahomes played "poorly" against the Chargers in a Week 2 win, a game where his expected points added (EPA) was just above league average. The following week in Baltimore, he was above the 90th percentile for QB EPA. His play also dipped against the Raiders in a Week 5 loss, but he returned to the 90th percentile the following week against the Bills.
I expect Mahomes to be awesome Sunday, as he gets back to his roots in the offense. He will take what the defense gives him and be methodical about tearing apart the Browns.
My pick: Travis Kelce over 80.5
Confidence meter: 8/10
I love the over for Kelce in this matchup. The Browns, as mentioned, are poor covering tight ends. They've allowed the fifth-most targets to TEs, the fourth-most catches and eighth-most receving yards.
Also, when the Chiefs are coming off a bye, they target Kelce a lot. In the six games with Kelce and Mahomes off a bye, the big tight end has had more than 90 yards in five of the six, the lone under performance was against the 49ers in the Super Bowl. Now, I get a bad Browns defense coming to Arrowhead? I love the Kelce over.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
NFC divisional playoff
Sunday, 6:40 p.m. ET, FOX
FOX Bet Line: Saints by 3
FOX Bet Over/Under: 52
My pick: Under 52
Confidence meter: 5/10
Admittedly, I have no feel for this game. The Saints dominated the Bucs twice this season, winning the last matchup 38-3 in Tampa in Week 9. But this Bucs team isn’t the same, as they’ve improved mightily on offense.
Coach Bruce Arians stopping being arrogant and started to adapt his offense to what Tom Brady does best, including more play-action passes and incorporating more motion into the offense. Including the playoff victory against the Washington football team, Brady is averaging 342 yards per game over their last five, as opposed to 275 in their first 12 games.
But this Saints defense is no joke, only allowing 21.1 points per game, and there’s a reason they played well against Tampa in their previous games. They are relentless at rushing the passer. While I think Tampa Bay’s offensive line is far better than perception, the Bucs do have holes at left tackle and right guard if Alex Cappa can not play.
The Bucs offense also has stretches of games against good defenses when it still looks disjointed. Marshon Lattimore, the Saints best cornerback, has played Mike Evans well in his career, only allowing nine catches on 20 targets since 2017. He just has his number. For all these reasons, I don’t expect the Bucs score a bunch of points.
For whatever reason, the Saints offense also doesn’t score in the postseason like the regular season. Maybe it’s 41-year-old Drew Brees wearing down at the end of a season or just facing better defenses. Whatever the reason, the Saints have been held between 20 and 23 points in their last four playoff games.
Now, they face a Tampa Bay defense that’s built to stop them. Since Brees has only attempted 19 deep passes this season, the Bucs defense can focus on the short passing game and how the Saints want to use Alvin Kamara. The Bucs linebackers run well, and they will be able to cover Kamara out of the backfield, especially with Lavonte David, who PFF ranks sixth in coverage.
The Bucs defense is also first in the NFL at defending runs between the tackles, a spot where Kamara excels. The Bucs allow only 2.9 yards per carry between the tackles, while Kamara is averaging more than six yards at attempt in that situation.
All the numbers point to a low-scoring game, plus the public has bet this total up from 49 to 52. The under just feels like the play here.
There's more than $500,000 on the line this week in the FOX Bet Super 6 contests, with two chances to win. Make your picks now for Rams-Packers and Bucs-Saints on the Super 6 app.