I’ll be honest, I almost didn’t get my picks turned in this week and that’s because I’ve spent 47 straight hours trying to come up with a worse play the Cowboys could have called against the 49ers on Sunday and I came up with nothing.
It’s fitting that the game was on Nickelodeon, but only because I’m pretty sure every kid watching at home on Nickelodeon could have come up with a better play call. If Mike McCarthy had been replaced in the fourth quarter by two Nickelodeon viewers, I’m fully convinced the Cowboys would have won the game.
The biggest upside of the Cowboys loss for me is that I picked against them last week and I mostly did that because there was no way they weren’t going to botch something big. The Cowboys always botch something big.
With the Cowboys out, that means we can stop talking about them and move on to the divisional round.
The key to picking divisional games is to not overthink it, which could be tough for me because I overthink everything. I mean, I still think about the final episode of “Lost” at least three times a day and that show went off the air 12 years ago.
The reason you don’t want to overthink things in the divisional round is because the home team usually dominates. Over the past four years, home teams have gone 13-3 straight-up. As a matter of fact, home teams have been so good during the divisional round that there’s almost no point to having a wild-card round, because those teams never advance; well, unless Tom Brady is quarterbacking one of the wild-card teams like he was last year. As we all know, Tom Brady is pretty much the exception to every rule in life.
So am I going to be boring and pick every home team to win this week? Let’s get to the picks and find out.
Actually, before we get to the picks, here’s a quick reminder that you can check out the weekly picks from every CBSSports.com NFL expert by clicking here. If you click over, you’ll notice that I went 6-0, which I would brag about, but I can’t because four other people also went 6-0. I’m guessing they copied off my picks. Seems like something they would do.
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to hang out with me and watch football, then make sure you head to our Pick Six YouTube page. I go live on YouTube with Will Brinson and Ryan Wilson after every playoff game and it’s a good place to make fun me for missing picks. Of course, if I don’t ever miss any, then you can’t make fun of me.
Alright, I’m going to quit stalling so we can get to the picks.
NFL Divisional Round playoff picks
(4) Cincinnati (11-7) at (1) Tennessee (12-5)
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
This is definitely my favorite game of the week and that’s mainly because I’m going to be there. Although, I have to say, I’m probably not going to pull a Ryan Fitzpatrick and go shirtless, but I might.
If you see a shirtless guy streaking across the field during the game and then there’s no picks column next week, you’ll know why.
Anyway, I think I’ve said this before, but I’m going to say it again, there are three guarantees in life: Death, taxes and Andy Reid winning off the bye. However, what most people don’t know is that there’s also now a fourth guarantee and that guarantee is Mike Vrabel winning off the bye.
I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, that means you’re not dead. I’m also assuming that if you’re like me, you don’t pay taxes, so we don’t need to talk about those first two things. Also, Andy Reid isn’t coaching off a bye this week, so we can ignore that third guarantee, but Vrabel will be coaching off a bye, so it’s worth talking about that fourth guarantee and how dominant his teams have been after a week off.
In his four years as the coach in Tennessee, not only have the Titans gone 4-0 off the bye, but they’ve won those four games by an average of 20.5 points per game. They’re also 4-0 against the spread in those games and it doesn’t matter if they’re an underdog (2-0) or the favorite (2-0), they win no matter what. Giving Vrabel two weeks to prepare for a team is like spotting LeBron James a five-point lead in a one-on-one game to six points, it’s just not fair. As a matter of fact, if the NFL wants to even out the playing field going forward, the Titans shouldn’t get anymore bye weeks.
Not only are the Titans coming off a bye going into this game, but they’re also likely getting back Derrick Henry. The Titans running back is so absurdly good that he finished ninth in the NFL in rushing yards this year even though HE HASN’T PLAYED SINCE OCTOBER.
Not to mention, he gets to return and play against a Bengals team that has a completely banged up defensive line after losing multiple players to injury over the weekend, including Larry Ogjunobi and Trey Hendrickson. Ogjunobi is definitely out while Hendrickson (concussion) could play, but there’s no guarantee. When you’re going up against a running back like Henry, the last thing you want to go into the game with is a depleted defensive line.
Of course, the upside for the Bengals is that Henry hasn’t played a game for two and a half months. Although he’s been working out and even practicing over the past week, it’s not easy to get back into game shape in the NFL, so the Bengals might not see a a truly 100% Henry.
Also, even if Henry runs wild, that doesn’t necessarily mean the Titans are going to win, and that’s because the Bengals have one thing that can keep them in nearly any game: A high-powered offense.
If this game turns into a shootout, you have to like Cincinnati’s chances, especially since they’re going up against a Titans defense that struggles to stop the pass. During the regular season, the Titans were one of just eight teams in the league that surrendered more than 245 pass yards per game. If the Bengals can take advantage of that, it might be tough for Tennessee to keep up in a shootout.
The Bengals have NEVER won a road playoff game in franchise history (0-7), but after watching them end their 31-year drought without a playoff win, it’s starting to feel like they’re going to be ending a lot droughts this year.
The pick: Bengals 27-24 over Titans
Record picking Bengals games this season: 13-5 straight-up, 9-7-2 against the spread
Record picking Titans games this season: 8-9 straight-up, 11-6 against the spread
(6) San Francisco (11-7) at (1) Green Bay (13-4)
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET (Fox)
Green Bay Packers
The Packers might be the top seed in the NFC and the favorite to win this game, but I can’t automatically pick them to win here and that’s mostly because no team has been better at choking in the playoffs over the past two years than Green Bay.
On paper, this game seems like it could turn into a blowout: The Packers have the better offense, the better defense and Aaron Rodgers is at least 75 times better than Jimmy Garoppolo. Well, that might kind of be an exaggeration, the Packers aren’t much better on offense and they might not actually be better on defense, either, but there was no exaggeration on that last part: Aaron Rodgers is roughly 75 times better than Jimmy Garoppolo.
Despite Rodgers being a much better quarterback, the Packers almost lost to the 49ers earlier this season. They only won 30-28 and even then, it took a last second 51-yard field goal by Mason Crosby to get the win. In that game, the 49ers offense wasn’t even half as good as it is now and they still almost won. For one, Deebo Samuel wasn’t really lining up as a running back yet, which is something that completely changed the dynamic of the 49ers offense. If there’s one player on the field who could single-handedly help the 49ers pull off an upset this time around, it’s Samuel.
The other thing that makes this game interesting is the fact that I’m pretty sure the coaches want to fight each other. Apparently, Matt LaFleur got kind of upset about the fact that the 49ers called about the availability of Aaron Rodgers back in April. Both coaches tried to downplay the feud, but I saw all I needed to see when I saw the postgame handshake from the first game.
Shanahan can try and tell us that they’re not feuding, but I’m not buying it.
The fact that LaFleur and Shanahan might be feuding is interesting because they were close friends after coaching together for six seasons at two different stops (Washington from 2010-13 and Atlanta in 2015 and 2016) and each guy knows the other guys’ football philosophies inside and out.
Although LaFleur has designed his own offense, he definitely stole some concepts from Shanahan and the 49ers usually seem to be well aware of that. When these two teams play, it sometimes feels like the 49ers are so familiar with Green Bay’s offense that the 49ers defense knows what the Packers are going to do before the Packers know what they’re going to do. That’s definitely a small advantage for the 49ers.
One thing that won’t be a small advantage for the 49ers is the weather. As I’ve noted multiple times this season, the first thing I do when a team from a warm state is playing a team from a cold state is Google the weather and here’s an update on what I found: It’s supposed to be 17 DEGREES at kickoff on Saturday night in Green Bay.
As someone who lived in California for six years, let me just say that the last place anyone living in that state would ever want to be in the month of January is somewhere where it’s 17 degrees. There’s no way to replicate that weather in practice this week. I mean, the temperature in Green Bay is going to be 10 degrees colder than the COLDEST RECORDED TEMPERATURE THAT SAN FRANCISCO HAS EVER HAD.
Jimmy Garoppolo has never thrown a professional pass in a game where it’s under 40 degrees. So not only is he dealing with cold weather, but he’s also dealing with multiple injuries (shoulder sprain, thumb) and if you’ve ever gone outside in the cold with an injury, you know that the injury always feels about 47 times worse.
The Packers were the only team in the NFL that went undefeated at home this year, and now, they get to play a home game in weather that’s going to make Lambeau Field feel like a giant igloo. I think the 49ers keep this close, but I can’t pick against the Packers here. The prediction is that Aaron Rodgers gets his first career postseason win over the team that passed on him in the 2005 NFL Draft.
The pick: Packers 23-20
Record picking 49ers games this season: 12-6 straight-up, 10-8 against the spread
Record picking Packers games this season: 13-4 straight-up, 10-6-1 against the spread
(4) L.A. Rams (13-5) at (2) Tampa Bay (14-4)
Sunday, 3 p.m. ET (NBC)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians had gotten to pick his opponent for the divisional round, I’m guessing the Rams are the one team that he would have preferred NOT to face. For the past 11 months, it’s almost like the Rams have been building their team with the specific goal of beating the Buccaneers and only the Buccaneers, and now, they’re going to get the chance to do that.
If you want to beat Tom Brady in the playoffs, you have to put pressure on him and the Rams have two players who literally specialize in terrorizing opposing quarterbacks: Aaron Donald and Von Miller. Normally, I’d say the Buccaneers offensive line is good enough to keep Brady standing upright, but I’m not so sure about that this week. The Bucs could be down two starters on the offensive line — Tristan Wirfs (right tackle) and Ryan Jensen (center) — and if they both miss the game, then praying to this Tom Brady prayer candle might be the Buccaneers’ best chance of stopping Donald and Miller.
The other problem for the Buccaneers is that Brady loves throwing to Mike Evans and he might not be able to throw to Mike Evans in this game because Jalen Ramsey will likely be covering him. When these two teams met back in Week 3, a 34-24 win by the Rams, Evans finished with eight catches for 108 yards, but the Rams also had Chris Godwin to worry about in that game. This time around, that won’t be an issue.
The other problem for the Buccaneers — and yes, I’m now on a third potential problem — is that they’re not exactly great at stopping the pass. In the Week 3 meeting between these two teams, Matthew Stafford threw for 343 yards and four touchdowns and that was BEFORE the Rams added Odell Beckham. With another star receiver for the Buccaneers secondary to worry about, it’s hard to see them shutting down the Rams’ offense.
My only rule for picking playoff games is to never pick against Tom Brady and for some reason, I’m going to be ignoring that rule this week. I’m picking a quarterback with ONE career playoff victory (Stafford) to beat a quarterback with 35 career playoff victories (Brady). There’s a 99.7% chance I’m going to regret this.
The pick: Rams 30-23 over Buccaneers
Record picking Buccaneers games this season: 13-5 straight-up, 6-12 against the spread
Record picking Rams games this season: 13-5 straight-up, 9-9 against the spread
(3) Buffalo (12-6) at (2) Kansas City (13-5)
Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Kansas City Chiefs
After watching the Bills destroy the Patriots 47-17 in the wild-card round, I told myself there was no way I would be picking against them in the divisional round, but then the Chiefs looked so good in the their wild-card game that I now don’t know what to do.
If you missed the wild-card round, the Bills put on possibly the best offensive performance in playoff history. Josh Allen threw for 308 yards and five touchdowns in a game where the Bills scored a touchdown on their first seven possessions. To put that in perspective, no team in NFL playoff history had ever even scored a touchdown on their first five possessions.
Just when I thought that would definitely be the most impressive performance of wild-card weekend, Patrick Mahomes went out and topped it. Not only did he throw five touchdown passes, but he threw all of them in a span of 11 minutes and 30 seconds.
Basically, I think what I’m trying to say here is that there’s a 50% chance the final score of this game could end up being 65-62. Both offenses are on fire right now and both teams are playing their best football of the season. The Bills haven’t lost since Week 15 (5-0) and the Chiefs are 10-1 since Week 8.
In a game that’s all about offense, I actually think his one is going to come down to defense. Josh Allen has played so well this year that he’s been overshadowing the fact that the Bills have one of the best defenses in football. The Bills surrendered the fewest yards per game this year AND the fewest points per game. Their biggest weakness is their rushing defense, but the Chiefs don’t really run the ball all that much, so that’s probably not going to be much of an issue.
The Bills were my preseason pick to make the Super Bowl out of the AFC and I have decided there’s no way I can turn my back on them now.
The pick: Bills 34-31
Record picking Bills games this season: 12-6 straight-up, 10-8 against the spread
Record picking Chiefs games this season: 13-5 straight-up, 11-7 against the spread
Best pick: Last week, I predicted that the 49ers would upset the Cowboys in Dallas and guess what happened? The 49ers upset the Cowboys in Dallas. Now did I know that the Cowboys were going to make the worst decision in the history of football in the waning seconds of the game? Of course I did. Anyone who has ever seen Mike McCarthy coach just one game knew there was a 500% chance of this happening. As a matter of fact, the only way this ending would have surprised me more is if McCarthy had actually done something smart.
Let’s check-in with Twitter and see how everyone there felt about the call.
The call was so bad there are already conspiracy theories about the call.
Calling a QB draw in the situation should get everyone fired. As a matter of fact, if I’m the Cowboys, I’d consider disbanding my team and leaving the NFL because that call is all anyone is going to to talk about until the Cowboys win another Super Bowl which is on pace to happen in the year never.
Worst pick: I didn’t miss ANY PICKS during the wild-card round so I feel like I should just use this section to make fun of the Cowboys again for running the most ill-conceived play in the history of football. When the earth inevitably implodes on itself three billion years from now, I hope the only thing that survives is footage of that play so that whatever beings are alive can make fun of it for the rest of eternity.
Straight up in wild-card round: 6-0
SU overall in playoffs: 6-0
Against the spread in wild-card round: 3-3
ATS overall in playoffs: 3-3
Final 2021 regular season record
Straight-up: 174-97-1 (Ranked second overall at CBSSports.com)
Against the spread: 138-131-3
You can find John Breech on Facebook or Twitter and if he’s not doing one of those things, he’s probably writing an entire book about all the plays the Cowboys should have called instead of the QB draw.