NFL divisional round will have at least one surprise winner
Although the Pittsburgh Steelers missed an opportunity to move on to the NFL Divisional Round this season, the twelve teams who played in last weekend’s playoff game combined to average 25.3 points per game (the most since 2013) and thanks to a playoff format change by the league featured six opening-round games. The Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers had a bye. In the Divisional Round, offensive numbers are expected to once again be high, which bodes well for skill players. While Steelers fans chose one team or another to root for since their team is out of contention, this weekend will feature at least one surprise winner among the pack, despite Vegas odds.
Those who examine teams and individual players look at factors like teams’ home and away records, coaches’ head-to-head records, injuries, and even fan trends. So, before the games kick off, let’s look at the matchups, who oddsmakers have listed as favorites, and who we predict will surprise NFL fans* with a win even though they are currently not favored by sports media or analysts to do so.
Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay Packers
Saturday, January 16, 2021 – 04:35 PM EDT at Lambeau Field
This game will be a battle of great offense versus great defense. Led by Aaron Rodgers, who is in discussions as being the NFL Offensive MVP this season, the Packers scored the most offensive points this season. The Rams, led by Aaron Donald, allowed the fewest points by opposing offenses. With the Packers having played more consistently this season, it’s difficult to see the Rams keeping Green Bay from once again taking a win.
Prediction: The Packers will get the cover as a 7-point favorite per most sports oddsmakers.
Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills
Saturday, January 16, 2021 – 8:15 PM EDT at Bills Stadium
The last time these two teams met was during the 2019 NFL season. The Ravens defense was able to dial up a lot of pressure but Bills quarterback Josh Allen showed a new level of maturity this season in reading opposing defenses and making adjustments. Against the blitz, Allen has completed 66 percent of his passes, and his sack rate when being blitzed fell to just four percent. Allen’s passer rating against the blitz has improved to 111.6 from 78.4. While most of the talk has Lamar Jackson and the Ravens defense steamrolling the Bills, it’s Buffalo who is the 2.5-point favorite; the fact that there will be fans in the stands should also factor into this game.
Prediction: The Bills stun the media analysts’ favorite Ravens with a win despite all the talk that Jackson is an MVP candidate.
*This is our spoiler game in the Divisional Round.
Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs
Sunday, January 17, 2021 – 4:05 PM EDT at Arrowhead Stadium
The Browns are on a high after defeating the Steelers in the Wild Card round and hope to carry that momentum into Arrowhead on Sunday. The Chiefs aren’t suffering from a lack of rest, a plague of injuries, or turnovers. Baker Mayfield played well in spreading the ball around last weekend but the pass rush the Browns attempt on the Chiefs offense will be a true battle. Expect Patrick Mahomes to respond with a shootout, if necessary, and keep his team in control.
Prediction: The Chiefs, a ten-point favorite, will keep their momentum rolling for the win.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
Sunday, January 17, 2021 – 6:40 PM EDT at Mercedes-Benz Superdome
There are a lot of NFL fans that want to see Tom Brady lead the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl; a championship with his first team after a dynasty with the New England Patriots. Brady has some high-end targets behind a good offensive line but the Saints had very few issues handing the Bucs a 34-23 loss in Week 1 and a 38-3 loss in November. The Saints have found ways to keep things steadily moving in their direction; Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, and Michael Thomas look to be in the groove heading into this matchup, however. This will be a battle between two veteran quarterbacks at the end of their careers.
Prediction: The Saints can’t completely shut down Brady and company.