Las Vegas Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals
The Raiders dispatched Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers to earn the last playoff spot in the AFC. Their reward is a matchup with another stud QB Joe Burrow and the NFC North Champion Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals are ahead of schedule in their rebuild. The Bengals were road warriors this year, going 6-2 ATS and 5-3 overall on the road. One of those road wins was a 32-13 beating of the Raiders on November 21st. Joe Mixon dominated on the ground, running for 123 yards and two touchdowns. The time of possession was widely in favor of the Bengals at +15 minutes.
The Bengals are not a run first team but they are able to lean on Mixon in the right matchups. If they can establish the run again they can neutralize the biggest defensive asset of the Raiders, their pass rush. Joe Burrow has multiple weapons to take advantage of the Raiders stacking the box and should be able to pick apart the defense if he gets 1on 1 coverage on Tee Higgins and JaMarr Chase.
Their defense may have a slight advantage but I don’t see how their offense can keep up with Joe and the boys. Vegas leads the NFL in penalty yards per game at 63 yards per game, while the Bengals are one of the more disciplined teams in football. This is a ten point game at least. Rolling with Joe, cigars for everyone.
Pick: Bengals -6
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
This game is simple. Can Buffalo stop the New England run game? They stop the run, they win the game. They don’t stop the run, they lose.
The Bills have the #1 overall defense in the NFL. They however possess the #13 overall defense against the run. The Patriots have shown the ability to run the ball in their two matchups with Buffalo, the infamous “wind” game was a ground dominate effort leading the a Patriots victory, in matchup two the Bills offense shined. Josh Allen led the Bills to a 33-21 victory in Foxboro, while giving up 103 yards and three tuddys to Damien Harris.
The Patriots have struggled down the stretch because of the regression of rookie Mac Jones. Over his last five he has thrown five interceptions. Belicheck will not allow the game to be on the shoulders of his rookie QB. He will limit the throws and pound the ball right down the middle of the Buffalo defense. Both Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson will be available, which means fresh legs for the Patriots run game.
Josh Allen is a stud, but this is the third meeting this year, hard for me to believe the Patriots won’t be ready to limit his downfield throws.
This division matchup will be gritty, no matter what this will be decided by a field goal. I like the Patriots to keep this close and potentially win because Allen can’t get the ball in his hands enough.
Pick: Patriots +4
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs
A lot of things went right to allow the Pittsburgh Steelers to get into the playoffs. The luck has run out. The Chiefs have found their groove at the right time and they get the best matchup they could possibly ask for with an over the hill relic of a hall of fame QB in Big Ben.
The Chiefs smacked the Steelers in the face just two weeks ago. They will do it again on Sunday, ending a historic career, finally. The Chiefs hold the advantage in nearly every category, including on the defensive end. The “vaunted” Steelers defense ended the season in the bottom ten in points against. Their inability to stop the run has allowed teams to control the clock and score at will. If they can’t get pressure on the QB they are basically just crash pads in the middle of the field. The Chiefs have averaged 35 points per game over their last four, the Steelers just don’t have the firepower to match them.
The Chiefs are 6-2 ATS in their last eight. They are red hot, fully healthy and playing at home. The Steelers would be a nice story but Big Ben hasn’t had a QBR over 35 in his last five games. If they fall behind its going to be tough to beat the Chiefs if your QB can’t throw it over 20 yards. Najee Harris will likely make a big play at some point and Dionte Johnson will break loose, but it won’t be enough. Double digits in the playoffs is never an easy cover but this one is a mismatch of organization going in different directions.
Pick: Chiefs -13