Plenty of NFL fans will pick this week as their favorite of the year.
It's reasonable, though the structure of the divisional round has changed a bit. We used to be guaranteed the four best teams in the NFL, with two teams in each conference getting byes, but that's down to just one bye each for the AFC and NFC. Still, we have a pretty good group of eight teams. Hopefully that leads to better games than wild-card weekend, when we got one good game among the six.
Let's get right into the picks for our four games for the divisional round, with the spreads from BetMGM:
Ravens (-9.5) over Texans
It's becoming scary to bet against C.J. Stroud. The Texans rookie is beyond his years. If he doesn't end up being an elite quarterback for years to come, it will be a shock.
But he's also going against a quarterback who has already arrived as a future Hall of Famer. Don't think Lamar Jackson is on his way to Canton? Every other player who has multiple MVPs is already in or well on his way: Patrick Mahomes, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Jim Brown, Brett Favre, Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana, Kurt Warner, Steve Young. And Jackson is a few weeks away from his second MVP.
The problem has been Jackson's playoff résumé. Every critic of Jackson can recite it. He has three touchdown passes, five interceptions and a miserable 68.3 passer rating, and the Ravens have a 1-3 record. To some, it's proof that Jackson can't play in the playoffs. But that's ridiculous. He just hasn't had much success yet. There's no fatal flaw in his game that happens to pop up every January.
If the Ravens are one-and-done this postseason, there should be plenty of blame to go around. This is a team that can and arguably should win a Super Bowl. They've blown out plenty of good teams this season. One of them was the Texans, whom they beat 25-9 in the season opener. Houston has improved a lot since then, but I still think a rested Ravens team cruises in this one.
Packers (+9.5) over 49ers
What can a fully rested 49ers team do? We're about to find out.
The 49ers were the best team in the NFC this season, and it wasn't particularly close. With the Cowboys going down last week, the Niners' path to the Super Bowl opened as wide as you'll find for a No. 1 seed. It's hard to see any of the other three NFC teams beating the 49ers on the road.
Then again, nobody seemed to think the Packers were going to beat the Cowboys, who were undefeated at home this season.
Sometimes it's better to be the hottest team than the best team. The Packers won their final three games to make the playoffs. They didn't play any great teams in that stretch, but the win over the Cowboys legitimized it all. All of a sudden, that 21-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio that Jordan Love put up over Green Bay's past nine games has taken on a different feel.
The Packers defense is still a potential problem, and the 49ers are capable of blowing anyone out. But it seems like too many points to give the Packers.
Buccaneers (+6.5) over Lions
It's hard to buy any of the road underdogs winning straight-up. But odds are one of them will. In each of the past four postseasons and six of the past seven, at least one road team won in the divisional round.
The Buccaneers don't seem like a good candidate to be the road team to win. They were just 9-8 and won the NFC South, the weakest division in the NFL. But there will be at least one surprise this week.
The Lions have a secondary that played well in the second half against the Rams last week but hadn't played well in the few weeks before that. Baker Mayfield didn't look great late in the season, but he was dealing with injuries. He looked great in a win over the Eagles and is practicing in full this week. Tampa Bay's defense has played well at times. Maybe the 20-6 Lions win at Tampa Bay back in Week 6 was a preview, but that was a while ago, and that game was close before Jameson Williams hit a 45-yard touchdown late in the third quarter.
It wouldn't be a big surprise if the Lions, behind a raucous home crowd, get an easy win. But the Buccaneers have been feisty all season.
Bills (-3) over Chiefs
There's little doubt what the game of the weekend is. And the argument for the Chiefs winning is pretty easy. The Bills are on a short week and took on some more injuries Monday. Kansas City has the best defense of the Patrick Mahomes era. And they have Mahomes. It has been difficult for the Chiefs at times this season, though they looked pretty good last weekend against Miami.
I'm still not moving off the Bills.
Late in the season, I said the Bills would either miss the playoffs or make the Super Bowl. We'll see if I follow through and pick Buffalo next week, but I am not giving up on them yet. This was a flawed Chiefs team throughout the season. They're still very good, they have the best coach/quarterback combination in the NFL, and they're in a good spot. They're probably better equipped for bad weather — we're in for another scary forecast in western New York — than the team from Buffalo. It wouldn't surprise anyone if they won Sunday night.
But this seems like the Bills' time. The crowd will be great. Josh Allen has been awesome this season if he's not turning it over. Buffalo has more options on offense than the past few seasons. The Chiefs' dynasty isn't close to being finished, but Buffalo is ready to take a big step this postseason.
Last week: 2-4
Season to date: 141-133-8