Bleacher Report's Expert Divisional Weekend 2023 NFL Picks
Underdogs came up huge during NFL Wild Card Weekend—four covered the spread and two won outright. While our betting experts jumped all over the New York Giants for the straight-up upset, the Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens did some damage to the crew's consensus record.
NFL analysts Gary Davenport, Brent Sobleski, Kris Knox, Brad Gagnon and Maurice Moton, editor Wes O'Donnell and B/R Betting host of "Winners Only Wednesdays" Greg Ivory broke down the divisional round with more respect for underdogs, but did they back any of the road teams for the upcoming weekend? Well, we have one unanimous decision in favor of an away team.
Before we dive into divisional round picks, let's check out the playoff leaderboard.
T-1. O'Donnell: 3-3
T-1. Gagnon: 3-3
T-1. Moton: 3-3
T-4. Ivory: 2-4
T-4. Sobleski: 2-4
T-6. Davenport: 1-5
T-6. Knox: 1-5
Consensus picks: 2-4
Lines are from DraftKings as of Thursday, Jan. 19, at 4 p.m. ET. Check DraftKings for the latest odds info. Information on public betting trends is courtesy of the Action Network. ATS records are provided by TeamRankings.
Jacksonville Jaguars (9-8) at Kansas City Chiefs (14-3)
DraftKings Line: Chiefs -8.5
The Jacksonville Jaguars come into this contest as the biggest underdogs of the divisional round, but they should feel confident in their ability to compete with the Kansas City Chiefs. Last week, they recorded the third-largest comeback in NFL playoff history, overcoming a 27-point hole to beat the Los Angeles Chargers 31-30.
In Week 10, the Jaguars lost to the Chiefs 27-17 and turned the ball over three times in that game. If Jacksonville takes better care of the football, quarterback Trevor Lawrence could keep the Chiefs' 18th-ranked pass defense—the unit that has allowed the most touchdowns (33)—on its heels.
Knox took the points with a Jaguars squad that's made strides over the past two months (7-1 since their Week 11 bye).
"Either the Chiefs will come out of their bye extremely focused and get up on the Jaguars early, or the time off will allow Jacksonville to gain an early advantage. Either way, I think this is too many points to give a resilient Jaguars team that is playing with house money. Jacksonville lost by 10 when these two met in the regular season, and it is a better team by leaps and bounds now.
"Jacksonville wasn't supposed to be here this quickly. In a year or two? Sure, but the Jags have meshed under head coach Doug Pederson, found a star in Trevor Lawrence and have proven that they will not go quietly. They present a real problem for a Chiefs team that struggled to close out the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos (twice) before blowing out the Raiders in Week 18.
"Jacksonville's pass defense isn't great, and it has struggled to cover tight ends, which is an obvious problem in a matchup with Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce. However, K.C.—ranked 15th in yards per rush allowed, 18th in passing yards allowed and last in passing touchdowns allowed—has its own defensive issues. A sluggish start or a failure to close things out late could have the Chiefs flirting with an early playoff exit. I think K.C. survives, but I also think the Jags make it uncomfortably close."
Moton doesn't see lightning striking twice for the Jaguars if they fall behind a Chiefs squad with a high-powered offense, and he expects Mahomes to pick apart Jacksonville's vulnerable pass defense.
"Jacksonville, and specifically Lawrence, earned some respect in a comeback victory over Los Angeles last week, erasing a 27-0 deficit. However, the Jaguars won't be able to pull that off against the Chiefs, which field the No. 1 scoring offense. And though the Chiefs don't run the ball with consistency, they average 4.7 yards per carry, which ranks eighth leaguewide. So, Kansas City can milk the clock with a big lead.
"More importantly, the No. 1-seeded Chiefs had a week off, which allowed offensive mastermind Andy Reid extra time to game plan against the Jaguars' 28th-ranked pass defense. Mahomes, who's an MVP candidate with league-leading passing numbers in yards (5,250) and touchdowns (41) will shred Jacksonville's secondary en route to a decisive double-digit victory."
Consensus: Chiefs -8.5
Score Prediction: Chiefs 35, Jaguars 24
New York Giants (9-7-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (14-3)
DraftKings Line: Eagles -7.5
The New York Giants will face off with the Philadelphia Eagles for the third time in the 2022 campaign. The Eagles won the first two contests. Don't be fooled by the score in the Week 18 meeting, Philadelphia led 19-3 going into the fourth quarter before New York cosmetically balanced the final score (22-16) with a couple of touchdowns.
Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts isn't on the injury report, which is a good sign after he missed two games with a shoulder sprain and played through pain in Week 18. Philadelphia's offense must come out sharp. New York has scored 38 and 31 points in its last two outings with Daniel Jones under center and playing at his best, throwing for 478 passing yards, four touchdowns with a 73 percent completion rate and rushing for 169 yards and two scores in those starts.
Davenport predicts an Eagles season series sweep with a sizable victory for the team with the league's best regular-season record.
"The Giants are a great story—Brian Daboll is a leading contender to be named Coach of the Year after getting so much from the New York roster, and quarterback Daniel Jones has made himself a boatload of cabbage with easily the best season of his professional career.
"That special season ends Saturday night in Philly.
"The Giants have spent most of the season punching above their weight. And New York's offensive performance against the Minnesota Vikings last week might have been their best outing of the season. But the G-Men were 18th in total offense in 2022, 15th in scoring offense, 25th in total defense and 17th in scoring defense. The Eagles didn't rank lower than eighth in any of those categories and were inside the top five in three of them.
"When we last saw the full-strength Eagles against the full-strength Giants, New York had no answer for the Philly offense, allowing 437 yards of offense and 48 points at MetLife Stadium in Week 14. The talent gap here is just too wide."
O'Donnell believes the familiarity between division opponents will favor the Giants in a third battle with the Eagles.
"The overall talent gap between these two sides still exists. The Eagles have an advantage in almost every position battle. Things could very easily look like the Week 14 matchup that saw Big Blue dominated by Philly. These Giants executed a nearly flawless game plan in their Wild Card Weekend win over the Vikings and still almost lost the game.
"But, very simply, it's difficult to beat a team three times in the same season. With a touchdown-plus in the back pocket, I'll take the points and hope for the best. New York has earned that much with a league-best 14-4 record against the spread this campaign."
Consensus: Giants +7.5
Score Prediction: Eagles 27, Giants 21
Cincinnati Bengals (12-4) at Buffalo Bills (13-3)
DraftKings Line: Bills -5
In Week 17, these teams took the field at Paycor Stadium, but Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest midway through the first quarter. Fortunately, he's on the road to recovery and at the club's facility "almost daily," which has helped ease his teammates' concerns.
"He seems to be, I think, still physically very tired, but the guy's in great spirits," Bills center Mitch Morse said about Hamlin. "And that also helps with the recovery process for all of us as well."
The Bills can fully focus on their opponent with Hamlin on the mend, and they'll need one of their best performances of the season to snap the Cincinnati Bengals' nine-game winning streak.
Despite the potential absences of left tackle Jonah Williams (dislocated kneecap) and left guard Alex Cappa (ankle), Moton expects to the Bengals to win their 10th consecutive contest.
"This line seems disrespectful to the Bengals, who will try to reach the AFC Championship Game in back-to-back years. Though Cincinnati has injuries across the offensive line, quarterback Joe Burrow helped lead this squad to Super Bowl LVI with shaky pass protection, taking 70 sacks during the 2022 campaign.
"Furthermore, the Bills had a sloppy Wild Card Weekend performance in a 34-31 win over the Miami Dolphins, who had third-string rookie quarterback Skylar Thompson under center. Josh Allen turned the ball over three times in that game.
"If the Bills continue to give the ball away at an alarming rate, the Bengals will make them pay for it in points off turnovers. Cincinnati scored 13 points off the Baltimore Ravens' two giveaways last week.
"Bettors should follow the trends for these clubs. Cincinnati has the league's second-best road record against the spread (7-2) while Buffalo lists 3-5 against the spread as a home team. The Bengals not only cover but win outright."
Sobleski broke down the quarterback matchup. He has major questions about Allen and believes the Bills will have a hard time generating pressure on Burrow.
"The Bills may have won eight straight games, but franchise quarterback Josh Allen hasn't played particularly well as of late. He's completed less than 60 percent of his passes in three of his past five games with five interceptions over the past three. Not everything falls on Allen, but he has been careless with the ball this season.
"Conversely, Joe Burrow is being asked to shoulder the Bengals offense because of the amount of uncertainty along Cincinnati's offensive line. Without Von Miller's eight sacks—the edge-rusher suffered a season-ending injury in November—the Bills' 32 remaining regular-season sacks would have ranked among the league's bottom five in the category. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier is excellent at scheming pressure and confusing quarterbacks, but Burrow and his full complement of weapons will still be difficult to defend, even with the Bengals' issues up front."
Consensus: Bengals +5
Score Prediction: Bengals 31, Bills 28
Dallas Cowboys (12-5) at San Francisco 49ers (13-4)
DraftKings Line: 49ers -3.5
After two stalled drives, the Dallas Cowboys offense caught fire this past Monday, scorching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 13th-ranked scoring defense (ninth in yards) for 31 points and 425 yards. Quarterback Dak Prescott had a strong outing, going 25-of-33 passing for 305 yards and four touchdowns.
If Prescott plays at that level, the San Francisco 49ers' 20th-ranked pass defense could be in for a long day at Levi's Stadium. Even though the Cowboys signal-caller will go up against a stingy scoring unit, Gagnon trusts him more than 49ers' rookie quarterback Brock Purdy.
"I struggled over this one the most because I don't trust the Cowboys, but they still have the much more established quarterback and looked damn good disposing of the Bucs. I'd still pick the 49ers to win this game, but the Brock Purdy stumble could come at any moment, and that hook is just too daunting. This feels like a field-goal game in either direction between two of the most talented teams in the league."
On the flip side, Moton cannot get over what he saw from kicker Brett Maher, who cost the Cowboys four points this past Monday.
"Even though the Cowboys thumped the Buccaneers 31-14, how can anyone trust them with Brett Maher as their kicker? In the wild-card game win, Maher missed four extra-point attempts, and he hasn't made a field goal since Week 17. In what should be a close battle with the 49ers, the Cowboys have a shaky kicker who may cost them more points.
"Meanwhile, 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy shook off a first half of missed opportunities to finish 18-of-30 passing for 332 yards and three touchdowns. Dallas' pass defense has had some leaks as of late, allowing an average of 275.6 yards over the last five weeks. By the way, the 49ers have covered the spread in five out of Purdy's six starts (Raiders covered in Week 17).
"Purdy has earned a lot of trust, and Maher lost it this week—lay the points with San Francisco."
Consensus: 49ers -3.5
Score Prediction: 49ers 28, Cowboys 23
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