Bleacher Report's Expert NFL Divisional-Game Picks

NFL StaffContributor IJanuary 21, 2022

Bleacher Report's Expert NFL Divisional-Game Picks

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Bettors lost money if they rolled the dice on underdogs during Super Wild Card Weekend, with the favorites covering in five out of six matchups.

    Looking ahead, the dogs may come roaring back in the divisional round. Among the four games, only one favorite has a spread of more than 3.5 points, which means wagerers should prepare to sit on the edge of their seats through some competitive playoff action.  

    Fortunately, you can count on our six experts—Connor Rogers, Ian Kenyon, Wes O'Donnell, Gary Davenport, Brent Sobleski and Maurice Moton—who all finished .500 or better with their wild-card picks. Based on consensus selections against the spread, our crew went 3-1

    As Bleacher Report's NFL analysts go into the weekend with their heads held high, they face a tough challenge in calling the upcoming games with close lines. Let's see how they broke down all four matchups and take a look at their projections against the spread.

              

    Lines are from DraftKings as of Thursday at 6 p.m. ET. Check DraftKings for the latest odds info. Information on public betting trends courtesy of the Action Network.

No. 4 Cincinnati Bengals (11-7) at No. 1 Tennessee Titans (12-5)

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    Titans running back Derrick Henry
    Titans running back Derrick HenryIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET

    Where: Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee

    TV: CBS

    Referee: Clete Blakeman

    LineTennessee -3.5

    Expected attendance: 69,143

    Cincinnati Bengals injuries to watch: Defensive end Trey Hendrickson went through a full practice Wednesday and cleared concussion protocol Thursday. Run-stuffing defensive tackle Josh Tupou (knee) missed the entire week of practice before sitting out the Bengals' wild-card matchup with the Las Vegas Raiders. He rejoined the team with limitations this week.

    Tennessee Titans injuries to watch: Running back Derrick Henry (foot surgery) isn't listed on the injury report. He responded well to contact during a padded practice and seems well on his way to a return to action after more than two months of recovery. Cornerback Jackrabbit Jenkins missed Wednesday's practice, but according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, he "should be OK."

    Key Bengals stat: The Bengals have played exceptionally clean on offense, which is lethal, considering they have the seventh-ranked scoring attack. They haven't turned the ball over since Week 14. 

    Key Titans stat: The Titans are built for matchups against top-notch competition. In 2021, they went into history books as the first team to win at least eight games against clubs that finished with a winning record.

The Pick: Bengals +3.5

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    Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow
    Bengals quarterback Joe BurrowDylan Buell/Getty Images

    O'Donnell: Cincy got its AFC North title and Joe Burrow's first playoff win. The Bengals are a team poised for a bright future and much more postseason success, but not this season. They'll put up a fight, but the Titans have been here before and will use that experience to defend their home turf regardless of how effective Derrick Henry, assuming he plays. The Titans' experience edge over the exciting Bengals is enough for me to believe they cover too. 

    Titans 28, Bengals 24

        

    Rogers: Everything is clicking at the right time for Burrow and Cincinnati's high-flying passing attack. Henry's availability and potential usage is a gigantic variable in this game, but it's hard to trust Tennessee's defense in this spot. Containing wideout Ja'Marr Chase is a tall task, and it feels like a dominant performance is on tap for him. Expect a shootout, and jump on the Bengals getting a field goal or more.

    Bengals 34, Titans 27

         

    Kenyon: I understand the Titans earned the No. 1 seed, but consider me a skeptic on them as AFC favorites. Tennessee reeled off eight wins in nine games after a Week 1 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, but after losing Henry and winning the next two, they ended the year with a 4-3 stretch that included a home loss to the Houston Texans. If Henry were at full strength, this could be a different story, but I'm a believer in Burrow and the Bengals to not only cover but also emerge as straight-up winners.

    Bengals 31, Titans 28

         

    Unanimous consensus ATS pick: Bengals +3.5

    Consensus score prediction: Bengals 28, Titans 25

No. 6 San Francisco 49ers (11-7) at No. 1 Green Bay Packers (13-4)

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    Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers
    Packers quarterback Aaron RodgersRick Osentoski/Associated Press

    When: Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET

    Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisconsin

    TV: Fox

    Referee: Ron Torbert

    Line: Green Bay -6

    Expected attendance: 81,441

    San Francisco 49ers injuries to watch: Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said there "are issues" with his shoulder and thumb injuries, but he's practiced with limitations this week. Running back Elijah Mitchell (knee) and linebacker Fred Warner (ankle) went through limited sessions Tuesday and full practices Wednesday. Defensive end Nick Bosa (concussion) missed practice Tuesday and logged a limited session Wednesday. Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said the two-time Pro Bowler has "come along well" while going through concussion protocol.

    Green Bay Packers injuries to watch: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers (toe) went through full practices this week. Left tackle David Bakhtiari (torn ACL) made his 2021 season debut in Week 18, and after a "load management" day, he practiced with limitations Wednesday. Versatile offensive lineman Billy Turner (knee) had complete sessions and might suit up after a four-game absence. Cornerback Jaire Alexander (shoulder) logged limited sessions and could return to action for the first time since Week 4. Green Bay cleared wideout Randall Cobb (core-muscle surgery) to play Saturday. Marquez Valdes-Scantling (back) took a step back, missing Wednesday's practice after a limited Tuesday session. The Packers gave tight end Marcedes Lewis some rest.

    Key 49ers stat: The 49ers are 3-0 against Rodgers in the playoffs, knocking the Packers out of each round of the postseason before the Super Bowl in those meetings.

    Key Packers stat: The Packers have won at least one playoff game in each of their last five trips to the postseason. They haven't had a one-and-done appearance since the 2013 campaign.

The Pick: 49ers +6

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    49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel
    49ers wide receiver Deebo SamuelIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    O'Donnell: San Francisco has the potential to pull off the outright upset, and it wouldn't surprise me in the least to see it happen. But the safer play for those backing the Niners is to take the points. The Packers haven't lost at home this season and have experience coming off a bye in the postseason. Head coach Matt LaFleur has led them to victories in the same situation each of the last two seasons. Take the points, or at least tease the line down to +3 to add some more juice. 

    Packers 24, 49ers 21

          

    Rogers: Green Bay is rested, healthy and ready to go. That's scary for a 49ers squad that just played a physical road game in Dallas. At Lambeau Field, Green Bay has the ultimate home-field advantage this time of year, and I can't figure out how San Francisco's secondary will contain wideout Davante Adams. Head coach Kyle Shanahan and coordinator Mike McDaniel's rush attack might seem perfect for the tundra, but they won't be able to keep up with the Packers.

    Packers 21, 49ers 14

          

    Kenyon: LaFleur, Rodgers and the rest of the Packers who remain from the 2019 squad that got trounced 37-20 in the NFC Championship Game by the 49ers have something to prove in this contest. LaFleur will have some game tape to go over from that matchup as well as from the outing at San Francisco from this past September to figure out how to stop Shanahan's potent run offense that diced them up two years ago. Rodgers at Lambeau against a team he's already seen this year? Give me Green Bay with a statement win. 

    Packers 34, 49ers 17

         

    Unanimous consensus ATS pick: 49ers +6

    Consensus score prediction: Packers 25, 49ers 21

No. 4 Los Angeles Rams (13-5) at No. 2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-4)

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    Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady
    Buccaneers quarterback Tom BradyIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    When: Sunday, 3 p.m. ET

    Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida

    TV: NBC

    Referee: Shawn Hochuli

    Line: Tampa Bay -3

    Expected attendance: 65,828

    Los Angeles Rams injuries to watch: Left tackle Andrew Whitworth exited the Rams' wild-card matchup with a knee injury and missed Wednesday's practice. Safety Taylor Rapp sat out the previous game because of a concussion, and he hasn't returned to the field. Linebacker Troy Reeder (ankle) and wideout Ben Skowronek (back) practiced with limitations Wednesday.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers injuries to watch: After missing multiple games, running back Giovani Bernard (hip and knee) and linebacker Lavonte David (foot) rejoined the team last week. Both practiced with limitations Wednesday. Tackle Josh Wells (quadriceps), who stepped in for Tristan Wirfs in the previous outing, also logged a limited practice. However, several notable players missed the first session of the week. Wirfs (ankle), center Ryan Jensen (ankle), running back Ronald Jones II (ankle), cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (hamstring), defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (personal) and wideouts Cyril Grayson Jr. (hamstring) and Breshad Perriman (hip and abdomen) sat out.

    Key Rams stat: The Rams have forced at least one turnover in eight consecutive games and finished the 2021 season tied for 10th in total takeaways. With its high volume of forced turnovers and its seasonal average of 5.2 yards allowed per play (tied for seventh), Los Angeles has the defense to match up with the Buccaneers' banged-up second-ranked scoring offense that's without wideouts Chris Godwin (torn ACL) and Antonio Brown (released).

    Key Bucs stat: As a Buccaneer, Brady is 0-2 against the Rams, throwing for three touchdowns and two interceptions in those contests.

The Pick: Rams +3

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    Rams wideout Odell Beckham Jr.
    Rams wideout Odell Beckham Jr.Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Moton: Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford finally broke through the playoff barrier, winning his first postseason game last week. He'll keep his momentum going in a matchup with the Buccaneers' susceptible pass defense that ranked 21st in yards allowed. With cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting battling a hamstring injury, wideouts Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. could run amok on Tampa Bay's secondary. Los Angeles' defense does enough to keep the score close, and Stafford engineers a game-winning drive.

    Rams 24, Buccaneers 23

         

    Sobleski: A Rams team firing on all cylinders can stake its claim as the league's best. This became apparent in September when Los Angeles dumped 34 points on the reigning Super Bowl champions. Still, that's all about which version of the Rams shows up, because Sean McVay's squad did struggle at times since the last meeting between these teams. But Los Angeles is better now with Beckham and running back Cam Akers in the lineup. If the Rams execute, they'll ruin the Buccaneers' bid to repeat. 

    Rams 27, Buccaneers 24

    Davenport: On paper, the Rams might be the better team, especially given all the injuries in Tampa. The Rams also won the first meeting between these teams in convincing fashion. But this isn't September. It's January. And while Stafford's Rams might be the better team, he's 1-3 in the postseason. Tom Brady, on the other hand, is a staggering 35-11 in the postseason—and his record at home in the playoffs (21-4) is even gaudier. That Week 3 loss in Los Angeles is also on Brady's "slights that must be avenged" list—and he takes that list seriously.

    Buccaneers 27, Rams 23 

          

    Unanimous consensus ATS pick: Rams +3

    Consensus score prediction: Bucs 26, Rams 25

No. 3 Buffalo Bills (12-6) at No. 2 Kansas City Chiefs (13-5)

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    Bills quarterback Josh Allen
    Bills quarterback Josh AllenJeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    When: Sunday 6:30 p.m. ET

    Where: GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri

    TV: CBS

    Referee: John Hussey

    Line: Kansas City -2.5

    Expected attendance: 72,936

    Buffalo Bills injuries to watch: Other than defensive end Mario Addison, who went through limited practices with a shoulder issue on Wednesday and Thursday, the Bills have a clean injury report.

    Kansas City Chiefs injuries to watch: Though Darrel Williams (toe) missed Thursday's practice, the Chiefs might get a boost in the backfield from Clyde Edwards-Helaire (shoulder), who went through a pair of full sessions to open the week. He sat out the last three games. Cornerback Rashad Fenton started the week on the sideline with a back issue.

    Key Bills stat: The Bills have allowed the lowest percentage (28 percent) of drives to result in an offensive score for the 2021 season.

    Key Chiefs stat: The Chiefs will attempt to break through the Bills' stout defense with an offense that leads the league in percentage of drives that resulted in a score (48.2 percent). Something has to give on Sunday.

The Pick: No Consensus

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    Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes
    Chiefs quarterback Patrick MahomesTravis Heying/Associated Press

    Moton: While most of us expect a shootout, the better defense will steal the spotlight late in this game. Like the Chiefs, the Bills can put up points in flurries, but they also gave up the fewest points and yards through the regular season. One of Buffalo's ball-hawking safeties, Jordan Poyer or Micah Hyde, will force a turnover in a crucial moment to seal the win. Both have a knack for coming up with big plays, logging five interceptions apiece for 2021.

    Bills 31, Chiefs 28

          

    Sobleski: This game is a toss-up between the AFC's two most talented teams, which feature electric offenses with elite quarterback play. The Chiefs aren't even getting the customary three-point spread just for being the home team. But it's not yet time to give up on this group. As good as Josh Allen and Co. are, Patrick Mahomes and Co. consistently find ways to put up big numbers. Since the start of December, the Chiefs posted a plus-106-point differential compared to plus-84 for the Bills. 

    Chiefs 34, Bills 31

          

    Davenport: Yes, after the 47-17 trouncing of New England, the Bills are coming off maybe the best offensive Wild Card Round performance in NFL history. Buffalo also has the superior defense (even without All-Pro cornerback Tre'Davious White, who's on IR with a torn ACL) and won the regular-season matchup between these teams. But the Chiefs have advanced to the AFC Championship Game in each of the past three seasons, and Mahomes threw five touchdown passes last week against Pittsburgh in less than 12 minutes of game time. When in doubt, go with the quarterback who has shown he can rise to the occasion when the pressure is at its highest.

    Chiefs 38, Bills 35

       

    Unanimous consensus ATS pick: None

    Consensus score prediction: Chiefs 31, Bills 31

          

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