NFL Wild-Card Weekend (All picks against the spread)
LAS VEGAS (10-7) AT CINCINNATI (10-7)
TV: NBC, 4:30 p.m.
Cincinnati by 4.5; O/U: 49
Ah, nothing says wild-card weekend like the Bengals being in the 4:30 window on Saturday. But it’s Joe Burrow and Zac Taylor, not Andy Dalton and Marvin Lewis, and the QB/coach combo, along with breakout rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase, have the franchise on the verge of its first playoff win since the 1990 season. Still, nerves will be a factor early on for a young team like Cincinnati. The Raiders enter on a four-game winning streak that included an epic 35-32 OT win over the Chargers in the NFL’s regular-season finale. Derek Carr has a bad track record in cold-weather games, and I see Vegas’ luck running out against a Bengals team that already beat them this season. But the resilient Raiders will keep this close enough to cover.
The pick: Las Vegas
The score: Cincinnati 24, Las Vegas 20
NEW ENGLAND (10-7) AT BUFFALO (11-6)
TV: CBS, 8:15 p.m.
Buffalo by 4; O/U: 44
The temperature is going to be in the single digits, but if the winds aren’t out of control like the teams’ first meeting in Buffalo, the Bills should be fine. You remember that game, right? The Patriots won, 14-10, on MNF and did it with Mac Jones attempting only three passes. The Bills got a little payback three weeks later with a 33-21 win at New England. It was their best win of the season, catapulted them to the AFC East title and all signs point to them handling business at home this time. Jones had a solid rookie season, leading the Pats on a seven-game win streak to get from 2-4 to 9-4, but they stumbled down the stretch with three losses in four games. Jones going up against the NFL’s top pass defense in his first playoff start isn’t a good matchup. Josh Allen will outplay him again to set up a rematch at Kansas City.
The pick: Buffalo
The score: Buffalo 27, New England 17
PHILADELPHIA (9-8) AT TAMPA BAY (13-4)
TV: Fox, 1 p.m.
Tampa Bay by 8.5; O/U: 46
With the spread being over a touchdown but under 10, it’s a tricky one. Do you just lay the points with the team you’re confident will win in the Bucs? Or take a shot with an underdog from Philly (hey, that script sounds familiar) that is playing with house money and doesn’t need to win for you to win? The safer play is to back Tom Brady and Tampa Bay, which went 7-1 at home. The Bucs also won at Philadelphia, a misleading 28-22 final after they dominated in taking a 28-7 lead. The Eagles went 0-6 against playoff teams. They’re a run-first team, but the Bucs’ defense ranked third against the run. This is a bad matchup for the Eagles.
The pick: Tampa Bay
The score: Tampa Bay 34, Philadelphia 23
GAME OF THE WEEK: SAN FRANCISCO (10-7) AT DALLAS (12-5)
TV: CBS, Nickelodeon, Amazon Prime 4:30 p.m.
Dallas by 3; O/U: 51
I double dare you not to watch this game on Nickelodeon, which last year made its NFL playoff debut and it was a fun slime had by all. This should be an entertaining game, a rivalry renewed from "The Catch" to those classic playoff matchups in the '90s. Dak Prescott and Dallas had a great bounce-back season, but this is a tough draw for the Cowboys, who have struggled against the run and now face one of the best rushing teams in the NFL. The Cowboys went 6-0 against the NFC East but just 6-5 against other teams. The 49ers have the makings of a team that sneaks into the playoffs and then makes a deep run. They rallied from 17-0 down on the road to beat the Rams in overtime last week, a remarkable comeback with their season on the line. Dual-threat Deebo Samuel and tight end George Kittle will be tough for Dallas to stop. This will be a close, competitive game, but the matchup favors the 49ers and they’ll ride the momentum from Week 18.
The pick: San Francisco
The score: San Francisco 27, Dallas 24
LOCK OF THE WEEK: PITTSBURGH (9-7-1) AT KANSAS CITY (12-5)
TV: NBC, 8:15 p.m.
Kansas City by 12.5; O/U: 46.5
This is the one game where you don’t have to think twice. Sure, it’s a big spread, but there’s a reason for that. Kansas City just demolished Pittsburgh, 36-10, in Week 16 at Arrowhead, and that was without Travis Kelce. Patrick Mahomes and all his weapons will be too much again. The Steelers topped 24 points just five times all season, and they’ll probably need to score in the 20-24 range to cover. Ben Roethlisberger may wish his retirement started a week earlier.
The pick: Kansas City
The score: Kansas City 34, Pittsburgh 17
ARIZONA (11-6) AT LA RAMS (12-5)
TV: ESPN, ABC, ESPN2, 8:15 p.m.
L.A. Rams by 3.5; O/U: 49.5
This three-match is a toss-up after each team won at the other’s building. It’s hard to believe either team will dominate, so taking the points is the smart play. Both enter off a defeat, with the Rams earning the NFC West title thanks to the Cardinals’ loss. Sean McVay is 9-1 against Arizona, the one loss in Week 4 when Kyler Murray & Co. dominated at L.A. The Cards are 4-6 after a 7-0 start, but they excelled on the road: 8-1 straight up and against the spread. The Rams were my preseason pick to win it all, but there’s a ton of pressure for an all-in team like them to win now. Matthew Stafford is 0-3 in the playoffs. Will this be the year? Like I said, it’s a toss-up.
The pick: Arizona
The score: Arizona 27, L.A. Rams 24 (OT)
STAFF STANDINGS AND PICKS
(best bets in bold)
*all picks against the spread
141-129-2 overall, 9-9 best bets
Las Vegas Buffalo Tampa Bay
San Francisco Kansas City Arizona
Las Vegas Buffalo Tampa Bay
Dallas Kansas City L.A. Rams
Cincinnati Buffalo Philadelphia
Dallas Kansas City Arizona
Cincinnati Buffalo Tampa Bay
Dallas Pittsburgh L.A. Rams