The 2021 regular season is now in the books and we are knocking on the door of the opening round of the NFL playoffs. We have six games on the Super Wild Card Weekend slate, which includes a number of high-profile rematches like Buffalo-New England and Arizona-L.A., and we’ll get some quality quarterback duels on top of it. That’s plenty of action for us to truly dive into in our little gambling corner of the internet.
Unlike how we operated in the regular season where I would roll through my five Locks of the Week and then list my other picks, I will simply be breaking down every game on the playoffs slate in Lock of the Week fashion. Yes, your math is correct. That means I’m doing one extra deep-dive pick this week. Does that make me a hero?
2021 regular-season record
Locks of the Week ATS: 50-36-4
Latest Odds: Cincinnati Bengals -5.5
This is one of the games that I’m weirdly the most hyped for. Typically, the Saturday afternoon opener is not exactly the slot reserved for a clash of titans, but I’m fascinated to see Joe Burrow in the playoffs. He was nails in big games at LSU and does seem to have that it-factor to pull out a strong performance in the NFL as well. These two teams did meet earlier this season and that game was closer than the 32-13 final suggests. That said, Cincinnati was averaging roughly 37 points in the two games leading up to the regular-season finale where they rested Burrow. If they can keep up that level of play offensively, I’m not sure the Raiders will be able to keep up.
Projected score: Bengals 30, Raiders 24
The pick: Cincinnati -5.5
Latest Odds: Buffalo Bills -4
I don’t love how the Patriots have looked coming down the stretch. Not too long ago they were standing as the No. 1 seed in the conference, but have since fallen to a wild card entry. That’s thanks to three losses over their last four games, which included a 33-21 loss to Buffalo in Week 16. Despite these clubs splitting the season series, that game in Foxborough may be a more realistic view of how this coming matchup will unfold. After all, New England’s win in Week 13 was aided by 40 mph winds in a game where they only threw the ball three times. As long as Mother Nature doesn’t put her hands on this game in a similar fashion, I don’t think Mac Jones is ready to match Josh Allen throw for throw just yet. The Bills are also 3-1-1 ATS in their last five games as a favorite.
Projected score: Bills 27, Patriots 21
The pick: Bills -4
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Eagles at Buccaneers
Latest Odds: Tampa Bay Buccaneers -8.5
Hard for me to shy away from Tom Brady in this spot with the spread under 10. The Buccaneers were 6-2 ATS at Raymond James Stadium this season, which was tied for the second-best mark in the NFL. Tampa Bay should have running back Leonard Fournette and Lavonte David for this game, along with Shaq Barrett, who was activated off of the reserve/COVID-19 list this week. The Eagles were able to keep their Week 6 loss to the Bucs within a score, but it was a dominating effort by Tampa Bay, who almost doubled Philly in yards and time of possession. The weather could play a role as rain and wind are forecasted for this game, but I don’t think that will impact Brady much in the passing game. Meanwhile, the Eagles are 2-5 ATS in their last seven as an underdog.
Projected score: Buccaneers 30, Eagles 21
The pick: Buccaneers -8.5
Latest Odds: Dallas Cowboys -3
The Cowboys have been a stellar bet this season, owning an NFL-best 13-4 ATS record. While they have a top-ranked defense and prolific weapons on offense, the 49ers are a tough draw in this opening round. Dallas’ run defense ranks 16th in the NFL in DVOA and gave up 4.5 yards per rush (tied for fifth-most in the league) in the regular season. That plays into how Kyle Shanahan will want to play this game offensively and has weapons at the skill positions — like Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, etc. — to move the chains. Meanwhile, the Cowboys haven’t faced much adversity down the stretch as their final few weeks saw them face inferior opponents. The only game over the last month-plus where they did play a playoff contender was a 25-22 loss to the Cardinals.
Projected score: 49ers 30, Cowboys 27
The pick: San Francisco +3
Latest Odds: Kansas City Chiefs -12.5
The Steelers snuck their way into the postseason thanks to the perfect sequence of dominos falling in their favor. While their defense is playoff worthy, the offense is a different story as they were barely able to average 20 points a game throughout the year with Ben Roethlisberger looking like a quarterback very much on his last leg. If Pittsburgh plays as it did throughout the year, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Kansas City doesn’t run away with this game. I think this is going to be very similar to the previous matchup between these two teams in Week 16 where the Chiefs hung 30 before the Steelers could even get on the board. It’s also worth noting that the Steelers haven’t been able to string positive games together as they are 1-4 ATS following their last five wins.
Projected score: Chiefs 33, Steelers 20
The pick: Chiefs -12.5
Cardinals at Rams
Latest Odds: Los Angeles Rams -4
The Cardinals did not end the regular season on a particularly high note as they lost four of their last five. That said, I think I’m more concerned with how Matthew Stafford will play in this game than any late-season struggles that Arizona has faced. Over the last four weeks, the Rams quarterback has thrown as many interceptions (8) as he has touchdowns (8), including multiple picks over the last three games. If those turnovers bleed into the playoffs, that could prove to be a death sentence for Los Angeles and only amplify the narrative that Stafford — who is 0-3 in the playoffs in his career — struggles in the big moments. The Rams have also struggled to cover against good teams as they are 1-5 ATS vs. teams with a winning record.
Projected score: Cardinals 28, Rams 26
The pick: Cardinals +4