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NFL playoff picks, predictions against spread: Bucs solve Saints; Chiefs bounce Browns; Bills, Packers survive

Sporting News — (Vinnie Iyer)

And then there were eight teams remaining in the race for Super Bowl 55. With the divisional round of the 2021 NFL playoffs here it's time for another round for picks and predictions against the spread.

MORE: Get the latest NFL playoff odds, lines & spreads here

Although the slate drops from six games during wild-card weekend to a combined four this Saturday and Sunday, there's still plenty of good two-day action between the AFC and NFC matchups. There are two strong favorites and two mild favorites among the home teams this week.

Here's to trying to build on our solid success navigating through the numbers from last week:

MORE NFL PLAYOFFS:
AFC & NFC bracket | TV schedule | Super Bowl picks

NFL playoff picks, predictions against the spread

  •  Game of the Week: Ravens at Bills (-2.5, 50 o/u)

Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET, NBC

This game will live up to the billing of being a dynamic passing and running duel between 2018 first-round quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen. The Bills' defensive weakness is against the run, which will allow Jackson, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards to get going between the tackles and around the edges. The Ravens are solid against the run but, despite some having some good, experienced pass rushers and cornerbacks, they have lapses in pressure and coverage, which can expose them further with their frequent blitzes.

Jackson will do plenty of damage on the ground and Allen will have his share of key physical runs. It will come down to which quarterback can make a few more big pass plays off script. Jackson will see Tre'Davious White contain Marquise Brown, left leaning mostly on tight end Mark Andrews in a great matchup. The difference will be the Bills' Stefon Diggs, who can consistently get the better of Marcus Peters outside to boost Allen.

Pick: Bills win 27-24 and cover the spread.

  • Lock of the Week: Chiefs (-10, 55.5 o/u) over Browns

Sunday, 3:05 p.m. ET, CBS

The Browns came out looking for big plays and takeaways against the Steelers and were successful, eventually closing out their AFC North rivals with Nick Chubb and the power running game. Chubb and former Chiefs feature back Kareem Hunt will be critical to the chances of a second consecutive (and much bigger) road upset.

Baker Mayfield can't get into a pure chuck-fest with Patrick Mahomes because he doesn't have the same all-around weapons and is facing the much tougher of the two overall pass defenses. The Browns need to play ball control, picking good spots for Mayfield to hit on big plays off play-action and bootlegs and then make sure they lean on Chubb and Hunt most to finish in the red zone.

The Chiefs will counter by relentlessly throwing with a rested Mahomes. The Browns simply do not have anyone who can cover wide receiver Tyreek Hill deep or tight end Travis Kelce on intermediate routes. The goal will be jumping off to a significant lead and limiting the Browns' use of the run, putting Mayfield in uncomfortable situations against Frank Clark, Chris Jones and the rest of the Chiefs' pass rush. Mayfield also needs to be careful throwing to the middle of the field with safeties Tyrann Mathieu and Daniel Sorenson looming.

The Browns won't have answers for Mahomes. The Chiefs will find plenty for Mayfield in the second half.

Pick: Chiefs win 34-17 and cover the spread.

  • Upset of the Week: Buccaneers (+3, 52 o/u) over Saints

Sunday, 6:40 p.m. ET, Fox

Tom Brady's first game as a Buccaneer was rough in New Orleans in Week 1. His second shot at the Saints was even worse at home in Week 9. But Brady wasn't playing nearly at the same level in either previous meeting as he is now, fully locked into his wide receivers, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown. He's set at tight end, too, whether it's Cameron Brate or old buddy Rob Gronkowski running the routes. The Saints have developed more coverage issues all over the field and after seeing their defense twice on film, Brady will adjust into the most comfortable matchup, most every time.

The Bucs and Saints both stop the run well, so it will come down which fortysomething quarterback, Brady or Drew Brees, can avoid the big mistakes but also deliver big plays. Brady has simply been the more impressive passer with the stronger arm for his age and has more guys who can cause matchup problems. Brees will have success working on shorter routes to Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara, but Evans, Godwin and Brown will be of bigger help to Brady.

Pick: Buccaneers win 34-31.

  • Rams at Packers (-7, 46 o/u)

Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET, Fox

The Rams will make this a game because of their running game. Their offensive line pushed around the Seahawks with Andrew Whitworth back and the fresh legs of rookie Cam Akers has made the rushing attack central again. Jared Goff will be a little healthier to take advantage of that, working play-action to Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. The Packers will handle some of that by putting cornerback Jaire Alexander on Woods.

On the other side, Aaron Rodgers will see Davante Adams locked up with Jalen Ramsey and knows center Corey Linsley and the rest of his strong interior offensive line need to keep Aaron Donald at bay, especially with the edge compromised without left tackle David Bakhtiari. Rodgers and Aaron Jones don't find it easy at first, but then Rodgers finds tight end Robert Tonyan and other matchups he likes away from downfield and Jones will go to work on a worn-down group in the second half.

The Rams' defense makes a statement against the MVP QB in Green Bay, but they can't do enough to make sure the Rams' offense outscores whatever Rodgers leads the Packers to do.

Pick: Packers win 24-20 but fail to cover the spread.

Stats of the Week

  • Wild-card playoff straight up: 5-1
  • Wild-card playoffs against the spread: 3-2
  • Season straight up: 169-93
  • Season against the spread: 135-119