Metro analyzes the four NFL playoff games taking place this weekend and tells you who to put your money on.
Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots (-5)
The Chiefs clobbered the Texans last Saturday, but this is a whole new ballgame. After winning their first playoff game since 1994, Kansas City travels to New England to take on a team that’s won 21 playoff games in the Tom Brady era (since 2001), most of them taking place at Gillette Stadium. The Chiefs' solid-but-not-spectacular offensive attack will be tested by the Patriots’ ninth-rated defense and Alex Smith’s top target, Jeremy Maclin, is nursing a high-ankle sprain - so his contributions could be limited. If the Chiefs fail to get their running game going, they could be in big trouble. Kansas City’s defense is ranked seventh, but they’ll have a hard time containing a Patriots offense that features a healthy Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman. Expect the Patriots to mitigate the Chiefs’ tenacious pass rushers by using short passes (an area in which Edelman could make a significant contribution) to limit the amount of time Brady spends behind his woeful offensive line. This may not be the best team Brady and Bill Belichick have been a part of, but it looks like the Patriots will once again be back in the AFC Championship Game.
The pick: Patriots -5
Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals (-7)
The Cardinals are among the favorites to win the Super Bowl going into this game, and it’s easy to see why. They are probably the most complete team in the league, with the best offense in football and the fifth-best defense by YPG. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers were able to pile up the points against the Redskins last week, but Washington’s defense can’t hold a candle to Arizona’s. These teams faced off back in Week 16 and it was a 38-8 slaughter in favor of the Cardinals, who allowed Green Bay just 187 total yards of offense while sacking Rodgers eight times. The Packers will try to blitz MVP-candidate Carson Palmer but the Cardinals’ offensive line, which surrendered the fifth-fewest sacks in the league, should be able to keep Palmer standing in the pocket. That will give Arizona’s offense plenty of opportunities to exploit Green Bay’s mediocre defense. The Cardinals should cover fairly easily.
The pick: Cardinals -7
Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers (-3)
This spread is surprisingly low, as the Panthers lost only one game all season while the Seahawks are fortunate to be playing this weekend after barely scraping by the Vikings last Sunday due to a missed field goal. This is not to say that this game won’t be competitive, as these teams profile very similarly. Both clubs boast a top-10 defense that is capable of forcing turnovers but Carolina is much more careful with the football on offense, as evidenced by its league-best plus-20 turnover ratio. Getting Jonathan Stewart back will be a boost for the Panthers’ terrific rush attack, which has helped move the chains for Carolina all season while keeping the ball away from the opposition’s offense (the Panthers’ 32:03 time of possession is among the top marks in the NFL). Carolina’s stingy rush defense should give Marshawn Lynch and/or his backups fits all game long, and that will force Russell Wilson to drop back behind his dreadful offensive line that appears overmatched against a Panthers squad that amassed 44 sacks this year. Cam Newton led his team to a win in Seattle back in Week 6; a similar outcome looks like a good bet.
The pick: Panthers -3
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos (-7)
If these teams were both healthy, the Steelers would look like a strong bet as a sizeable underdog. But Antonio Brown is doubtful for this game after taking a nasty hit near the end of the Steelers’ win over the Bengals last Saturday, and Ben Roethlisberger is battling a strained right shoulder that he’s expected to play through. D’Angelo Williams is expected to sit out for this game as well after missing last week’s contest, so Pittsburgh will once again have to turn to the inexperienced duo of Jordan Todman and Fitzgerald Toussaint to carry the ball on the ground. To make the task even more daunting, the Steelers will be trying to move the chains on the road against the No. 1 defense in football. However, it stands to reason that Denver will also have trouble moving the football on Sunday as the rapidly aging Peyton Manning, who’s had a penchant for early postseason exits, will be under center. Manning threw 17 interceptions in just 10 games this season and the Steelers' defense, though it gives up more than its fair share of yards, has picked off quarterbacks 17 times this season. And the Broncos’ mediocre running attack will be hard-pressed to establish itself against the NFL’s fifth-ranked run prevention squad. Because points will be hard to come by for both of these teams, taking Pittsburgh to at least keep the game close seems wise.
The pick: Steelers +7