Metro tells you where to place your bets for the first weekend of the NFL playoffs.
Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs (-8)
The Chiefs seem to be firing on all cylinders now after a mid-season slump, as they’ve won and covered four straight games. However, the Titans have been just as good to their backers of late, covering in five of their last six.
Tennessee’s offense draws a favorable matchup with Kansas City’s porous defense (27th in YPG). DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry should be able to pile up yardage against that weak defensive unit. And Marcus Mariota should receive negligible pressure in the pocket as he faces a Chiefs line that’s recorded just 31 sacks this season (24th).
Kareem Hunt is the straw that stirs the drink in Kansas City’s offense (8-1 when he records over 80 yards rushing), and he’ll face stout resistance from the Titans’ fourth-ranked run stoppers. That will force Alex Smith to make big throws in a cold-weather game, which usually spells trouble.
The pick: Titans +8
Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams (-6)
Last year the Falcons rode their number-one ranked scoring offense all the way to the Super Bowl. This year they’ll try to the stop the NFL’s number-one offense when they face the L.A. Rams.
Atlanta is ranked ninth in YPG allowed, but the Rams have been overwhelming at times because of Todd Gurley. He has over 2,000 scrimmage yards in 2017, which has made Jared Goff’s sophomore year much more productive than his freshman year.
Matt Ryan and the Falcons have relied on big plays this season, particularly through the air, as they’re 26th in plays run but third in yards per play. However, the Rams don’t often let opponents beat them deep, as they’ve allowed just six passing plays of 40 or more yards. If Julio Jones is kept in check, the Rams should be able to stymie the Falcons’ 15th-ranked scorers.
The pick: Rams -6
Buffalo Bills at Jacksonville Jaguars (-7.5)
The Jaguars are the best bet to win their game this weekend and advance to the divisional round.
Leonard Fournette should have a huge game at home (where the Jaguars have covered in four of their last five) against Buffalo’s 29th-rated run stoppers.
Jacksonville also holds a huge advantage on defense, as their top-ranked pass defenders match up with Buffalo’s second-worst aerial attack. Tyrod Taylor will be running for his life against the Jags’ tenacious pass rush (55 sacks, second in the league). If LeSean McCoy can’t play due to an ankle injury (or is less than 100 percent), that only hurts the Bills more. Give the points with Jacksonville.
The pick: Jaguars -7.5
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints (-6.5)
Both the Panthers and Saints lost in Week 17 even though both teams had something to play for; the NFC South title. Carolina’s loss could prove far more costly as they now have to travel to New Orleans, where Drew Brees and company are 7-1 this year.
The Saints’ improved defense deserves a lot of credit for their team’s 11-5 record this year, but the offense should carry the freight in this contest. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara lead a highly-productive backfield (fifth by YPG) and Brees commands the league’s fifth-best passing offense. The latter unit should have their way with Carolina’s 18th-rated pass stoppers.
New Orleans kept Cam Newton and his squad in check in two games this season, allowing under 300 yards in each contest, both of which they won. Expect the Saints to make it three straight wins over the Panthers.
The pick: Saints -6.5