NFL Divisional Round picks and preview
Chris Pedota / USA Today Images

NFL divisional round picks and preview

After a wild-card round that was, well, wild, the divisional playoffs are set, and the four games this weekend will have a tough time matching the drama provided by several of last weekend’s games. This week’s contests are filled with intrigue; can Jacksonville build off its massive comeback against the Chargers and vanquish the Chiefs in a regular-season rematch? Will the Giants be able to continue their momentum from beating the Vikings, or are they in for a rude awakening against a much better Eagles team? The Bengals and Bills finally get to settle their business this year, though there might be some grumbles coming from Cincinnati about this game not being at a neutral site. Finally, the Cowboys and Niners, two defensive powerhouses with elite running attacks, will do better in resuming one of the NFL’s most storied postseason rivalries. There are no duds in the divisional round, so let’s get to the games.

Point spreads are from and are current as of 11 a.m. Thursday.

NOTE: Pick with spread is in bold

Last week: 3-3 (Season: 135-138-4)

JACKSONVILLE (10-8) AT KANSAS CITY (14-3) (Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET)

TV: NBC        LINE: Kansas City -8.5

So, these two have met once already this year, and the Chiefs won comfortably. Being a 9-point home favorite suggests that our friends in the desert expect them to do so again. And make no mistake, they’re the better team in this game, partly owing to the fact that they’re probably the best team in the NFL. Having said that, Trevor Lawrence isn’t going to be quite as cowed by the road environment at Arrowhead Stadium this time around, and Jacksonville has a little mojo about them; when you come back from a 27-0 hole to win, you can’t be counted out against anyone, no matter how incompetent a coach you were facing during said comeback. Jacksonville will have to be much better this time around, which mostly means finding a way to limit the Chiefs to less than the 486 yards of offense they had during the last meeting. Patrick Mahomes spread the ball around to great effect last time. Jacksonville has to find a way to limit some of his options, or they’ll suffer death by 1,000 cuts.

Look smart to your friends:

-Coming off a year where he had career highs in catches (82) and receiving yards (823), Zay Jones is bidding for his third-straight postseason game with a receiving touchdown. He also caught 10 passes when the teams met in Week 10.

-Despite not playing as a true lead back, Jerick McKinnon led all NFL running backs with 9 touchdown catches this year, tied for the most by a running back in a single season in the Super Bowl era. He’s also averaging 110.3 scrimmage yards per game in his last four postseason games.

The pick: Chiefs 34 Jaguars 27

☆          ☆          ☆          ☆          ☆

NY GIANTS (10-7-1) AT PHILADELPHIA (14-3) (Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET)

TV: FOX        LINE: Philadelphia -7.5

Oh, dear reader, you have no idea how badly I want to pick the Giants, which is saying something because I usually can’t stand New York teams. Then again, I can’t stand Philadelphia teams (to my editors: I’m sorry for that second part). But seriously, Brian Daboll’s turnaround of a franchise with considerably less talent than just about every team in the NFL, to say nothing of the rest of this year’s playoff field, has been something to behold. Daniel Jones was the best player on any team last weekend, and there was nothing fluky about how the Giants carved up Minnesota. I suspect plenty of public money will pour in on the underdogs. Therein lies the problem: Minnesota had just about the worst defense in the NFL. Everyone carves them up. Philadelphia, on the other hand, is one of those so-called “good football teams.” They have no real weaknesses. They’re third in the league in scoring offense and eighth in scoring defense. They will not just bend to the Giants’ will. They won in Week 18, albeit when they were trying to lock down the top seed in the conference, and New York was resting starters, but also pummeled the Giants by 26 a month prior, when both teams had something to play for. I love the story in New York, and Philly fans seem deeply unsettled about the state of their team, but I don’t think I can get there.

Look smart to your friends:

-Isaiah Hodgins is coming on as a target for Jones. He led the Giants with 8 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown catch against Minnesota and has a touchdown catch in five of his past six games, including the playoffs.

-Looking for someone who might disrupt everything New York wants to do offensively? How about Javon Hargrave? Philly’s stud defensive tackle had career highs in sacks (11) and tackles for loss (10) this past season.

The pick: Eagles 27 Giants 20

Mark Konezny / USA Today Images

CINCINNATI (13-4) AT BUFFALO (14-3) (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET)

TV: CBS        LINE: Buffalo -5

You can certainly make a case that this game should be contested on a neutral field, given the fact that had the Bengals beaten Buffalo in the teams’ canceled Week 17 meeting, they’d be playing this game in Cincinnati. Moving past that, though, this one seems intriguing, mainly because both teams appear very evenly matched. They struggled to put away inferior competition and vastly inferior quarterbacks in their wild-card games. I will say that Cincinnati’s victory was more impressive because John Harbaugh is a better coach than Mike McDaniel, and the Ravens are built to give teams fits even at less than full strength. The Bills don’t have Von Miller, of course, but the Bengals will almost certainly be without Alex Cappa, Jonah Williams, and La’el Collins on the offensive line. Collins is definitely done, and Williams has a dislocated kneecap. The Bills are healthier overall and at home, but they were sloppy against Miami. The question really comes down to this: Do you trust Buffalo to handle their business against a battered opponent? Or do you think that Joe Burrow will just swagger his way right into another AFC Championship Game showdown with Patrick Mahomes? If the Bengals’ patchwork line can protect him, and that’s a massive “if,” I certainly wouldn’t bet against him.

Look smart to your friends:

-Logan Wilson made the play of the game – and the season – to power the Bengals’ win last week, and he’ll need to be big again in this game. He led the Bengals with a career-high 123 tackles this year and has 8+ tackles in each of his five career postseason games.

-It’s playoff time, so Gabe Davis is back to doing Gabe Davis things. He had 6 catches for 113 yards and a touchdown last week, his third-straight playoff game with a receiving touchdown.

The pick: Bengals 34 Bills 31

☆          ☆          ☆          ☆          ☆

DALLAS (13-5) AT SAN FRANCISCO (14-4) (Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET)

TV: FOX        LINE: San Francisco -3.5

One of the most storied playoff rivalries will get its latest chapter, and the timing couldn’t be better. Dak Prescott suddenly got his mojo back against a solid Buccaneers defense, shredding them early and never looking back. Brock Purdy’s wild story continued, as he and the Niners shook off a slow start to shred the Seahawks in the second half and cruise to a victory. Now, two teams of very similar quality and construction will face off, and both have the look of teams that could win the Super Bowl. Yes, I know you can say that for every team left, but it seems a bit more legit with these two than, say, the Jaguars (sorry Jacksonville). And yes, I also know I picked the Cowboys to gag against Tampa last week. They did not. The game, at least from my vantage point, comes down to what so many games do: Can either team generate consistent enough pressure to force either quarterback into some game-changing mistakes? Purdy’s relative lack of resume would make you think that he’s more vulnerable to that sort of thing, but Prescott’s 15 interceptions were tied for the most in the league, with Davis Mills. There are no bad matchups in the divisional round; this game has a very good chance of being the best of a strong bunch.

Look smart to your friends:

-Tony Pollard is the Cowboys’ best running back, and probably their best offensive weapon. He had career highs in scrimmage yards (1,378), rushing yards (1,007), receiving yards (371), rushing touchdowns (9), and receiving touchdowns (3) this year. Pretty good, right?

-Keep an eye on Fred Warner in this game. The do-it-all linebacker led the Niners with 130 tackles this season, and had a career-high 10 passes defensed in 2022. An interception of Prescott would not be a shocker.

The pick: 49ers 27 Cowboys 24

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