Tony’s Picks: Playoffs

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Tony tells you where to put your money for this week’s NFL games.

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Wildcard Round

49ers over Seahawks

A couple of years ago, when the NFL announced the expanded playoffs, they really did their best to hype up the new “Super Wildcard Weekend” with six playoff games. This year these games aren’t looking so super, as three of the games have points spreads of over a touchdown, including the 49ers over the Seahawks.

The 49ers are 9.5 point favorites as of this writing, and it’s easy to see why. The 49ers had the largest point differential in the NFL, while Seattle struggled to a winning record while only outscoring their opponents by 7 points across the entire season. This wouldn’t be the most shocking upset of the weekend, the Seahawks do at least have their starting quarterback after all, but it would still be surprising if they managed to win.

Jaguars over Chargers

While ESPN is licking their chops at Tom Brady going against the Cowboys, this game is the one most hardcore fans are looking forward to. Two young quarterbacks playing in the playoffs for the first time, it should be a good game.

On paper, the Chargers are probably better. But they are also a team that consistently underperforms their on-paper talent. This is a very close game that could go either way, but considering that the Jaguars won 38-10 the last time they played, I’m going to give the edge to the home team here.

Bills over Dolphins

With Tua and Bridgewater both out, the Dolphins are going to start Skylar Thompson. Vegas doesn’t have much faith in him as they have the Bills as 13 point favorites. And I unfortunately have to agree. If Tua was playing, I’d be tempted to pick the Dolphins. Even with Bridgewater, I’d say the Dolphins had a real chance to pull off the upset.

But as much as I’m rooting for the kid who went to high school in my hometown, he just isn’t on the same level as those two guys. It would take a miracle for the Dolphins to win this game.

Vikings over Giants

The last time two teams with negative point differentials played each other in the playoffs was in 2004 when the Seahawks beat the Rams 27-20. But even more historic than that is the Minnesota Vikings, who are the first team since the merger to have four or fewer losses in a non-strike shortened season despite having a negative point differential.

All that to say, the Vikings would normally be the type of team you’d expect to disappoint in the playoffs, but since they’re playing another bad team, they actually are probably going to win at least one playoff game this year.

Bengals over Ravens

Another great game ruined by injuries to quarterbacks. I’d probably pick the Ravens to win if they had Lamar, but it looks like we may have seen his last game as a Raven due to his injury. Not only that, but like the Dolphins, the Ravens are also likely going to go with their 3rd string quarterback since Tyler Huntley isn’t practicing either.

Just like the Bills, it looks like the Bengals are going to have no problems winning their wildcard round game.

Cowboys over Buccaneers

Tom Brady? Cowboys? It’s hard to know who to root harder against.

While the Cowboys certainly look like an easy pick to win over a Tampa Bay team that’s looked bad all year, the Buccaneers did beat Dallas in the first week of the season in a game that Dak played almost the entirety of. So it’s not that crazy to think Tampa Bay might win. In fact, of the three teams who made the playoffs with losing records since the merger (excluding the strike-shortened year), two of them actually won a playoff game.

Divisional Round

Cowboys over Eagles

I’m a big fan of history, which is why I’m picking the upset here (to the dismay of Cowboys haters everywhere, who have used their lack of recent NFC Championship appearances against them so effectively).

In their first matchup this season, the Eagles did win, but it was over Cooper Rush. And even then the Eagles allowed them to keep it close into the 4th quarter. And it’s not like the Eagles were getting unlucky. If anything, it was the Cowboys who gave the game away, as they had two interceptions and a turnover on downs in the first half alone.

In their second matchup, the roles were reversed, with the Eagles being force to play their backup quarterback. But Minshew is way better than Rush, and I’d argue he’s not that much worse than Hurts, and Dak had no problems tearing through the Eagles’ defense.

So given this history, I think the Cowboys have the matchup advantage here.

49ers over Vikings

The analytics nerds say that point differential is a better predictor of future results than record. If that’s the case, then the 49ers, who have the best point differential in the NFL, should have no problem beating the Vikings, who have a negative point differential.

Bengals over Bills

This is the game everybody assumed would happen for weeks, and it’s looking extremely likely even before any playoff games have been played.

I imagine the Bills will be favored both because Vegas still loves Buffalo and the Bills will (completely unjustly) be playing this game at home. It is very close, but I’m going to go with Cincinnati, just because there’s something about the Bills that rubs me the wrong way that I can’t put my finger on.

I guess in tangible terms, Allen has looked a bit more inconsistent ever since injuring his elbow against the Jets. And they did lose Von Miller, who is supposed to be the anchor of that defense.

But even more than that, when just looking at their recent games. They got two kickoff return touchdowns, but were otherwise outscored 23-21 against New England. Two weeks before that they dominated the Bears on paper, but digging a little deeper, Josh Allen actually had a pretty bad game, and it was 21-13 as late as 5 minutes left in the 4th quarter. Before that was a decent outing against Miami, although the narrow 3-point margin becomes less impressive when you see it was a warm weather team playing on the road in the cold. And before that, Josh Allen had another poor outing against the Jets.

Of course, on top of that the Bengals, although it was early, looked like they were on their way to victory before Hamlin suffered his heart attack.

I’m not saying the Bills are bad, they’re obviously one of the top teams in the NFL. But in such a close game, they have too many questions for me to pick.

Chiefs over Jaguars

This seems like one of those games where, even though the Jaguars are a perfectly competent team, they just don’t have that edge that causes the Chiefs trouble. The regular season game was not a problem for the Chiefs (even the 27-17 final score doesn’t do it justice since Pacheco fumbled on the Jacksonville 9 and the Chiefs were on the Jacksonville 28 when they ran the clock out to end the game) and I expect a postseason matchup would go similarly.

Conference Championship

49ers over Cowboys

Most people would say the 49ers are significantly better than the Cowboys, and I think that’s probably true, but the Cowboys might be sneaky. They’re 8-3 in their last 11 games, with two of those losses being in overtime. They’re also top 5 in both points scored and points allowed. So that looks pretty good.

What looks less good is their week 18 game against Washington, a game they were trying in, by the way, where Washington absolutely dominated them. That is a major red flag heading into the post season. Against a team like San Francisco that has looked more consistently good (at least to end the season, they had some horrid losses early) it’s hard to trust Dallas to come out on top.

Chiefs over Bengals

Given how much I harp on history, I should be picking the Bengals here, right? Well, I probably would, except in looking at the games closely I’m not entirely there yet.

If you look at last year’s AFC Championship, the Chiefs were dominating in the first half. The Bengals were completely outmatched. Then in the 2nd half, they decided to say “screw it” and played an extreme anti-pass defense. This caught the Chiefs off guard, and apparently they didn’t have enough faith in the run game, so the offense stalled, and the Bengals came back.

In the regular season game this year, they did the same thing. But this time, the Chiefs were ready for it. And in a super rare occurrence for the Mahomes/Reid Chiefs, the rushing offense far outpaced the passing offense in expected points. There was really no issue moving the ball.

The problem was that, because they ran a more conservative offense, it burned the clock quickly. In an average NFL game, each team gets roughly 9–11 drives. In this game the Chiefs and Bengals each had 7 drives excluding ends of halves. Fewer drives means that luck plays a bigger role. Normally, something like a fumble or missed field goal wouldn’t be the end of the world because they’d have plenty of drives to overcome it. But here a Kelce fumble and a missed field goal were extremely costly, and there just wasn’t enough opportunity to overcome it.

I would still rather not play the Bengals if we don’t have to. In fact, I’d rather play the Bills on a neutral field than the Bengals at home. But I think I’d still lean towards the Chiefs winning if it does come to pass.

Super Bowl

Chiefs over 49ers

A rematch of Super Bowl LIV seems to be a very trendy pick, at least among the Chiefs fans I follow on Twitter. While I have repeatedly said how great the 49ers have looked, the reality is that quarterback is incredibly important, and a big reason the 49ers look so good in the NFC is because there is a severe lack of elite quarterbacks in that conference.

When it comes to the 49ers playing the Chiefs, the quarterback advantage for the Chiefs is simply too large to reasonably pick against them.

 
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upamtn
01/12/2023 12:15 pm

good thoughts, but I’m a wait for a coupla weekends and see how things go before “predicting” all the way thru

AFC: Bills, Bengals, Jags
NFC: Niners, Vikings, Cowboys

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