This column will come to you as soon as the Bears kick the extra point ... well, it appears we may be here awhile. We might as well acknowledge the possibility that the Bears will not kick the extra point and not cover the 11.5-point spread I was so excited to grab. I’m not sure whether writing this column compares with the Jordan “flu game,” but I will overcome a comparable amount of adversity to bring you winners for Round 2, albeit with a heavy heart.
The enhanced wild-card weekend was as fun as it sounded going in, and now it’s hard to believe it ever featured only four games. Saturday saw the dogs bark, while Sunday saw the Dawg Pound win in its first playoff appearance in 19 years. The Colts and Bills gave us a thriller to open the weekend, and then we learned who Taylor Heinicke was and collectively wondered why he didn’t have a job all year. Sunday saw some of the most head-scratching punts we’ll ever see as Mike Vrabel and Mike Tomlin (maybe it’s a Mike thing?) punted in key short-yardage spots. Lamar Jackson earned his first playoff win, while Russell Wilson left us perplexed as to how he was -250 favorite to win the MVP just a few months ago.
We have just seven precious games left, so let’s enjoy them and get to the picks.
Rams (+ 7) over Packers:
Grab the key number of 7 if you like the Rams, because I think it will move down to 6.5 and possibly 6 by kickoff. Backing an outstanding defense and a well-schemed running attack in cold weather, getting a full score looks like the valuable side to me. The Packers’ Achilles’ heel has been their run defense, although they’ve negated that weakness by doing a great job of establishing substantial leads. The Rams limp in nursing some key injuries to Aaron Donald and Cooper Kupp, and they have a murky quarterback situation. However, in freezing temperatures with an elite defense and coaching staff, 7 seems a tad inflated. We’ve seen teams off a bye come out flat, and the Rams’ secondary and pass rush have the firepower to disrupt the rhythm of the Packers’ pass-happy attack. Aside from run defense, the Packers’ biggest vulnerability might be the lack of complementary weapons in the passing game aside from Davante Adams. That is also something the Rams are capable of exploiting because Jalen Ramsey is as equipped as anyone to contain Adams, forcing Aaron Rodgers to go elsewhere. The Packers will also be trying to block the dominant front of the Rams without All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari, who is out for the season. The Packers’ advantage at quarterback will likely get them through to the next round, but the Rams have enough to hang in this game and stay within the number.
Ravens (+ 2) over Bills:
I wouldn’t be shocked if this line closes at PK or even Ravens -1. Fans and the media often have short memories. The Ravens came into this year with a preseason win total of 11.5, tied with the Chiefs for highest in the league. But they were coming off a bad playoff loss to the Titans, then lost convincingly early in the year to the Chiefs and followed that with a loss to the Steelers a few weeks later. At that point they got written off. Many saw Lamar Jackson as just another gimmicky running quarterback in the mold of Colin Kaepernick or Robert Griffin III and not a long-term answer at quarterback. COVID-19 problems around Thanksgiving helped keep this team off many people’s radar. But since the Ravens have returned to full strength, they’ve been as impressive as any team in the league and finished with the best point differential in football. They have multiple players who excel in coverage, they are good up front and they have an outstanding defensive coordinator in Don Martindale. They have elite special teams, including maybe the best kicker of all time, and have the reigning MVP on offense. They are balanced and tough and will take the field Saturday as the better, more complete team. The Bills are a great story but are lucky to be playing this week after surrendering more than 450 yards to the Colts and forcing zero turnovers. Every Colts drive ended in Bills territory, a sign that does not bode well for stopping a much more explosive Ravens attack. The Ravens-Chiefs AFC title game we were deprived of last year will finally take place a week from Sunday.
Browns (+ 10) over Chiefs:
Trivia time: When is the last time the Chiefs won a game by more than six points? I’ll wait. ... Yes, in Week 8, the Chiefs defeated the Jets 35-9 and have not won by more than six points since that first day of November. The Chiefs have been sleepwalking through most of the season (or maybe they’re just not as dominant as we think). Remember, last year they trailed every postseason game by double digits, so this team is extremely streaky, even from quarter to quarter. In comes a Browns team having its most successful season in decades, with absolutely no expectations and nothing to lose. They could lose this game 50-0 and the season will still be unanimously commended as a rousing success. The Browns lost to the Jets in Week 16 and needed to beat the Steelers’ backups in Week 17 to avoid a humiliating end to their season, and they seemed tight and barely hung on to capture a 24-22 victory. Getting into the playoffs got the monkey off their back, and now any postseason success is house money. They are like a mid-major team in the Sweet 16. They can play fast and loose, and they will take on a Chiefs team that hasn’t played all its starters since Dec. 27. The Chiefs are a passing team, so they rely on timing and rhythm. Perhaps the time off will affect their offense and the Browns will be able to establish a lead and run the ball well enough to keep Patrick Mahomes on the sideline. The Browns will have to play perfectly to pull off this monumental upset, but getting double digits against a team that hasn’t played in three weeks — and hasn’t covered in months — is where I’m putting my money.