NFL picks, predictions against spread: Chiefs crush Steelers, Cowboys survive 49ers in wild-card playoffs
The 2022 NFL playoffs have arrived, providing another action-packed “super” wild-card weekend of six games. There’s a fair share of close spreads, but also strong favorites for the unofficial Week 19.
That makes the latest picks and predictions against the spread as tricky as the typical regular-season slate, only with much fewer matchups. Here’s Sporting News’ forecast for the NFL’s six playoff games over three days, starting with a marquee NFC throwback classic.
MORE NFL PLAYOFFS:
AFC & NFC bracket | TV schedule | Wild-card picks straight up
NFL playoff picks, predictions against the spread
- Game of the Week: 49ers at Cowboys (-3, 47 o/u)
Sunday, 4:40 p.m. ET, CBS and Nickelodeon
The Cowboys decided to play their starters in Week 18 and were rewarded by Dak Prescott getting red-hot in his playoff warmup. The 49ers expended some good offensive energy in coming back to beat the Rams in overtime. Both teams can run when needed, but the 49ers are more committed to doing so. The Cowboys, however, have the more reliable matchups across the board in the passing game, while Jimmy Garoppolo is also playing through a right thumb injury.
San Francisco will try to slow down the game to keep Prescott off the field and also protect its defense. Dallas will be hungry looking to force Garoppolo into mistakes, with Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs leading the pressure-coverage combination again. A few more weapons and a more efficient Prescott allow the Cowboys to survive a shootout.
Pick: Cowboys win 31-24 and cover the spread.
Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET, NBC
The Bengals decided to rest Joe Burrow and other key starters in Week 18 and also didn’t have running back Joe Mixon because of COVID-19 protocols. That will make Cincinnati fresh in seeking its first playoff win since 1990 in its first playoff appearance since 2015. Burrow is the key to stopping the streak as he will pick apart a flashy but overall shaky Raiders defense.
This is a tough turnaround for the Raiders, who tired out playing into overtime on Sunday night. The Bengals can do whatever they want offensively and their pressure will ensure Derek Carr has no shot at a comeback.
Pick: Bengals win 34-17 and cover the spread.
- Upset of the Week: Cardinals (+4, 50.5 o/u) over Rams
Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Cardinals and Rams split their season series, with Kyler Murray and Matthew Stafford trading turnover messes. The Cardinals were an adept road team in the regular season while the Rams had more issues at home. Murray can dig deeper to make big plays while cutting down on mistakes and rely a little more on his running. Stafford has faced more heat of late and has been more careless throwing downfield.
Overall, Arizona is more versatile and multiple to work around Los Angeles’ defensive strengths, while its defense will make up for what gives up running and passing with key sacks and a takeaway.
Pick: Cardinals win 30-27.
MORE: Ranking every NFL playoff team on real Super Bowl chances
- Patriots at Bills (-4.5, 43.5 o/u)
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET, CBS
The Patriots and Bills also meet for a third time after each winning once in AFC East play. New England ran all over Buffalo the first time on the road, while Buffalo figured out how to win at Foxborough by diversifying the offense around Josh Allen. Expect a well-coached battle of defensive attrition between Bill Belichick and Sean McDermott. Mac Jones will get good support in his first playoff start, but he’s still rookie while Allen is a youngster with favorable playoff experience.
Pick: Bills win 23-20 but fail to cover the spread.
Sunday 1:05 p.m. ET, Fox
This is another rematch from the regular season. Tampa Bay won at Philadelphia 28-22 on a Thursday night in Week 6. Unfortunately for the Eagles, their offensive strengths and defensive weaknesses don’t mesh with beating the Buccaneers this time, either. The run-heavy approach won’t work against the Bucs’ stout run defense.
The issues in stopping the run and handling tight ends and bigger wideouts don’t bode well against Tom Bradys’ backs and receiving targets. Brady led the Bucs over a weak NFC East team to open last year’s playoffs. He got more locked in, adjusting to no Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown in Week 18 and should also get rushing and defensive reinforcements to better support him this week.
Pick: Buccaneers win 27-17 and cover the spread.
Sunday, 8:15 p.m. ET, NBC
The Steelers were no match for the Chiefs in Week 16, losing 36-10 at Kansas City. Although it’s nice Ben Roethlisberger gets one more playoff game to cap his career, he also needs to exorcise the demons of last year’s disastrous home loss to the Browns in the same round. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs have found their ideal methodical approach with an adjusted offense. They will keep pivoting to strong running setting up downfield passing.
The Steelers will try to stay grounded with Najee Harris and put T.J. Watt and the defense in more favorable spots to get after Mahomes. But they need a lot more from Roethlisberger and the passing game, which underwhelms despite the weapons. Big Ben walks off to the sunset, while Mahomes keeps shining bright.
Pick: Chiefs 33-19 and cover the spread.
Stats of the Week
- Week 18 against the spread: 8-8
- Week 18 straight up: 8-8
- Season against the spread: 149-121
- Season straight up: 181-90
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