The NFL playoffs are here, and with it, they raise the profile and the stakes of Sporting News’ picks and predictions against the spread from the 2022 regular season.
Week 18 was a bit tricky given so many teams were wishy-washy about resting or not resting players depending on their playoff or non-playoff status. With “Super Wild Card Weekend” here, however, there’s no doubt all 12 teams in action in six games over three days will be playing to win.
Here’s breaking down the entire wild-card round from Saturday through Monday. navigating through some small and big spreads alike:
NFL POWER RANKINGS: Every playoff team’s real chances of winning Super Bowl 57
NFL playoff picks, predictions against the spread
NFC Game of the Week: No. 5 Cowboys (-3, 45 o/u) at No. 4 Buccaneers
Monday 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Cowboys have marched sloppily into the playoffs with Dak Prescott continuing his interception streak. They have become dependent on playing on a lead so they can get their running game rolling and tee off with their pass rush. They have the capacity to pour it on and run away, but close games aren’t their strength.
The Buccaneers will work to stay in it early with their run defense and some key third-down stops. They also had great success running on Dallas in the Week 1 meeting and Tom Brady has been sharper with the downfield passing game of late with more help with his receivers. Mike McCarthy’s team is headed for more early playoff disappoint against a sub-.500 team, albeit one with the GOAT at quarterback.
Pick: Buccaneers win 24-20 in the Upset of the Week
AFC Game of the Week: No. 6 Ravens at No. 3 Bengals (-6.5, 43.5 o/u)
Sunday 8:15 p.m. ET, NBC
The Ravens are expecting to have Lamar Jackson play through his knee injury, or at least a healthier Tyler Huntley. They should show better offense based on the running game, but their limitations in the downfield passing game are evident.
The Bengals don’t have any of those issues with Joe Burrow throwing to Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and others. The Ravens will stay in it by stopping the run and going after Burrow well at times vs. a one-dimensional attack, but the visitors just can’t find enough offensive pop to win the Week 18 rematch.
Pick: Bengals win 23-20 but fail to cover the spread.
Lock of the Week: No. 2 49ers (-10, 43.5 o/u) over No. 7 Seahawks
Saturday 4:30 p.m. ET, Fox
The 49ers finished the regular season on a 10-game winning streak. The Seahawks already have overachieved by getting to the playoffs with an offense led by Geno Smith. They also have gotten major contributions from key rookies, led by running back Kenneth Walker III and cornerback Tariq Woolen.
But the 49ers also have a big-time rookie in QB Brock Purdy and their offensive strengths can exploit the Seahawks’ key weaknesses in the middle of their defense. That includes power running with Christian McCaffrey with others and working the middle of field in the passing game with George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and others. Smith hasn’t fared well, like most QBs, when facing consistent pressure from a four-man rush.
Pick: 49ers win 31-14 and cover the spread.
No. 5 Chargers (-1, 47 o/u) at No. 4 Jaguars
Saturday 8:15 p.m. ET, NBC
The Jaguars won the Week 3 meeting at Los Angeles 38-10 with Justin Herbert trying to play through his painful ribs injury. They also have won five consecutive games in their second-half run to the AFC South title. The Chargers were just as hot until they got into more of rest mode late in their Week 18 loss at Denver.
Something needs to give here in a more of an even passing duel between Herbert and Trevor Lawrence. The Jaguars’ defense has been making more big plays to make up for some big weaknesses vs. pass and run. The Chargers’ defense, however, has been steadier overall on every level. This game actually becomes more about Austin Ekeler vs. Travis Etienne, with advantage to L.A.’s more established dynamo.
Pick: Chargers win 27-24 and cover the spread.
No. 7 Dolphins at No. 2 Bills (-11, 44 o/u)
Sunday 1 p.m. ET, CBS
The Dolphins could be starting any one of their three quarterbacks. There’s no commitment to Tua Tagovailoa returning from a concussion. Teddy Bridgewater has a finger injury. Rookie Skylar Thompson compresses the entire passing game. Here’s feeling that Tagovailoa will be cleared to go to make their offense more competitive. The problem, however, will be the defense containing Josh Allen’s passing, along with the Bills’ overall rushing attack.
Pick: Bills win 30-20 but fail to cover the spread.
No. 6 Giants at No. 3 Vikings (-3, 47.5 o/u)
Sunday 4:30 p.m. ET, Fox
The Giants and Vikings just played a Week 16 thriller in Minnesota, won by the hosts 27-24 on a 61-yard field goal. The Giants’ defense has had a lot of issues against better offenses, starting with not being able to stop the run and having trouble with both inside and outside downfield coverage. The Vikings should get Justin Jefferson and all their weapons rolling again without the elements.
Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley will do their best to keep the Giants in the game with plenty of running and a few big plays, but the Vikings will be able to move the ball more consistently all afternoon.
Pick: Vikings win 31-24 and cover the spread.
Stats of the Week
Week 18 record straight up: 9-7
Week 18 record against the spread: 7-9
Season record straight up: 178-91
Season record against the spread: 134-131