Home NFL 2021 NFL divisional playoff picks, schedule: Tom Brady misses out on NFC title game, Bills edge Ravens – CBS Sports
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2021 NFL divisional playoff picks, schedule: Tom Brady misses out on NFC title game, Bills edge Ravens – CBS Sports

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Here at CBS Sports, Pete Prisco is usually the one that handles the power rankings, but not this week and that’s because I’ve decided to steal his job so I can rank the worst performances of the wild-card round. 

Although I could easily make a list of the top 20 worst performances — with 19 of them going to someone on the Steelers — I’m going to limit my list to three. The three worst performances of the wild-card round go to: Ben Roethlisberger, me and anyone who coached over the weekend named Mike. 

If you’re wondering how I made the list, it’s because I had arguably the worst picks week of my eight years covering the NFL here at CBSSports.com. My picks performance was arguably the equivalent of throwing three interceptions in the first half of a playoff game, which is actually what Big Ben did. I went 2-4 straight up and 0-5-1 against the spread and to be honest, I should have been slimed for my Bears pick alone. 

Even the kids watching on Nickelodeon were laughing at my pick. 

Although my picks were bad, at least I didn’t call for a punt in the fourth quarter of a game where I was trailing 35-23 (Hello, Mike Tomlin). And you know what, maybe my Titans pick would have actually been right if Mike Vrabel didn’t call for the second-worst punt of all-time. I definitely didn’t take into account the fact that some coaches apparently have no idea when to punt, but I definitely will this week. 

Anyway, like any ugly performance, the key is to move forward and get better, so that’s what I’m going to do. Let’s hurry up and get to the divisional round picks so I can put the wild-card round behind me. 

The key to picking divisional games is to not overthink it, which could be tough for me because I overthink everything. I once spent four days thinking about an episode from Season 3 of Westworld even though i still have no idea what happened in Season 2. 

The reason you don’t want to overthink things in the divisional round is because the home team usually dominates. Over the past three years, home teams have gone 10-2. As a matter of fact, home teams have been so good during the divisional round that there’s almost no point to having a wild-card round, because those teams never advance. The last team to make it out of the wild-card round and go all the way to the Super Bowl came during the 2012 season when the Ravens did it, which is kind of crazy, because I’m starting to feel like the Ravens could also be the next team to do it. 

In the seven years since that Ravens’ Super Bowl win, home teams have gone 22-6 in the divisional round, which basically means there’s roughly one upset per year, which means I might have to pick one big upset this week. Will I actually pick an upset or am I feeling too burnt from my wild-card performance? Let’s get to the picks and find out. 

Actually, before we get to the picks, here’s a quick reminder that you can check out the weekly picks from every CBSSports.com NFL expert by clicking here. If my picks from last week have frightened you off, then you should definitely click over and check out Jared Dubin’s picks, because he went 5-0-1 against the spread in the wild-card round. I think his plan was to fade all of my picks and if that’s case, well done Dubin. Well done.  

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to hang out with me to watch football, then make sure you head to our Pick Six YouTube page. I’ll be going live on Twitch, YouTube and Periscope with Will Brinson and Ryan Wilson for the fourth quarter of the Ravens-Bills game on Saturday and the Buccaneers-Saints game on Sunday. If I miss all my picks again, I promise to take a shot of something that tastes horrible. 

Alright, I’m going to quit stalling so we can get to the picks. 

NFL divisional round playoff picks

No. 6 L.A. Rams (11-6) at No. 1 Green Bay (13-3)

Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET (Fox)

Latest Odds:

Green Bay Packers
-6.5

Of all the games being played this weekend, this one is definitely giving us the biggest mismatch at quarterback. The Packers have Aaron Rodgers and I’m pretty sure the Rams’ healthiest quarterback right now is Blake Bortles. If you’re trying to make a playoff pick and you have to mention Bortles’ name at any point, that’s usually a sign that you need to pick the team he isn’t on to win. 

Although Bortles likely won’t be playing, he might as well be, because the Rams’ other options at quarterback aren’t much better. They can either go with John Wolford — who got knocked out of the game with an injury after taking an ugly hit during the first quarter against the Seahawks — or they can roll with Jared Goff, who literally just had thumb surgery on Dec. 28. I suffered a hangnail on Dec. 28 and I still haven’t recovered from that, so I have no idea how Goff is going to be fully healthy for this game. I know he played against the Seahawks, but he went 9 of 19 and didn’t look fully healthy. 

The other downside for the Rams is that this game is being played in Green Bay, where it’s supposed to be roughly 30 degrees. As someone who lived in California for six years, let me just say that the last place anyone living in that state would ever want to be in the month of January is somewhere where it’s 30 degrees. Guys, 60 degrees is coat weather in L.A., which means 30 degrees is going to make it feel like this game is being played an ice shelf in Antarctica. 

The other problem with the temperature is that injuries hurt even more. If I learned one thing from Terminator 2, it’s that if something gets cold enough, you can make it shatter with a big hit. 

That might as well be Aaron Donald’s rib cage, because that’s what his injured ribs are going to feel like every time he takes a hit, which is going to be on EVERY single play that he’s on the field. That’s also what Goff is going to feel like anytime his thumb gets touched on Saturday. I think Cooper Kupp is also dealing with an injury. Guys, I think it’s fair to say that the Rams aren’t a very healthy team right now. 

The one advantage the Rams do have is that Sean McVay should know Green Bay’s offense inside and out. Packers coach Matt LaFleur was McVay’s offensive coordinator in 2017 and they coached together for four years in Washington (2010-13). McVay’s knowledge of Green Bay’s offense should be able to help L.A. put together a defensive game plan that can slow the Packers down. Sure, this could work both ways, but the Rams’ defense is more talented than the one in Green Bay, which makes them better suited to take advantage of McVay’s knowledge of LaFleur’s offense. 

If the Rams are going to win, they’re going to have to take away what the Packers do best: Don’t be surprised if they stick Jalen Ramsey on Davante Adams in an effort to try and force Rodgers to throw somewhere else. Also, while Rodgers is looking for another receiver to throw to, he’s going to have Donald breathing down his neck. 

Basically, I think the Rams have a defense that’s good enough to pull off the upset, but they won’t have the offensive firepower to escape Green Bay with a win. 

The pick: Packers 27-20 over Rams

Record picking Rams games this season: 7-10 (My worst record picking any team)
Record picking Packers games this season: 9-7

No. 5 Baltimore (12-5) at No. 2 Buffalo (14-3)

Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET (NBC)

Latest Odds:

Buffalo Bills
-1.5

Even though the divisional round schedule is loaded with with big names like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees, I’ve decided that this is my favorite game of the weekend and I will not be told otherwise. It’s Lamar Jackson against the only dual-threat quarterback that might be more fun to watch than Lamar Jackson and that’s Josh Allen. 

It’s hard to describe how well Allen played this year, so I’m just going to say this, the Bills quarterback had better numbers than Lamar did last year when he was named MVP. Allen had 4,544 yards and 37 touchdown passes this season, which was more than Lamar, who had 3,127 yards and 36 touchdowns during his MVP campaign. Obviously, Jackson is also a huge threat to run, so we should definitely mention his 1,206 yards and seven touchdowns in 2019. The 2020 version of Allen wasn’t quite as electrifying with just 421 rushing yards, but he did have more rushing touchdowns than Lamar (8). Overall, Allen produced 4,965 total yards and 45 touchdowns in 2020 compared to 4,333 and 43 scores for Lamar in 2019. This comparison isn’t meant to be a knock on Jackson, it’s just meant to point out that Josh Allen is literally playing at an MVP level even though he’s not going to win MVP. 

The winning team in this game is going to be the one that can slow down the opposing quarterback and right now, I’m giving that advantage to the Bills. The Ravens went 11-5 this season and four of their five losses came to a team that had a head coach with a defensive background (Mike Tomlin x 2, Bill Belichick, Mike Vrabel) and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. If you have a head coach who used to be a defensive coordinator and you’re going against someone as electrifying as Lamar Jackson, it becomes a personal challenge to slow him down. A defensive-minded coach is likely also going to be much more involved with the game-plan on defense than an offensive-minded coach.   

Also, the Bills are 9-1 in their past 10 home playoff games. I’m taking Buffalo. We’re only two picks in and I’ve already picked against two coaches who attended Miami of Ohio (McVay and John Harbaugh). As someone who also went there, I’m starting to feel like the school is going to rescind my degree. 

The pick: Bills 34-31 over Ravens

Record picking Ravens games this season: 14-3 (tied for second-best record picking any team)
Record picking Bills games this season: 11-6

No. 6 Cleveland (12-5) at No. 1 Kansas City (14-2)

Sunday, 3:05 p.m. ET (CBS)

Latest Odds:

Kansas City Chiefs
-10

As most of you already know, there are only three guarantees in life: Death, taxes and Andy Reid off the bye. I haven’t died yet and I don’t pay taxes, so the only one of those I can really relate to is the last one. I have not and will never pick against Andy Reid off the bye. And if anyone from the IRS is reading, I actually do pay my taxes. When I said I don’t, I just meant my state income tax. Shout to to the state of Tennessee for not charging one. 

Anyway, back to that Reid thing: In his 22-year coaching career, Reid is 23-3 coming off a bye, including playoff games. He’s been so unbeatable that Ryan Wilson, Will Brinson and I wrote a song about it. However, as you’ll notice below, we didn’t put much effort into singing it or writing it, and it’s not very catchy. Hopefully, Taylor Swift will read this and think about covering it on her next album. I could see “Andy Reid off the bye” going platinum for her. 

As for Reid’s success off the bye, if you only include the games where Reid has had Patrick Mahomes, then he’s actually even better. Not only are Mahomes and Reid undefeated together coming off a bye (6-0), but they’ve scored an average of 38 points per game in those six wins, and now, they get to go up against a Browns team that gave up more regular season passing yards than any other team left in the playoffs. 

The Browns’ biggest defensive weakness is their secondary and that’s not a weakness you can afford to have when you’re playing the Chiefs. The one thing that does worry me about the Chiefs is the rust factor. Normally, I don’t put much stock in something like that, but their starters won’t have played for three weeks by the time they take the field on Sunday. Last year, they fell behind 24-0 to the Texans before the rust wore off and now, they have to play a Browns team that just had the best first quarter of any team in NFL playoff history. That’s not an ideal combination for Kansas City. 

I’m fully expecting this game to be a shootout just like it is every time Baker Mayfield and Mahomes play each other. 

That box score is from a college game where Mayfield’s Oklahoma team beat Mahomes’ Texas Tech team 66-59. Now, I don’t expect Mahomes to throw for 734 yards on Sunday and I definitely don’t think Mayfield will throw for 545, but I do expect this one to get a little crazy. 

The pick: Chiefs 38-30 over Browns

Record picking Browns games this season: 10-7
Record picking Chiefs games this season: 15-1 (My best record picking any team)

No. 5 Tampa Bay (12-5) at No. 2 New Orleans (13-4)

Sunday, 6:40 p.m. ET (Fox)

Latest Odds:

New Orleans Saints
-3

After nearly two decades of waiting, Tom Brady vs. Drew Brees in the playoffs is finally happening. Brady has been in the NFL since 2000 and Brees has been in the league since 2001, but somehow, they’ve never met in the playoffs. These two did almost meet in Super Bowl LIII, but the NFL decided they weren’t ready for a Brees-Brady matchup, so they had the officiating crew look the other way on an obvious Rams pass interference in the 2018 NFC title game. If I ever write a book about NFL conspiracies, that will definitely get its own chapter. Also, I should probably write that book soon, because I’ve heard the conspiracy theory market is thriving right now. 

Anyway, as I said earlier, I am NOT going overthink things this week and the most notable thing about this game is that the Saints have already beaten the Buccaneers twice this year. 

When two division rivals meet in the playoffs, I don’t necessarily pay attention to what happened during the regular season, but in this game, it’s kind of hard to ignore. The Saints blew out the Buccaneers twice this year with wins of 34-23 and 38-3, and yes, I count that first score as a blowout because it was 34-17 late in the game until the Buccaneers scored a garbage-time touchdown.

Apparently, it’s supposed to be tough to beat a team three times in one season, but I’m starting to think that’s an old wives’ tale that some drunken NFL fan came up with one night after having one too many drinks on Bourbon Street. Since 1970, a total of 21 teams have gone 2-0 against a divisional opponent in the regular season and then faced them again in the playoffs and those 21 teams went 14-7 in the third game, which means 66.7% of the teams have finished the three-game sweep. Over the past 25 years, that number is 75% (9-3). 

Also, Bruce Arians is 0-4 against the Saints since he became coach of the Buccaneers. I think what I’m trying to say here is that Buccaneers fans might want to head down to Bourbon Street and start taking shots before this game because if Tampa Bay’s first two meetings with the Saints were any indication, Sunday is not going to be a good day for the Bucs. Actually, I probably shouldn’t be encouraging public gatherings right now, so don’t go down to Bourbon Street, just take the shots at your house. 

One more important note about this game is that the Saints are coached by a man who was willing to slime himself on national television and I just can’t pick against that. 

That is a man with nothing to lose. 

Finally, I would just like you guys to know that despite what Tom Brady says, this game is not on the history channel. 

If you turn it to the History Channel on Sunday night, you’ll be watching American Pickers, which sounds like fun, but I don’t think it will be half as entertaining as this game. 

The pick: Saints 31-24 over Buccaneers

Record picking Buccaneers games this season: 14-3 (Tied for second-best record picking any team)
Record picking Saints games this season: 12-5

Last Week 

Best pick: When all your picks are horrible, you don’t have much of a choice on what goes in the best pick section, so by default, the Buccaneers’ win over Washington goes here. I predicted that Tampa Bay would win by seven and thanks to a miracle game by someone named Taylor Heinicke, my prediction was almost exactly right as the Buccaneers ended up winning by eight (31-23). My original plan here was to write that Taylor Heinicke totally sounds like the name of someone who won a fan contest held by the Football Team to see who their starting quarterback would be in the wild-card game, but I’m not going to write that because I’m never going to write a disparaging remark about Heinicke ever again since he saved me from completely whiffing on all my picks against the spread last week. 

Worst pick: I picked the Bears to win last week, which was crazy, because the BEARS ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE, which is to say they’re a terrible team who backdoored their way into the playoffs and had no chance of beating the Saints.  

I crowned them and as Dennis said, I shouldn’t have crowned them. 

I also picked Tennessee to win and to be honest, I feel like that pick would have hit if the Titans would have turned off Mike Vrabel’s coaching headset in the fourth quarter. I also think it would have hit if the Titans had someone on their coaching staff whose sole job was to tell Vrabel when and when not to punt. 

Yes. Yes he did, Ben. Maybe you should be the guy the Titans hire who tells Vrabel when and when not to punt. 

I think the moral of the story here is never bet $88,000 on the Titans. 

After seeing that bet, my 2-4 record for the week doesn’t seem so bad. 

Picks record

Straight up in wild-card round: 2-4
SU overall in playoffs: 2-4
Against the spread in wild-card round: 0-5-1
ATS overall in playoffs: 0-5-1

Final 2020 regular season record
Straight up:
 170-84-1 (Ranked second overall at CBSSports.com)
Against the spread: 117-130-8 (Did not rank second overall)


You can find John Breech on Facebook or Twitter and if he’s not doing one of those things, he’s probably watching the History Channel. 

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