NFL Game Previews: Divisional Matchups

NFL Game Previews: Divisional Matchups

This article is part of our NFL Game Previews series.

Cleveland (+10) at Kansas City, o/u 57.0 – Sunday, 3:05 p.m. EST

Decades of bad karma finally reversed itself for the Browns last week, as despite a bunch of COVID-19 absences that included coach Kevin Stefanski, things went their way right from an opening snap that sailed past Ben Roethlisberger into the end zone. It's still hard to wrap my head around the idea that Cleveland won a playoff game — the last time it happened was Jan. 1, 1995, when (double-checks notes) Bill Belichick's Browns downed Bill Parcells' Patriots by picking off Drew Bledsoe three times. I guess the secret for them is a lot of INTs. The narrative should probably be that the Browns have already "won" their season just by getting here and bouncing the Steelers to do it, and they're about to get crushed by the defending champs, but I think that underestimates them. Baker Mayfield has already been playing like he's got nothing to lose, and this game sets up well for their fearsome two-headed backfield, as Kansas City had one of the worst run defenses in the league this season, and certainly the worst one still playing. Riding Nick Chubb and getting a revenge game from Kareem Hunt would not only put points on the board, it would keep Patrick Mahomes off the field. Of course, Mahomes doesn't need much time to find the end zone, and a Browns secondary that just got torched for 501 yards and four TDs by Roethlisberger and which

Cleveland (+10) at Kansas City, o/u 57.0 – Sunday, 3:05 p.m. EST

Decades of bad karma finally reversed itself for the Browns last week, as despite a bunch of COVID-19 absences that included coach Kevin Stefanski, things went their way right from an opening snap that sailed past Ben Roethlisberger into the end zone. It's still hard to wrap my head around the idea that Cleveland won a playoff game — the last time it happened was Jan. 1, 1995, when (double-checks notes) Bill Belichick's Browns downed Bill Parcells' Patriots by picking off Drew Bledsoe three times. I guess the secret for them is a lot of INTs. The narrative should probably be that the Browns have already "won" their season just by getting here and bouncing the Steelers to do it, and they're about to get crushed by the defending champs, but I think that underestimates them. Baker Mayfield has already been playing like he's got nothing to lose, and this game sets up well for their fearsome two-headed backfield, as Kansas City had one of the worst run defenses in the league this season, and certainly the worst one still playing. Riding Nick Chubb and getting a revenge game from Kareem Hunt would not only put points on the board, it would keep Patrick Mahomes off the field. Of course, Mahomes doesn't need much time to find the end zone, and a Browns secondary that just got torched for 501 yards and four TDs by Roethlisberger and which was very vulnerable deep all year has no right to think they're going to slow someone like Tyreek Hill. Then again, Mayfield's led his team to more 40-point performances this season than Mahomes has (including last week, it's four to one), so if the Browns are going to go down, expect them to go down swinging.

The Skinny

CLE injuries: C JC Tretter (questionable, knee), RG Wyatt Teller (questionable, ankle), RT Jack Conklin (questionable, hamstring), DE Myles Garrett (questionable, shoulder), DT Sheldon Richardson (questionable, neck)

KC injuries: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (questionable, ankle), WR Sammy Watkins (questionable, calf), RT Mitchell Schwartz (IR, back)

CLE DFS targets: Kareem Hunt $4,800 DK / $6,200 FD (KC 31st in rushing DVOA, 31st in passing DVOA vs. RB)

KC DFS targets: Mecole Hardman $3,900 DK / $5,200 FD (CLE 29th in DVOA vs. WR3, 29th in DVOA vs. deep throws)

CLE DFS fades: none

KC DFS fades: none

Key stat: KC is third in third-down conversions at 49.0 percent; CLE is 23rd in third-down defense at 43.9 percent

Weather forecast: cloudy, temperature in the high 30s, 12-13 mph wind, 5-10 percent chance of rain

The Scoop: Hunt leads the CLE backfield with 110 combined yards and two TDs, one rushing and one receiving, while Chubb bangs out 90 yards and a rushing score. Mayfield throws for 270 yards and a second touchdown to Austin Hooper. Le'Veon Bell leads the KC backfield with 70 scrimmage yards, but Darrel Williams vultures a TD. Mahomes throws for 340 yards and five touchdowns — two each to Hill (who tops 100 yards) and Travis Kelce, and one to Hardman. Kansas City, 42-34

Tampa Bay (+3) at New Orleans, o/u 52.0 – Sunday, 6:40 p.m. EST

I've seen this game dubbed the Senior Bowl on Twitter, and I'm totally stealing it. 43-year-old Tom Brady and 42-year-old Drew Brees first faced each other in 1999 (nearly five years after that last Cleveland playoff win!) when Michigan beat Purdue, and now the future Hall of Famers could be meeting again for the last time. Brady comes into this one as arguably the hottest QB in the league, and after shredding a very good Washington defense last week, he's now posted four consecutive games with more than 340 passing yards, racking up an eye-popping 9.9 YPA and 12:1 TD:INT over that stretch. He's rediscovered the joy of attacking downfield in Bruce Arians' scheme, and so far no defense has had an answer for what the Bucs have been doing on offense lately. The Saints certainly had Brady's number in their first two clashes this season, however, holding him to a 6.1 YPA and 2:5 TD:INT. Drew Brees looked good last week with Michael Thomas back in the fold, but it's Alvin Kamara who's likely the key guy for New Orleans in this one. Tampa Bay's run defense has been close to impenetrable all season, but Kamara was one of the exceptions, scoring three TDs (two rushing, one receiving) in those two prior meetings, and he's also found the end zone in five consecutive games, including that stunning six-TD game against the Vikings in Week 16. It's extremely difficult to beat the same team three times in the same campaign, so if the Bucs can contain Kamara this time around, they could well keep alive the dream of playing host to a Super Bowl.

The Skinny

TB injuries: RB Ronald Jones (questionable, quad), WR Mike Evans (questionable, knee), WR Chris Godwin (questionable, hip), RG Alex Cappa (IR, ankle), OLB Jason Pierre-Paul (questionable, knee), CB Carlton Davis (questionable, groin)

NO injuries: QB Taysom Hill (questionable, knee), RB Latavius Murray (questionable, quad), TE Jared Cook (questionable, back), LT Terron Armstead (questionable, elbow), DE Trey Hendrickson (questionable, neck)

TB DFS targets: none

NO DFS targets: Jared Cook $4,000 DK / $5,600 FD (TB 25th in DVOA vs. TE)

TB DFS fades: Tom Brady $6,300 DK / $7,700 FD (NO third in passing DVOA), Leonard Fournette $4,900 DK / $6,300 FD (NO second in rushing DVOA), Rob Gronkowski $3,600 DK / $5,600 FD (NO second in DVOA vs. TE)

NO DFS fades: Alvin Kamara $7,900 DK / $9,000 FD (TB first in rushing DVOA), Deonte Harris $3,500 DK / $5,200 FD (TB first in DVOA vs. WR3)

Key stat: NO is fifth in red-zone conversions at 72.1 percent; TB is 20th in red-zone defense at 62.7 percent

Head-to-head record, last five years: 7-3 NO, average score 30-21 NO, average margin of victory 13 points. NO has won five straight meetings by an average score of 33-16

Weather forecast: dome

The Scoop: Fournette gains 60 scrimmage yards. Brady throws for 280 yards and two TDs, hitting Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin. Kamara puts together 90 combined yards and a score. Brees throws for 240 yards and two touchdowns of his own, finding Cook and Thomas. Saints, 23-17

L.A. Rams (+6.5) at Green Bay, o/u 45.5 – Saturday, 4:35 p.m. EST

The Rams' defense put a hurting on Russell Wilson and the Seahawks last week, and that's almost certainly going to have to be the formula for continued playoff success with Jared Goff not at 100 percent health after thumb surgery. Aaron Donald was nursing bruised ribs at the end of the win over Seattle, but he'd probably need to be in an iron lung or something not to playing in this one. If he's limited at all, though, that could be all the opening a nicely rested and refreshed Aaron Rodgers needs to light up another defense — not that he looked tired at the end of the regular season. The two (three?)-time MVP tossed at least three scores in six of his last seven games, posting a ridiculous 22:2 TD:INT over that stretch along with a 75.0 percent completion rate and an 8.1 YPA. Davante Adams caught nine of those touchdowns, and the duo was basically automatic in the red zone this season, as 13 of Adams' 18 TD catches this season came from inside the 10-yard line. By way of comparison, he hasn't seen more than 10 targets from inside the 10 in any other season. The Packers do have other weapons, but if Jalen Ramsey and the Rams' secondary can't find a way to stymie the Rodgers-Adams connection, everything else could be moot.

The Skinny

LAR injuries: WR Cooper Kupp (questionable, knee), LG David Andrews (questionable, ankle)

GB injuries: LT David Bakhtiari (IR, knee)

LAR DFS targets: Cooper Kupp $5,300 DK / $6,100 FD (GB 23rd in DVOA vs. WR2)

GB DFS targets: none

LAR DFS fades: Josh Reynolds $3,200 DK / $5,200 FD (GB sixth in DVOA vs. WR3)

GB DFS fades: Aaron Rodgers $6,900 DK / $8,400 FD (LAR fourth in passing DVOA), Aaron Jones $6,800 DK / $7,800 FD (LAR third in rushing DVOA), Allen Lazard $3,900 DK / $5,300 FD (LAR first in DVOA vs. WR2)

Key stat: GB is first in red-zone conversions at 80.0 percent; LAR are 12th in red-zone defense at 58.7 percent

Weather forecast: overcast, temperature in the low 30s, less than 10 mph wind, 5-25 percent chance of snow

The Scoop: Cam Akers gallops for 80 yards and a touchdown. Goff throws for less than 200 yards and gets picked off twice, one of which Darnell Savage returns for a score. Jones is held to 70 scrimmage yards. Rodgers throws for 250 yards and two TDs, hitting Adams and Equanimeous St. Brown. Packers, 24-13

Baltimore (+2.5) at Buffalo, o/u 49.5 – Saturday, 8:15 p.m. EST

The Ravens got that Derrick Henry-sized monkey off their backs last week, stomping all over the Titans (and their logo) in the wild-card round. Baltimore's won six consecutive games dating to Week 13, and Lamar Jackson now has his first playoff win, so there could be some concern that the team might have an emotional letdown. John Harbaugh's been down this road before, though, and should be able to keep his guys focused. Jackson's been efficient through the air during the winning streak, completing 67.7 percent of his passes with an 8.0 YPA, but it's his 566 rushing yards and five TDs on the ground during that stretch that have made the difference. A big factor in his turnaround has been that he doesn't feel like he has to do too much. The Ravens' defense has held four straight opponents to 14 points or less, and six of the last seven to less than 20. Keeping those streaks alive will be a tall order Saturday, though. The Bills haven't scored less than 20 points since Week 7, and Josh Allen has mounted his own MVP campaign in the process — over Buffalo's seven-game winning streak he's completed an absurd 71.2 percent of his passes (remember when this guy was the least accurate QB in the league?) with an 8.2 YPA, 18:3 TD:INT and, oh yeah, four rushing TDs. Stefon Diggs wound up leading the league in catches and receiving yards as Allen's main man, but there was plenty of production to go around for the likes of Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis too. The Bills did lose Zack Moss last week, but as he was mostly interchangeable with Devin Singletary anyway, that shouldn't derail this attack. Much as Sunday's late game is getting all the headlines, this should be the most exciting QB matchup of the weekend.

The Skinny

BAL injuries: LT Ronnie Stanley (IR, ankle), RT D.J. Fluker (questionable, knee), CB Marcus Peters (questionable, back)

BUF injuries: RB Moss (IR, ankle)

BAL DFS targets: Marquise Brown $5,200 DK / $6,500 FD (BUF 23rd in DVOA vs. WR1)

BUF DFS targets: Dawson Knox $3,100 DK / $5,000 FD (BAL 22nd in DVOA vs. TE)

BAL DFS fades: Willie Snead $3,300 DK / $5,000 FD (BUF third in DVOA vs. WR2), Dez Bryant $3,000 DK / $4,800 FD (BUF fourth in DVOA vs. WR3), John Brown $4,600 DK / $5,500 FD (BAL fifth in DVOA vs. WR3)

BUF DFS fades: Stefon Diggs $7,300 DK / $8,600 FD (BAL third in DVOA vs. WR1)

Key stat: BUF is first in third-down conversions at 49.7 percent; BAL is second in third-down defense at 34.0 percent

Weather forecast: overcast, temperature in the high 20s, 11-12 mph wind, 5-10 percent chance of snow

The Scoop: Gus Edwards leads the BAL backfield with 70 yards and a TD, while J.K. Dobbins totals 60 combined yards. Jackson throws for less than 200 yards, but does hit Hollywood Brown for a score and adds 50 rushing yards. Singletary manages 70 scrimmage yards. Allen throws for 270 yards and two scores, finding Knox and Diggs, while also running in the winning TD. Bills, 27-20


Last week's record: 3-3, 2-4 ATS, 1-4-1 o/u
2020 regular-season record: 164-91-1, 129-119-8 ATS, 117-133-6 o/u
2019 regular-season record: 157-98-1, 123-125-8 ATS, 127-122-7 o/u
Lifetime record: 957-573-6, 722-756-58 ATS, 610-644-26 o/u (o/u not tracked in 2015)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Erik Siegrist
Erik Siegrist is an FSWA award-winning columnist who covers all four major North American sports (that means the NHL, not NASCAR) and whose beat extends back to the days when the Nationals were the Expos and the Thunder were the Sonics. He was the inaugural champion of Rotowire's Staff Keeper baseball league. His work has also appeared at Baseball Prospectus.
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