NFL: Baltimore Ravens at San Francisco 49ers

We witnessed a pretty interesting start to the NFL playoffs. Just one of the first six games was close, but we did see plenty of surprises. Who had C.J. Stroud and the Houston Texans embarrassing the Cleveland Browns like that? Or the Dallas Cowboys getting destroyed at home by the youngest team to win a playoff game since the 1970 merger? Maybe the Philadelphia Eagles being upset by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was more predictable, but that game wasn't very close either. 

As for my picks, we went 3-3. The biggest loss was the Cowboys, since I had them in my "final four." I thought the bracket set up perfectly for them to make a run, but joke's on me and anyone who likes "America's Team." What will be the major upset this week?

Let's predict the entire playoff bracket from the divisional round on. Are the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers destined to meet in Vegas as the NFL script writers foretold in their color scheme? Could Patrick Mahomes lead a Kansas City Chiefs rebound and get back to the Big Game? Maybe the Green Bay Packers shock the NFL world. Let's explore. 

Odds courtesy of SportsLine consensus

Playoff ATS record: 3-3
Straight up record: 3-3

NFL divisional round

Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens

Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN, fubo try for free

Stroud is looking to become the second rookie quarterback to defeat a No. 1 seed. Who else accomplished this feat? The quarterback Stroud just defeated, Joe Flacco, back in 2008. The Texans and Ravens played in the regular-season opener, with Baltimore walking away with a 25-9 victory. However, a lot has changed since then, with both teams becoming two of the major storylines of the 2023 NFL season.

Lamar Jackson and the Ravens looked like the best team leaving the regular season, but there are some weird déjà vu vibes here that are worth mentioning. Back in 2019, the Ravens had an incredible season, where they won the division and the No. 1 seed in the AFC while Jackson won MVP. You know, like this season. In the divisional round that year, they hosted a team from the AFC South that upset them. The Tennessee Titans were the Cinderella story that year. Could the Texans play that role in 2024? Jackson is 0-2 SU and ATS in two career home playoff games. He was favored in both matchups. 

There are also a couple of trends working in Baltimore's favor. Rookie quarterbacks are 2-17 on the road in Baltimore against John Harbaugh, who has a defense that can cause problems for Stroud. The Ravens finished the regular season first or tied for first in points allowed per game, sacks and takeaways. They were the first team in NFL history to accomplish this. However, keep in mind that Stroud's offense just defeated the No. 1 defense in the NFL last week. 

I think the Ravens could look a little rusty at first, but ultimately get the upper hand against the Texans defense. I'll take the points with the underdog.

The pick: Texans +9.5
Projected score: Ravens 28-21

Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers

Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET (Fox, fubo try for free)   

Jordan Love has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league as of late. He's thrown 21 touchdowns compared to one interception over the last nine games while going 7-2 in those contests, and absolutely decimated the Dallas secondary last weekend. A different test awaits him in San Francisco, though.

The 49ers are 18-1, average 32.7 points per game and have a +16.0 points per game differential with a healthy Brock Purdy, Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel. In my opinion, that offense is not going to have a problem against Green Bay's defense. It's the Packers offense that's going to have to keep up on the scoreboard, but it all starts with keeping Love upright and not rattled. The 49ers have a 60% pressure rate with Nick Bosa, Chase Young, Javon Hargrave and Arik Armstead all on the field this season. Ramping up the pressure against this young quarterback is the name of the game this week for Steve Wilks.

The 49ers are 4-0 SU and ATS in home playoff games under Kyle Shanahan, and three of those victories came by at least 17 points. It's a large spread, but I'll take it. I say the 49ers are a team on a mission. 

The pick: 49ers -9.5
Projected score: 49ers 35-24

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Detroit Lions

Sunday, 3 p.m. ET (NBC, fubo try for free

These two NFC foes faced off in Week 6, with the Lions winning handily, 20-6. It was actually the fewest points the Buccaneers scored in any game this season, but maybe they created some momentum for themselves with that huge win over Philly. In that game, Baker Mayfield became the third quarterback to throw three or more touchdowns and zero interceptions in a playoff victory for two different teams. The other two quarterbacks? Brett Favre and Tom Brady.

As for the Lions, they just snapped the longest losing streak in playoff history against the Los Angeles Rams, while Jared Goff misfired on just five passes vs. his former team. Amon-Ra St. Brown is nearly impossible to stop and Sam LaPorta is probably feeling healthier after injuring his knee in Week 18. Stopping the loaded Lions offense is the key for the Bucs. Since Week 13, Tampa Bay's defense has allowed 15.3 points per game, and 86.7 rushing yards per game. Both rank second in the NFL in that span. The Lions are the better team on paper, but Mayfield may be creating a bit of a narrative for himself. He's 3-0 ATS in the playoffs in his career. I'm not bold enough to call for an upset like I did last week, but I'll take the 6.5 points. 

The pick: Buccaneers +6.5
Projected score: Lions 24-23

Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills

Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET (CBS, Paramount+)

Another Chiefs-Bills postseason matchup. Yep. We are back. After a year off in 2022, we resume this playoff rivalry. These two teams faced off just a month ago, with the Bills escaping Arrowhead with a three-point win thanks to Kadarius Toney lining up offsides. This time, we're in Buffalo for Mahomes' first-ever road playoff start. 

Winning in Buffalo isn't impossible. We saw Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals embarrass the Bills in the snow last year. The thing is, I'm still curious about the Chiefs offense. The weather helped them out in Kansas City in Super Wild Card Weekend. Can the Chiefs put up more points than the Bills in Buffalo? Mahomes completed 15 of 22 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown when targeting Rashee Rice or Travis Kelce. He was 8 of 19 for just 61 yards when targeting everyone else. Taking away those two players is important for the Bills. 

Buffalo's injuries are worrisome. Terrel Bernard, Baylon Spector, Taron Johnson and Christian Benford all left the Pittsburgh Steelers matchup early, and then Rasul Douglas and Taylor Rapp didn't even play. If they are relatively healthy, however, I think they can manage the Chiefs offense. Kansas City averaged 21.8 points per game this season, which ranked worst in the Mahomes era. The Chiefs had more games without scoring 20 points this season than in Mahomes' first six seasons combined, and scored the fewest fourth-quarter points in the NFL with 58!

While the Chiefs have one of the best defenses in the NFL, Josh Allen is playing great football right now. He scored four total touchdowns last week, and Dalton Kincaid is becoming an important part of this offense. The Bills have won six straight games, which is the longest active streak in the NFL. They are the first team since seeding began in 1975 to earn a top two seed after being .500 or worse with five or fewer games remaining. Is this a team of destiny thing? Buffalo has put together a couple inspired performances at home, such as the 32-6 win over the New York Jets after Ken Dorsey was fired, or the 31-10 beatdown of the Cowboys that really opened the eyes of the NFL world. I took the Bills to make the AFC Championship initially, so I can't flip now.

The pick: Bills -2.5
Projected score: Bills 22-17

Championship weekend

Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens 

The last time these two teams played was last year in rainy Baltimore. The Bills scored points in all four quarters, and overcame a 17-point deficit to defeat the Ravens, 23-20, thanks to a Jordan Poyer interception at the goal line, and then a 21-yard Tyler Bass game-winning field goal. Jackson threw for 144 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, and led Baltimore in rushing with 73 yards. Allen scored two total touchdowns, and also led his team in rushing with 70 yards. I bet we could see both quarterbacks run a decent amount in this matchup, but there is one big difference between last year's Ravens team and this year's Ravens team, and that's offensive coordinator Todd Monken.

The Ravens finished this season with the best point differential vs. winning teams in NFL HISTORY (+178). They finished the year ranked sixth in total offense, and fourth in scoring offense. Ravens to the Super Bowl

Projected score: Ravens 27-17

Detroit Lions at San Francisco 49ers

This would be a sweet NFC Championship. Goff taking on a former NFC West rival. The 49ers have now reached the NFC title game in each of their past seven playoff appearances, one shy of tying the all-time record. They have the talent necessary on both sides of the ball to win the Super Bowl, and they also have the motivation. I think getting kicked in the teeth by the Ravens on Christmas was good for the 49ers. They won't take anything for granted while Detroit's magical run comes to an end on the road.

Projected score: 49ers 31-24

Super Bowl LVIII

Sunday, Feb. 11, 6:30 p.m. ET (CBS, Nickelodeon, Paramount+)

Baltimore Ravens vs. San Francisco 49ers

A No. 1 seed vs. No. 1 seed Super Bowl? Sorry I couldn't make the bracket more interesting, but I do truly feel like these are the two best teams in the NFL. I guess that Christmas night matchup was indeed a Super Bowl preview. The Ravens were so successful in that 33-19 victory over the 49ers because the defense forced turnovers and the offense scored consistently. Baltimore forced three interceptions in the first half and scored on four of five first-half possessions -- a streak that was extended to seven straight scoring drives in the third quarter. It was dominant, and pretty surprising to see against one of the best defenses in the league. 

I will tell you this, though. The 49ers love these revenge games. Remember what they did to the Eagles earlier this year? Even though they were on the road in a hostile environment against a hot team? I mean, San Francisco may have broken Philly with that 42-19 win. My guess is that the 49ers don't lose two straight to the Ravens. 

Projected score: 49ers 27-24