Thursday, May 26

NFL Divisional Round Predictions: Titans, Packers, Picks

Joe Burrow looked authentic in his playoff debut. In a 26-19 win over the Raiders, he threw for 244 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers, deftly directing the Bengals past a canny, veteran opponent.

Burrow was lucky to have played that game at home in front of friendly fans and in familiar conditions. Other young quarterbacks didn’t have the same experience. Rookie Mac Jones had a nightmare at Orchard Park when the Patriots were defeated by the Bills, 47-17. The Eagles’ Jalen Hurts trailed 31-0 before Philadelphia finally scored in the fourth quarter of a 31-15 loss at Tampa Bay. Even Kyler Murray, a former Rookie of the Year and two-time Pro Bowl player, was destroyed in his first road postseason game, fueling a 34-11 loss to the Rams with a ridiculous pick six.

In fact, in the wild card round, the home teams finished 5-1 both direct and against the spread. The only successful road team, the 49ers, have a quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo, who once came within a few yards of winning a Super Bowl. This isn’t to say that visiting teams can’t win in the playoffs or that you’d be foolish to pick them. I’m rooting for some visitors in this weekend’s divisional round, as you’ll see. But the Bengals aren’t one of those teams, as I think Burrow will have a rough time in Nashville on Saturday in his first foray into the postseason on the road.

The Titans arrive as the No. 1 seed in the AFC and the only team to earn a coveted conference bye. His regular-season bye came after an unfathomable loss at home to Houston and a crushing loss at New England. After that, Tennessee went 4-1 SU and 3-2 ATS to close out the season.

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mike vabel
mike vabel
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Going 7-2 SU and 6-3 ATS at home, including back-to-back wins against the Bills and Chiefs, Tennessee was able to reach this lofty position despite losing Derrick Henry for much of the season. His return allows Ryan Tannehill to improve the passing game and also gives coach Mike Vrabel a chance to make this a more physical game against a Cincinnati team that is better known for its finesse and explosiveness.

I also give Vrabel a head coaching advantage over the Bengals’ Zac Taylor. Vrabel is 2-2 in his coaching career in the playoffs, one of the wins being an epic takedown of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady at Foxborough. Vrabel also played in 20 postseason games, so this is definitely his time of year.

The selections: Titans -3.5 and Under 47.5.

Titans, 26-20

San Francisco 49ers (+5.5) over GREEN BAY PACKERS; More than 46.5

The first two things you look at in this matchup are the 49ers’ injuries and the weather. By midweek it looks like DE Nick Bosa (concussion) and LB Fred Warner (leg) will be ready to play for the 49ers after falling in the wild-card win over the Cowboys. As for the forecast, it will be icy (4 degrees, -1 RealFeel) but dry with light to moderate winds at Lambeau Field on Saturday night. Pros like Garoppolo and, in particular, Aaron Rodgers shouldn’t be hampered by these conditions.

Deebo Samuel
Deebo Samuel
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Like the Titans, the bye is a nice bonus for the Packers, and you certainly have to give them the edge to at least survive and advance. But the near-landing point scatter makes this a real challenge to predict. The Packers won the regular season meeting, 30-28, in Santa Clara, Calif., as 3.5-point underdogs in Week 3. That was the start of a four-game stretch for the 49ers that nearly doomed their season. But the team is now 8-2 in both SU and ATS.

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Kyle Shanahan created a monster with Deebo Samuel operating out of the backfield, and the coach is a master at calling the right play at the right time. There are enough cracks in Green Bay’s defense to allow the 49ers to go scoring by scoring with Rodgers.

Packers, 28-24

In the past week: 4-2 sides, 4-2 Over/Under

Block of the week: Bills (Blocks 11-7 in 2021)

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