The matchups are compelling. The storylines are intense.
And the NFL’s final eight teams get down to business for the second playoff week.The winners of this week’s games will meet next weekend to obtain Super Bowl berths.
The Rams try to do what’s considered next to impossible. Find a way to contain Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers quarterback has enjoyed a magical campaign with 48 touchdowns vs. only five picks. His season for the ages has made him a runaway choice for the MVP award. Now he must confront a pesky Rams defense that has secured pass interceptions for touchdowns in the past two games. The Pick 6’s gave the Rams a lead they would not relinquish in each contest.
The Packers will try to make this an early air show, with Rodgers targeting Devanta Adams. If the Packers get an early stranglehold, the Rams will be forced out of their run-first offense.
The Bills host the Ravens on Saturday night.
The question will be whether Buffalo has a plan to contain rushing star Lamar Jackson. Last week, Jackson rumbled for 146 yards and was the key to the offense.
The Baltimore defense stuffed the Tennessee running game. So, it’s Jackson and the ground game versus a porous Bills defense, which allowed nearly 500 yards in a close win over the Indianapolis Colts last week.
Quarterback Josh Allen is a good scrambler for Buffalo, and he will target the league’s leading receiver Stefon Diggs. Can the Bills overcome the jitters they had last week? Maybe the win solidified them.
The Cleveland Browns are the Cinderella story of the NFL playoffs. Is the clock about to strike midnight?
The Browns jumped on the Pittsburgh Steelers for four interceptions and a fumble recovery in the endzone on the first play from scrimmage last week. The game established an NFL postseason record 28 points in the first quarter. Fortunately for Cleveland, it tallied all the points in that period.
The Browns never looked back after the four-touchdown lead and scored a major upset. Now they face the defending Super Bowl Champions, who lost only two games this entire season.
The Chiefs have monster weapons in quarterback Patrick Mahomes, wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce.
But they haven’t been the Chiefs as we know them for about a month. Kansas City slid by the Atlanta Falcons in Week 16, rested its regulars in Week 17 and had the bye last weekend.
Will the Chiefs be rusty? Can the Browns jump on them early too?
It’s Round three between Tom Brady and the Saints. Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been destroyed in two earlier matchups with the Saints. Hard to beat a team three times in one year, but the Saints will try to do it. This is the lowest line of the three matchups. New Orleans was favored by 4.5 in the first encounter and Tampa Bay by 5 in the second contest.
This is the game the Bucs brought Brady in to win when they lured him from New England in March. They won seven games last year and did not make the playoffs
This season, they captured 11, along with a playoff victory against the Washington Football Team, and now try to reach another level.
Big weapons include Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas for New Orleans. Tampa Bay counters with Rob Gronkowski, Mike Evans and Antonio Brown.
At this point of the season, Brady is throwing the ball better than Brees is. And the offensive line is giving him the best protection of the year.
Tampa Bay only defeated one team that made the playoffs this season. Is this the game that helps the team cross over into an elite franchise?
This week’s odds
Here are the DraftKings lines for Playoff Week 2
Green Bay -6.5 vs Los Angeles Rams
Buffalo -2.5 vs Baltimore
Green Bay -10 vs Cleveland
New Orleans -3 vs Tampa Bay
This week’s picks
This week’s selections against the spread, excerpted from Beat the Degenerates, which I co-host with Scott Cronick, director of entertainment publications for The Press of Atlantic City, and Brian Cahill. The show airs 5 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays on Newstalk 1400-AM, WONDRadio.com and 92.5-FM. Catch the next one 5 p.m. Jan 20.
Pickett Russell, “Da Kipster,” general manager of Tennessee Ave. Beer Hall in Atlantic City: New Orleans
Cronick: Green Bay
James Rabic, WOND producer: Kansas City
Ky Carlin, Sixers Wire, WOND sports correspondent: Green Bay
Dave Weinberg, Weinberg Extra Points: Green Bay
Last week’s results: Cahill scored a nice victory with New Orleans over Chicago. The rest of us had a tough time, as we selected favorites but the dogs barked at us.
For the year, the Kipster leads the pack for the year with an 11-7 record, followed by Weinberg and Cronick, who are tied at 9-8-1.
Last week on the field:
The Cleveland Browns played with a ton of confidence. Their running back tandem of Kareen Hunt and Nick Chubb is even better than Kansas City’s running game. Tight end Austin Hooper is a difference maker, just as Travis Kelce is for Kansas City.
The Browns do not have a good defense, but last week’s performance could raise their confidence.
The biggest difference between Kansas City and Cleveland is at quarterback, because Mahomes is in a class by himself. The Browns were more than 100-1 to win the Super Bowl at times this season but Kansas City behind Mahomes has been the favorite all season.
In other games last week, the Saints played ultra-conservatively against the Bears, the Bills lacked the knockout punch against the Colts and the Rams won with defense and a patient offense.
Who can believe that two of the eight teams remaining - the Rams and the Browns - were beaten by the Jets down the stretch?
Off the field:
The Jets hired Robert Saleh, defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers as their next coach late Thursday night.