Sunday NFL Picks: Expert Breakdowns on Cowboys vs. 49ers
Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images. Pictured: CeeDee Lamb.
For my money, the Divisional Round represents the best weekend of the entire NFL season.
Historically, this has been a round for the underdogs. Since 2003, underdogs have gone 45-30 (60%) ATS, covering by an average of just under two points per game.
-105o / -115u
-105o / -115u
Sunday, 3 p.m. ET on CBS
I know the Bengals seemingly cover every week, and I love Joe Burrow (who doesn’t?). However, I love the Bills here for a number of reasons.
Let’s start on the offensive side of the ball. The Bengals will likely have to make do without three important starting offensive linemen. The new projected starting five is ugly to say the least.
That spells disaster on the road against a defense that can generate pressure without blitzing, which you don’t want to do against Burrow.
Look no further than the second half of last week’s game against Baltimore, when Cincinnati basically had to completely abandon anything with a five-step drop. This should shackle the Bengals offense.
Defensively, I think Cincinnati is overvalued, which is something I always look for at this point in the season, when the NFL market gets very efficient. The Bengals boast some very nice pieces and have a top-notch defensive coordinator, but they remain vulnerable at cornerback and linebacker.
The season-long metrics don’t necessarily reflect those vulnerabilities, but that has more to do with Cincinnati’s favorable schedule. Nine of the 18 quarterbacks it faced either didn’t start or finish as the starting quarterback for their respective teams.
Even within their divisional games, the Bengals defeated Kenny Pickett, Anthony Brown, Tyler Huntley and a rusty Deshaun Watson, while losing to Mitch Trubisky, Jacoby Brissett and Lamar Jackson. The Bengals also benefited from facing Joe Flacco, Teddy Bridgewater (after Tua Tagovailoa got hurt early), Cooper Rush and PJ Walker.
Cincinnati ran pretty lucky in many of the high variance, less predictive defensive statistics (third downs, red zone, turnovers), while Buffalo’s offense was a bit unlucky. That regression looms large here.
Lastly, Buffalo should also have an edge on special teams, which can make all the difference in the postseason. In the regular season, Buffalo ranked first overall in special teams DVOA, while the Bengals ranked 18th.
I agree with the market movement in this game and would play Buffalo at anything under -6. The offensive line injuries will be too much for the Bengals to overcome on the road against the best team in the league, who also happens to have a superior coaching staff.
Notable Nugget: The Bengals are 20-5 ATS over their past 25 games and have not lost by more than a field goal in the past 21 games with Ja’Marr Chase in the lineup.
-115o / -105u
-115o / -105u
Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET on FOX
Maybe I’m not giving enough respect to Brock Purdy, but he’s still a rookie quarterback who was selected with the final pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. I still have to rate the 49ers accordingly. Purdy has thrived given the circumstances, but has also benefited from a very easy schedule of opposing defenses (as have the 49ers for the entirety of the season) and favorable game states.
Dallas’ defense will present Purdy’s toughest test, especially from a pressure perspective, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few key mistakes from the Iowa State product. He has certainly gotten away with a few throws that should’ve led to turnovers since taking over as starter.
On the other side of the ball, I loved what I saw from Dak Prescott last week against a healthy Tampa Bay secondary. He finished with 28.7 EPA — the seventh-highest of any quarterback in a playoff game over the past 25 years. Nobody needed a game like that more than Prescott, and I believe he will carry that momentum over into this week against a secondary that has a few exploitable cracks.
Lastly, have we considered that the NFC East was just that good this year? After all, they went 29-16-1 ATS against non-division opponents, which was the best mark — by far — of any division.
Ultimately, I make this spread right around two. That’s even after adjusting for home-field advantage and travel for a Cowboys team that will play their fourth straight road game. Therefore, I happily took the four points with the Cowboys. I’d bet anything over three in a game I think likely ends with a field goal margin.
Notable Nugget: Underdogs that won by double digits in the Wild Card Round have gone 24-14 ATS (63.2%) in the Divisional Round over the past 20 years. Meanwhile, over the past 20 years, teams on 10-plus-game winning streaks are 6-8 SU and 1-13 ATS in the Divisional Round or later, failing to cover by over a touchdown per game.