NFL Predictions: Expert Previews Chiefs vs. Jaguars, Eagles vs. Giants
Scott Taetsch/Getty Images. Pictured: A.J. Brown.
For my money, the Divisional Round represents the best weekend of the entire NFL season.
In the AFC, we have three teams everyone expected to get here in the Chiefs, Bills and Bengals, in addition to the surprise Jaguars, who pulled off an improbable comeback. Meanwhile, in the NFC, we have the 49ers led by a rookie quarterback, plus three teams from the same division (NFC East) for the first time since 1997.
Historically, this has been a round for the underdogs. Since 2003, underdogs have gone 45-30 (60%) ATS, covering by just under two points per game on average.
Home favorites coming off a bye week have gone just 28-41 ATS (40.6%) with the top overall seeds struggling even more against the number. Over the past 20 years, No. 1 seeds are just 13-26 ATS (33.33%). That includes a horrific 8-23 (25.8%) mark when favored by fewer than 10 points.
Will the dogs bark again this weekend? Let’s take a closer look at the Saturday slate first.
-105o / -115u
-105o / -115u
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET on NBC
You have to respect this Kansas City staff coming off of a bye. I assume we see an elite opening script of offensive plays and a defensive scheme that uses an abundance of disguise and specific coverages that Trevor Lawrence has struggled with throughout his young career.
That said, the Chiefs have simply struggled to cover large spreads (over a touchdown) — especially at home — during the Mahomes era.
I ultimately think the spread is pretty fair — although I’d be very interested in Kansas City live if the Jaguars jump out to an early lead. There’s no reason why Mahomes and company can’t drive down the field at will (especially from behind) against a very bad secondary that benefited from an extremely favorable schedule of opposing quarterbacks.
From a total perspective, I’d lean under at 53. That’s a fairly high number for two offenses that aren’t the most explosive.
Tyreek Hill isn’t walking through the door for Kansas City. Jacksonville has a very horizontal offense that looks to efficiently move the ball down the field with a quick, short passing attack. In a game that I expect to feature a high frequency of long drives, you might be drawing dead if those aren’t consistently ending in touchdowns.
That said, neither defense is anything to write home about. Both have also struggled to defend short passing attacks. Kansas City will also likely have an even more pass-heavy attack than usual against a Jacksonville defense that is much stronger against the run.
My favorite play in this game is actually a player prop, which I rarely ever bet.
I love Travis Etienne Over 17.5 receiving yards, which I’d play up to 20.
If you remove the Baltimore injury game, Etienne eclipsed 17 receiving yards in 11 of 17 games. More importantly, he should see almost every snap against a defense that ranks in the bottom five against RBs in the passing game.
After seeing a bit of a reduced snap share toward the end of the regular season, Etienne played in 64 of 74 snaps and ran routes in 40 of Lawrence’s dropbacks last week. He even lined up in the slot a few times and out wide once.
Now, he only finished with one catch for 12 yards, but the volume of opportunities were there. Plus, this is a much better matchup.
I expect a very complex, zone-heavy scheme from the Chiefs, who generated plenty of interior pressure in the first meeting. That could lead to quite a few check downs and drop-offs to Etienne. He could also see some work in the screen game and even get a target or two when lined up at receiver.
For what it’s worth, he had three catches for 28 yards in the first meeting against the Chiefs. I think there’s a great chance he eclipses this number on one play.
Notable Nugget: Under Andy Reid, the under is 31-14-1 (69%) in Chiefs home games when they are favored by at least a touchdown.
-105o / -115u
-105o / -115u
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET on FOX
The Eagles, who are looking for their 10th straight home win over the Giants, swept New York in the regular season. If you’re curious, 20 previous teams in the Wild Card era (since 1990) have faced an opponent in the playoffs that they swept in the regular season. Those teams went 13-7 SU and 10-9-1 ATS.
Part of me believes the Eagles are not garnering enough respect after a dominant season before a late dip that correlated with a few key injuries, specifically to Jalen Hurts. After all, this team didn’t lose a single game with both Hurts and Jordan Davis, who’s so important to the run defense.
Similarly, the Giants have seemingly become everyone’s favorite darling after beating Minnesota last week. And while I have so much respect for Brian Daboll, this is still a team that won nine of its 10 games by one-possession.
Additionally, many of those victories came in late comeback fashion in the fourth quarter, including their only two wins against playoff teams in the regular season in which the Jaguars and Ravens thoroughly outplayed them statistically.
I just don’t think this is a very good matchup for the Giants, who lost 48-22 at home to the Eagles when both teams had full incentive to win earlier this season.
The Giants defense thrives in dime packages, but the Eagles can just run it down their throat against those heavy defensive-back formations as they did in that first meeting.
New York does now at least have a healthier secondary, and its defensive front has continued to improve. However, Philadelphia has the perfect personnel and scheme to exploit New York’s glaring weakness at linebacker.
Despite my sentiment, I don’t see enough value to place a wager at -7.5 compared to my projections, especially with the track record this Giants team has as an underdog.
- The Giants went 11-2 ATS as a dog this season — the best mark of any team over the past two decades.
- Jones has gone 17-5 ATS as a road underdog in his career.
- Daboll is 4-0 ATS this season when facing a team for the second time.
Notable Nugget: Teams with over a 75% win pct, when listed as favorites, are 15-30 ATS (33.33%) in the Divisional Round in the past 20 years