We are finally here – Wild Card Weekend! We have some new teams competing for the Super Bowl this season (Chargers, Jaguars) and some familiar faces (Bills, Bengals, Chiefs). Let’s not waste any time and get straight to the picks.
Chargers -2.5 over Jaguars
The key to the Chargers defeating Jacksonville is not just through the arm of Justin Herbert, but the legs of Austin Ekeler. We all know the Jaguars’ defense ranks near the bottom of the league against the pass, but they do a decent job against the run. If the Chargers can establish the run game behind Austin Ekeler, similar to how Tennessee has done in the past with Derrick Henry, then that will allow LA to elongate their drive and control the time of possession. As a result, the Chargers will keep Trevor Lawrence and the Jacksonville offense on the sideline.
This is a tough game to handicap and one I have gone back and forth on from the beginning. However, I feel the Chargers are the superior squad both on offense and defense. They may be without Mike Williams for this matchup, but it sounds like Joey Bosa is trending in the right direction to play. In that case, the combination of Bosa and Khalil Mack will apply plenty of pressure on Lawrence and make him uncomfortable in the pocket.
We also have seen Lawrence struggle in big game situations, including in the postseason-clinching win against the Titans last week and in the College Football Championship game against Joe Burrow and LSU. The Jaguars do have the advantage in the coaching situation with Doug Pederson at the helm, but I don’t think it will be enough. Chargers win and cover.
Bills -13 over Dolphins
Tua Tagovailoa has already been ruled out of this contest and it sounds like rookie third-stringer Skylar Thompson will get the nod for the Dolphins. If that is the case, I don’t see how Miami will manage to score more than ten points in this showdown against their division rival. The Bills are on an emotional high following Damar Hamlin’s strength and recovery from his cardiac arrest two weeks ago. There is good reason to believe they will use that as motivation and not lay off the gas in this blowout.
The Dolphins are a completely different team without Tua as evidenced in their losses without him. While their defense has always been suspect, their offense has carried them throughout the season. However, Thompson will struggle to connect with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle on the long ball. RB Raheem Mosert will also likely miss this contest which will hurt their run game as well.
I hate laying double-digit points, especially in the playoffs, but this one has blowout written all over it. The Bills are in another class than the Dolphins and should be able to capitalize early. I don’t see the Bills punting in this game which means the score can get out of hand early, similar to the trouncing the Bills displayed on the Patriots in the Wild Card round last season. The Bills win and cover.
Bengals -9.5 over Ravens
Am I actually going to side with all the favorites in the AFC this weekend? With Lamar Jackson likely out and either undrafted rookie Anthony Brown or an injured Tyler Huntley in line to start for the Ravens, then yes.
The Bengals easily covered last weekend against the Ravens and this week should be no different. No one plays better in high stakes situations than QB Joe Burrow. He plays with ice in his veins and you cannot expect him to turn up the heat now that it is postseason. One year removed from coming within a quarter of winning the Super Bowl, this Bengals squad is improved and better than last season.
The Ravens, meanwhile, have been trending in the wrong direction ever since Jackson went down with an injury. Their offense struggles to score and sustain drives without his presence. While the defense remains solid, either Brown or Huntley are prone to make mistakes, allowing the Bengals defense to create turnovers.
Another big line here, but I will lay the points with Joe Cool. Bengals win and cover.