Finally, the NFL playoffs have arrived.
After 17 weeks of fantasy football, parlays, prop bets and general Monday morning quarterbacking, the reason we play the game – aside from just winning (sorry, Herm Edwards) – kicks off with Wild Card weekend.
The next 11 games, spanning about a month, will determine the Super Bowl LIV champion.
It could be the league’s best team: the Baltimore Ravens. Or perhaps the dynastic New England Patriots. Maybe it’s the breakthrough year for the Kansas City Chiefs. Or is it the NFC’s year with the San Francisco 49ers or New Orleans Saints?
For our money, we’ll take the Green Bay Packers. But more on that in a bit.
So the question remains: Who ya got?
NFL playoff schedule: Wild Card to Super Bowl
A championship and accompanying glory await one of 12 teams.
On Feb. 2, Super Bowl LIV will crown said winner. The road to Miami starts this weekend.
Here are the Wild Card matchups and the teams awaiting those winners in the Divisional Round. The conference championships will take place Jan. 19. All times listed are in Eastern Standard Time.
|Wild Card||Buffalo Bills (10-6) at Houston Texans (10-6)||Jan. 4, 4:35 p.m.|
|Wild Card||Tennessee Titans (9-7) at New England Patriots (12-4)||Jan. 4, 8:15 p.m.|
|Wild Card||Minnesota Vikings (10-6) at New Orleans Saints (13-3)||Jan. 5, 1:05 p.m.|
|Wild Card||Seattle Seahawks (11-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)||Jan. 5, 4:40 p.m.|
|Division Round||TBD at San Francisco 49ers (13-3)||Jan. 11, 4:35 p.m.|
|Divisional Round||TBD at Baltimore Ravens (14-2)||Jan. 11, 8:15 p.m.|
|Divisional Round||TBD at Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)||Jan. 12, 3:05 p.m.|
|Divisional Round||TBD at Green Bay Packers (13-3)||Jan. 12, 6:40 p.m.|
Laying out the Super Bowl futures
Bettors who dreamed big preseason are on the threshold of a big payday.
On the flip side, those who counted on favorites might be shaking in their boots a bit.
Before the season began, the Raves and 49ers carried +4000 odds to win Super Bowl LIV. Now, they are the two favorites. Meanwhile, the top preseason pick to claim the title, the Patriots at +400, has dropped to the middle of the pack.
|Team||DraftKings Sportsbook||FanDuel Sportsbook|
|*Odds as of Jan. 2|
|San Francisco 49ers||+400||+400|
|Kansas City Chiefs||+450||+450|
|New Orleans Saints||+600||+600|
|Green Bay Packers||+1000||+850|
|New England Patriots||+1200||+1200|
Sussing out the field to clear up Super Bowl betting
AFC No. 1 Baltimore Ravens (14-2)
As noted, the AFC North champion Ravens stand as the frontrunner to win Super Bowl LIV.
Baltimore rides a 12-game winning streak and comes off its second straight division title, which the franchise has done only one other time: in 2012, when the Ravens won the Super Bowl.
Likely MVP and QB Lamar Jackson ranks sixth leaguewide in rushing yards with a league-record 1,206 yards from the QB spot. He also finished the regular season third in passer rating after throwing for 3,100 yards and 36 TDs (against just six interceptions) on 66.1% passing.
The Ravens posted the most points (531) in franchise history and ranked first in points scored, second in yards gained, third in points allowed and fourth in yards allowed. To boot, Baltimore went 5-1 against teams currently in the playoffs.
Yet Baltimore is not our Super Bowl pick.
AFC No. 3 New England (12-4)
No franchise in NFL history boasts the Super Bowl success as the Patriots.
New England has appeared in a record 11 Super Bowls. Nine of those have occurred in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era, since 2001, which itself would be a record. With the Hall of Fame QB and legendary coach, the Pats have won six league titles, which is tied for the most all-time.
They have advanced to the Big Game in each of the past three years, winning twice, and they have won three of the last five Super Bowls.
Even with an anemic offense, one that produced the franchise’s fewest points since 1996, New England’s defense has been dominant. It ranks first in points allowed (225, which is third-lowest in franchise history), yards allowed and interceptions, and second in takeaways.
The Pats have relied on powerful defenses before. In four Super Bowl-winning seasons, New England’s defense made up for poor offenses.
Yet New England is not our Super Bowl pick.
AFC No. 2 Kansas City (12-4), NFC No. 1 San Francisco (13-3), NFC No. 3 New Orleans (13-3), NFC No. 5 Seattle (11-5)
The 49ers put together their best season in nearly a decade and scored the franchise’s third-most points (479) in a season. San Francisco has home field through the NFC championship, and no team in the league scored more points at home than the 49ers.
But San Fran is not our pick. Neither is Kansas City, which has won six straight and is one of the more formidable road teams (if it came down to it) and is the only playoff team to have defeated the Ravens (33-28 at home in Week 3).
Neither is New Orleans, whose lone loss over the final seven games came against San Francisco, which is also the Saints’ only loss against current playoff teams. Neither is Seattle, which recorded its best record since going to the Super Bowl in 2014 and nearly won the NFC West while playing the league’s sixth-strongest schedule – and the strongest among playoff teams.
Our pick to win Super Bowl LIV: Green Bay Packers (13-3)
It seems the Packers enter every season with lofty expectations thrust upon them. This season, however, was not one of them.
Green Bay came into the year with a new head coach and uncertainties at skill positions. Somehow, though, the Packers took advantage of flying under the radar, recording the franchise’s best record since 2007 and locking up the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
The last time Green Bay was in the postseason, three years ago, it lost in the conference championship. This year, the Packers are our value pick to win the whole dang thing.
The AFC is set up to beat up on one another, thereby sending its conference champ limping into the Super Bowl. The NFC, however, appears more forthright. And with future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers calling the shots, fresh of his eighth season with at least 4,000 passing yards and ninth straight year with single-digit interceptions, it’s difficult to bet against the Pack.
Green Bay closed the regular season with five straight victories. It features a 1,000-yard rusher in Aaron Jones (who tied Tennessee’s Derrick Henry for most rushing TDs this season) and went 3-2 against playoff teams – the third-best record among the field.
Sure, the Packers’ strength of schedule ranked dead-last, but they did what they were supposed to do: win against teams they’re supposed to win against.
Come Feb. 2 in Miami, that’s what Green Bay will do: Win.