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Bob Christ’s NFL forecast: No more fooling around for home teams

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the top-seeded Packers will be going against an LA Rams defense that has been playing like gangbusters since Week 5. Michael Conroy/AP

 

If history can serve as a barometer, things should get back closer to normal this weekend in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs.

Whereas wild-card action of recent vintage has featured a lot of upsets and victories by visiting teams, that has not been the case in the round that will take place Saturday and Sunday.

Last week only two of the six home squads prevailed, giving host teams a cumulative 22-24 straight-up mark in wild-card games since 2010 (18-25-3 ATS). In divisional round games in that span, the home teams have gone 30-10 (20-18-2 ATS). And for the eighth time in the past nine postseasons, all the divisional round home teams are favorites.

Weather-wise, the games played outdoors in Green Bay, Buffalo and Kansas City are forecast to have wind chill numbers in the 20s, but only the game in Buffalo figures to have a freezing temperature at kickoff. There is little chance of meaningful precipitation anywhere. Details from NFLWeather.com, as of early, early Saturday, are presented with each of the game capsules below.

Now for a look at the four games with some little-known facts (if known at all) and trends mixed in. The odds are provided by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook:

SATURDAY

No. 6 seed LA Rams (11-6) at No. 1 Green Bay (13-3)

Time: 2:35 p.m.

Weather: A temp of 33 degrees at kickoff is forecast (25 wind chill). Snow showers should dissipate by midmorning.

Line: Packers by 6.5

Facts: Rams starting QB Jared Goff has played in freezing weather twice as a pro, two seasons ago when the team reached the Super Bowl, and he had his two worst games of the year (five INTs, no TDs) — and that was without a right thumb issue that has plagued him the past three weeks. … Speaking of freezing temperatures, the lone time the Packers played host to the Rams in the postseason was in 1967, in Milwaukee, with LA a 3-point favorite. Green Bay won 28-7 with a temperature of 20 degrees. That was the week before the legendary Ice Bowl at Lambeau Field at minus-13. … FYI in case the temperature drops: Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has a record of 19-4 at home with a freezing temp at kickoff, 16-6-1 ATS. … The Rams’ No. 1-ranked defense was extra stout from Week 5 on. Over its last 13 games, including a 30-20 wild-card win at Seattle, LA foes averaged 94.6 yards under their season norm.

Analysis: Both teams have injury woes at key positions. For LA, it’s the flappable Goff, who came on in relief last week for backup John Wolford (out, neck) and was only 9-for-19 passing. And if Goff goes down, there’s little hope with Blake Bortles next in line. Yikes! And then there’s “The Terminator,” DT Aaron Donald, who left last week’s game with injured ribs. But he says he’s OK. For Green Bay, the absence of standout OLT David Bakhtiari (knee), who’s out for the playoffs, is big-time trouble for the Packers and Rodgers, for his replacement gave up way too many pressures of the QB last week, according to the stat guys on TV. If Packers WR Davante Adams, who led the league with 18 TD receptions despite missing two games, can keep star CB Jalen Ramsey occupied and have a decent day, that opens it up for the RB Aaron Jones rushing and pass receiving.

Forecast: Packers 28, Rams 16

No. 5 Baltimore Ravens (12-5) at No. 2 Buffalo Bills (14-3)

Time: 6:15 p.m.

Weather: A temperature of 29 degrees is forecast for kickoff (20 wind chill). Precipitation is listed at 16 percent and lessening as the night wears on.

Line: Bills by 2.5

Facts: The Ravens, coming off a 20-13 win at Tennessee, are getting an atomic wedgie from the NFL’s schedule maker: Since 2008, 10 teams have had to play on short rest on the road in the divisional round. Baltimore has been the victim on five occasions, including this one. And four times the Ravens were coming off a road game. All told the past 30 seasons, those short-rest, visiting teams have gone 5-17 (12-10 ATS). Baltimore is 1-3 (2-2 ATS). This game, however, is the first in which the home team didn’t have a bye. … The Bills’ 27-24 wild-card win over Indy last week is even more impressive considering their average starting field position was their 15. Since 2007, there have been only 10 other games in which a team had such a lousy launch point, and all of them lost. … If this becomes a punting contest, the edge goes to Buffalo and New Mexico alum Corey Bojorquez, whose gross average of 50.4 yards was tops in the league. … The Bills have given five foes their most lopsided loss of the season, a league high.

Analysis: The Ravens showed last week they could stuff the league’s rushing champion, Derrick Henry, holding him to a season-low 40 yards on 18 carries. Now they’ll try to find a way to slow Buffalo WR Stefon Diggs, the league’s leading receiver in terms of catches (127) and yards (1,535). Also, what’s going to make this quick turnaround even more difficult for the Ravens is that their victory last week over rival Tennessee was deemed by coach John Harbaugh as his biggest in his 13 years in Baltimore — apparently even more than his Super Bowl triumph in 2012 against his brother. Thus, can the Ravens muster the adrenaline they’ll need to upset Buffalo and QB Jared Allen, the league’s fourth most accurate passer? Baltimore QB Lamar Jackson likely will get his yards on the ground, but the cold weather could/should affect his passing. He didn’t sound this week like he was excited about playing in nippy weather.

Forecast: Bills 38, Ravens 21

SUNDAY

No. 6 Cleveland Browns (12-5) at No. 1 Kansas City Chiefs (14-2)

Time: 1:05 p.m.

Weather: Temps will be in high 30s, but with breezes of about 14 mph the wind chill figures to be in the high 20s. There’s a 5 percent chance of precip at game time.

Line: Chiefs by 10

Facts: The Browns’ defense is the lowest-rated of the remaining units in the playoffs (17th) and going against the No. 1 Chiefs. However, in 1964 Cleveland had the worst defense in the entire league and still won the championship. No other team with a bottom-ranked defense ever prevailed in an NFL title game. … This is the 27th matchup of a No. 1 seed vs. a No. 6. The top seed has gone 20-6 (13-11-2 ATS). … Despite the Browns’ 48-37 upset win at Pittsburgh in the wild card round even with all their COVID issues, their Super Bowl odds didn’t budge. Still 40-1. … Last week, for the second time this season, Cleveland was gouged for 500-plus air yards, yet won both times, this time thanks to a plus-five turnover edge. … Double-digit favorites in this round have gone 21-6 (14-12-1 ATS). Included was KC’s 51-31 home victory over Houston last season as a 10-point pick. … Chiefs coach Andy Reid famously has a record of 26-5 (20-11 ATS) after byes, including the playoffs. … Cleveland had four INTs last week. That’s good. But the Browns never got to Big Ben Roethlisberger, who threw 68 passes. That’s the second biggest sack shutout in history.

Analysis: While the Browns haven’t had a chance to catch their breath since their Week 9 bye, the Chiefs, 1-6 ATS after their midseason week off, haven’t played a meaningful game since Week 16, giving folks such as QB Patrick Mahomes and TE Travis Kelce a rest in Week 17 and then more rest during last week’s bye. So, it’s fatigue vs. potential rust. Regardless, neither team seems capable of stopping the other, with Browns QB Baker Mayfield and Mahomes likely to have big days. And if there’s someone on the field playing with mega-extra drive it will be Browns RB Kareem Hunt, who won the rushing title with KC in 2017, a year before he was released by the Chiefs in midseason after a domestic violence revelation. But what are the chances that along the way he has a key fumble or two going for the extra yard?

Forecast: Chiefs 51, Browns 35

No. 5 Tampa Bay (12-5) at No. 2 New Orleans (13-4)

Time: 4:40 p.m.

Weather: Who cares? It’s in the Superdome.

Line: Saints by 3

Facts: New Orleans gave QB Tom Brady’s Bucs their worst loss of the season, 38-3 in Week 9. It also was the most lopsided defeat for a favorite (-3) this season. The Saints gave Tampa Bay its second biggest defeat, too, 34-23 in the opener. … Enemy QBs vs. Tampa Bay this year have fumbled 12 times, the most among playoff teams, and lost the ball five times, tied for most. New Orleans, meanwhile, has seen its QBs (Drew Brees and mainly Taysom Hill) fumble 18 times and lose seven, highs in both categories among postseason teams. … Barring a Packers upset loss in Green Bay this round, the Bucs will have to win road games in three consecutive weeks to reach the Super Bowl in their home stadium. Since their inception in 1976, TB has never had such a road sweep. Win No. 1 was last week in Washington, 31-23. … The last time Brady was an underdog in the playoffs was in the AFC title game in KC two years ago. His Patriots won 37-31 in overtime. … In Week 1, both teams had more than 100 penalty yards. No other game matched that this year.

Analysis: The 43-year-old Brady and the Bucs have been warmly applauded during their current five-game winning streak, but all the victories have come against losing teams, including their wild-card win. Against playoff teams in the regular season, they went 1-5. And although Brady’s numbers have improved the back end of the season, he could be short-handed on offense if hobbled WRs Chris Godwin (hip, quadriceps) and Mike Evans (knee) can’t be a full go. Then there’s the issue of having the time to throw, for he went down six times in those losses to the Saints and threw five INTs. No doubt he took notice that New Orleans DE Trey Hendrickson, tied for second in the league with 13.5 sacks, is expected to return from a neck injury. And on offense for New Orleans, not only are 42-year-old QB Drew Brees, RB Alvin Kamara and WR Michael Thomas back together, but their jobs will be made easier by emerging deep threat WR Deonta Harris. So, go with the kid quarterback’s team. Forecast: Saints 34, Bucs 27

Last week: 3-2-1 against the spread; 3-3 straight up

Season total: 62-65-1 ATS; 92-43-1 SU

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