Colts (+6.5) over BILLS/UNDER 50.5
There’s not a lot you can do about it, under current circumstances … but one of the (few!) unfortunate aspects of the NFL’s postseason is the potential exposure of teams who play in domes, now subjected to subfreezing playing conditions.
Such is the case here, with the Colts compelled to play away from their home grounds, in line with Buffalo’s legitimate entitlement to home-field advantage. It will be most interesting to watch the likes of Colts QB Philip Rivers — for the longest time, all too happy to play his home games in Southern California representing the Chargers before shifting his gear to Indianapolis to carry the Colts colors in their dome. Rivers is fortunate that Saturday’s midday high in Orchard Park is supposed to hover above freezing, with any winds in the modest single digits.
We wouldn’t be surprised if the stampeding Bills wind up on the long end on the scoreboard, given the conditions — and while we’re a little cynical about Rivers’ upside in the icebox, the spot’s generous. There’s no question we like this game to “go low” in terms of total score, rather than get too giddy about a side at market — given our concerns about Buffalo possibly peaking too soon.
The pick: Bills, 24-20
Rams (+3.5) over SEAHAWKS/UNDER 42.5
This is awkward, for the obvious reason: At this writing, it’s far from clear whether Rams QB Jared Goff is going to be available for duty. Against lesser competition over the last six weeks of the regular season, the Seahawks allowed 17, 17, 3, 15, 9 and 23 points, so you know they’re capable of emerging best from chess matches. Second-in-command QB John Wolford (out of Wake Forest) was serviceable for the Rams against Arizona in Week 17 with a 22-for-38 day — though three field goals, a safety and an 84-yard interception return comprised all of Los Angeles’ scoring.
For all that, it’s not inconceivable the Rams could be getting top receiver Cooper Kupp back for this contest, which would theoretically aid either probable quarterback to a marked extent. The Rams will also have quick revenge working against this foe, having lost to the Seahawks just two weeks ago, in a 20-9 slugfest.
It’s not easy for us to see either of these sides opening up a significant daylight lead on the other, barring any critical injuries involving key skill positions, as each side tries to provoke the other into making a significant mistake. Look to the Rams, better defensively, to be less likely to slip.
The pick: Rams, 21-20
WASHINGTON (+8) over Buccaneers/UNDER 44.5
Matchups matter. Casual fans couldn’t get enough of the Bucs when they opened at less than a touchdown, with Tom Brady and Tampa Bay’s clear-cut scoring capabilities the catnip. But wait! Washington’s here in large part due to the brute strength of its pass rush, powered by relentless operatives: first-rounders such as Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat and Daron Payne — with monstrous rookie Chase Young topping it off.
The tone of the officiating in this contest is going to be critical. There’s a strong chance that without wholesale holding by the Bucs’ offensive line, Brady is going to get tired of close looks at Washington marauders for three-plus hours. As good as Brady may be, this is a stiff challenge, and we’ll be the first to congratulate ’em if they manage to ease comfortably clear from the home boys.
In matchups such as this, we’re usually inclined to swing with the generous head start, hoping that Alex Smith will be able to participate in a decent percentage of Washington’s offensive snaps. Take Washington and what we believe is their superior coaching staff, plus the generous spot, and hope that the nation’s-capital reps will control the tempo so as to maintain a relatively sedate pace.
The pick: Tampa Bay, 20-17
Last week: 5-10-1
2020 regular season: 106-122-8