NFL 2020-2021 Divisional Playoffs: The Preview and Bettor’s Guide
LOS ANGELES: When the dust settles, what matters is history. In football and in life, history is written by the winning side. Americans love football because it is history written by undisputed winners. The most feel-good history comes when losers crush winners. When David beats Goliath, we cheer the historic results. As leatherheads prepare for the NFL 2020-2021 Divisional playoff round, let us all appreciate the history that came out of the Wildcards.
The Cleveland Browns won a playoff game for the first time since 1994. They won against a hated Pittsburgh rival that had beaten them 16 straight times in Pittsburgh. All of that went out the window when the Browns jumped out to a 7-0 lead on the first play of the game and a 28-0 lead after the first quarter. The Bills were only one year behind the Browns. The Bills won a playoff game for the first time since 1995.
On the player front, Baltimore Ravens quarterback and reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson won his first playoff game. After two playoff losses at home, he won his first playoff game on the road.
On the coaching front, the Browns won their playoff game without their coach. Kevin Stefanski missed the game due to COVID. Special teams coach Mike Priefer had never won a game as an NFL head coach. He had only been an interim head coach for one other game several years ago. On the biggest stage, he won on the road against Pittsburgh.
Washington is the city where history is made.
On the football field, this was no different. Start with the team name. They do not even have one. The 1972 Dolphins went undefeated because they had the No-Name Defense. The 2020 Non-Redskins did not have anime for their offense, defense, or special teams. Yet despite not having a team name, they offered plenty of inspiration.
Coach Ron Rivera coached the team together despite battling cancer the entire season. He did not miss a game. Quarterback Alex Smith returned from a two-year absence and a life-threatening leg injury to lead his team to the playoffs. Injuries and OCVID reduced Washington to starting a fourth-string quarterback in Taylor Heinecke. Despite having played in only a handful of NFL games in his entire career, Heinecke played valiantly. Although Washington did not win the game, the history books will show that Tampa Bay needed a tough effort to defeat them.
More NFL history will be made, and the anticipation is only going to get bigger as we get closer to the final battle for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
With that, here is the NFL 2020-2021 Divisional Playoffs Preview and Bettor’s Guide, with point spreads provided by DraftKings.com and all times Eastern.
Saturday, January 16, 2021 at 4:30 p.m. on FOX
Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay Packers (-7) —
The 13-3 NFC North Packers are well-rested after their bye week. The 10-6 Rams went into Seattle and shocked them. The Packers deserve to be favored, but the Rams are a well-coached team with an innovative offense and a tough defense. Cold weather favors Green Bay, but the temperature for the game will be above freezing. The spread is too high given how much talent the Rams have. Packers win but fail to cover.
Saturday, January 16, 2021 at 8:00 p.m. on NBC
Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills (-2.5) —
The 13-3 AFC East Buffalo Bills barely survived Indianapolis. Lamar Jackson allowed the 11-5 Ravens to get revenge against Tennessee, but Buffalo is a far sterner test. Both teams have solid defenses Josh Allen is playing at an elite level, but the Ravens have won five straight games. With all things being equal, go with the momentum and the best kicker in the game in Justin Tucker. Upset special, Ravens win outright.
Sunday, January 17, 2021 at 3:00 p.m. on CBS
Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs (-9.5) —
The 11-5 Cleveland Browns are a feel-good story. Now they face reality in the 14-2 Kansas City Chiefs. The four-time AFC West champions and defending Super Bowl champions have the best quarterback in the game in Patrick Mahomes. The Browns have heart and a tough running back in Nick Chubb. Yet the way to stop a running game is to grab an early lead and force the opponent to abandon the run. If the Browns fail to figure out how to stop Mahomes, they will be no different from the other 30 NFL teams. The Chiefs have too many offensive weapons. The spread is high, but the Chiefs are practically unstoppable. Chiefs cover.
Sunday, January 17, 2021 at 6:30 p.m. on FOX
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints (-4.5) —
The 11-5 Buccaneers dispatched the 7-9 No-Names with more difficulty than expected. The 12-4 NFC South champion Saints suffocated overmatched Chicago with defense. While this is billed as the rubber match between Drew Brees and Tom Brady, the Saints easily won both regular-season games.
In Tampa, the Saints humiliated the Buccaneers 38-3. While this game will be much closer, Brady is in his first year in the Bruce Arians Tampa system. Brees has been in the Sean Payton New Orleans system for 15 years. Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas are healthy. With the entire band back together, the Pinball Wizard will fire on all cylinders. Brady has the firepower for a shootout, but the Saints have a far better defense. Saints win but fail to cover.
Image courtesy of the New Orleans Saints