VSiN’s NFL expert makes his selections for the two Saturday playoff games.
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills (-4.5, 43.5)
We’ve got two data points for the Bills and Patriots against each other this season, but only one truly holds water — because the water would have frozen into a solid block during the first game, in Orchard Park. High winds and snow created a chaotic offensive environment in that Monday night game back in Week 13. Damien Harris shook free for a long touchdown run, and that was basically the difference in the game.
In the second meeting, however, the Bills throttled the Patriots on the day after Christmas. That Week 16 victory was maybe the most complete performance of the season from Buffalo, at least against a good team. Josh Allen threw for 314 yards and ran for 64 more, as he did what good players do and put the team on his back.
Without the compromising weather, the Bills outgained the Patriots by nearly a full yard per play. New England was 1-for-10 on third downs, while Buffalo was 6-for-12. Had the Patriots not gone 5-for-6 on fourth downs, the game could have been even more lopsided.
The weather will be very cold in Buffalo, but wind and precipitation won’t be factors. Allen’s numbers in cold weather are not great, with about a 50 percent completion rate, but it isn’t as if Mac Jones has played in bitter chill like this either. The Patriots will be one-dimensional, while the Bills have two offensive dimensions. Buffalo has the better defense by DVOA and yards per play as well.
Pick: Bills, -4.5.
Las Vegas Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals (-5.5, 48.5)
The Raiders deserve a lot of credit for winning four straight games to get into the playoffs. They basically had no margin for error and won all four games by four or fewer points, but you wonder how many times a team can keep responding to those sorts of stakes.
Maybe the shared sense of belief is enough to carry the Raiders through what amounts to an awful spot on Saturday. One would think the playoffs and the associated motivation would be enough, but Las Vegas just played five quarters against the Chargers and the defense was on the field for 88 plays late in a long season. Now the Raiders must travel across three time zones to play in cold Cincinnati.
The Bengals rested nearly every player of consequence last week, including a banged-up Joe Burrow. Cincinnati thrives on yards after catch, ranking third in the NFL in that department. The Raiders, however, have held teams to just 10 yards per reception. The game may hinge on how well the Bengals protect Burrow to give him time to throw and find his long list of weapons.
Aside from the games against the Cowboys, Chiefs and Chargers, the Raiders haven’t played teams this loaded at the skill positions. Las Vegas also lost to Cincinnati 32-13 in Week 11 at Allegiant Stadium, although the score is a touch misleading in that the Bengals were held to 4.1 yards per play. They had one play of 20+ yards and it was a Joe Mixon run.
I do have a lean to Cincinnati here, but it would appear that the Under is the play. Both quarterbacks could be affected by the cold conditions and the Raiders do a really good job of limiting explosive plays, which will force the Cincinnati offense to methodically move down the field. Neither team is a standout in the red zone and the first meeting was 13-6 entering the fourth quarter.
Pick: Under 48.5.