News & Analysis

NFL Divisional Round Spread Picks

By Eric Eager and George Chahrouri
Jan 12, 2018

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Jan 7, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) makes a throw during the fourth quarter against the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Wild Card playoff football game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

After seeing Kansas City botch another clear opportunity to go over a reasonable total, we finished last week 1-1, with our Lock of the Week (Atlanta at +6) pulling through against an upstart Rams squad. We’re 47-36-4 (56.6 percent) on our article’s picks the season, going 32-20-2 (61.5 percent) against the spread and 15-16-2 (48.4 percent) on over/unders.

On all picks (available to PFF Elite Subscribers) we’re 96-86-7 (52.7 percent) against the spread and 126-95-3 (57.0 percent) on over/unders. We were 3-1 and 1-3 on those picks, respectively, during the wild-card round.

Unlike last week, there’s a decent amount of opportunity in some of this week’s lines. We’re going to take another NFC South underdog for our Lock of the Week in the Saints, with all the value we’ve leveraged on the Falcons drying up with their impressive win last week. Not to mention the doubt that exists as to whether Nick Foles can help the Eagles move on to their first conference championship game since 2008. We also like New England, the best team in our PFFELO system, against the spread versus a Tennessee team that remains 17th.

Each of the two feature picks below comes with a point/counterpoint analysis, including a deeper dive into our “Lock of the Week” that is heard on the brand-new PFF Forecast podcast that is aired weekly.

 

The Lock of the Week is 13-5 so far (72.2 percent), and our Thursday night graphics finished 11-2 (84.6 percent) on the season. For the remainder of our spread and over/under picks, check out PFF Elite and the PFF Elite Facebook Group. 

Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots (-13.5)

Pick: Patriots 31 – 16 (Patriots cover)

Point (Eric Eager): While this spread appears high, it’s still under two touchdowns and is between two teams that are (despite both being in the playoffs currently) relatively far apart in most of our rating systems. The Titans faced the easiest schedule of opposing offenses this season (according to our metrics), while the Patriots represent the league’s best offense by our measure. Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks, Dion Lewis have been at the top of their respective position groups for all or most of the season, while the Pats offensive line currently ranks in the top 10 in our grading in both pass- and run-blocking (where they are first). Having given up more than 17 points just twice since Week 4, New England’s defense is likely to abate what was (this season, at least) an outlier performance from Marcus Mariota from a clean pocket in the wild-card round and do more than their part to cover this number Saturday night in Foxboro, as well.

Counterpoint (George Chahrouri): If this were any other team, we might have some hope of all the drama from the past couple weeks coming to a head. Imagine the Gillette Stadium speakers pumping out “Scotty Doesn’t Know” by rock sensation Matt Damon when Tom starts singing “Billy doesn’t know, Billy doesn’t know…” as he walks behind Bill. Robert Kraft, sensing his quarterback is in peril, sprints from his suite and his white color turns red with rage. On the field chaos ensues and the defense is so rattled by this that they allow the Iron Chef Marcus Mariot-o to slice and dice from a clean pocket after ranking just 31st with a 79.6 passer rating when clean this season. Aside from Real World: New England showing up, the Titans will have to hope that their deep passing defense is no fLuke (Kuechly) despite facing the easiest slate of opposing offenses this season by our metrics. Regardless of schedule, the stats are impressive: The Tennessee defense allowed the third-lowest completion rate on throws 20-plus yards downfield (23.9 percent), the second-lowest passer rating (42.1) and intercepted a league-high seven deep passes (there is no way that is a stable stat). That defense will be tested by Brady and Cooks who combined for 608 yards on targets 20 or more yards downfield (second-most). This was a very half-hearted counterpoint as I have zero fear about big numbers against the Pats (see Week 12 vs Miami).

New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings (-5)

Pick: Vikings 24 – 21 (Saints cover)

Point (GC): Drew Brees (87.8 – fourth) is a five-point underdog to Case Keenum (85.4 – ninth)… Much like last week when we took the Falcons as our Lock of the Week (check out the PFF Forecast for our Lock each week), we are going to take the better quarterback getting points against a very good quarterback that has done very well in some not-so stable areas and enjoyed lots of help from his supporting cast. This is not to rain on the Cold Case parade, he led the league in passer rating when outside the pocket and didn’t make a single turnover-worthy throw in the red-zone. These are just a few of the areas that are traditionally volatile in which he was extraordinary. Meanwhile, Brees’ 113.4 passer rating when clean ranked second and he enjoyed the most clean pockets in the NFL this season. If you want to dig deeper on these quarterbacks you should do what’s right and get to the 2017 PFF QB Annual. The Vikes have a stellar supporting cast with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen grading in the top-10 among wide receivers. That being said, the Saints have Marshon Lattimore (90.7 – fourth) and Ken Crawley (83.9 – 28th) to keep the Vikings receivers from (enter Mike Tyson playing a piano) “Thielen it in the air this Sunday night.” Also important to note this historic trend: The first time an Adam had a chance at Saint-hood he couldn’t resist taking a bite of a stupid apple. The Saints’ geaux marching on (or they lose a close one).

Counterpoint (EE): Need I remind you what happened Week 1? The Vikings were 5-of-5 for 130 yards and a touchdown and throwing the ball over 20 yards in the air versus the Saints, while going 4-of-5 for 104 yards and another touchdown throwing between 10-19 yards. Even though the quarterback has changed, the supporting cast on the outside (one of the league’s best) hasn’t, elevating the Vikings to 10th in net yards per passing play. While the Saints defense has improved on average throughout the season, injuries and regression have caused them to look shaky in recent weeks, allowing more than 400 yards in their last two outings. That said, the Saints offense is far better than they were when they and the Vikings squared off on the season’s first Monday (they gave Adrian Peterson a start and six carries in that game, for reference), and have the horses in Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram to give the Vikings defense (the league’s best) more of a fit than they’ve seen playing the Bears, Packers and Bengals over the last month.

 

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