PFN’s NFL betting midweek picks against the spread have hit over 60% the past few weeks. Now, we are in the first round of the NFL playoffs. We’ve run through the most likely game script for every contest. Let’s take a look at our picks and predictions for the opening weekend of the NFL playoffs and break down the fantasy implications for 30+ players.
Saturday Wild Card Games: NFL playoffs picks and predictions
There are no second chances for Saturday’s teams. Win or go home. How do the sportsbooks think these games will play out, which side are we taking, and which players will rise (or fall) to the occasion?
Las Vegas Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals (-6.5)
The Raiders are coming off one of the most emotionally draining (for NFL fans, at least) elimination games in recent history. They survived, but barely. Josh Jacobs carried them, and the Bengals have yielded the 12th-most fantasy points to opposing backfields, including the fifth-most receptions and sixth-most receiving yards. Jacobs has the NFL’s fifth-most RB receptions. The path to victory for Las Vegas runs through a heavy dose of their bell-cow back.
The challenge for the passing game is whether Derek Carr can rise to the occasion. He has as many 3+ passing TD performances in 80 career games as Ryan Fitzpatrick has in less than half the games. Yes, Carr is fifth in the NFL in passing yards. But that’s largely because he’s fifth in passing attempts. Meanwhile, he’s tied for 15th in touchdowns.
Hunter Renfrow is clearly a must-start, and Zay Jones has been a solid flyer for a month. The wild card is Darren Waller — he’s not yet at 100%. It will be tough to envision Carr as a top-half fantasy QB this weekend.
Joe Burrow and Co. are flying high
For the Bengals, what a difference two games make. Heading into Week 17, Joe Burrow had only 6 TDs in his previous six games. 992 total yards and 8 TDs later, Burrow enters the playoffs as (deservedly) one of the league’s most feared quarterbacks. There’s not much to say about him, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Joe Mixon. All are startable in DFS, given their enormous ceilings. And Tyler Boyd and C.J. Uzomah offer flyer potential.
Cincinnati should win this game by at least one touchdown. Their big-play ability is unquestioned. The Bengals are second in the league in 40+ yard pass plays. They can break this open early, and it will be hard for Las Vegas to keep up.
Bengals vs. Raiders Prediction: Bengals 33, Raiders 17
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills (-4.5)
Never count out Bill Belichick in the playoffs. Also, New England has lost three of its last four games, including two against non-postseason squads. This is not the momentum the team needed with a rookie quarterback and subpar receiving corps. Everything comes down to whether Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson can dominate the Bills as they did in Week 13. In that contest, they combined for 189 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries.
The challenge is that Buffalo’s defense is among the league’s best, and their passing defense is one of the best the NFL has seen in more than a decade. Harris and Stevenson will likely clear 50+ total yards apiece, and perhaps one will score. But it’s hard to envision the Patriots steamrolling a team they lost to three weeks ago in humiliating style at home. Mac Jones, Jakobi Meyers, and other aerial pieces are fantasy/DFS fades. Harris and Stevenson are middling, TD-dependent options.
Buffalo’s offense is hot
For the Bills, Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs are clicking on all cylinders. So is Devin Singletary, who’s finally emerged from Zack Moss’ shadow in the backfield. But the Patriots also boast a generally tough defense, meaning it’s hard to trust anyone beyond those three high-volume players.
Gabriel Davis, Cole Beasley, and Dawson Knox sometimes cancel each other out. Given the dearth of talent at the tight end position in the playoffs, Knox offers nice TD value, given his usage in the red zone.
The Bills have scored 27+ points in their last five games, which immediately followed their crushing home loss to the Patriots. Expect a sharp contrast this weekend, with the Bills controlling the clock by keeping the chains moving with plenty of 3-4 yard runs and 6-8 yard routes.
Bills vs. Patriots Prediction: Bills 20, Patriots 13
Sunday Wild Card Games: NFL playoffs picks and predictions
Shifting from Saturday to Sunday, all of these teams have explosive offenses that have hung 36+ points on an opponent at least once this season. How do the sportsbooks think these games will play out, which side are we taking, and which players will rise (or fall) to the occasion?
Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-9)
Injury woes somehow didn’t slow the Eagles, who won four of their last five contests to eke into the postseason. But consider that those four victories came against Washington (twice), the Giants, and the Jets. Jalen Hurts remains a franchise QB in theory — an extraordinarily effective rushing quarterback who hasn’t put it together in the passing game.
Miles Sanders is expected to return on Sunday from a hand injury. But can he distance himself from Jordan Howard, Boston Scott, and even a smattering of Kenneth Gainwell? And are DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert as trustworthy as their high ceilings suggest?
Few playoff teams in recent memory have more questions than answers. From a fantasy perspective, Philadelphia has lacked consistency beyond Hurts, who finished the season as the QB7 in fantasy points per game while leading his position in rushing attempts, yards, and TDs. He is the team’s only safe-floor fantasy option this weekend. Smith and Goedert are more boom-bust. Sanders’ value hinges entirely on usage, which has been a crapshoot when the backfield has been healthy. I wouldn’t trust any Eagle RB to exceed 10 fantasy points.
The Tompa Bay Bucs
For the Buccaneers, all eyes are on their backfield, which might get Ronald Jones and, more importantly, Leonard Fournette back. Jones has been out with an ankle injury. Fournette missed three weeks with a hamstring ailment, though the team appears confident that he’ll be back in the fold Sunday. If that’s the case, Fournette needs to be queued up as a high-upside RB1. 29 of his 35 career touchdowns have come inside the opposing 5-yard line. He has as good of a chance of scoring multiple TDs as any RB.
Meanwhile, Tom Brady is Tom Brady. Who am I to question him? Expect a heavy dose of Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski. Elsewhere, Cyril Grayson (hamstring) is questionable, opening the door for Breshad Perriman, Tyler Johnson, or Scotty Miller to play the No. 3 role. Each is a decent dart throw, and if you’re competing in DFS, each should be cheap enough to wedge into a top-heavy lineup. The Bucs should score at least 3 touchdowns in a comfortable win.
Buccaneers vs. Eagles Prediction: Buccaneers 30, Eagles 16
San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys (-3)
Jimmy Garoppolo and the Niners got past the Rams after being down 17-0. That showed a lot. But the Cowboys are arguably just as explosive as the Rams. And unlike in Week 18, San Francisco’s opponent has everything to lose. Dallas’ defense is seventh-best in opposing QB fantasy points while leading the league in interceptions. They’re also No. 4 against opposing backfields.
In other words, this will be another tough road test for the 49ers. 15 fantasy points for Garoppolo is a reasonable over/under. For Elijah Mitchell, 13 points seem like a good spot. Although, it depends on which Mitchell we will see. Will it be the Weeks 9 and 12 version, where he caught a combined 10 passes? Or will it resemble his recent decline (culminating in zero targets last weekend)?
Meanwhile, it’s hard to doubt the terrific tandem of Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. At least one of them should shine. But George Kittle has been completely shut down his last three games. He’s certainly the wild card, given his painfully low floor and exceptional ceiling.
Dak Prescott or bust
Meanwhile, the Cowboys are facing a solid defense, though still a beatable one, as the Niners have been middling against fantasy QBs, WRs, and backfields. They’ve been toughest against tight ends, so if that holds up, Dalton Schultz would be riskier than usual. Still, Dak Prescott has to be viewed as a top-three QB option this weekend in DFS, playoff leagues, and other competitions.
Ezekiel Elliott is far more TD-dependent than he should be at this point in the season. We shouldn’t be surprised if Tony Pollard outperforms Zeke, particularly if Dallas jumps out to an early lead and feeds Pollard more in the second half.
In the receiving game, as much as CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper have struggled lately, this is the playoffs. Both guys have top-10 WR potential in the regular season. Both should be viewed as monster-upside starters in the playoffs. Cedrick Wilson is a no-longer-sneaky No. 3 receiver who clearly has terrific chemistry with Prescott.
That said, I wouldn’t get cute in DFS — there’s a high likelihood Wilson’s best game of the year occurred last weekend.
Cowboys vs. 49ers Prediction: Cowboys 27, 49ers 20
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs (-12.5)
Can the Steelers keep up and extend Ben Roethlisberger’s unlikely fairy tale campaign? Doubtful, though anything’s possible. The key to beating Kansas City is through the air. The Steelers’ biggest weakness is its aerial attack. That is not a good combo. The Chiefs are yielding the third-most fantasy points to opposing QBs, yet Big Ben is averaging only 13.6 fantasy points per game — the same as Geno Smith and Tyrod Taylor.
Diontae Johnson should get his points, though he’ll probably need garbage-time action to rack up 16+. Chase Claypool and Pat Freiermuth are far more TD-dependent. And Najee Harris will try to keep the chains moving, probably earning 24+ touches as Pittsburgh tries to keep the Chiefs offense off the field for as long as possible. Nevertheless, it probably won’t work.
What to expect from Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City’s offense
For Kansas City, Clyde Edwards-Helaire is hopeful about returning for this one. Darrel Williams is also a question mark with a toe injury. If CEH is a full go, he could feast (relatively speaking) on Pittsburgh’s porous run defense, which allows 5.0 yards per carry. If Williams also returns, then CEH’s ceiling would be capped. We’ll monitor this situation closely. If either is out, Derrick Gore or Jerick McKinnon would be a desperation/cheap starter in DFS and other competitions.
In the receiving corps, all eyes are on Tyreek Hill’s heel injury. Head coach Andy Reid shared that he’s “making a little progress” and should be okay for Sunday. There is always a risk of a setback and an inactive designation in a contest the Chiefs should be able to win without him. For now, he’s a risky DFS start, given his steep price tag. Byron Pringle and Mecole Hardman are better value picks, while Travis Kelce has 4 TDs in his last three games and simply cannot be ignored.
Chiefs vs. Steelers Prediction: Chiefs 36, Steelers 12
Monday Wild Card Games: NFL playoffs picks and predictions
The final game of the first round of the playoffs features two evenly matched teams going in opposite directions. The Cardinals have lost four of five games, while the Rams have won four of their last five. Which players could rise to the occasion, and how might they impact the outcome?
Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams (-4)
The once-vaunted Cardinals have struggled to recapture their early-season magic. DeAndre Hopkins (torn MCL) is out for at least two more weeks. Kyler Murray has looked merely adequate since returning from an ankle injury in Week 13, throwing only 7 touchdown passes in his last six games. And Chase Edmonds missed last weekend with ribs and toe injuries.
If Edmonds sits, James Conner would be a must-start in all formats as a volume-heavy, do-it-all running back. Additionally, Zach Ertz has become one of Murray’s favorite targets, logging 9+ targets in each of his last four contests. Beyond them, things get murky in DFS and other competitions. The Rams are the third-stingiest defense against fantasy QBs. It’s hard to imagine the Cardinals’ passing game suddenly getting back on track.
Can Matthew Stafford put the turnovers behind him?
As for the Rams, a tough Week 18 loss impacted playoff seeding. But this team remains feared. Cam Akers is gradually working his way back to prime form, while Sony Michel has been an ideal lead back with Darrell Henderson on the shelf. If Akers is named the starter, it would certainly muddy things for fantasy. We should assume Akers is the ceiling play if he’s fully back, while Michel has a much better floor.
In the passing game, fire up Matthew Stafford despite Sunday’s erratic performance. Cooper Kupp is enjoying one of the best WR seasons in NFL history, and Odell Beckham Jr. and Van Jefferson are must-start streamers given LA’s ability to score in buckets. And Tyler Higbee is a solid-floor, TD-dependent tight end if he can score, though Arizona is third-best against fantasy TEs.
Rams vs. Cardinals Prediction: Rams 23, Cardinals 17