L.A. Times’ Sam Farmer predicts winners in NFL divisional round of playoffs
The L.A. Times’ Sam Farmer examines the divisional-round matchups this weekend in the NFL playoffs. Last week he was 5-1 on predictions, only misfiring on Cleveland’s upset of Pittsburgh. Using point spreads with scores Farmer predicted, the record against the spread would have been 5-0-1.
NFC: Rams at Green Bay
Saturday, 1:35 p.m. PT, Ch. 11
Line: Packers by 6½
Rams keys: The teams that give Aaron Rodgers problems are the ones that can bring enough pressure with four up front. Don’t give him opportunities down the field. ... Jalen Ramsey can blanket Davante Adams, but Aaron Jones cannot have a big day. ... The health of Aaron Donald is paramount. ... Rookie running back Cam Akers is huge in this, and teams can run on the Packers. ... With Jared Goff at quarterback, he needs to get the ball out of his wounded hand quickly. No sacks.
Packers keys: Take advantage of the Rams’ issues at quarterback by getting to Goff. ... Establish a running game with Jones to set up the play-action game. ... The Rams will look to do what San Francisco has done, rattling Rodgers with a heavy pass rush. ... Try to win the time-of-possession battle by controlling the ball somewhere in the range of 33-36 minutes.
The weather could play a factor for the Rams when they travel to Lambeau Field this Saturday for their NFC divisional-round game against the Green Bay Packers.
Farmer’s pick: As well as the Rams’ defense is playing, picking against Aaron Rodgers at home is seldom a good idea. With their quarterback issues, it’s going to be tough for the Rams to take full advantage of a vulnerable Green Bay defense. Even with Jalen Ramsey on him, Davante Adams will have an impact. PACKERS 27, RAMS 21
AFC: Baltimore at Buffalo
Saturday, 5:15 p.m., Ch. 4
Line: Bills by 2½
Bills keys: The Bills have to make Lamar Jackson beat them from the pocket. They cannot let him run. Sacking him isn’t the primary objective; making him win from the pocket is. ... Taking away the tight end is paramount, so the quarterback has to throw outside. That’s not easy because of all the misdirection Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman runs. ... On offense, be balanced and stay in third-and-manageable so the Ravens can’t tee up all sorts of blitzes.
Ravens keys: Remember their history: Baltimore is one of the best road teams in playoff history. ... Keep manufacturing the running game, then build the play-action game off that. ... Maybe hit a couple one-on-one shots down the field when the Bills gang up to keep Jackson from running. ... Get some short fields with a defensive stop or turnover. ... Rev up that running game, and don’t put the outcome on Jackson’s arm. He can make throws, but his legs have to be a factor.
Farmer’s pick: Teams can run it on Buffalo, and that plays right into Baltimore’s hands. But Josh Allen has been way too hot lately, and he will give the Ravens defense problems with his legs. Beware, because Baltimore is a great road team in the playoffs, but the Bills keep the dream alive in this one. BILLS 33, RAVENS 27
AFC: Cleveland at Kansas City
Sunday, 12:05 p.m., Ch. 2
Line: Chiefs by 10
Browns keys: Keep up their play-action game to their tight ends, which has been going great so far. They won’t have the same matchup advantages against Kansas City that they had against Pittsburgh. ... Stay ahead of the sticks. Third-and-long is not a Baker Mayfield down, not the way it’s a Patrick Mahomes down. ... The running game is key. If the Browns can milk the clock, play Cover-2 defense and keep everything in front of them, they can hang around with a chance in the fourth quarter.
Chiefs keys: If the Chiefs don’t turn it over, they win. ... Keep doing what they’re doing with Mahomes. ... Cleveland would love Kansas City to run closer to 50 plays, not 70. ... Don’t let the Browns draw them into a grind-it-out running game, even though rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a dangerous weapon. ... Get some explosive plays. ... Travis Kelce is a huge weapon, especially in this one, and Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman have to scare the Browns, too.
Nate Burleson talks about how the NFL worked on the Nickelodeon channel during the New Orleans Saints-Chicago Bears game.
Farmer’s pick: Give Andy Reid a week off, and he’s going to give you problems. His teams are 18-3 after a week off during the regular season, and 5-2 in the playoffs after a bye. Cleveland should be able to run the ball, but the Browns won’t do enough to keep the ball out of Mahomes’ hands — and pass defense is an issue for them anyway. CHIEFS 34, BROWNS 26
NFC: Tampa Bay at New Orleans
Sunday, 3:40 p.m., Ch. 11
Line: Saints by 3
Buccaneers keys: Even though the focus will be on Tom Brady and Drew Brees, this game is all about who can run the ball. Getting Ronald Jones back from his quadriceps injury is paramount. If Jones can’t go, Leonard Fournette has to pick up the slack. ... If Brady has a running game, he has a play-action game. Without that, the Saints’ pass rush will overwhelm him. ... Brees gets the ball out of his hands so fast, Tampa Bay likely will drop eight defenders frequently rather than try to pressure him.
Saints keys: Again, Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray are going to be essential here to establish the running game. ... The return of receiver Michael Thomas makes Brees more dangerous. ... Both quarterbacks are going to put passes on the money, but each needs his running game to relieve the pressure. ... Do what no team has ever done: Beat Brady for the third time in the same season.
Farmer’s pick: The Saints swept the Buccaneers in the regular season, but winning three times is quite a mountain to climb. Brady is on a torrid five-game stretch, and this is a chance for Tampa Bay’s defense to match that intensity. The Buccaneers go on the road and get the job done. BUCCANEERS 31, SAINTS 27
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