Los Angeles Times’ NFL writer, Sam Farmer, examines this week’s playoff matchups in the NFL wild-card round. Lines according to FanDuel. Last week’s record 12-4 (.750); season 168-111-2 (.625). Using point spreads with the scores Farmer had predicted, the record against the spread last week would have been 10-6 (.625); season 128-137-6 (.483).
No. 7 Seattle (9-8) at No. 2 San Francisco (13-4)
When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m., Channel 11. Line: 49ers by 9½.
How Seahawks can win: Run the ball and get production from their quarterback — two things they failed to do in their two meetings this season. Milk the underdog role and cultivate that us-against-the-world mentality. Cut loose with reckless abandon.
How 49ers can win: Keep doing what they’re doing. Don’t remind Brock Purdy that he’s a rookie — and Mr. Irrelevant at that — because he certainly doesn’t play like it. Don’t get overconfident; weird things can happen when division rivals play for a third time.
Pick: The Seahawks are playing with house money, so they have the luxury of playing loose. San Francisco’s defense is really good but can go cold. Purdy is proving by the week that he’s up to the job. Kyle Shanahan will have them ready. 49ERS 30, SEAHAWKS 27
How Chargers can win: Get production out of Austin Ekeler, who was shut down in a 38-10 loss to Jacksonville in Week 3. Protect Justin Herbert, who had two turnovers in that previous meeting. Slow down the Jacksonville run enough to get after Trevor Lawrence.
Always viewed as undersized and underestimated, Austin Ekeler went from hidden star in rural Colorado to a growing star running back with the Chargers.
Dec. 26, 2022
How Jaguars can win: Maintain the current mix of run and pass. Lawrence is getting a lot of guys involved. Be patient and methodical, and play conservatively in the name of ball security. Get after Herbert and make someone other than Keenan Allen beat you.
Pick: This is not a good matchup for the Chargers, especially after they made the mystifying decision to play starters in their meaningless finale at Denver, then saw three players get injured. The balanced Jaguars have the hot hand. JAGUARS 27, CHARGERS 23
How Dolphins can win: Plug their ears and mute the outside noise. The Bills are enjoying a huge groundswell of emotional support. Remember, the Dolphins beat the Bills in Miami early in the season, and later played them tough in a cold road game. But that was with Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback and he has been ruled out (concussion).
How Bills can win: Contain Raheem Mostert and Miami’s ground game, and put this outcome on the shoulders of whoever’s at quarterback. Also put the game in Josh Allen‘s hands and roll. Maybe get a big play or two on special teams. Ride the wave of emotion.
Pick: The Bills are galvanized like no other team right now. Miami has played them tough this season and certainly could be a spoiler — it’s been a weird season — but if supercharged Buffalo plays the way it can, this won’t be close. BILLS 34, DOLPHINS 13
No. 6 N.Y. Giants (9-7-1) at No. 3 Minnesota (13-4)
How Giants can win: Keep playing over their heads. Brian Daboll has them believing, and he’s willing to take risks. Don’t turn it over, don’t do anything stupid, just do what you’ve done all season. Rely on Saquon Barkley, and let Kayvon Thibodeaux do what he does.
How Vikings can win: Get their stars involved early. Find a way to get the ball into Justin Jefferson’s hands. Everyone will want to do what Green Bay did and take him out of the game. Get it to Dalvin Cook, over and over. Dance with who brought you.
Pick: The Giants might still be a year away, but they’re going to be good. The victory over Indianapolis reminded the Vikings that they’re never out of the game. Minnesota has more weapons, and Kirk Cousins is up for this challenge. VIKINGS 24, GIANTS 20
How Ravens can win: Establish the run and stick with it. Put points on the board that aren’t just field goals. Try to make this a close, short and low-scoring game, something in the 15-12 range. Realistically, try to hold Joe Burrow and this offense to 21 points or fewer.
The Chargers were struggling with a 6-6 record amid a slew of injuries and setbacks. Players say Brandon Staley was the reason they made the playoffs.
Jan. 10, 2023
How Bengals can win: Little Joe Mixon, lot of Joe Burrow, and blend in some Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Hayden Hurst. Trust in a defense that’s been solid for most of the season and doesn’t give up a ton of points in the second half. Lean on experience.
Pick: The Bengals lost this matchup, 19-17, in Week 5 when Justin Tucker kicked four field goals. But Cincinnati came back in the finale and won by 11. With Baltimore’s QB issues, this feels like it will be more like the second time around. BENGALS 31, RAVENS 16
No. 5 Dallas (12-5) at No. 4 Tampa Bay (8-9)
When: Monday, 5:15 p.m. PT, ESPN/ABC. Line: Cowboys by 2½.
How Cowboys can win: Dak Prescott needs to get off the turnover train. He’s had 11 interceptions in the last seven games, at least one per week. Establish the run against a Tampa Bay defense that’s as healthy as it’s been in months. Pressure Tom Brady up the middle.
How Buccaneers can win: Let the Cowboys feel the pressure of their playoff misses and collapses the last two seasons. Play the same kind of defense they did in the opener when they held Dallas to three points. Simple formula: Run the ball and stop the run.
Pick: Not a good matchup for Dallas. The Cowboys aren’t speed demons, and they’re 1-4 on grass surfaces this season. If Brady can play the way he did against Carolina two weeks ago, holding on to the ball long enough for plays to develop, the home team wins. BUCCANEERS 27, COWBOYS 23
Honored by the Pro Football Hall of Fame in recognition of his “long and distinguished reporting in the field of pro football,” Sam Farmer has covered the NFL for 25 seasons. A graduate of Occidental College, he’s a two-time winner of California Sportswriter of the Year and first place for beat writing by Associated Press Sports Editors.