Breaking down matchups and picking four winners in the NFL playoffs’ divisional round

NFL logo for Sam Farmer picks
(Tim Hubbard / Los Angeles Times)

The Times’ NFL writer, Sam Farmer, examines this week’s matchups. Lines according to FanDuel Sportsbook (O/U = over/under). Last week’s record 3-3 (.500). Using point spreads with the scores Farmer predicted, the record against the spread last week would have been 4-2 (.667). TV channels are for Los Angeles area. All times Pacific.


No. 4 Houston at No. 1 Baltimore

Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud passes against the Cleveland Browns in their playoff game.
Texans rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud kept his poise all season, even against the Browns in his first playoff game last week. The Ravens will be focused on keeping him under siege.
(Eric Christian Smith / Associated Press)

When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m., Channel 7, ESPN. Line: Ravens by 9½.

What the Texans need to do: They need to pick up the blitz, avoid turnovers and stop the run. Baltimore is bringing pressure; the Ravens led the NFL in sacks. Turnovers give them an extra opportunity. Quarterback C.J. Stroud needs to be as sharp as he was against Cleveland. Play like they have nothing to lose.


What the Ravens need to do: Play their game. They were among the top teams in offense and defense all season. They should be healthier than they’ve been, and tight end Mark Andrews could come back from his ankle injury, which would be huge. Lean on their experience in these big games.

The pick: The Ravens will blitz more than Cleveland did and, as good as Stroud is, that will make a difference. Here’s betting Baltimore forces a turnover or two and, after a close first half, pulls away in the second. RAVENS 28, TEXANS 20


No. 7 Green Bay at No. 1 San Francisco

Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) applies a stiff-arm on Dallas Cowboys safety Markquese Bell (14).
The running of Aaron Jones (33) late in the season has enabled Packers quarterback Jordan Love to excel down the stretch, and last week against Dallas.
(Sam Hodde / Associated Press)

When: Saturday, 5:15 p.m., Channel 11. Line: 49ers by 9½.

What the Packers need to do: Quarterback Jordan Love needs to keep doing what he’s been doing. The Packers, the NFL’s youngest team, went through some growing pains early in the season and didn’t win their division, the NFC North, but looked great last week against Dallas. Try to get to 49ers QB Brock Purdy early and put the clamps on San Francisco’s ground game.

What the 49ers need to do: Stifle Packers running back Aaron Jones. The Packers have to be able to run for Love to do what he did in Dallas. Shake off the rust — the 49ers haven’t played a meaningful game since New Year’s Eve. Hit home on the pass rush with their front four. Offensively, get running back Christian McCaffrey going early.

The pick: Green Bay’s defense has to come down to earth. The 49ers have so many weapons, and Purdy knows how to get the ball to them. The Packers’ defense had been a liability for much of the season, before a terrific wild-card performance. 49ERS 31, PACKERS 17


No. 4 Tampa Bay at No. 3 Detroit

Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) and Lions quarterback Jared Goff (16) shake hands after their game in October.
Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) and Lions quarterback Jared Goff (16) shake hands after their game in October. Detroit won that game in Tampa, 20-6.
(Jason Behnken / Associated Press)

When: Sunday, noon, Channel 4, Peacock. Line: Lions by 6½.

What the Buccaneers need to do: Keep attempting to run the ball, sprinkling in the ground attack to keep the play-action passing game afloat. Tampa Bay is at its best when getting the ball to its play-making receivers. Quarterback Baker Mayfield is coming off an astounding game, so don’t start turning over the ball now. Stop Detroit’s ground game.

What the Lions need to do: Establish the run to get the play-action going. Get the ball to rookie tight end Sam LaPorta, who made an incredible recovery to play against the Rams. Take pressure off that so-so secondary by turning up the heat right away against Mayfield. Detroit’s defense has had some letdown s.

The pick: There was incredible noise and crowd energy in the Lions’ wild-card win against the Rams. The environment should be just as rocking , and the Lions will feed off that. Quarterback Jared Goff has played in a Super Bowl and he’s cool under pressure. LIONS 28, BUCCANEERS 24


No. 3 Kansas City at No. 2 Buffalo

Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) breaks free from Steelers safety Damontae Kazee (23) to run 52 yards for a touchdown.
The Chiefs must contend with Josh Allen’s running ability, above breaking free from Steelers safety Damontae Kazee (23) to run 52 yards for a touchdown last week.
(Jeffrey T. Barnes / Associated Press)


When: Sunday, 3:30 p.m., Channel 2. Line: Bills by 2½.

What the Chiefs need to do: Force turnovers. Get running back Isiah Pacheco going. We know quarterback Patrick Mahomes is going to make plays, and so is tight end Travis Kelce, but the Chiefs need to find a receiver in addition to Rashee Rice. Justin Watson? Marquez Valdes-Scantling? Somebody needs to step up and make a play.

What the Bills need to do: Quarterback Josh Allen is spectacular when he doesn’t turn it over, including making big plays with his legs. They need to stop the run, limiting what Pacheco does. Make the Chiefs one-dimensional. Establish the run enough to extend drives and keep Mahomes off the field.

The pick: The Bills finally get Kansas City on their home field. Both teams will handle the cold— and the forecast calls for warmer weather than last weekend. This game figures to be close, but Allen is the difference maker. BILLS 27, CHIEFS 24

Whether with Cal, the Rams or the Lions, quarterback Jared Goff has proven to be the impetus behind bad teams turning great as Detroit ousts Rams.

Jan. 14, 2024