Pro Picks is a weekly column where AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi shares his picks for upcoming games. For all previous Pro Picks, head here.
Eight teams remain. Four games to determine the NFL’s Final Four. Plenty of story lines.
Josh Allen and the Bills have a third chance to get their first playoff win over Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Baker Mayfield and the Buccaneers hit the road to get respect from C.J. Gardner-Johnson and the Detroit Lions.
Lamar Jackson and the No. 1 seed Ravens aim to change their playoff narrative when they host C.J. Stroud and the Houston Texans.
The No. 1 seed 49ers and the Green Bay Packers renew their playoff rivalry with two new quarterbacks leading the way this time around.
After a winning regular season, Pro Picks aims to rebound from a losing start in the wild-card round.
HOUSTON at BALTIMORE
Line: Ravens minus 9 1/2
Stroud had a spectacular playoff debut for the Texans (11-7) in a 45-14 rout over Cleveland. First-year coach DeMeco Ryans quickly turned the franchise around with Stroud’s help but now they’re the huge underdogs, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
Jackson had an All-Pro season leading Baltimore (13-4) to 10 wins over teams that finished with winning records. The Ravens won eight of those games by at least 14 points, including a 25-9 victory against Houston in Week 1.
These aren’t the same Texans four months later. Baltimore hopes it’s not the same playoff failure for Jackson, who is just 1-3 in the postseason.
Stroud had one of the best seasons for a rookie quarterback and handled the league’s top-ranked defense last week. But he’s facing another stout unit led by All-Pros Roquan Smith and Kyle Hamilton.
GREEN BAY at SAN FRANCISCO
Line: 49ers minus 9 1/2
This will be a record 10th playoff meeting between the two teams with San Francisco riding a four-game winning streak behind two wins apiece by Colin Kaepernick and Jimmy Garoppolo. Now, it’s Brock Purdy’s turn for the 49ers and Jordan Love at QB instead of Aaron Rodgers for the Packers (10-8).
Love also had a sensational playoff debut in a 48-32 rout over Dallas. The Cowboys entered with the fifth-ranked defense and had zero answers for coach Matt LaFleur’s game plan. Love, Aaron Jones and Romeo Doubs were unstoppable.
The 49ers (12-5) have a dynamic offense led by All-Pros Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle, Kyle Juszczyk and Purdy, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. They also have a star-studded defense led by All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner and Nick Bosa and Charvarius Ward.
BEST BET: 49ERS, 34-19
TAMPA BAY at DETROIT
Line: Lions minus 6 1/2
Mayfield followed up his best season with an excellent performance in a 32-9 victory over Philadelphia. But Gardner-Johnson, a Lions cornerback, wasn’t all that impressed. He praised the Buccaneers’ wide receivers this week and added they’d be even better with a good quarterback. Mayfield responded by questioning whether Gardner-Johnson has watched any film because he mentioned Bucs receiver Russell Gage as one of the dangerous playmakers even though he’s been injured all season.
The trash talk on the field should be fun.
Jared Goff led the Lions (13-5) to a 24-23 win over the Rams last week after Detroit’s offense opened with three straight touchdown drives.
Tampa Bay’s defense shut down Jalen Hurts and Philadelphia but now faces a tougher challenge. The Lions cruised to a 20-6 road win over the Buccaneers (10-8) in Week 6.
KANSAS CITY at BUFFALO
Line: Bills minus 2 1/2
Finally, the Bills get the Chiefs at home in January.
Mahomes’ first road playoff game of his career comes after two victories over the Bills at home in consecutive postseasons in the 2020 and 2021 seasons. The teams didn’t face off last year in the playoffs when the Chiefs (12-6) went on to win the Super Bowl.
The Bills (12-6) were 6-6 before a 20-17 victory at Kansas City ignited a five-game winning streak to close out the regular season. They’re playing on shorter rest after a snowstorm forced them to play Pittsburgh on Monday. The Chiefs had two extra days’ rest after beating Miami last Saturday night.
Last week: Straight up: 2-4. Against spread: 2-4
Regular season: Straight up: 168-104. Against spread: 144-118-10.
Playoffs: Straight up: 2-4. Against spread: 2-4
Best Bet: Straight up: 9-10. Against spread: 6-12-1.
Upset Special: Straight up: 8-11. Against spread: 11-8.
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