NFL

NFL Divisional Round Tips: Allen & Mahomes to serve up play-off classic

Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen
Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen will star as the Bills face the Chiefs again

Paul Higham has his game picks and best bets for the NFL Divisional Round where Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes can star as they renew their burgeoning rivalry...


And then there were eight - just a couple of more weekends now before we find out who will fight it out for the Super Bowl in Las Vegas, as the big guns enter the fray.

The top-seeded San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens join the party and after a couple of shocks last weekend they won't take anything for granted.

Anything can happen in the NFL play-offs!


NFL Divisional Round Schedule

Houston Texans @ Baltimore Ravens

Saturday 9.30pm

Match Odds: 10/34.33 | 2/91.22
Points Spread: Ravens -9.5
Total Over/Under: 43.5

The top-seeded Ravens are keen to host their first AFC Championship game after a red-hot finish to their season with six wins in their last seven under MVP favourite Lamar Jackson.

Jackson and their top stars have had two weeks off now though so must be wary of any ring rust against immense rookie CJ Stroud - who took care of Cleveland's top-ranked defence last week.

As sack leaders in the league, Baltimore will get more pressure on Stroud, and the Ravens have put the better teams in the league to the sword - beating seven teams with winning records by 10 points or more.

It's not hard to imagine Houston causing a huge shock here, and you fancy them to cover - but I fancy them more to score a few points even if Baltimore prove too strong.

Pick: Back Ravens to win & over 45.5pts @ [8/5

Lamar Jackson & CJ Stroud 500+ pass yards @ 6/42.50

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Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers

Sunday 1am

Match Odds: 10/34.33 | 2/91.22
Points Spread: Niners -9.5
Total Over/Under: 50.5

A similar story to Baltimore here in that there's so much to like about Jordan Love and the youngest ever NFL play-off team, but the Packers would have to pitch a perfect game to take down this all-powerful Niners team.

Love's accuracy and his talented young receivers will make them dangerous, especially with a fast start, but their defence struggles against big running plays, and fit-again Christian McCaffrey produces them more than anyone.

Brock Purdy won't give them as many gifts as Dak Prescott did, and the Niners won't let Aaron Jones do quite as much damage as he did to Dallas, and that just closes up any Green Bay margin for error.

San Francisco has the best offence in the league overall, and the best passing offence, so Brandon Aiyuk will also prosper, while Deebo Samuel can have a big game both in the air and on the ground.

His bone-crushing running style is all wrong for a Green Bay side that's the fourth-worst in the NFL in rushing yards against after contact - that's a factor both Samuel and McCaffrey can exploit.

Pick: Niners to win & over 50.5pts @ 6/52.20

Back Aiyuk & Samuel anytime TD @ 9/25.50

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Detroit Lions

Sunday 8pm

Match Odds: 5/23.50 | 3/101.30
Points Spread: Lions -6.5
Total Over/Under: 48.5

The Bucs took advantage of Philly's weird implosion to make it six wins in seven - and they've also won three straight road games as they look stop Detroit winning two play-off games for the first time since their 1957 NFL Championship.

The Lions' top-five offence will perform much better than Philly - the Bucs can slow Jared Goff down with their blitz packages but Detroit's run game is top notch.

Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery can be game breakers themselves, and also open up play-action for Goff and Amon-Ra St Brown. Throw in Aidan Hutchinson on a streak of multiple sack games and the overall package Detroit can bring just looks too strong.

The Lions' secondary is the weak spot and Tampa Bay can't run the ball anyway, so Mafield will take his shots and with Mike Evans out there they can get their points. It just shouldn't be enough.

Pick: Lions to win by 1-13pts @ 6/52.20

Back Montgomery & Gibbs combined 150+ rush yards @ 11/43.75

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Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills

Sunday 11.30pm

Match Odds: 6/52.20 | 4/61.67
Points Spread: Bills -2.5
Total Over/Under: 45.5

Here we go, the big one, Josh Allen v Patrick Mahomes again in the rivalry we all want to see - and a first ever true play-off road game for Mahomes to handle, as a rare underdog as well.

At 38-11 Mahomes has the best away record of any QB since 1950 in his first 50 road games, but Highmark Stadium in a play-off game will be in another stratosphere to anything he's experience - and he does have eight interceptions in away games last year.

Drops are more of a concern, Mahomes has had the most dropped passes and dropped yardage by a mile this season, but rookie Rashee Rice may have emergced just in time to help an offence that's leaning on a legit Chiefs defence far too much.

Allen plays like Superman and when he doesn't give the ball away the Bills win, but turnovers are certainly his Kryptonite. The Bills have a far superior offence and a clean game will give them every chance.

Again, though, it could come down to which one of the two superstar QBs has the ball the most - or even just who has it last - so the two running backs Isiah Pacheco and James Cook may actually be key, as whoever runs it best can control the game and keep the opposing QB off the field.

It's a genuine coin toss for me

Pick: Chiefs to win @ 6/52.20

Back Allen 50+ rush yards & 2 TDs, Mahomes 250+ pass yards & 2 TDs @ 13/27.50

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