- Jacksonville Jaguars – DE Travon Walker (Georgia)
- Detroit Lions – DE Aidan Hutchinson (Michigan)
- Houston Texans – OT Ikem Ekwonu (NC State)
- New York Jets – CB Ahmad Gardner (Cincinnati)
- New Orleans Saints – QB Malik Willis (Liberty)
- Carolina Panthers – QB Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh)
- New York Giants – OT Evan Neal (Alabama)
- Atlanta Falcons – DE Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon)
- Houston Texans – CB Derek Stingley (LSU)
- New York Jets – DE Jermaine Johnson (Florida State)
- Pittsburgh Steelers – QB Matt Corral (Mississippi)
- Kansas City Chiefs – WR Jameson Williams (Alabama)
- Seattle Seahawks – OT Charles Cross (Mississippi State)
- Green Bay Packers – WR Garrett Wilson (Ohio State)
- Philadelphia Eagles – WR Drake London (USC)
- New York Giants – S Kyle Hamilton (Notre Dame)
- Los Angeles Chargers – DT Jordan Davis (Georgia)
- Philadelphia Eagles – CB Trent McDuffie (Washington)
- New York Giants – DE George Karlaftis (Purdue)
- Washington Commanders – WR Chris Olave (Ohio State)
- New England Patriots – OT Trevor Penning (Northern Iowa)
- Baltimore Ravens – C Tyler Linderbaum (Iowa)
- Arizona Cardinals – G Kenyon Green (Texas A&M)
- Seattle Seahawks – QB Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati)
- Buffalo Bills – CB Andrew Booth (Clemson)
- Tennessee Titans – MLB Devin Lloyd (Utah)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers – DT Devonte Wyatt (Georgia)
- Green Bay Packers – G Zion Johnson (Boston College)
- Minnesota Vikings – CB Kaiir Elam (Florida)
- Minnesota Vikings – DE Boye Mafe (Minnesota)
- Cincinnati Bengals – MLB Quay Walker (Georgia)
- Detroit Lions – OLB Nakobe Dean (Georgia)
* = team has hosted player on private pre-draft workout
1. Jacksonville Jaguars – DE Travon Walker (Georgia)*
Travon Walker has gained a lot of momentum towards being the eventual #1 pick in the past couple weeks, actually becoming the odds on favorite over Aidan Hutchinson, who has been considered the heavy favorite since the start of free agency. Both players play the same position, but are very different prospects. Hutchinson was highly productive in college, but lacks elite athleticism, might not have much more room for growth, and is not the kind of prospect that usually goes #1, even in an uncharacteristically weak draft at the top. Walker was not as productive in college, but that was largely because of how he was used, he is off the charts athletically, and he has an upside to justify being the #1 pick. Even before the betting odds swung, I was considering moving Walker up to 1. The buzz seems real.
2. Detroit Lions – DE Aidan Hutchinson (Michigan)*
The Lions might be the happiest team to see Walker go #1, as Hutchinson is reportedly their top choice. Walker would likely be the pick if the Jaguars passed on him, but Hutchinson is a local product who is probably higher on their board and, like Walker, Hutchinson would fill their biggest weakness, as the Lions moved on from free agent bust Trey Flowers this off-season, but have yet to properly replace him.
3. Houston Texans – OT Ikem Ekwonu (NC State)*
With the top two picks likely being edge defenders, the Texans are a good bet to take the first offensive lineman off the board, in a draft headlined by edge defenders and offensive linemen. The Texans’ offensive line struggled mightily without Laremy Tunsil for most of last season and, while he’s expected back for 2022, the Texans need a better right tackle opposite him and better insurance on the left side in case Tunsil gets hurt again or is not kept long-term, with two expensive years left on his contract. I’ve had Evan Neal here in the past and he’s still an option, but he’s reportedly slipping because of medical reasons and the Texans have worked out Ekwonu privately, whereas they have not worked out Neal. It’s a close call here, but Ekwonu gets the slight edge here. Worst case scenario, he could kick inside and play guard at a high level.
4. New York Jets – CB Ahmad Gardner (Cincinnati)*
It’s really close here between edge defender Kayvon Thibodeaux and cornerback Ahmad Gardner. Both would fill big needs for a Jets team that had the worst defense in the league last season, but it sounds like the Jets prefer Gardner over Thibodeaux, whose stock is falling because of concerns about his work ethic. Gardner is a much safer pick and would immediately play a big role at cornerback for the Jets alongside incumbent top cornerback Bryce Hall and free agent signing DJ Reed.
5. New Orleans Saints (TRADE) – QB Malik Willis (Liberty)
The Saints made a trade with the Eagles to get an extra first round in this year’s draft, at the expense of significant future draft capital. The Saints now have picks #16 and #19 in the first round, but I don’t think they are done dealing, as it would be a weird move for the Saints to give up that much future draft capital for a pick this year when they don’t know who will be available at that spot. More likely, the Saints are looking to move up even further to secure their desired quarterback prospect and, now with two first round picks, they have the draft capital to move up to 5 ahead of the Panthers, who are very likely to draft a quarterback in the first round. The Saints would also jump the Falcons at 8 and the Seahawks at 9, who could both very well take quarterbacks before the Saints’ first pick at 16.
The Giants have the 5th pick, but they also pick at 7, so it would make sense for them to trade out of one of their top-10 picks if they have an opportunity to. If the Giants made this trade, they would have picks 7, 16, and 19 in the first round. The trade is close to even on the trade value chart, with the Giants holding the slight edge, but maybe the Giants would send a later future pick back to the Saints to complete this trade. I had the Saints taking Kenny Pickett in my last mock because he seemed to fit what the Saints look for at the position more, but it’s too hard to ignore the sky high upside Willis has, as compared to Pickett. The Saints have Jameis Winston under contract, so they can afford to be patient with a young quarterback. Willis seems likely to be the first quarterback off the board.
6. Carolina Panthers – QB Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh)*
It’s rare that teams are forced to use a first round pick on a quarterback, but the Panthers are in a unique situation and their front office has even admitted they may be forced to take a quarterback. The Panthers had one of the worst quarterback situations in the league last season and, unlike every other quarterback needy team, the Panthers did nothing to improve their situation this off-season, striking out on every major available quarterback, leaving highly inconsistent incumbent Sam Darnold as the starter if the season were to begin today. A trade for Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo is a possibility, but Darnold is already set to make a significant amount of money in 2022, so adding another highly paid, but non-elite quarterback would be a questionable decision.
That leaves the draft as their best option, but because of past trades, the Panthers don’t pick again after this pick until the end of the 4th round. The Panthers may try to trade down and get their quarterback after picking up additional picks, but with the Saints moving up ahead of them at 5 and the Falcons and Seahawks needing quarterbacks at 8 and 9, the Panthers might not have a choice but to take their guy here. Pickett doesn’t have Willis’ ceiling, but is the more NFL ready option for a Panthers team that needs an upgrade under center immediately.
7. New York Giants – OT Evan Neal (Alabama)*
The Giants once again need offensive line help, as they try to give Daniel Jones at least a fair shot at success for the first time in his career. Andrew Thomas has developed into an above average starter at left tackle, but highly paid right tackle Nate Solder has been a disappointment and seems unlikely to be retained as a free agent this off-season, ahead of his age 34 season. Neal would give the Giants a talented, young offensive tackle duo, after making some additions on the interior of the offensive line in free agency this off-season. Neal would likely be the Giants’ pick at 5 if they don’t trade down, but they can trade down with a team looking to move up for a quarterback and be confident they could get Neal at 7, with the Panthers likely taking a quarterback at 6.
8. Atlanta Falcons – DE Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon)
The Falcons need a quarterback after trading Matt Ryan, but they signed Marcus Mariota as a short-term option and they have so many other needs that reaching on a quarterback wouldn’t really make sense, especially since they figure to end up with another high pick in a better quarterback draft in 2023, given the current state of their roster. With the top-two quarterbacks off the board, the decision to pass on a quarterback is even easier. Instead, they take the best available, likely Kayvon Thibodeaux, who would fill a massive need for a Falcons team that somehow hasn’t had more than 39 sacks since 2004. Thibodeaux comes with a lot of risk, but was a candidate to go #1 at one point and the Falcons are a good bet to stop his slide if he falls out of the top-5.
9. Seattle Seahawks – OT Charles Cross (Mississippi State)
With the top-2 quarterbacks off the board early, the Seahawks instead address their glaring need at offensive tackle with the 9th overall pick they acquired from the Broncos in the Russell Wilson trade, as they don’t have a starting caliber tackle on the roster, with last year’s starters Duane Brown and Brandon Shell both hitting free agency this off-season. Even if they eventually re-sign veteran Brown, he is going into his age 37 season, so he’s obviously not a long-term solution. Cross could start in year one for the Seahawks on either side of the line.
10. New York Jets – WR Garrett Wilson (Ohio State)*
The Jets tried to trade this draft pick for Tyreek Hill and then for DK Metcalf, so they likely aren’t done adding at the wide receiver position. The Jets drafted Elijah Moore and signed Corey Davis last off-season and brought back Braxton Berrios as a slot option this off-season, but their depth is suspect, with 2020 2nd round pick Denzel Mims showing nothing in two years in the league. The Jets could have their pick of the top wide receivers in the draft at 10, if they go that route.
11. Washington Commanders – S Kyle Hamilton (Notre Dame)*
Kyle Hamilton’s stock is slipping after a disappointing combine, but he is still the obvious top safety in the draft and would be a good fit for a Washington team that is likely to target the best available and that needs an upgrade at safety next to Kamren Curl, after cutting disappointing free agent signing Landon Collins this off-season. I don’t see Hamilton going in the top-10 as a safety without elite speed, but Washington would make a lot of sense for him.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers (TRADE) – QB Matt Corral (Mississippi)*
Even after signing Mitch Trubisky, the Steelers are prime candidates to draft a quarterback, especially if they can get one they like without having to surrender additional draft picks to move up in a trade. They may ultimately end up having to trade up to secure one of the top quarterback prospects in the draft, but either way it’s likely they end up with a quarterback in the first round, with Trubisky and holdover backup Mason Rudolph both only being short-term options at best. In this scenario, they send a second round pick to the Vikings to move up from 20 to 12.
13. Houston Texans – WR Drake London (USC)
You can really point to any position and the Texans need help there, but wide receiver should be pretty high up on their list, even after extending Brandin Cooks, who was their only reliable wide receiver last season. Last year’s third round pick Nico Collins showed promise, but even if he develops, the Texans will still need at least one more wide receiver. Outside of Cooks and Collins, the Texans’ leading receiver last season had 323 receiving yards.
14. Baltimore Ravens – CB Derek Stingley (LSU)
Cornerback isn’t the Ravens’ biggest need, but Derek Stingley’s upside may be too much for them to pass on if he falls to them. The Ravens lost Anthony Averett in free agency and have not re-signed veteran Jimmy Smith ahead of his age 34 season, so they need depth behind starting cornerbacks Marlon Humphries and Marcus Peters, who are both coming off season ending injuries. Stingley comes with his own injury risk, but if Humphries, Peters, and Stingley are all healthy, they could be the top cornerback trio in the NFL.
15. Philadelphia Eagles – DT Jordan Davis (Georgia)*
Both Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave are heading into the final year of their contract and Cox will be in his age 32 season as well, so long-term help is needed at the position. The Eagles like having a deep defensive line anyway and need rotational help at the position in the short-term. Davis is a good value at this point and could play an immediate role for the Eagles as a rookie, with the upside to develop into a high-level player long-term.
16. New York Giants (TRADE) – CB Trent McDuffie (Washington)
If the Giants don’t trade out of one of their top-10 picks, I would expect them to address either the cornerback or edge defender position with the other pick, after using their first pick on offensive line help. In this scenario, the Giants trade out and get a pair of first round picks from the Saints, which they can use to address both edge defender and cornerback, after taking an offensive lineman in the top-10. The Chargers and Eagles pick between this pick and the Giants’ next pick and both spent significant resources on edge defenders this off-season (Khalil Mack and Haason Reddick respectively), so it would make more sense for the Giants to take a cornerback and wait on an edge defender. McDuffie seems likely to be the third cornerback off the board and could be a top-15 pick depending on how early the top two cornerbacks go.
17. Los Angeles Chargers – OT Trevor Penning (Northern Iowa)
The Chargers drafted a left tackle in the first round last year, but could still use an upgrade at right tackle, where the underwhelming Storm Norton is penciled in as the starter after the Chargers cut the oft-injured Bryan Bulaga this off-season. Penning is a good value at this point in the draft and right tackle is one of the Chargers’ few positions of weakness after an off-season spending spree, so this selection would make a lot of sense.
18. Philadelphia Eagles – WR Jameson Williams (Alabama)*
The Eagles have selected wide receivers in the first round in each of the past two years, but they have two first round picks this year and their selection of Jalen Reagor two years ago was so bad that the Eagles could easily take another wide receiver with one of those two first round picks, as last year’s first round pick DeVonta Smith remains their only real wide receiver threat. Williams likely would have been a top-10 pick and the first wide receiver off the board if he hadn’t torn his ACL in the college football playoff, but the news on his recovery has been good, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him still end up in the top-20, or even top-15. The Eagles will likely consider him at 15 as well, but with the Giants and Chargers picking at 16 and 17 both not needing wide receivers, it makes more sense to take Davis at 15 and wait on Williams.
19. New York Giants (TRADE) – DE Jermaine Johnson (Florida State)
The Giants addressed the cornerback position at 16 and now target an edge defender, having the same choices available to them as would have been available if they took an edge defender at 16. Johnson would be a big boost for a team that once again finished in the bottom half of the league in sacks last season and that lost starting edge defender Lorenzo Carter, without really adding a replacement. He could be a top-15 pick and would be a good value for the Giants at 19.
20. Minnesota Vikings (TRADE) – CB Andrew Booth (Clemson)
I have had the Vikings taking a cornerback in every mock draft. The Vikings traded down from 12 to 20 and acquired an extra second round pick in a trade that enabled the Steelers to move up for their preferred quarterback prospect, but the position the Vikings are targeting doesn’t change after the trade down. The Vikings re-signed Patrick Peterson, but he’s going into his age 32 season and only on a one-year deal, so cornerback could still be the Vikings’ biggest need. Booth would fit the draft range at 20.
21. New England Patriots – MLB Devin Lloyd (Utah)
It was clear from the Patriots’ playoff loss to the Bills that they needed to get more athletic at linebacker and, with linebacker Dont’a Hightower still unsigned as a free agent, the Patriots have an opportunity to find a more athletic upgrade. Even if Hightower returns, he is a declining player heading into his age 32 season, so a long-term option is needed. Lloyd would fit the bill well and is a great value if he falls to the Patriots at 21.
22. Green Bay Packers – WR Chris Olave (Ohio State)
This is one of the picks the Packers received in the Davante Adams trade and it would not at all be surprising if they used this pick to select a replacement wide receiver, as the Packers had a pressing need at the wide receiver position even before Adams was traded. That need got even bigger when the Packers were unable to retain Marquez Valdes-Scantling, despite the Davante Adams trade freeing up significant cap space. Olave would be counted on for a big role in year one.
23. Arizona Cardinals – DE George Karlaftis (Purdue)*
Chandler Jones was going into his age 32 season, but the Cardinals will still miss their top edge defender and need to find a younger long-term replacement for him. Markus Golden also had double digit sacks for the Cardinals last season, but they need an upgrade opposite him. Karlaftis falls a little bit because of how deep this edge defender class is, but he would be a good value for the Cardinals at 23, while filling arguably their biggest need.
24. Dallas Cowboys – C Tyler Linderbaum (Iowa)
The Cowboys have shown a propensity to draft offensive linemen in the first round, usually with a lot of success. Their offensive line was good last season, but they have taken a hit this off-season, losing a pair of starters in left guard Connor Williams and right tackle La’El Collins. Center also remains a weakness, as Tyler Biadasz was the weak link of this group last season and may still be even after Williams and Collins left. The Cowboys have yet to really replace stud center Travis Frederick, who prematurely retired a couple years ago. Linderbaum is one of the best center prospects of the past decade and could remind the Cowboys of Frederick, who they originally selected in the first round.
25. Buffalo Bills – CB Kaiir Elam (Florida)
The Bills don’t have many weaknesses on either side of the ball, but cornerback has been a bit of a concern for years and now is a bigger need, with Tre’Davious White coming off of a torn ACL and fellow starter Levi Wallace signing with the Steelers in free agency, leaving unproven 2020 7th round pick Dane Jackson as the projected starter right now opposite White. Elam could form one of the best cornerback duos in the league with White if he develops and White bounces back from injury.
26. Seattle Seahawks (TRADE) – QB Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati)*
If the Seahawks pass on a quarterback at 9, they could easily move back up into the first round to select a quarterback, possessing two picks in the second round and one in the third. In this scenario, they package together one of the second rounders and the third rounder to move up with the Titans, who can address their biggest needs on day 2. Desmond Ridder will likely be the fourth quarterback off the board, but if there is a run on quarterbacks early, he will likely end up a first round pick.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – DT Devonte Wyatt (Georgia)*
A lot has been made about the Buccaneers’ offensive line losses this off-season, but they retained center Ryan Jensen, traded for Shaq Mason to replace Alex Cappa, and could plug 2021 3rd round pick Robert Hainsey in as a starter at the other guard spot if needed. Their defensive line is what actually needs more help now, especially on the interior, where they have numerous unsigned free agents, most notably Ndamukong Suh, who also happens to be in his age 35 season. Adding a young talented interior defender early in the draft would go a long way towards solving that problem.
28. Green Bay Packers – G Zion Johnson (Boston College)
The Packers got Aaron Rodgers a new wide receiver with their last pick and now they get better protection for him with this pick. Left tackle David Bakhtiari’s return after missing all of 2021 would be a big boost for this offensive line, but he’s a major question mark long-term because of his recent injury history. Johnson would give them insurance at the left tackle position and could also play right tackle, where the Packers are replacing Billy Turner, or kick inside to guard, where the Packers could also use an upgrade. Adding a versatile offensive lineman like him makes a lot of sense with the Packers’ second pick in the first round.
29. Kansas City Chiefs – WR Treylon Burks (Arkansas)
The Chiefs now have back-to-back first round picks after trading Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins and could easily use one of those picks on a replacement wide receiver. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Mecole Hardman currently top the depth chart, but Smith-Schuster and Hardman will both be free agents next off-season. Burks has the potential to develop into a long-term #1 receiver for Patrick Mahomes.
30. Kansas City Chiefs – DE Boye Mafe (Minnesota)
The Chiefs’ defense was a lot better after signing Melvin Ingram mid-season, but he is a free agent this off-season and going into his age 33 season. Frank Clark led the team in sacks by an edge defender, but had just 4.5, despite being one of the highest paid edge defenders in the league. Clark could have been cut to save a significant amount of money, but the Chiefs brought him back because they didn’t have another option. They really need to add a blue chip edge defender prospect to the mix early in the draft.
31. Cincinnati Bengals – CB Roger McCreary (Auburn)
The biggest reason the Bengals came up short in the Super Bowl was their offensive line play, but the Bengals have done a great job of adding veterans in free agency to improve their offensive line. Now in the draft they can focus on their second most glaring need from their Super Bowl loss, finding an upgrade over veteran journeyman starting cornerback Eli Apple, who struggled for most of the season and gave up the game winning score in the Super Bowl. McCreary could be a year one starter and it wouldn’t be hard for him to be an upgrade.
32. Detroit Lions – OLB Nakobe Dean (Georgia)*
Nakobe Dean was one of the best defensive players in college football last year, but his unique draft profile could cause him to fall out of the first round entirely if teams can’t figure out how he would best fit. Dean was an effective edge defender in college, but at 5-11 229 he is likely to be seen by most teams as an off ball linebacker. The Lions would be drafting him more as an off ball linebacker, having taken an edge defender with their other first round pick, and he would fill a big need for the Lions at that position. If he falls in the first round, the Lions, who have worked him out privately, could stop his slide.
Cincinnati Bengals (13-7) vs. Los Angeles Rams (15-5) in Super Bowl LVI
The Bengals have had an improbable run to the Super Bowl, maybe even more so than most people realize. Not only have they pulled upsets over higher seeded teams in their last two playoff wins to qualify for the Super Bowl as a 4-seed, after entering the season with the worst odds in their division, but all three of their wins have come by one score with two of the wins coming on the last play and, most importantly, they have actually lost the first down rate and yards per play battle by all three games, with their +5 turnover margin across the three games being the primary driver of their close victories.
Unfortunately for the Bengals, yards per play and first down rate tend to be significantly more predictive of future winning than winning percentage or point differential, while turnover margin is highly unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. The Bengals, for example, had an even turnover margin in the regular season, despite facing one of the easiest schedules in the league. They weren’t particularly good in first down rate or yards per play in the regular season either, ranking 18th in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, which is based on first down rate and yards per play. That was the 3rd worst among 14 playoff qualifiers.
It’s possible the Bengals could continue beating the odds, but it’s unlikely and I would bet against it, especially against a team like the Rams, who have legitimately been one of the best teams in the league this season. They rank 9th, 6th, 5th, and 3rd in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, making them probably the most well-balanced team in the league. When you factor in that they’ll at least have some homefield advantage with this game being in Los Angeles, I have the Rams calculated as at least 7 point favorites, so we’re getting significant line value with them at -4.
Los Angeles Rams 27 Cincinnati Bengals 20
Pick against the spread: Los Angeles -4
1. Cleveland Browns – QB Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech)
The Browns are happy with Myles Garrett, their original #1 overall pick, who has developed into one of the best defensive players in the league, but, if they could do this over, it would be a no brainer decision to select Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes would not have had the same success in Cleveland as he has had in Kansas City, but he’s obviously a legitimate franchise quarterback and that’s the most valuable asset in the NFL, especially when you take into account that he is still only 26.
2. Chicago Bears – QB Deshaun Watson (Clemson)
The Bears moved up to select a quarterback here originally, but they took the wrong one, taking Mitch Trubisky with Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson on the board. In this do over, they wouldn’t make the same mistake and would end up with the franchise quarterback they have lacked for years. Watson missed all of 2021 with off-the-field problems and has an uncertain future, but he’s still a franchise quarterback in his mid 20s who could easily put his off-the-field issues behind him and have a long productive career.
3. San Francisco 49ers – DE TJ Watt (Wisconsin)
The 49ers fleeced the Bears into giving them extra picks to move up for Mitch Trubisky, but they made just as bad of an actual draft pick as the Bears, as defensive end Solomon Thomas ended up with just 6 sacks in 48 games in three seasons in San Francisco. TJ Watt obviously has had a lot more success, totalling 72 sacks, 82 hits, and a 14.3% pressure rate in his career, despite frequent double teams. He would add to an already dangerous defensive line in San Francisco, which had drafted DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead in the previous two drafts and went on to add Nick Bosa two years later.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars – DE Myles Garrett (Texas A&M)
The original #1 pick in this draft, Garrett falls out of the top-3 in this redo, but not due to any fault of his own, as Mahomes and Watson play a more valuable position, while Watt gets the slight edge over Garrett among edge defenders. As good as Watt is, that edge is very slight, as Garrett has added 58.5 sacks, 61 hits, and a 12.7% pressure rate in his career, despite also being frequently double teamed. In the short term, Garrett would also add to an already dominant defensive line in Jacksonville with Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, and Dante Fowler all surpassing 8 sacks in 2017, while giving them a long-term building block, with the three aforementioned defensive linemen all elsewhere by the 2020 season.
5. Tennessee Titans – WR Cooper Kupp (Eastern Washington)
The Titans selected wide receiver Corey Davis here originally and he isn’t a bad player, but obviously the Titans would have been better off taking Cooper Kupp, who has developed into one of the best wide receivers in the league. Despite missing time with a 2018 torn ACL, Kupp ranks 6th, 9th, and 8th in the NFL in catches, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns since entering the league in 2017, including a 2021 season in which he led the league in all three of those metrics.
6. New York Jets – TE George Kittle (Iowa)
The Jets originally selected Jamal Adams here and he gave them three good years while netting them two first round picks in return in a trade with Seattle before the 2020 season, but Adams has not been the same since joining the Seahawks and would not go this high in a re-draft. Instead, the Jets take one of the best all-around players in the league, tight end George Kittle. Kittle has a history of injuries, which is a concern, and tight ends aren’t usually drafted this high, but when he’s healthy, he’s been among the most valuable non-quarterbacks in the league since his breakout second season in 2018 and would be a huge addition for a Jets team who had just 18 catches by a tight end in the 2016 season before this draft and that has not had a consistent starter at the position in the years since.
7. Los Angeles Chargers – OT Ryan Ramczyk (Wisconsin)
Mike Williams wasn’t a bad pick here, but the Chargers have needed offensive line help more than wide receiver help in recent years and Ryan Ramczyk is on another level from Williams as well, as he’s been one of the best right tackles in the league since his rookie year and is arguably the best right now. Right tackle has been a position where the Chargers have consistently had a problem for years, one that was not solved by them giving a big contract to veteran free agent Bryan Bulaga during the 2020 off-season.
8. Carolina Panthers – RB Christian McCaffrey (Stanford)
Christian McCaffrey would be tough to place because he’s shown himself to be one of the best offensive skill position players in the league when healthy, while also missing most of the past two seasons with injury and playing a position that has been devalued in the league. However, I don’t think the Panthers would go elsewhere in a redo, as they have remained committed to a running back who they gave a 4-year, 64 million dollar extension two off-seasons ago before his recent string of injuries.
9. Cincinnati Bengals – RB Alvin Kamara (Tennessee)
The Bengals drafted a bust of a wide receiver in John Ross here originally, but it didn’t really matter, as the Bengals still had Tyler Boyd and AJ Green and, while Green eventually moved on, the Bengals replaced him with Tee Higgins and JaMarr Chase to give themselves probably the best wide receiver trio in the NFL. Instead, the Bengals address another position of need here and take running back Alvin Kamara. The Bengals went on to select Joe Mixon in the second round of this draft originally and he’s a solid player, but Kamara gives them a higher upside playmaker at the position. Since entering the league in 2017, Kamara ranks 2nd in the NFL in all-purpose yards and 1st in total offensive touchdowns.
10. Kansas City Chiefs – WR Chris Godwin (Penn State)
The Chiefs miss out on Patrick Mahomes in this draft, but they still had Alex Smith, who was not a bad signal caller, and they have the opportunity to give him a third talented playmaker to work with alongside Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. Godwin didn’t get into the starting lineup until year three in Tampa Bay and he has had some injury issues, but he’s still averaged over 1000 yards per 16 games in his career and would have gotten the opportunity to play earlier in Kansas City. Even coming off of a torn ACL in late 2021, Godwin figures to become one of the highest paid wide receivers in the league in free agency this off-season, after spending last season on the franchise tag, totaling a 98/1103/5 slash line in just 14 games.
11. New Orleans Saints – CB Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State)
The Saints came out of the 2017 NFL Draft with the most talent, which means they will be the losers of this redraft. They have already lost a couple key players they originally drafted this year in Ryan Ramczyk and Alvin Kamara and will continue to lose talent as this draft goes on, but they can at least keep their original pick here at 11, Marshon Lattimore. Lattimore has been a little inconsistent, but overall has been one of the best cornerbacks in the league in his career, leading to the Saints locking him up long-term on a 5-year, 97.603 million dollar extension.
12. Houston Texans – CB Tre’Davious White (LSU)
Tre’Davious White is the other top cornerback to come out of this draft. A torn ACL late in 2021 hurts his stock a little and the Saints wouldn’t pick him over Lattimore in a redo regardless, but the Texans need talent wherever they can get it, given the mismanagement of their roster that is to come in the later days of the Bill O’Brien era, and White is one of the top cornerbacks in the league when healthy, while otherwise missing just three games in his career prior to the ACL tear.
13. Arizona Cardinals – S Budda Baker (Washington)
The Cardinals originally took Haason Reddick here, who eventually turned into a good player, but he took three years to develop, had his fifth year option declined, and then left after his one good season in Arizona. Fortunately, the Cardinals had a little better luck with second round pick Budda Baker, a valuable starter for them over the past five seasons and a player they extended on a 4-year, 59 million dollar deal. In this redraft, they use their first round pick to keep him.
14. Philadelphia Eagles – RB Dalvin Cook (Florida State)
The Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2017, but they didn’t have a featured running back, instead relying on a committee led by LeGarrette Blount, who was not brought back for 2018. Miles Sanders became the starter in 2019 and has remained their top running back for three years since, but the Eagles would obviously be upgrading on him by adding Dalvin Cook, who has shaken off early career injuries to become one of the best all-around running backs in the league over the past three seasons. Since 2019, he ranks 2nd in the NFL in yards from scrimmage and 3rd in offensive touchdowns.
15. Indianapolis Colts – S Marcus Williams (Utah)
The Colts drafted Malik Hooker here originally, but his once promising career was derailed by injuries. Marcus Williams, originally a second round pick of the Saints, has developed into what Hooker was supposed to be, a ballhawk single high safety in the mold of Earl Thomas. After playing the 2021 season on the franchise tag with the Saints, Williams figures to become one of the highest paid safeties in the league this off-season wherever he signs.
16. Baltimore Ravens – CB Marlon Humphrey (Alabama)
Marlon Humphrey is not quite as good as Marshon Lattimore or Tre’Davious White, but he is almost as good and the Ravens are obviously happy with their original selection, extending him on a 5-year, 97.5 million dollar deal that makes him the third highest paid cornerback in the league in average annual value. They wouldn’t want a redo in a scenario where there isn’t an obvious upgrade available to them.
17. Washington Redskins – DT Jonathan Allen (Alabama)
Here is another team content with their original pick, as Jonathan Allen has developed into one of the better interior defenders in the league, with his best season coming in 2021, when he ranked 3rd among interior defenders on PFF and totaled 9 sacks, 15 hits, and a 13.7% pressure rate in 17 games, only behind Chris Jones and ahead of Aaron Donald in pass rush productivity. In total, he has 26 sacks, 42 hits, and a 10.3% pressure rate in 69 career games, as part of a dominant Redskins’ defensive line.
18. Tennessee Titans – DE Trey Hendrickson (Florida Atlantic)
Brian Orakpo had double digit sacks for the Titans in 2016, but he was in his age 30 season and played just two more underwhelming years, while the Titans didn’t have an edge defender with double digit sacks again until 2021. Even in 2021, they could still use another talented edge defender and, while Hendrickson took a few years to develop as a backup on the Saints loaded depth chart, he would have opportunities to play earlier in Tennessee and could potentially have broken out quicker. Even if the Titans would have to wait, the wait would be worth it for a player who has totaled 27.5 sacks, 26 hits, and a 15.1% pressure rate over the past two seasons, first with the Saints and then with the Bengals after signing a 4-year, 60 million dollar deal in free agency last off-season.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – S Marcus Maye (Florida)
The Buccaneers had needs all over their defense in 2017 and for several years after. Safety Justin Evans was their second round pick in this draft, but he never developed and headlined an underwhelming safety group in 2017 that included veterans at the end of their line in Chris Conte and TJ Ward, with Conte playing just one more season in 2018 and Ward’s career ending after 2017. Marcus Maye, who has developed into one of the better safeties in the league, would be a much better choice. Franchise tagged by the Jets last off-season, Maye’s free agency is complicated by a down 2021 season and a November torn achilles, but he was PFF’s 21st ranked safety in 2019 and their 4th ranked safety in 2020, so he could be a value free agent signing.
20. Denver Broncos – OT Dion Dawkins (Temple)
The Broncos originally used this pick on Garret Bolles, who has started 77 games for the Broncos in five seasons and was kept long-term on a 4-year, 68 million dollar contract, but that came after a frustrating penalty habit led to the Broncos declining his 5th year option for 2021, before his cleaned up the problem in a breakout 2020 season. In this redo, the Broncos take a more consistent option in Dion Dawkins, who received a 4-year, 58.3 million dollar extension of his own from the Bills, with whom he has started 74 career games.
21. Detroit Lions – S Jamal Adams (LSU)
Jamal Adams was tough to place in this redraft because he was one of the best safeties in the league early in his career with the Jets, finishing 3rd among safeties on PFF in 2018 and 4th in 2019, before getting traded to the Seahawks and falling to 47th in 2020 and 66th in 2021, two seasons both ended by injury after 12 games. The Lions have lacked high end talent on defense like Adams appeared to be early in his career, but made the playoffs at 9-7 in 2016, so they need to take a risk here, picking outside of the top-20, if they hope to find one of those high end talent players.
22. Miami Dolphins – RB Aaron Jones (UTEP)
The Dolphins have had running back problems for years, with their last thousand yard rusher being Jay Ajayi in 2016, before he was traded to the Eagles early in the 2017 season. They tried to sign Aaron Jones as a free agent last off-season, even outbidding the Packers, but he chose to take slightly less money to remain in Green Bay on a 4-year, 48 million dollar deal. Jones returned to a slightly reduced role in 2021 due to the emergence of second year player AJ Dillon, but he finished with his third straight season of 1,200+ yards from scrimmage and 10+ touchdowns and has a career average of 5.06 yards per carry, 2nd most in the NFL by a running back with at least 800 carries since 2017. He might not be quite as successful away from Aaron Rodgers, but he would still be a big upgrade for the Dolphins.
23. New York Giants – OT Taylor Moton (Western Michigan)
The Giants had offensive line problems in 2016 and they continued in 2017 and beyond, even remaining a problem in 2021 and likely into the future unless the Giants make major upgrades this off-season. In this redraft, the Giants lock down the right tackle position for years to come with Taylor Moton, one of the better right tackles in the league and a player who has made 67 straight starts for the Panthers, who selected him in the 2nd round in 2017. Carolina also extended him on a 4-year, 72 million dollar extension that pays him deservedly among the top right tackles in the league.
24. Oakland Raiders – RB Joe Mixon (Oklahoma)
The Raiders were led in rushing by a 31-year-old Marshawn Lynch in 2017 and he was just about done, so they needed a running back of the future. They used a first round pick on Josh Jacobs in 2019, but Mixon would solve the problem faster while giving them a better running back with more three down ability. Mixon has surpassed 1,300 yards from scrimmage in three of five seasons in Cincinnati, including 1,519 yards from scrimmage in 2021, 8th most in the NFL.
25. Cleveland Browns – WR Mike Williams (Clemson)
Adding Patrick Mahomes should automatically make the Browns significantly better than the 0-16 they were in 2017, but Mahomes is still entering a situation where their leading receivers were a backup running back and two tight ends, with no Browns wide receiver surpassing 357 yards receiving in 2017. Mike Williams hasn’t quite lived up to being the 7th pick in this draft, but he has a pair of thousand yard seasons opposite Keenan Allen and figures to be paid well as a free agent this off-season, if the Chargers don’t franchise tag him. He’d be an obvious upgrade for a Browns team that still has wide receiver problems to this day, even after giving up a first round pick and other assets to acquire Odell Beckham.
26. Atlanta Falcons – DE Haason Reddick (Temple)
Has any team needed anything longer than the Falcons have needed edge help? I feel like edge defender has been near the top of their needs in every draft dating back to the later days of John Abraham, who left the Falcons after the 2012 season. Their problem actually goes back further than that as somehow they haven’t had more than 39 sacks in a season since all the way back in 2004. Haason Reddick took a few years to develop, but that could be because the Cardinals were using him incorrectly prior to his breakout 2020 season. Between that season and last season in Carolina, Reddick has totaled 23.5 sacks, 19 hits, and a 11.7% pressure rate over the past two seasons, while maintaining the athleticism to drop in coverage if needed. Reddick took a one-year prove it deal with the Panthers last off-season and it figures to pay off, as he’s likely to break the bank in his second trip to free agency this off-season.
27. Buffalo Bills – OLB Matt Milano (Boston College)
The Bills had a strong draft in 2017 and have already missed out on a pair of Pro-Bowlers they drafted this year, cornerback Tre’Davious White and left tackle Dion Dawkins. Milano has not made a Pro-Bowl, but that’s more of an oversight than anything, as Milano has consistently played at a borderline Pro-Bowl level, including a 2021 season in which he ranked 17th among off ball linebackers on PFF as a 16-game starter for one of the top defenses in the league.
28. Dallas Cowboys – CB Chidobe Awuzie (Colorado)
The Cowboys whiffed badly with Taco Charlton here, selecting a player who had just 4 sacks for the Cowboys in 27 games with the team, before bouncing around the league as a journeyman. Luckily the Cowboys redeemed themselves by selecting Chidobe Awuzie in the second round, who developed into an above average starting cornerback in Dallas. After a down 2020 year, in large part due to poor coaching on Mike Nolan’s defense, Awuzie signed a 3-year, 21.75 million dollar deal with the Bengals last off-season, which has proven to be a steal, as Awuzie has bounced back with the best season of his career, ranking 2nd among cornerbacks on PFF. The Cowboys have one dominant cornerback in Trevon Diggs, but letting Awuzie walk is probably one they’d like to have back, as he likely would have fared much better in Dan Quinn’s system than he did in Mike Nolan’s.
29. Cleveland Browns – S John Johnson (Boston College)
The Browns addressed offense with their first two picks and now address defense and take a safety, which is the position they addressed with the 25th overall pick originally, taking Jabrill Peppers. Peppers was never great for them though and was traded to the Giants in the Odell Beckham trade, with the Browns eventually fixing their problem at safety by signing John Johnson to a 3-year, 33.75 million dollar deal last off-season. In this scenario, they add him earlier and get an upgrade at safety with a player who has finished in the top-11 among safeties on PFF in three of five seasons in the league.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers – WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (USC)
The Steelers lose out on TJ Watt, their original pick here, as he is way too good to be close to being available with the 30th pick in a redo. They do keep their second round pick though. Smith-Schuster hasn’t been the same without Antonio Brown opposite him, but he did finish 5th in the NFL in receiving yards in his 2nd season in the league in 2018 opposite Brown, which also happened to be the last time Ben Roethlisberger was capable of throwing downfield consistently. Still only 25, he could easily bounce back if he gets an upgrade at quarterback and stays healthy following an injury plagued 2021 season.
31. San Francisco 49ers – WR Kenny Golladay (Northern Illinois)
Kenny Golladay’s stock is down after an injury plagued 2020 season and a down 2021 season in his first season on a 4-year, 72 million dollar deal with the Giants, but he had back-to-back thousand yard seasons in 2018 and 2019, so the 49ers take a chance on him and address a big position of need. The 2017 49ers were led in receiving by Marquise Goodwin, whose 962 receiving yards are more than he has had in four seasons since, while no other wide receiver surpassed 500 yards in 2017.
32. New Orleans Saints – RB Austin Ekeler (Western Colorado)
The Saints don’t get Alvin Kamara in this redraft, but they are able to get a player who has a similar skill set and could thrive in their system with Drew Brees. Ekeler took a little bit of time to develop and has missed some time with injury, but he finished 6th in the NFL in yards from scrimmage in 2021 and tied with first in offensive touchdowns. His 216 catches since 2019 are the most in the NFL over that time period by a running back, five more than 2nd place Alvin Kamara.
Total Against the Spread: 146-132-4 (52.52%)
Pick of the Week: 11-6-1 (64.71%)
High Confidence Picks: 15-14-1 (51.72%)
Medium Confidence Picks: 43-36 (54.43%)
Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 69-56-2 (55.20%)
Low Confidence Picks: 50-47 (51.55%)
No Confidence Picks: 27-29-2 (48.21%)
Moneyline Upset Picks: 14-19 (42.42%)
Total Against the Spread: 138-127-4 (52.08%)
Pick of the Week: 10-6-1 (62.50%)
High Confidence Picks: 20-14 (58.82%)
Medium Confidence Picks: 40-36-1 (52.63%)
Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 70-56-2 (55.56%)
Low Confidence Picks: 49-39 (55.68%)
No Confidence Picks: 19-32-2 (37.25%)
Moneyline Upset Picks: 19-18 (51.35%)
Total Against the Spread: 134-125-8 (51.74%)
Pick of the Week: 12-3-2 (80.00%)
High Confidence Picks: 20-11-1 (64.52%)
Medium Confidence Picks: 35-36-2 (49.30%)
Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 67-50-5 (57.26%)
Low Confidence Picks: 35-40-1 (46.67%)
No Confidence Picks: 32-35-2 (47.76%)
Moneyline Upset Picks: 22-21 (51.16%)
Total Against the Spread: 154-102-11 (60.16%)
Pick of the Week: 10-6-1 (62.50%)
High Confidence Picks: 21-13-2 (61.76%)
Medium Confidence Picks: 41-27-1 (60.29%)
Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 72-46-4 (61.02%)
Low Confidence Picks: 35-28-1 (55.56%)
No Confidence Picks: 47-28-6 (62.67%)
Moneyline Upset Picks: 25-17-1 (59.52%)
Total Against the Spread: 139-120-8 (53.67%)
Pick of the Week: 11-6 (64.71%)
High Confidence Picks: 21-11-3 (65.63%)
Medium Confidence Picks: 33-34-1 (49.25%)
Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 65-51-4 (56.03%)
Low Confidence Picks: 44-38-4 (53.66%)
No Confidence Picks: 30-31 (49.18%)
Moneyline Upset Picks: 19-25 (43.18%)
Total Against the Spread: 130-127-10 (50.58%)
Pick of the Week: 11-6-0 (64.71%)
High Confidence Picks: 12-17-2 (41.38%)
Medium Confidence Picks: 42-26-4 (61.76%)
Money Picks (Medium confidence and higher): 65-49-6 (57.02%)
Low Confidence Picks: 34-40-2 (45.95%)
No Confidence Picks: 31-38-2 (44.93%)
Moneyline Upset Picks: 26-25 (50.98%)
Total Against the Spread: 124-138-5 (47.33%)
Pick of the Week: 9-8 (52.94%)
High Confidence Picks: 14-11 (56.00%)
Medium Confidence Picks: 35-36-1 (49.30%)
Money Picks (Medium confidence and higher): 58-55-1 (51.33%)
Low Confidence Picks: 36-45-2 (44.44%)
No Confidence Picks: 30-38-2 (44.12%)
Moneyline Upset Picks: 16-30 (34.78%)
Total Against the Spread: 150-113-4 (57.03%)
Pick of the Week: 9-7-1 (56.25%)
High Confidence Picks: 9-11 (45.00%)
Medium Confidence Picks: 57-31 (64.77%)
Money Picks (Medium confidence and higher): 75-49-1 (60.48%)
Low Confidence Picks: 36-32-2 (52.94%)
No Confidence Picks: 39-32-1 (54.93%)
Moneyline Upset Picks: 19-25 (43.18%)
Total Against the Spread: 148-110-9 (57.36%)
Pick of the Week: 10-6-1 (62.50%)
High Confidence Picks: 25-10-1 (71.43%)
Medium Confidence Picks: 32-26 (55.17%)
Money Picks (Medium confidence and higher): 67-42-2 (61.47%)
Low Confidence Picks: 39-28-3 (58.21%)
No Confidence Picks: 42-40-4 (51.22%)
Moneyline Upset Picks: 27-31 (46.55%)
All-Time (Since 2013)
Total Against the Spread: 1263-1094-63 (53.59%)
Pick of the Week: 93-54-7 (63.27%)
High Confidence Picks: 157-112-10 (58.36%)
Medium Confidence Picks: 358-288-10 (55.42%)
Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 608-454-27 (57.25%)
Low Confidence Picks: 358-337-15 (51.51%)
No Confidence Picks: 297-303-21 (49.50%)
Moneyline Upset Picks: 187-211-1 (46.98%)
San Francisco 49ers (12-7) at Los Angeles Rams (14-5)
It’s well known that the 49ers have dominated this matchup recently, winning six straight meetings, including two this season. However, it’s unclear how much that really matters. Historically, teams that have won six straight matchups against their opponent do win that seventh game at a 60.1% clip, but that is usually because the team is better in general and not because they happen to “have their number.” When we look at underdogs, like the 49ers are this week, that winning percentage drops to 34.5% and they only even cover the spread at a 50.2% clip. That alone isn’t a reason to take the Rams, but the Rams are also the healthier and more talented team at home.
One of the least injury affected teams in the league this season, the Rams actually did have some late season absences, but, aside from safety Jordan Fuller, all have since returned, with center Brian Allen, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, tight end Tyler Higbee, and right tackle Rob Havenstein all missing time returned in recent weeks and safety Taylor Rapp and left tackle Andrew Whitworth set to join them this week. The 49ers, meanwhile, have had many more injury issues this season and, while they may be healthier now than they have been, they will still have their quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and their stud left tackle Trent Williams playing at less than 100% with injuries that could be reaggravated and cause them to be knocked out of the game.
There isn’t a big gap between these two teams, with the Rams ranking just 1.5 points better in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, but my roster rankings have the Rams about 2.5 points better with injuries factored in and, with the Rams having at least some homefield advantage, this line of 3.5 might be a little low, especially since the margin of victory in conference championship games is actually higher than in the regular season. If this was the regular season, this would be a no confidence pick, but I like the Rams a little bit more because this is a post-season game.
Los Angeles Rams 27 San Francisco 49ers 23
Pick against the spread: LA Rams -3.5
Cincinnati Bengals (12-7) at Kansas City Chiefs (14-5)
These two teams met in Cincinnati a few weeks ago, with the Bengals pulling the home upset as 4-point underdogs in a last second victory, coming back from 11 points down at halftime. This matchup is in Kansas City, but that is not the only reason the odds are against the Bengals repeating what they did last time, as teams are just 6-12 ATS as underdogs in the playoffs against a non-divisional opponent they beat as underdogs in the regular season.
The spreads oddsmakers set tend to be more accurate than public perception, so if they are making a team underdogs twice, it’s usually for a good reason and, in fact, odds makers seem to usually set the line too low for the rematch, likely intentionally, in hopes of trapping some bettors on the underdog. That seems to be the case here, as the Chiefs are a completely different level than the Bengals, even when you take into account that the Bengals beat the Chiefs previously.
The Bengals entered the post-season with one of the weakest strengths of schedule of any team in the league and, as a result, finished the regular season just 18th in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, which is based on predictive metrics, yards per play and first down rate, and takes strength of schedule into account. The Bengals have won twice so far in the post-season, but beating the Titans and Raiders isn’t particularly impressive, especially when you consider that they were one-score games in which the Bengals lost the yards per play and first down rate battle and almost definitely would have lost the game if not for winning the turnover battle in both games by a combined +4, which is not a predictable metric that they can continue to depend on.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, are where they are, with a 14-5 record and hosting the AFC Championship, despite one of the toughest schedules in the league and despite just a +3 turnover margin (including playoffs). In fact, winning turnover margin by a significant margin has been about the only way to beat the Chiefs this year, as the Chiefs started 3-4 in large part due to a -10 turnover margin, but have won 11 of 12 since then (6-1 against playoff qualifiers) and have flipped their turnover margin to +13 over that stretch.
The Chiefs’ defense also has been a lot better since the start of the season, due to improved health, with key players like safety Tyrann Mathieu, cornerback Charvarius Ward, edge defender Frank Clark, and interior defender Chris Jones all missing time early in the season and returning, as well as the addition of edge defender Melvin Ingram in a mid-season trade. The Chiefs’ defense had some injury problems last week against the Bills, missing Mathieu and talented cornerback Rashad Fenton, but both are expected back this week.
The Chiefs defense still only ranks 28th in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency, but they have been at least passable since their horrendous start and, despite their low ranked defense on the season, the Chiefs still rank 2nd in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, led by a top ranked offense and a 2nd ranked special teams. If their defense can be even a complementary unit, which it can when it’s healthy, the Chiefs are the best team in the league, which they are right now, about 10.5 points above average in my roster rankings, while the Bengals are just 2 points above average.
This line may seem high at seven, especially for a conference championship game, but conference championships tend to be blowouts actually at a higher rate than regular season games, with the average margin of victory being 12.48 points, as opposed to 11.62 points in the regular season. On top of that, favorites of 6 or more are 11-4 ATS in a conference championship game, with all fifteen winning straight up by an average of 15.4 points per game. Usually when the oddsmakers think a conference championship is uneven, they are actually understating it, which is what I think is the case here. I am very confident the Chiefs can cover the seven points and win by multiple scores.
Kansas City Chiefs 31 Cincinnati Bengals 20
Pick against the spread: Kansas CIty -7
Los Angeles Rams (12-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4)
These two teams met in Los Angeles back in week 3, with the Rams pulling the home upset as 1.5-point underdogs, but this game is in Tampa Bay and the Rams regular season win actually works against their chances of covering this spread. In total, teams are 46-59 ATS in a rematch in the post-season against a non-divisional opponent who they beat in the regular season, including 5-12 ATS as underdogs after previously winning as underdogs.
These teams are not the same as they were in week 3, as the Buccaneers lost starting wide receivers Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin, starting running back Leonard Fournette is legitimately questionable, and starting offensive linemen Tristan Wirfs and Ryan Jensen figure to be limited, while the Rams added talented edge defender Von Miller and wide receiver Odell Beckham, but lost key wide receiver Robert Woods, stud left tackle Andrew Whitworth, and starting safeties Jordan Fuller and Taylor Rapp. All of that more or less evens out, with the Buccaneers holding a 2-point edge in my roster rankings and being favored by 4 points on my calculated line, after being the slightly better of these two teams in the regular season.
Given that, we are getting some line value with the Buccaneers as just 2.5-point home favorites, as the public seems to be paying more attention to Tampa Bay’s injuries and not as much to the Rams’ injuries, while putting too much stock into the result of the week 3 matchup between these two teams. Tom Brady has also been close to automatic in his career in tough games like this where all he has to do to cover is win, going 57-27 ATS in his career as an underdogs or favorite of less than three points, including 10-3 ATS in the post-season. I wouldn’t like the Buccaneers as much at 3, but they’re bettable at 2.5.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30 Los Angeles Rams 24
Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -2.5
Buffalo Bills (12-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (12-5)
These two teams met in Kansas City back in week 5, with the Bills pulling the upset on the road by a final score of 38-20, but that’s hardly a guarantee they will do so again. In fact, teams are just 46-59 ATS in the playoffs in a rematch of a regular season game against a non-divisional opponent, including just 1-6 ATS as road underdogs after winning as road underdogs in the first matchup. This is also a different Chiefs team than the first matchup, as the early season Chiefs were in the middle of a 3-4 start, but have since won 10 of 11 games, including a 5-1 record against playoff qualifiers.
The Chiefs’ turnaround has been driven by two things, a drastically improved turnover margin and a drastically improved defense. Through their first seven games of the season, the Chiefs had a turnover margin of -10, but turnover margin is not a very predictive metric so I would predict that any team that had that bad of a turnover margin stretch would soon seen improvement in that metric, especially a team like the Chiefs who have an elite quarterback, which is the only way to consistently win the turnover margin. Unsurprisingly, the Chiefs have a +14 turnover margin in the final ten games of the regular season, giving them a turnover margin of +4 on the season, after a +23 turnover margin across the first three seasons of Patrick Mahomes career as a starter.
Schedule adjusted efficiency is a metric based on yards per play and first down rate, which intentionally minimizes the impact of turnover margin, and, as a result, is more predictive than point differential. The Chiefs rank 3rd in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency on the season, led by a 1st ranked offense and a 3rd ranked special teams, and they are probably even better than that suggests, as they are still dragged down by a defense that ranks 28th, getting off to a horrible start before improving drastically in recent weeks.
The biggest reason for the Chiefs’ defensive turnaround is they have gotten much healthier since the beginning of the season, when key players like safety Tyrann Mathieu, edge defender Frank Clark, cornerback Charvarius Ward, and interior defender Chris Jones all missed time with injury, with the latter two missing the first matchup with the Bills. Even without Jones and Ward, that first matchup was closer than it seemed, as the game largely swung on the turnover margin, with the Bills winning by four and getting a return touchdown to make the margin of victory bigger than it would have been.
Unfortunately for the Chiefs, despite all that I mentioned, this will still be a very tough matchup for the Chiefs, as the Bills led the NFL in point differential at +195, going 11-6 despite a 0-5 record in one score games, and then they destroyed the Patriots by 30 last week, en route to ranking first in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency by a wide margin, giving them about a 4.5-point edge over the Chiefs.
The Bills aren’t fully healthy right now without top cornerback Tre’Davious White, and, if healthy, the Chiefs are the better team, but that may not be the case, as their best cornerback Rashad Fenton is questionable after not practicing all week, which would be a huge absence. If he plays, the Chiefs could be worth betting in this game, as overreaction to the Bills win last week and the public putting too much stock into the first matchup between these two teams has dropped this line to just 1.5, but they’re not bettable without Fenton and he seems more likely to be out than to play. This is a low confidence pick for now, but that could change.
Kansas City Chiefs 34 Buffalo Bills 31
Pick against the spread: Kansas City -1.5
Cincinnati Bengals (11-7) at Tennessee Titans (12-5)
The Titans finished with tied for the best record in the AFC and won the AFC’s #1 seed on tiebreakers, but they overall did not have as impressive of a season as some other teams in the AFC. Their 12-5 record is supported by a 6-2 record in one-score games and their +65 point differential ranks just 11th in the NFL, despite the fact that they have a +4 margin in return touchdowns, giving them an extra 28 points. Return touchdown margin is not predictive week-to-week, especially since the Titans finished with a -3 turnover margin, and, if not for those four return touchdowns, the Titans would rank just 13th in point differential at +37.
The Bengals, meanwhile, rank 8th with a +84 point differential, despite having a worse record than the Titans. If you include their playoff victory over the Raiders and exclude their week 18 loss to the Browns where they rested their starters, that point differential becomes +96. Despite that, the Bengals are underdogs of 3.5 points here in Tennessee, which is more significant than you might think, with about 1 in 4 games decided by 3 points or fewer.
That line expects the Titans to be significantly better than they have been in the regular season, as a result of their improved health on offense. The Titans’ offense had significant injury issues in the second half of the season, but wide receivers AJ Brown (three games missed) and Julio Jones (four games missed) and offensive linemen Rodger Saffold (two games), Taylor Lewan (two games), and Nate Davis (three games) have all returned after missing time, while feature back Derrick Henry (ten games) is expected to rejoin the lineup this week to complete this offense.
However, even at full health, I don’t have the Titans worth being favored by this many points over the Bengals, as they had just a +32 point differential through eight games before Henry and company went down. On top of that, there is no guarantee that Henry is at full strength in his first game back. We’re not getting a lot of line value with the Bengals, but my calculated line has the Titans favored by just 2 points, so the Bengals definitely have a good chance to cover this spread. There isn’t quite enough here for the Titans to be worth betting, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.
Update: It looks like Henry will split carries with Dont’a Foreman if he plays, which drops my calculated line a little to 1.5, while simultaneously this line has moved up to 4. I think there is enough here for a bet on Cincinnati, who were the better team in the regular season in all of the more predictive metrics, including schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, in which they held a 2.5-point edge. Even if the Titans are healthier, it’s hard to get this line all the way up to 4, especially since the Bengals still hold the edge in my roster rankings even with the Titans’ offense close to full strength, as Joe Burrow has shown significant improvement as the season has gone on and, now with his knee injury clearly in the rear review, has broken out as a legitimate top level quarterback.
Tennessee Titans 24 Cincinnati Bengals 23
Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +4