All spreads and totals taken Wednesday from VegasInsider.com. All times Eastern.
Buffalo Bills (-5½) vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Sunday, 3 p.m. | CBS, Paramount Plus
Pick: Buffalo Bills -4½ (By Thursday morning, the spread had moved to Bills -5½.)
Net yards per play — the difference between a team’s average offensive gain on each snap and what its defense allows per play — can be a telling statistic, if one that’s often overlooked. The Bills have a net yards per play of 1.1 (tied with the Eagles for the second-best mark among the remaining teams) and if you limit it to the last three games, it’s 2.2 (by far the best of the still-alive teams). The Bengals have a net yards per play of zero (only the Giants are worse). Over the past three games, that number falls to minus-0.5 yards per play (none of the remaining playoff teams are worse).
Cincinnati’s recent decline has coincided with an offensive line that’s been decimated by injury. First, starting right tackle La’el Collins suffered a season-ending knee injury on Christmas Eve. Right guard Alex Cappa then hurt his ankle against the Ravens in the regular season finale. And finally, left tackle Jonah Williams reportedly suffered a dislocated kneecap against Baltimore on Sunday in the first round. He was replaced by Jackson Carman, who never had played tackle in his two-season NFL career and seems likely to get his first start as Joe Burrow’s blind-side protector against the Bills on Sunday. Williams and Cappa were both ruled out for Sunday’s game.
Burrow’s ability to get the ball out of his hands quickly will help Cincinnati overcome its offensive line shortcomings, and the Bengals made the Super Bowl last season when their line was inarguably less talented. But these injuries are hardly ideal, especially considering that Carman struggled to keep his starting role as a guard and now will be manning the most important spot on the line. The Ravens sacked Burrow four times on Sunday, the most he’s gone down since a Halloween game against the Browns, and over the past two games Cincinnati averaged only 4.2 yards per play (the Bengals averaged 5.4 for the full season).
The Bills sacked Dolphins quarterback Skylar Thompson four times in Sunday’s 34-31 victory, a deceivingly close final score. Buffalo outgained Miami by 2.6 yards per play (a huge difference in a single game), but the Dolphins kept things close thanks to two Josh Allen interceptions. While picks aren’t exactly rare — Allen has five over his past three games — long interception returns are, and Miami’s two returns totaled 78 yards and set up 10 points. The Dolphins also returned an Allen fumble for a touchdown. Take away that variance, and the statistics say the Bills would have won much more easily.
Miami scored on four straight second-quarter possessions against Buffalo, but all four drives began at its 40-yard line or better (three began in Bills territory). On their 11 other drives, Buffalo limited the Dolphins to only 133 net yards, around 12 yards per drive. The should be able to find similar success against the Bengals.
Kansas City Chiefs (-9) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. | NBC, Peacock, Universo
Pick: Under 53 points
The Jaguars and Chargers went well over their 47½-point total in the first round, but a whole lot of weirdness had to happen to get to the 31-30 final score. Trevor Lawrence threw four first-half interceptions. Jacksonville’s Chris Claybrooks muffed a punt that Los Angeles recovered. The Chargers had three drives begin in the Jaguars’ red zone and scored 17 points off them.
Jacksonville’s defense actually performed admirably when its offense and special teams were not handing Los Angeles absurdly good field position. Of the Chargers’ 12 meaningful drives in the game — in other words, drives that didn’t end in a kneeldown — five gained eight yards or less.
In the regular season meeting between the Chiefs and Jaguars on Nov. 13, Kansas City jumped out to a 20-0 second-quarter lead and then took its foot off the gas, with only three long second-half drives that lasted 10, 8 and 11 plays and resulted in just seven points. The Chiefs also were in no particular rush after taking a 13-3 halftime lead over the Rams on Nov. 27, with three of their four second-half drives taking at least nine plays (the fourth began at the Los Angeles 9-yard line after an interception, so it was hard to stretch that one out). In Week 16 against Seattle, Kansas City was up 17-3 at halftime but scored only seven second-half points, with drives of seven, seven, minus-one and eight yards sandwiching its lone scoring march. In the regular season finale against the Raiders, the Chiefs led 24-3 at halftime but again scored only a lone second-half touchdown, losing net yardage on two of its drives.
The common thread of all four of those Chiefs games? Kansas City was a big favorite in each, giving at least the 8½ points it’s giving against the Jaguars. If the Chiefs again jump out to a big enough lead against the Jaguars, Coach Andy Reid has shown this season that he has no problem grinding out the clock in the second half with something resembling a power rushing attack (sometimes to his team’s detriment, as these games tend to stay unnecessarily close). The Chiefs average 28.54 seconds per play in the second half, making them the 12th-slowest second-half team in the league
Kansas City has played 10 games with point totals at 50 or higher this season, and the under has cashed in seven of them. Let’s make it eight.
Philadelphia Eagles (-7½) vs. New York Giants
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. | Fox, Fox Sports, Fox Deportes
Pick: Philadelphia Eagles -7½
San Francisco 49ers (-4) vs. Dallas Cowboys
Sunday, 6:30 p.m. | Fox, Fox Sports, Fox Deportes
Pick: Dallas Cowboys +3½ (By Friday morning the 49ers were 4-point favorites)