For many football fans making NFL picks and predictions, the Divisional Round is the best part of the playoffs.
Gone are the scrappy contenders of the Wild Card Weekend, leaving us with the NFL’s version of the Elite Eight. We don’t get the high stakes of the conference championships or the pageantry of the Super Bowl, but we have four solid NFL betting options on the board to keep us busy Saturday and Sunday.
Of course, this being a column titled NFL Underdogs (in which I can only make picks getting the points), we have to size up just how pups do at this point in the postseason.
Long-term, Divisional Round dogs have been pretty good at 47-35-1 against the spread since 2000-01 (57%). But while those underdogs went 3-1 ATS in last year’s Divisional Round matchups, teams getting the points have lost a little bite in recent postseasons, with a 13-14-1 ATS count for Divisional Round dogs since 2015.
Not exactly the 67% windfall for underdogs in the Wild Card Round we’ve seen over the past six years.
So, like Indiana Jones combing through dusty cups in search of the Holy Grail, we “must choose but choose wisely” when it comes to making our NFL underdog picks and predictions in the Divisional Round.
Here’s to fortune and glory.
NFL picks against the spread for Divisional Round
Click on each pick to jump to the full analysis.
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New York Giants (+7.5) at Philadelphia Eagles
To call the New York Giants’ win over Minnesota an upset in the Wild Card Round may be a bit of a stretch.
New York bounced between +2.5 and +3 on the road, and sportsbooks were heavier on the Giants’ handle heading into kickoff, with a nation of football fans labeling the 13-win Vikings as frauds. New York took advantage of a dismal defense and was able to stunt Minnesota’s big playmakers from doing damage.
There’s no mistaking the G-Men for anything but underdogs in the Divisional Round, getting more than a touchdown on the road and facing a Philadelphia Eagles defense that’s light years ahead of the Vikings’ unit — in spots…
Philadelphia has been susceptible to the run all season. Still, it has been able to cover up that blemish thanks to a high-octane offense that blew foes out of the water in the first 30 minutes and left them ripping the run calls out of the playbooks as they try to catch up in the second half.
It happened to the Giants in Week 14. Philadelphia erupted for a 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter, and a team that was handing off on 50% of snaps at the time only ran the ball 24 times when the final whistle blew on a 48-22 blowout win for the Eagles.
Since then, however, New York’s defense has shown major improvements. The Giants went from 26th in defensive DVOA in the opening 14 weeks of the schedule to 11th over the past five games, including the Wild Card win. The pass defense has made the most notable jump, moving from 25th in EPA allowed per dropback to 10th lowest in that five-game span.
Not only has the game planning of defensive coordinator Wink Martindale been less predictable, but the secondary has gotten key members like corner Adoree’ Jackson and safety Xavier McKinney back, while rookie DE Kayvon Thibodeaux could be the league’s nastiest “villain” since Ndamukong Suh.
New York has a real shot at keeping the Eagles at bay early on in this game, especially with quarterback Jalen Hurts not 100% with a shoulder sprain that made him look very human in the Week 18 meeting between these teams. Hurts’ completion rate and yards per attempt were tempered by that injury, and he was admittedly sore after the game.
Philadelphia may have to rely on quick, short gains if Hurts can’t push the ball downfield, which makes covering this bigger spread a tall task, as I outlined in my Giants vs. Eagles picks and predictions. Hurts’ absence/injury and lack of explosiveness from the offense is a big reason why the past four foes have had the liberty to run the ball on Philadelphia, going for gains of 129, 129, 115, and 157 yards. The Eagles were also 0-4 ATS in that span, including falling well short as 17-point home favorites versus New York (and its backup QB) in the 22-16 Week 18 victory.
The G-Men have the horses to run the ball on the Eagles, with running back Saquon Barkley and QB Daniel Jones headlining a rushing attack that ranks out No. 7 in EPA per handoff and DVOA. If New York can keep Philly within arms reach, it will gladly grind out those gains on the ground and run a methodical approach that parks the Eagles’ offense on the sideline.
It’s a big “IF,” considering the class of the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but this isn’t the same Giants team that Philadelphia faced back in Week 14. You can also add in the fact that underdogs are 9-3-1 ATS when playing a divisional rival for a third time in the playoffs since 2014-15.
PICK: Giants +7.5 (-108 at Pinnacle)
Cincinnati Bengals (+5.5) at Buffalo Bills
The margin between the two gunslingers is razor-thin. Even with the Bengals’ issues on the offensive line, there’s far less separating these teams than the growing spread for this Sunday showdown which is now as high as Buffalo -5.5.
Of course, the Bills and Bengals were set to play each other in Week 17 and got only midway through the first quarter before Damar Hamlin’s scary incident, which suspended play and eventually led to the cancellation of that much-hyped Monday night matchup.
Cincinnati closed as low as a 1-point home underdog for that contest after getting bet down from an opener of +2.5. For what it’s worth, I bet Bengals +2.5 for my Week 17 edition of NFL Underdogs.
On top of giving the nod to Burrow at QB, you could also make a case that Cincy is the better team all-around at this point in the season and that the only real edge the Bills boast is a home-field advantage with winter weather in Orchard Park.
The advanced metrics have these clubs neck-and-neck in many categories in the second half of the schedule, and down the stretch, the Bills did stand out a few percentage points ahead of the Bengals but built those stats against some terrible teams.
Buffalo took advantage of piss-poor offensive opposition versus the Jets, Bears, and Patriots (twice) but got exposed against viable scoring attacks like Minnesota, Detroit, and Miami (twice) — even with Skylar Thompson under center in the Wild Card Round last weekend. The Bengals are a big step up in competition.
Cincinnati hasn’t lost since Halloween, and it’s not all because of Burrow and the offense. The Bengals’ defense ranks No. 6 in EPA allowed per play during that winning streak. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, who had this stop unit peaking in last year’s playoff run, has tightened the bolts in key areas that are winning football games, most notably red zone defense.
The defensive line creates plenty of pressure on the passer without needing help from additional bodies (Cincy only blitzes on 20.4% of snaps). This secondary allows the lowest completion percentage in the league (58.84%). The Bengals can also inject a little chaos, ranked 11th in takeaways on the year, and scored two defensive touchdowns in the past two outings with Baltimore.
Cincy is going to need another great two-way effort to steal a victory on the road in Buffalo, and while that may not happen, the Bengals can absolutely make Bills fans sweat — even in sub-freezing temperatures.
PICK: Bengals +5.5 (-115 at Betway)
Last week: 1-1 ATS -0.09 units (Risking 1 unit per play)
Season: 25-28 ATS -2.81 units (Risking 1 unit per play)