NFL against-the-spread picks: Bills and Patriots get another bad-weather game

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Look, it's bad weather for a New England Patriots-Buffalo Bills game.

Saturday night shouldn't be as bad as the infamous windstorm game we saw the Patriots and Bills play earlier this season, when New England threw it three times and won. Still, it won't be fun to play in.

Saturday's forecast at Yahoo Weather calls for a high of 11 degrees and a low of 5. The good news is there's no precipitation forecasted and the wind shouldn't be a factor. But it's going to be cold.

Unless you have a strong angle on the weather (Mac Jones, who grew up in Jacksonville and went to college at Alabama, can't like the forecast), your pick on this game probably comes down to what you make of the Patriots going into the playoffs. They're 4-point underdogs at the Bills.

After that crazy win at Buffalo, the Patriots had a bye and then lost three of four. The only win came against an awful Jaguars team. Last week was troubling. The Patriots had a small shot to win the AFC East but lost 33-24 to the Dolphins in a game that was never in doubt. That's not the way you want to go into the playoffs.

We've seen the Patriots play rope-a-dope so often that it feels foolish to write them off, but usually the Patriots' struggles come early in the season, not right before the playoffs.

The Bills are what they are, generally leaving you wanting more, but still strong in plenty of advanced stats. The only time the past few months that we might have seen the best of the Bills this season, at least against decent competition, came in a 33-21 win over the Patriots in Week 16. The rest of the time they've been cruising against a soft schedule.

I'll take the Bills, because their potential is still tantalizing. The Patriots' late-season struggles might not matter that much, but it's also tough to ignore. If the Bills are going to show us their top gear, this is the time for it.

The Buffalo Bills, with Josh Allen, split the season series against the Patriots. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The Buffalo Bills, with Josh Allen, split the season series against the Patriots. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Here are the against-the-spread picks for the wild-card round, with the lines from BetMGM:

Bengals (-5.5) over Raiders

I wondered if the Bengals were making a bit of a mistake last week to rest a lot of players. They had momentum — if you believe in that — and a chance for the No. 2 seed. It worked out perfectly for them.

There's no bigger gap in the wild-card round between rested and not rested than this game. The Bengals took it easy and lost to the Browns last week. The Raiders played a must-win (or tie) game on Sunday night, which lasted all 70 minutes through overtime. The defense was on the field for 88 plays. For some perspective, no NFL team averaged more than 70 plays per game this season. Then they turn around and play the first game Saturday. Against a mostly rested Bengals team.

The Raiders have had a wild season and their rally to make the playoffs is one of the great stories of the season. I just wonder how much is left in the tank.

The Bengals are also the better team. They were on fire late in the season, with Joe Burrow hitting his stride. They already beat the Raiders 32-13 in Las Vegas earlier this season. Covering 5.5 points isn't too much to ask.

Eagles (+8.5) over Buccaneers

Weather could be a factor for the first game Sunday. According to WFTS in Tampa, rain is expected. It'll be "heavy at times then linger as light to moderate showers." Yahoo Weather forecasts a 90 percent chance of rain. The bigger problem could be wind, which WFTS says could be 20 mph with gusts up to 30 mph.

You'd think that might favor the Eagles, who led the NFL with 2,715 rushing yards this season.

The Buccaneers still have a good run defense, but not as dominant as last season. They allowed 4.3 yards per attempt, tied for 13th best in the NFL. They ranked 12th in Football Outsiders' run defense DVOA. It's a good front but the Eagles should feel they can run on it.

The injury news for Buccaneers players like pass rushers Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett, running back Leonard Fournette and linebacker Lavonte David has been pretty good so far. Getting some of them back will help. They'll still be without Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, and you have to assume we'll see the effects of that at some point. The Eagles should be able to keep it within a touchdown, especially if the weather is bad.

49ers (+3) at Cowboys

I broke down this game a bit earlier this week, and it comes down to this: It's probably the worst possible matchup for each team.

The 49ers are likely the best of any wild-card team, having won seven of nine with a defense on a great roll and an offense that has some great playmakers. The Cowboys are unusually talented for a team that is playing on wild-card weekend. This is a great game.

I'll go with the 49ers getting a field goal. They're going to cause some real issues for Dak Prescott. For as much as we gush about the Cowboys' pass rush, the 49ers had more sacks this season. Offensively, they'll need Jimmy Garoppolo to avoid crucial mistakes. That's often easier said than done against the Cowboys, but a mistake-free game from Garoppolo could lead to a San Francisco win.

Chiefs (-12.5) over Steelers

Often, historical trends mean nothing. I think this one makes sense though: Double-digit underdogs in the wild-card round are 2-8 all time. When a team is catching that many points, they're seriously flawed or have some bad injury issues. They'll be going up against (obviously) a playoff team and it's hard for those teams to keep it close. And in the history of the wild-card round, no team has ever been a bigger underdog than the Steelers this week.

We'll see teams that probably shouldn't be in the playoffs happen more often now that the NFL has expanded the playoffs. The Steelers are one of them. Pittsburgh did well to get to the playoffs, but it was a difficult road. They struggle to move the ball. We saw them play at Kansas City last month, and they were trailing 36-3 in the fourth quarter. I don't know why the rematch will be much different.

Rams (-4) over Cardinals

This might be the toughest game of the six, in terms of figuring out who to pick.

The Cardinals have lost four of five. Of course, the one win was at Dallas. How can you figure out a team whose last three outcomes are a loss to the Lions, a win over the Cowboys and a loss at home to the 7-10 Seahawks when they could have won the NFC West? The loss of DeAndre Hopkins has taken a big bite out of the offense. The Cardinals won 37-20 at the Rams, but that came all the way back in Week 4. The Cardinals aren't the same team as that one that won in Los Angeles.

The Rams aren't any more reliable. We want the Rams to be great, and they just aren't. Yet, anyway. They are turning it over a lot, with Matthew Stafford making a bad decision or two each week. If you could count on the Rams not turning it over here, they'd probably cover easily. But you can't count on that.

It's an unpredictable game, but the Rams are the better team lately. That's enough to pick them.

Last week: 11-5

Season to date: 153-118-1

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