No. 7 Eagles (9-8) at No. 2 Buccaneers (13-4), 1 p.m. (FOX)

Spread: Buccaneers by 9

Outlook: Tom Brady has started more postseason games (45) than this weekend’s 11 other starting quarterbacks combined (43). Now, Brady and NFC South champion Tampa Bay aim to be the first repeat Super Bowl winner in 17 years. Tampa only won by six, 28-22, on the road in a Week 6 regular-season meeting, but expect a much more comfortable Tampa win this time. The playoff-steeled Buccaneers are on a 7-0 run in January and have been great at home (7-1). Philly’s nine wins were against teams with a combined record of 53-99-1. That’s an awful lot of feasting on a lot of awful teams. Brady’s Bucs ain’t one of those.

Prediction: Buccaneers, 31-13

No. 6 49ers (10-7) at No. 3 Cowboys (12-5), 4:30 p.m. (CBS)


Spread: Cowboys by 3

Outlook: Both teams enter this one in good form, and are comparably strong on defense. But Dallas has a clear edge in scoring firepower, and Niners QB Jimmy Garoppolo playing through a thumb injury only magnifies that offensive disparity. I give San Fran a medium outright upset shot but ultimately I trust Dak Prescott and all his weaponry. This also has been a solid matchup lately for ’Boys, who are on a 6-1 run in series including three straight wins.

Prediction: Cowboys, 30-24

No. 7 Steelers (9-7-1) at No. 2 Chiefs (12-5), 8:15 p.m. (NBC)

Spread: Chiefs by 12 1/2

Outlook: Pittsburgh won its last two games to earn a playoff curtain call for Ben Roethlisberger, but the career road ends here for the retiring, Hall of Fame-headed QB. This is the one of six opening-round games where I give the underdog the least chance to win, partly because Pittsburgh hasn’t been a good road team (3-5), Arrowhead can be especially tough on visitors, and the Chiefs crushed the Steelers 36-10 the day after Christmas. Though another rout by Chiefs would not be a surprise, I expect a valiant effort by Mike Tomlin’s guys in Big Ben’s farewell game to keep the Steelers inside a big betting number.


Prediction: Chiefs, 28-17


No. 5 Cardinals (11-6) at No. 4 Rams (12-5), 8:15 p.m. Monday (ESPN)

Spread: Rams by 4

Outlook: My pick here – upset! – says don’t bet on it. This is NFL’s first Monday night playoff game since Dec. 26, 1998, and it pits division rivals who split their season series. Arizona stumbles in on a 1-4 skid, but has been a great road team (8-1), and the Rams’ 9-1 run in this rivalry feels like a trend due to end. The Cardinals hope to finally have back pass rusher J.J. Watt – out the past 10 games with a shoulder injury – which would provide a spiritual as much as a literal spark. The Cardinals this season are 7-0 when Watt starts, and 4-6 without him.

Prediction: Cardinals, 27-24

Bye week: Titans (12-5), Packers (13-4)

Week 18: 8-8 overall, 7-9 vs. spread

Overall: 172-99-1, 140-130-2 vs. spread

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.