Some people prefer the divisional round of the playoffs as the best weekend of the NFL calendar, and perhaps in all of sports.
It makes sense. We get eight fantastic teams, including the four top seeds, in a one-and-done setting. Some prefer Super Bowl Sunday, conference championship weekend or even the night of the first round of the NFL draft (I pick Week 1 of the regular season for peak NFL, and the first week of March Madness as the best on the sports calendar, but to each their own). But this is undeniably a special weekend in the football world.
Wild-card weekend isn’t bad either, and it delivered last week. We had a couple of overtime games and all four contests were close deep into the fourth quarter. Houston was the only home team to win, and it needed an exceptional rally and a great play by Deshaun Watson in overtime to do it.
Will there be more surprises this weekend? Let’s look at the against the spread picks, with the lines coming from BetMGM:
Vikings (+7) over 49ers: Of all the teams that played last weekend, the Vikings stood out as the one ready to make a run.
This is not your typical No. 6 seed. Everyone gave up on Minnesota when it played poorly against Green Bay in a Week 16 “Monday Night Football” game, but the Vikings didn’t have Dalvin Cook. They’re 11-4 with Cook in the lineup. He changes everything and he looked very good last week.
Kirk Cousins can play with less pressure on his shoulders after last week’s win at the Saints. The health of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs is scary, but if they’re fine this is a dynamic, diverse offense.
This isn’t a pick against the 49ers. They’re a very good team and any thoughts about them being fluky were answered months ago. But I’m going to take the Vikings to win straight up. I’ve felt for most of the season the Vikings are underrated, and their win at New Orleans was very impressive. Someone is going to get upset this weekend, after all.
Titans (+9.5) over Ravens: This is a more tepid pick on the underdog.
The Ravens are a dominant team. At some point, if they win a couple games, there will be more talk about them being a historically great team. They profile as a top-20 all-time team, or better. Facts are facts.
Yet, the Titans are also a pretty good team. Their defense is underrated, they finally figured out Derrick Henry is special, and while you can be skeptical of Ryan Tannehill after last week, overall he has been very good for Tennessee. Taking the Titans is a vote of confidence that Tannehill rebounds and looks like he did in the regular season, which is scary. Hopefully we get a close game.
Chiefs (-10) over Texans: It would be easy to pick all four underdogs this weekend, but I believe in the Chiefs.
Houston had such a slow start against Buffalo, and a better and more experienced team might have put them away. The Deshaun Watson factor is scary because he seems capable of anything. He could make this a closer game than it should be.
But the Chiefs look good. Their defense is improving at a rapid rate. They’re not the 2015 Broncos or anything, but they’re good enough for the Chiefs to win some games in the postseason. Patrick Mahomes and the offense should benefit from a week off. We all know that Kansas City can score.
The Chiefs are my pick to win the Super Bowl, and I think they’ll show why Sunday.
Seahawks (+4.5) over Packers: Truth be told, I don’t love either of these teams.
The Seahawks have gotten by with an insane and unsustainable record in close games. Those are usually coin-flips, and Seattle is 11-2 in those contests. Last week they struggled to put away the Eagles, who were playing with a 40-year-old Josh McCown who had a torn hamstring.
The Packers aren’t all that impressive either. They were 13-3, but so many weeks they’d leave everyone wanting more. This isn’t a typical Packers team that can just pull away with Aaron Rodgers piling up yards and touchdowns. They’re 13-3 and one win from an NFC championship game and that’s all that matters, but they don’t look like your typical 13-3 team either.
Basically, because I see flaws in each team, I’m taking the points. Make it three underdog picks this weekend, and hopefully some great games.
Last week: 2-1-1
Season to date: 123-132-5
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