NFL playoff predictions: Snap up underdogs in these four matchups

Home team in CAPS:


We can start with the coaches. Kyle Shanahan brings the Niners to the table, while Dallas is relying on Mike McCarthy. Which of these two worthies has made the more positive impression over the course of the present season? Exactly. Dallas is coming off an utter rout (51-26) of the Eagles in Philadelphia, but a number of the Eagles’ starters were being rested for this game.

Each of these franchises has racked up five Super Bowl wins, so you know institutional knowledge is strong. Up to this point, Dallas backers have most-recently shown more enthusiasm, so there’s a generous measure of +3.5 out there.

The Cowboys have bigger names at the key skill positions, but so long as 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo remains functional and upright, it’s difficult to resist pulling points with the likes of tight end George Kittle and wideout Deebo Samuel on call. And when the clock is running, I’d much-rather have Shanahan then McCarthy pulling the strings.

George Kittle
George Kittle

We all know which franchise is trotting out the superior roster, but this is in large part all about which side is going to be able to dictate the tempo — and for how long. Philadelphia is going to be looking to cash the franchises’ prevailing specialty: run the ball an inordinate percentage of the time, and eat the clock with relentless determination. Behind Jalen Hurts, the Eagles would love to reverse the 40-20 edge Tampa Bay had in time-of-possession in a 28-22 Week 6 win at Philadelphia. That is why so many of the Tampa Bay fanatics are looking for optimal tease opportunities this weekend.

If the Eagles actually score the first touchdown, this clash could swiftly devolve into an Australian Crawl, with Philly milking the clock for all it’s worth … leaving Tom Brady squirming on the Tampa Bay bench without a ball in his hands. The market tells us this is decidedly unlikely … but should it come to pass, Philly-Under paper could markedly swell in projected value, especially with rain expected.

Kansas City flogged the living daylights out of these Steelers in a 36-10 thrashing at Arrowhead Stadium in December … and Pittsburgh looked just that bad. That was then … this is now … and after sliding into the postseason by the skin of their teeth, the Steelers still doesn’t inspire overwhelming confidence, but at the price and under the circumstances … maybe, especially after Ben Roethlisberger went out of his way to sarcastically decry their prospects. This position is for the bravest in the audience, but for those addicted to cheap thrills, they might look to book a ticket on this ride.

The Chiefs have long been notorious for not covering hefty numbers a significant percentage of the time as chalk. Of course, the postseason is clearly a different animal, motivation-wise, and it’s not as if this matchup won’t have their full attention in their quest for another trophy … but these quick-revenge opportunities are worthy of sustained examination, especially in this double-digit price range.


Cardinals (+4) over RAMS

Los Angeles has had a high old time with Arizona in recent years (9-1 SU, of late), but the emergence of QB Kyler Murray for these Cardiac Cards have converted this unbalanced series into a competitive delight.

QB Matthew Stafford was acquired by the Rams from the Lions for a dear price, but his season-ending form has been disappointing: Stafford has nine interceptions the Rams’ last four games. The Cards have dropped just one road game this entire season, which reflects well on their preparation and focus when away from home.

Currently, Arizona maintains the knack of bringing its best shots under circumstances that could foil squads enjoying lesser focus. This speaks well for coach Kilff Kingsbury, who has coaxed improved records from his troops each year at the helm. The Cards have lost four of their past five, but they’re clearly not spoiled, and expect a rebound.

Last week: 8-6
Regular season: 126-118-2


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