NFL picks against the spread: Can the Cowboys pull off upset against red-hot 49ers?

For two teams that aren’t in the same division, there’s a lot of history between the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers.

There was “The Catch.” All those great games in the 1990s. Last season we had the 49ers going into Dallas on wild-card weekend and pulling off the upset. We remember the Cowboys’ weird decision to run a quarterback draw on the final play of that game.

The 49ers got the upset win last year. This time, maybe it will be Dallas’ turn.

It’s strange to see the Cowboys be this good and not get a lot of accolades for it. Maybe everyone is tired of their playoff failures, or tired of the Cowboys in general. But they won 12 games in the regular season and had a dominant win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night. The 2022 Buccaneers weren’t very good, but it’s still impressive to destroy another playoff team the way Dallas did. The Cowboys were good all season. The win on Monday night was just an extension of that.

The 49ers are probably the best team in the NFL at the moment, but that doesn’t mean they’re unbeatable. Any of the six top teams remaining can win a Super Bowl (sorry Giants and Jaguars). San Francisco is undeniably good but Dallas has the ingredients to pull the upset.

The biggest factor could be quarterback. Brock Purdy’s story has been remarkable and because of the scheme and his teammates, we shouldn’t assume he’s a fluke. But he’s also not as accomplished as Dak Prescott. Prescott showed again on Monday night that he’s one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL. He had interception issues this season but is still capable of delivering big games. Purdy is playing well but he hasn’t seen a defense like Dallas yet. San Francisco has the best defense in the NFL but Dallas isn’t far behind. Dallas' defense ranked No. 2 this season in Football Outsiders' DVOA. The Cowboys have the front four to get pressure on Purdy and force him into some mistakes, which he has mostly avoided to this point.

Dallas is good and has been for most of the season. Too much attention was paid to the Cowboys’ Week 18 loss to the Washington Commanders. That didn’t erase the rest of an impressive regular season. Dallas is a 3.5-point underdog vs. the 49ers and I’ll take the Cowboys. They have the ability to pull off the upset and advance to the NFC championship game. The 49ers have been very good, and we’ve heard a lot about it. The Cowboys have been really good too, and somehow that has been ignored.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) has a big challenge against a good 49ers defense. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) has a big challenge against a good 49ers defense. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Here are the picks against the spread for the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, with odds from BetMGM:

Jaguars (+8.5) over Chiefs

If we remove the circumstances and the jokes about the Los Angeles Chargers, let's boil down last week like this for Jacksonville: The Jaguars won a playoff game, as an underdog, with a minus-five turnover differential. That’s impressive. It's the sign of a team that is capable of beating just about anyone.

The Jaguars have a lot of 2021 Bengals vibes. They have a good, young quarterback in Trevor Lawrence who is ascending. The Jaguars have won six in a row after an up-and-down first few months of the season. They barely won a wild-card playoff game and now go against the No. 1 seed. Of course, the Chiefs are better than last season’s AFC No. 1 seed, which was the Titans. But the Jaguars are the exact type of team that can get hot and make an unexpected playoff run.

Even if the Jaguars don’t win straight up — it's foolish to completely discount that possibility, by the way — the Chiefs aren’t great at covering spreads. Kansas City was one of the worst teams in the NFL against the spread this season, not because the Chiefs are overrated but because oddsmakers inflate their spreads. Kansas City is a popular team for casual bettors, with Patrick Mahomes and an offense that can look spectacular at times. It’s a hard team to bet against, even if recent history says fading them is a smart play.

At very least, the Jaguars can keep it close. Lawrence can put up points on the Chiefs defense. Maybe that just means the backdoor cover possibility is in play. Either way, the spread is a bit too high. And I won’t rule out the straight up upset either.

Eagles (-7.5) over Giants

It’s hard to discount the Giants, who were getting better late in the season and carried that into the playoffs. But let’s not forget how good the Eagles are. They’re 14-1 when Jalen Hurts starts at quarterback.

There is a question about Hurts’ health after he dealt with a shoulder injury, but I’m going to assume he’ll be fine. Perhaps early in Saturday’s game he’ll look like less than himself, but he wasn’t listed on the injury report this week.

The Eagles are simply much better than the Giants. That’s no disrespect against the Giants, who had a very good regular season and a playoff win that gives them a lot of hope over what’s to come next. But they’re still building, and they don’t get to face the Minnesota Vikings defense again this week. The Eagles are what the Giants and most other teams are aspiring to be. They had a great regular season and a fantastic shot to win a Super Bowl. Philadelphia is rested, at home and is the better team. This could be a blowout.

Bengals (+5.5) over Bills

Like the Chiefs, the Bills’ spreads have been inflated most of this season. This spread seems too high.

I don't think the Bills were better than the Bengals over the past month or so of the season. Cincinnati has been playing at a very high level. Buffalo has been good but it has been a while since it looked like a special team. The teams seem fairly even. The Bengals struggled last week against the Baltimore Ravens, but the Ravens defense matches up very well against the Cincinnati offense. I don’t have much concern about how the Bengals barely escaped with a win last week.

There is the matter of Cincinnati’s offensive line, which could be without three starters. It’s hard to back a team dealing with a significant cluster injury at a key spot like that. But the Bengals made a Super Bowl last season with a bad offensive line. Maybe they can figure it out again.

This seems like a great game between two equally matched teams and a spread of 5.5 points seems too high for that. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Bengals win straight up. It was brief, but we saw the Bengals moving the ball just fine against the Bills a few weeks ago, in the game cancelled due to Damar Hamlin’s cardiac emergency. It should be a tight game. Regardless of which team wins, it seems like a field goal will decide it.

Last week: 6-0

Season to date: 144-127-4