NFL picks against the spread: OK, Cowboys, it's now or never to make a playoff run

At some point the Dallas Cowboys became an SEC team. Rather, their fan base became an SEC fan base.

Every game is a referendum on the team. Every loss is the end of the world and more proof that the coach and quarterback need to go. A playoff loss means it's time to burn everything down.

All NFL discussion has a level of irrationality because of the passion involved. When it comes to the Cowboys, that increases by 10 percent. Maybe 20.

All 14 playoff teams have pressure to advance, but the Cowboys are in the hottest cauldron. As everyone has heard by now, the Cowboys haven't advanced past the divisional round since the 1995 season. This season, when they have the No. 2 seed and wouldn't have to play on the road until the NFC championship game at the earliest, is a great chance to break that streak.

This is the type of Cowboys team that can make a deep run, too. They were 8-0 at home. They scored an NFL-best 509 points. Dallas has a playmaking defense that was top five in points allowed and yards allowed. The Cowboys turned into a mediocre team on the road, but we don't have to worry about that for a couple weeks.

Every game in the playoffs is must-win obviously, but that hits a little different in Dallas.

The Green Bay Packers are big underdogs for a good reason. Their defense has allowed big games to offenses much worse than the Cowboys. Jordan Love finished the season well but this is still his first playoff experience, and it comes on the road against a very good defense.

The Cowboys can't afford to start the playoffs slow with all eyes on them. I'll go with Dallas as a 7-point favorite. It's scary to lay a touchdown in a playoff game, but the Cowboys have been a wagon at home. And they can't afford to lose.

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

Texans (+2) over Browns

The common refrain over the final few weeks of the season, as we desperately searched for more than two or three true Super Bowl contenders, was that the Browns were in that group. That's probably why the Browns are favored in this game. Maybe they shouldn't be.

The Texans are a much better team at home and the Browns are a lot worse on the road. Maybe that win at Houston is a sign of things to come, but the Texans aren't going to let Amari Cooper go off for 265 yards like he did in the first meeting. An injury to Browns cornerback Denzel Ward in practice on Thursday doesn't help Cleveland, either.

Perhaps the Browns' defense makes C.J. Stroud look average (he missed a Week 16 game, which the Browns won 36-22), but I'm not worried about the rookie shrinking in his first playoff moment. Last week's game against the Colts was practically a playoff game and Stroud was excellent. And while the Joe Flacco story has been great, it wouldn't be a big surprise if he has a bad game this month. Maybe it'll happen on Saturday.

Dolphins (+4.5) over Chiefs

There are plenty of reasons to go against the Dolphins. They have key injuries. Their record against good teams this season is poor. They're a South Florida team playing in what might be below-zero temperatures.

But we might be overlooking how mediocre the Chiefs have been.

It's not like the Chiefs will be comfortable playing in frigid temperatures just because they live in it. The cold weather might neutralize the Chiefs' biggest edge, which is still Patrick Mahomes. If the Chiefs' receivers drop passes in normal weather conditions, how will they be when the ball is a frozen rock? It's also not like the Chiefs have been great against top competition this season.

I don't see there being a huge difference between the teams. The Chiefs laying anything more than a field goal seems like too much, and I think the Dolphins have a shot to win straight up.

Steelers (+10) over Bills

At this point, I'm buying that the wind in Buffalo will be unbearable. That's why the total moved from 43 to 35.5 earlier this week. That's a massive shift.

That could help the Steelers. If there are 50 mph gusts, that is brutal for both offenses. Josh Allen might be better equipped to throw it in those conditions than Mason Rudolph, but it also affects Allen's effectiveness. And that's what the Bills rely on each week.

This game could be ugly. And it's hard to lay double-digit points in an ugly, low-scoring game.

Rams (+3) over Lions

Sam LaPorta's knee injury was the key talking point after the Lions played their starters in Week 18. That allowed the defense's issues to fly under the radar.

The Lions' secondary is not playing well. Minnesota Vikings quarterback Nick Mullens played twice against the Lions in the past three weeks, and he had 807 passing yards. Yes, that Nick Mullens. In Week 17, Dak Prescott threw for 345 against Detroit. Now the Lions have to face a rested Matthew Stafford, rested Cooper Kupp and record-breaking rookie Puka Nacua (and a rested Kyren Williams on the ground).

Detroit's crowd will be great and that might make a big difference. The Lions are a good team even if LaPorta doesn't play (though it's looking like he has a good chance to). But the Rams seem set up to get a lot of yards and points. Los Angeles has a shot at the upset. It's a bad matchup for Detroit.

Eagles (-3) over Buccaneers

It's hard to take the Eagles. They've been awful for six weeks. They look checked out, and took on injuries to Jalen Hurts and A.J. Brown that could affect either or both on Monday night.

And yet, it's hard to take the Buccaneers, too.

Tampa Bay couldn't score a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers last week. The week before, they were shut out at home against the Saints until the final eight minutes after they'd fallen behind 20-0. A couple of garbage-time touchdowns against the Saints is all Tampa Bay has produced in two weeks. It looks like Baker Mayfield's injuries have caught up to him and the Bucs' offense has run out of gas as a result.

Let's go with Philadelphia, though the Eagles are giving off signs that they have no interest in this season continuing any longer than it has to.

Last week: 8-8

Season to date: 139-129-8