NFL Playoff Preview- The Divisional Round
By Jack Robinson
Well…here we are again, how did you guys fair last week in the Wild Card Round? Probably don’t have to tell me, cause I know. The Public favorites went 2-6 against the spread and 2 of those favorites lost outright, one being a game I highlighted in last weeks article with Cleveland and Pittsburgh. We all saw what happened there, also keep in mind that Pitt had over 70% of the betting tickets/betting money and were being touted all week by the sports media outlets to win that game.
In this article we will breakdown the 4 games that will feature the best remaining teams in the NFL and look at some of the early betting lines and how they are moving across the markets.
1. Kansas City Chiefs vs. 6. Cleveland Browns
It is still early in the week and the lines are no where near matured yet but I don’t expect this one to deviate to much off the set lines. The Browns opened this one as a 9.5 point underdog but big money hitting Kansas City has quickly moved this to a double digit spread. Interestingly enough right now Cleveland has 54% of the betting tickets via The Action Network. This looks to me as a classic example of “the public always remembers what they saw last” and what is the last thing the public saw? The Browns clown stomping all over the heavily favored Steelers in Pittsburgh.
I would say not so fast, but the numbers on paper actually tend to favor the underdog Browns. Since 2005 home favorites in the divisional round of the playoffs on 13 days or more rest are just 2-19-1 against the spread. An even more alarming stat than that is since 2004 divisional underdogs are 22-11-1 ATS against number one seeds.
This will be the first time these two AFC foes will face each other this year and it will be a test for Cleveland Defensive Coordinator Joe Woods and his middle of the pack defensive unit as they face one of the best quarterbacks in the league and his star studded weapons on offense. Mahomes is 4-1 in the Playoffs with his only loss in overtime versus the Patriots in the 2018-2019 AFC Championship Game.
He will be going up against his old Texas Tech teammate in The Gunslinger Baker Mayfield who will be making his second ever playoff appearance for the upstart Browns in a true David versus Goliath type match up for the ages. There are a lot of interesting story lines in this game which I’m sure the broadcasters will bring up at one point or another…*cough* Kareem Hunt *cough*
Speaking of Cleveland running backs they will have an opportunity to take advantage of a Kansas City defense that was a weak spot for them for most of the year but have shored up in recent weeks pulling them up to 10th in the league. I personally think Hunt will have a chip on his shoulder in his return game to Arrowhead. Stefansky and Co will need to rely on these running backs to sustain long time consuming drives on a defense that gives up 4.5 yards per carry to opposing running backs.
This would be the most obvious game plan to keep the best offense in the NFL off the field, but a plan is easier said than done seeing that this game has the highest total of the weekend that opened at 55 and has already worked itself up to 57 to 57.5 across the markets. Best of luck with whatever you decide to do here, this will be a very emotional game on both sides of the field and I will continue to monitor the lines and the movement up until game time.
2. Buffalo Bills vs. 5. Baltimore Ravens
Last week Josh Allen and The Bills were able to take care of business versus Indianapolis where they ultimately won the game but were unable to the spread in a game that multiple coaching mistakes on the side of Indy. This week Buffalo will have another test as they are facing one of the best defenses in the league who put on a clinic last week against King Henry and Tennessee by generating 5 sacks and holding The Titans offense to only 209 total yards.
The Bills come into this game with the 4th best passing offense in the league in apart to their stud receivers in Stefon Diggs and the always reliable Cole Beasley. Last week the Indy defensive back core was somewhat depleted with injuries. This won’t be the case in game where Baltimore features some of the best overall corners in the league in Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith.
The total on this game opened a 49 points and has moved or is moving to 49.5 with the betting public and the sharps tracking on the over at the time of this article. Buffalo is in the middle of the pack this year in total team defense and will have their work cut out for them as a three point favorite versus a resurgent Lamar Jackson and Baltimore offense who put up 34, 42, 40, 27, and 38 points in their last 5 games of the regular season which has pushed them up to the 7th best offense in the league.
The spread on this game opened at 3 points and has since moved to 2.5 with the sharp money hammering on the road team. With this being said the Saturday Night feature game on NBC I expect this to be a game that will be decided within one score and give the viewers and the gamblers their monies worth on a game that I would expect to have at least 25k bets on it by game time.
Vegas will look to 50/50 the money and the tickets with multiple half point line moves before kickoff. If you are going to go with the home team the best case scenario would be to dump those points and take Buffalo on the money line. If you are on the road dog angle you would take The Ravens at plus 3 or better. Best of luck on what ever you decide to do.
1. Green Bay Packers vs. 6. Los Angeles Rams
Okay…here is how I’m going to start this segment off… Aaron Rodgers has a 64% winning percentage against the spread in his career at Lambeau Field, that is a 61-35-4 record. Even more on Rodgers is that he is 3-0 straight up and against the spread versus The Rams when the temperature is at or below freezing. An even more remarkable stat is that Rodgers has a 74% winning percentage in the regular season and post season at Lambeau when the temperature is at or below freezing 28-10-1. The temperature in Green Bay is going to be around 30 degrees Fahrenheit at kickoff and drop from there.
The spread opened on this game as The Packers as a 7 point favorite but has since dropped to 6.5 with the the tickets and money favoring the home team at almost 60% on both which tells me that there is some substantial money on The Rams to put this line into reverse but this could also be another Vegas trick to sink more public bettors on to Green Bay.
My friend John Ewing put out a tweet today that The Packers are the most bet on team across all the legalized states. This also puts Green Bay squarely as the team that is supposed to win or at least cover the spread right? But not so fast, The LA Rams have the best defensive unit in the NFL and rank in the top 5 of most defensive categories. Most notably in points allowed (1),total yards (1), passing yards (1), sacks (2) and touchdowns (1).
This circles us back to the should be MVP of the NFL Aaron Rodgers who has a 70.7% completion ratio with 48 touchdowns against 5 interceptions. Rodgers averages 2.2 touchdowns per game and his TD prop for Saturday is juiced up to -225 over 1.5 via Draft Kings.
This game total opened at 47 points and during the course of the week has dropped to around 45.5. I suspect this is partly due to the freezing temperatures and most likely the heavy big money that is being placed on the under that is at 65% right now but the betting public is hitting on the over at 55%. Keep in mid Green Bay is one of the best first half teams in the league in team totals and spreads.
What I’m more interested in is how Jared Goff (who is coming off thumb surgery 3 weeks ago) will acclimate to the cold weather environment in Green Bay. The Rams typically have a high powered offense but they have been struggling in recent weeks under the direction of offensive minded head coach Sean Mcvay who runs the fastest paced offense in the league but this year have been relying more on the defense than a system based offense that ranks in the middle of the league in most categories.
I personally think this line is going to be sharp on either the spread or the total and it will be best to look at a play within the lines, what I mean by that is to look for a first half or second half play on this game based on where the odds makers are setting them. Always remember to use your gut and intuition when placing your wagers, cause those casinos weren’t built off winners, they are built off losers.
2. New Orleans Saints vs. 5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tom Brady versus Drew Brees…what a great feature game we are going to get in this one Sunday afternoon. This is the last game of the day and the featured game of the weekend on Fox Network. These two divisional foes have played twice before this year in September and early November and The Saints won and covered the spread in both of those games.
It will be a little bit different this time as these two teams are playing for a shot at the NFC Championship Game.
Tampa Bay is 5-2 against the spread since the last time these two teams faced off and Tampa figured out some defense under Todd Bowles who has managed to put together one of the best rushing defenses in the NFL.
They will need it on Sunday as they will be facing one of the best backs in the league in Alvin Kamara. This year Kamara has mustered only 56 rushing yards and 2 red zone touchdowns versus the Tampa Bay defense. A lot of people like to say games are won in the trenches and I think that will ring true with this game as well with both teams boasting top 10 offensive lineman rankings as well as the defensive side.
The spread on this game opened at 3.5 in favor of the home team but has since moved back to 3 points with the bettors trending on the road underdog with over 50% of the betting tickets and the money. The total on this game opened at 50.5 and has moved up to 52 with the public bettors hammering on the over at 77%.
The old saying is that you never fade Brady in the playoffs but Brady isn’t playing for The Patriots anymore.
This one guy has effectively turned one of the most non bet on teams into one of the most bet on teams and for good reason, this team is the 8th best team in the league and boast a 6-2 record on the road against the spread.
Remember that this is the Sunday Night Featured game of the week and I will expect this game to have story lines and stats all over it, just like in the other games I have mentioned before we can find a break in the algorithms in order to get a win. There are 12 pre game bets that we can make not including props. Best of luck to you all and hopefully we can all profit.
(Statistical credits to @FuckDaBookies, John Ewing, @cincitySI, and The Action Network)