NFL Playoff Preview
By Jack Robinson
The Playoffs are finally upon us and this year with a slightly different format than years past as 2 extra teams are being included in this expanded format. This is good for us as sports handicappers and gamblers for an extra opportunity to make some money or put out winning picks. I personally look forward to the Playoffs because unlike the regular season the odds makers and Vegas don’t have a lot of time to get the lines set up as opposed to the regular season where they have weeks and months to get them set up.
The pandemic has made this NFL season unlike any other in history with Covid protocols, contact tracing, and postponed games. We have seen receiving cores, defensive rosters, and even whole offensive backfields having to opt out of games which has in turned played havoc with the Vegas lines and turn three point underdogs into touchdown favorites. I expect this trend to continue as we move forward into these playoffs. Let’s jump in and take a look at some of the upcoming games and how the brackets are set up.
One of the best things I love about the road to the Super Bowl is that we will getting the very best out of the players and coaches. This generally makes for very sharp lines and heavily bet on games. With the format this year we will get two extra games on wildcard weekend which differs from years past where the 2 seed generally gets a bye in the first round. This year they will have to earn their spot into the next round. Below is the seeding for AFC and NFC Conference. We will then break the games down from there.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (bye)
2. Buffalo Bills vs. 7. Indianapolis Colts
This is a classic offense verses defense match up and the first time a number 2 seed will be playing the first round. The odds makers have opened this line at seven points in favor of Buffalo who are the AFC East Division Champion. Under direction of first year head coach Sean McDermott they have amassed an impressive 13-3 record on the year and one of the most prolific offenses in the league averaging 31.3 points per game. Buffalo also boasts the 4th hardest schedule in the league.
Offensive standouts quarterback Josh Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs will have their work cut out for them on Saturday when they face one of the top defenses in the league in the Indianapolis Colts who are ranked in the top 10 in most categories. Notably in the the in running and passing game where they rank 7th in the league in both of these categories. They also rank 4th in interceptions.
This defense will be put to the test this week as they have been dealing with multiple injuries in the defensive backfield which could make a difference in this game. I honestly think that game will make or break Phillip Rivers legacy as a quarterback. He has been in these type of spots many times in his storied career but always came up short. He has a chance to shift public perception on Saturday…can he do it? I guess we will find out.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers vs. 6. Cleveland Browns
This will be the third time these 2 teams will play this month and it will be the first Cleveland playoff appearance since Moby Dick was a minnow and the biggest game of Baker Mayfields NFL career. Interestingly enough about this game is that it is the NFL Feature Game for Sunday and getting the prime time slot. This has a spread that originally opened at 3.5 points but during the course of the week it has now ballooned up to 6 points and I expect it to keep moving the way it is, partly due to the Browns training facility being closed and also due to everyone laying their money on Pittsburgh.
Cleveland has historically had massive issues with their AFC North rival boasting a 12-45-1 record since 1990 and an 0-2 record all time versus Pittsburgh in the playoffs. To me this is probably the most intriguing game of the weekend with the fact the the amount of times these two teams have seen each other recently and that they are making this particular game the NBC Sunday Night Game of the Week.
4. Tennessee Titans vs. 5. Baltimore Ravens
Lamar Jackson and Company head out as 3.5 point road favorites to face a sneaky good Titans team in Nashville to open the Sunday slate of games. The Ravens with Jackson under center have been known for putting up points in recent years and that is no different this year as Baltimore is averaging 29.3 points per game against the 3rd hardest schedule in the league. A trend with this team is that typically when they can cover their 1st quarter and 1st half team totals they are usually in the drivers seat to win the game, when this team is down by 2 scores or more they have issues coming back.
Vegas has this line set somewhat high at 55 points on the total. These two teams combined for 54 points on November 22nd on a 50.5 point line where The Titans came out victorious in a 2nd half effort. This is the Playoffs though not the regular season and Derrick Henry and the Titans will look to get back to the AFC Championship game this year by taking down a team they beat last year in the divisional round…This time as a home underdog.
1. Green Bay Packers (bye)
2. New Orleans Saints vs. 7. Chicago Bears
The playoffs are a familiar place for Drew Brees and The NFC South Champion Saints where they will be taking on the 7th seeded Chicago Bears as heavy 10.5 point home favorites but as of late that has been ticking back a bit down to around 10 points. Not a big deal some might think but with 89% of the money squarely on New Orleans this is causing reverse line movement on the spread as it should be moving to 11 points.
Early in the season the Bears had one of the most inept offenses I have ever seen out of a plus .500 ball club. This was mostly due to zero run game and inadequate quarterback play, but with the resurgence of running back David Montgomery this has opened up the playbook for Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor who will have his work cut out for him as The Saints feature the 4th best rushing D in the league averaging 87.8 yards per game at home this season.
The Bears lost in overtime in the only time these two faced this year in Chicago with Nick Foles as the quarterback and covered a five point spread. Can Trubisky and Company pull off the upset or even cover the spread in The Big Easy? I guess we will find out.
3. Seattle Seahawks vs. 6. Los Angeles Rams
We get ourselves another interesting match up between two NFC West rivals that finished the season #1 and #2 in their division. These two teams are 1-1 straight up on the year and also 1-1 ATS on the year. The Rams are a 4.5 point under dog coming into the game Saturday in Seattle I think that this line will settle into the 3 point range come game time as this is a very even looking game on paper. Like I said earlier the playoffs are a different animal.
The usually reliable Seahawks offense has dipped into the middle of the pack in points scored after being in the top five in the first part of the season. This is vice versa for the defense that started off poorly but has been resurgent in recent weeks anchored by veteran line backer Bobby Wagner.
I honestly think that big plays are going to make or break this game where we have two of the best receivers in the league in Metcalf and Lockett going up against the number one corner back in Jalen Ramsey and a ball hawking Rams secondary. This will most likely be one of the most entertaining games of the weekend and fall right into the set lines.
4. Washington Football Team vs. 5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bruce Arians said it best, “Washington is not the same football team with Alex Smith under center”. With this statement you know that Brady and the boys are not over looking the NFC East Champion. This game has been pegged as the Saturday Night prime time game on NBC. The pregame story lines on this game are going to run rampant…Tom Brady…The Alex Smith comeback…etc. all of that is awesome and fun but as sports handicappers we have to read between those public perceptions and figure out why things are set up the way they are.
Oddly enough this will be the first time these two teams have faced each other all year. The Vegas line opened at 8 points on the heavy road favorite who finished 2nd in their division with an 11-5 record but have to make the northward trip to Washington and face the Champion of the worst division in the NFL.
Tampa has the best rushing defense in the league and only averages 63 yards per game to opposing offenses, this will put added pressure on Alex Smith and the Washington offense to try to generate points. On the other hand Tampa Bay has one of the best 1st half offenses in the league covering their 1st half teams totals at over 70% on the year. Washington is no slouch on defense as they are top 10 in the league and with a total set at around 44 points. I would expect a hard nosed competitive ball game here.
Best of luck with whatever you decide to do and my plays will be posted across the social media platforms. You can also subscribe to my product page at https://pickscity.com/product/jack-robinson/