Picks of the Week: AFC wildcard games

Wednesday, 01 January 2020 12:39 EST

The best part of the NFL playoffs from a bettor’s perspective? Putting week 17, which should really never be bet on, behind us. NFLbets don’t have to complain about the outgoing Oakland Raiders’ no-show in Denver or Jameis Winston and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers ending the season as only they could – and we don’t have to address the true underlying problem, i.e. *don’t ever fucking bet week 17 games and expect to win*.

So since we’re past all that – no one digs a bad beat story, anyway – we need to start crunching the numbers on the AFC wildcard round games to salvage silly losses. First up, of course, is…

Buffalo Bills +2½ at Houston Texans, over/under 43½ points

Clearly the gut reaction here is to skip betting on the point spread and go straight to the under: These Bills have been winning on borrowed cash for most of the season: After starting 8-3-1 ATS, they closed out with a 1-3 stumbling. And once more, this bears repeating – and will be again below: Based on 2017 records, Buffalo (along with New England) entered the season with the easiest schedule. The Bills were a lowly 1-3 SU/ATS against playoff teams in 2019, and the sole win came at Tennessee in week 5, when the Titans were still running with some dude named Marcus Mariota at QB. This makes betting on the Bills highly suspect.

Meanwhile, the Texans have been maddeningly inconsistent – or perfectly consistent, if one chooses to take the optimistic viewpoint – this season. Not once did the Texans win SU/ATS more than two games consecutively and never lost SU/ATS back-to-back. A string of 2-1 runs comprised Houston’s entire season in ’19, and the Texans closed out the season with a loss albeit playing some second-stringers. Can we bet on Houston taking this game SU/ATS, followed by a win at, likesay, Kansas City? Sure – that’s totally believable, but we’ll need more to hang a 10-gallon hat on here.

The problem is that said thing may be Will Fuller, and the man’s currently listed as “questionable” after getting limited practice this week. In games wherein Fuller has five or more receptions, the Texans are 6-1 SU/ATS; when getting five or fewer receptions, they’re 2-2; and without Fuller altogether, Houston is 2-3. Tough ask.

So … how about that under? With Buffalo bringing a notable defense – regardless of relative difficulty of schedule – which ranked no. 6 in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric for the 2019 regular-season after ranking second in ’18. The under was 12-4 in Bills games (and oddly enough 0-2 against the Miami Dolphins), though just 9-7 in the Texans’. Further note that under 43½ points in all Texans games would be 8-4.

NFLbets doesn’t necessarily like jumping on a bandwagon that every NFL bettor appears to be hammering, in the case driving the over/under down 1½ points in the first 72 hours. But with Fuller certainly less than 100%, the general tendency for conservativism among head coaches in the playoffs and the Bills D, we’re saying take the under on an O/U of 43½ points.

Tennessee Titans +4½ at New England Patriots, over/under 44 points

First off, all good things come to an end ¬– Dominant sports franchises, too. Clearly the betting public is not behind this sentiment, however, as this line has gone from Titans +3 or +3½ to its current +4½ and may yet hit +5½ before kickoff. NFLbets wonders why save for tradition – and the proper NFL bettor has no space for history – as since bringing in Ryan Tannehill at QB, the Titans are 7-3 SU (6-3-1 ATS) and on a 5-2 SU/ATS run including a 2-1 SU/ATS mark against playoff teams.

On the other side, the New England Patriots are bringing lots of reputation, the league’s no. 1 defense per DVOA and … one seriously trashed offense that might’ve found positive use in a bye week. After starting the season 8-0 SU (6-2 ATS) in a run which included one playoff side (Buffalo, naturally), the Patriots are a mediocre 3-4 SU (2-5 ATS), including 0-3 SU/ATS against over-.500 teams. Atop this is the fact that the Patriots managed not more than 22 points in four games against playoff squads.

New England enters the postseason limping through a 1-4 ATS jag. Further confidence-weakening is the Patriots’ 32nd-most “difficult” schedule per DVOA.

(For the record, Buffalo’s schedule ranked 31st most difficult, and Baltimore’s the 30th.)

Now all right, we know. It’s the Patriots, “Touchdown Tom” Brady and Bill “The Dark Emperor” Belichick: New England has amassed a 30-10 SU record, though this drops to a more reasonable 21-18-1 ATS, 16-15-1 as favorites and 10-7-1 when favored by 7 or more points. Additionally historically speaking (writing?), Tennessee savior Tannehill is just 4-7 SU/ATS against Belichick’s Patriots and, insanely enough, 0-6 SU/ATS in Foxboro while 4-1 in home games – of course, these records were all run up with quite poor Miami Dolphins teams. And as compared with the B&Bs’ extensive playoff history, Titans head coach Mike Vrabel is exactly 0-0 lifetime.

But how much can we take from history? None too much, NFLbets would suggest. If NFL bettors could erase memories and consider the stats without socio-historical economic weight, everything is lining up Tennessee. Momentum going into the playoffs is one matter, but if a chink exists in New England’s defense armor exists, it’s in the run game. In the season’s second half, the Patriots have surrendered some 7 rushing TDs and 100+ yards in a game five times.

In the final eight games when allowing a rushing TD or over 100 yards on the ground, New England was a lowly 1-4 SU/ATS; in the first half of 2019, that record was 6-0 SU (5-1 ATS). The Titans are bringing Derrick Henry, who’s been good for 102.7 yards per game and 5.1 per carry.

Aaaaand back to history: We’ve all been told ad nauseum that Belichick’s strategy week to week may be summed up simply, i.e. his plan calls to neutralize the opposition’s chief weapon. This time out, though, the Pats D may be too hurt. Jamie Collins and Patrick Chung will likely play but are certainly dinged up and were exploited as such in last week’s game against Miami; playing hurt as well will be CBs Jason McCourty and Jon Jones.

NFLbets doesn’t blame you for not getting with us on this one necessarily, but to take the Tennessee Titans +4½ (or more) at New England. We’re also advising bettors take the under on an O/U of 44 points. Finally, we’re betting all three lines this week in a 6½-point teaser, good for a +150 payout.

NFLbets’ Picks of the Week last week: 0-2.
NFLbets’ this season, all recommended bets: 58-44-1.

–written by Os Davis

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