Betting profitably in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs in any season shouldn’t be too difficult – in a typical season. Through the past 10 years’ worth of divisional games, the favorite is an unsurprising 29-11 SU, but just 19-21 ATS which works out to very nearly exactly 3-1 SU/2-2 ATS annually.
Unfortunately, a closer look shows a reality far messier year to year: Four times, favorites only managed a split in the divisional round, but in three years swept the underdogs and the remaining three got a 3-1 SU result. Making things easier for NFL bettors is the remarkable consistency favorites hit. Since year 2000, only once have favorites gone 1-3 in a single divisional round and that was in 2009 – following the season in which Tom Brady was taken out in week 1 and Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots missed the playoffs.
Divisional-round favorites are naturally even more consistent: Favorites have neither swept nor been swept ATS in this century. And favorites are currently on a blistering run in this round: After a brief run of 1-4 SU/ATS in 2017-18, top dogs are 8-1 SU/6-3 ATS.
Adding the numbers gives NFLbets boundaries, a frame of reference in which to bet this weekend’s games. We’re confident enough in our pick for Tampa Bay Buccaneers-New Orleans Saints on Sunday night – in fact, we’ll more than likely be doubling down on ol’ Touchdown Tom provided Covid doesn’t torch Tampa Bay’s roster – to figure we’ve got the minimum number of SU “upsets” set. But can any of this round’s other underdogs cover the spread? Things don’t look great in the weekend’s dream offense vs defense matchup…
If you ask NFLbets, the best money in this game would be in the proposition bet “number of players to throw a pass”, a staple in Super Bowl betting; we’d be willing to take the over on as high a line as 3½. Blake Bortles seems an extremely likely substitute for Jared “Pinthumb” Goff, particularly if the Rams are getting blown out at halftime. Meanwhile, we’re figuring Sean McVay will have to depend on at least a bit of trickery with such onus on the defense to win ballgames. (P.S. Johnny Hekker has yet to throw a pass in 2020-21 after averaging nearly 3 attempts per in his first eight seasons.)
In all seriousness then, the pertinent questions become a) How many points will the Packers score and b) To what extent can Aaron Rodgers & Co. be contained?
Exactly what can contain this Green Bay team, which is currently enjoying a crazy 8-1 SU/5-3-1 ATS run in which their only loss was in overtime at Indianapolis. At 13-3 SU, the Packers lost just once by more than 6 points – at Tampa Bay in week 6, certainly to be brought up ad nauseum should we get the rematch in the NFC Championship.
And if you think weather could be a factor, consider that in 31 games played at 30°F or colder, Rodgers’s Packers are 24-7 SU and a sick 20-10-1 ATS; further denying expectations is the over, which has hit in 22 of the 37 games. Snow is not expected in Green Bay until Sunday, but since Bortles may arrive on Saturday, we’re thinking the Packers win handily; no upset here. Take the Green Bay Packers -7 vs the Los Angeles Rams.
To double down or not to double down…? With bets on Buffalo to win the AFC Championship (at 6/1) and the Super Bowl (8/1), the smart play for NFLbets here would be to take the Ravens plus the 2½ and be done with it – but we’d be foolish not to consider the alternatives...
Truth is that even a few weeks ago, few bettor would think twice about giving the points in favor of the home team but after a too-close-for-comfort win over the Indianapolis Colts in a wildcard game, the Buffalo bandwagon emptied faster than you can say “Leon Lett is a no-good showboat.”
NFLbets isn’t exactly sure why. The truth is, the Colts put up 473 yards of offense with zero turnovers and enjoyed an absolutely terrible fourth-quarter performance from the Buffalo defense and still couldn’t pull out the win. The Bills are now on a 10-1 SU/8-3 ATS run; they’re 4-2 SU/3-3 ATS against playoff teams in 2020-21 and haven’t lost to one since the Chiefs game in week 6.
But nearly as hot are the Ravens with streaks of 6-0 SU and 7-0 ATS, though the win over the Tennessee Titans was their first against a playoff team since week 11, bringing their record against contenders up to 4-4 SU/ATS for the season. Additionally, the Ravens have averaged a big 34.6 over the aforemtioned six-game run, albeit against defenses including Dallas, Cincinnati and Jacksonville.
Then there’s the weather (sensing a theme here…?). Upstate New York is looking at a situation like Wisconsin’s: No show or precipitation is due for game time, but temperatures in the 20s mean Lamar Jackson should be worry-free in romping against a well below-average Buffalo fun D which ranks 26th in yards per attempt and 27th in rushing TDs allowed – easily worst among remaining teams.
So while NFLbets isn’t ready to get off the Buffalo bandwagon, we do believe in the hedge. We’re saying take the Baltimore Ravens +3 at Buffalo (though maybe not if you don’t have Bills futures tickets already) and look to take the over in any “Lamar Jackson rushing yards” prop; most sportsbooks online don’t yet offer this one, but a line should be available by game time…
Now NFLbets has boxed ourselves in to covering the Chiefs, crummy line and all. We can’t imagine that too many bettors are taking the Browns seriously at all, and we wonder if this overlooking is particularly wise.
Even beyond the crazy yardage-accumulating and point-scoring potential of an offense powered by Patrick Mahomes and which includes statistical studs Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and, from out of nowhere, Clyde Edwards-Helaire is the well-touted career record of head coach Andy Reid following a bye week and with good reason: The career mark of 23-4 SU/ 18-9 ATS is pretty unassailable and includes a 5-1 SU/4-2 ATS record after getting the wildcard week bye.
On top of this, the Chiefs are riding a continuously more ineffable 1-7 ATS run in which they’ve also gone 7-1 SU. With any other team, NFLbets would be leaning on regression to the mean in a big way – and this is the freakin’ Chiefs, well capable of repeating as Super Bowl champions, we’re talking here.
So can Cleveland keep matters to within a touchdown and a half? These Browns have been wildly inconsistent in terms of scoring, going for 42 against the Ravens in week 13, only to not see that many points in subsequent games against the Giants and Jets combined. Weather is no indicator, either, with conditions at kickoff in Kansas City essentially identical to those for the aforementioned games.
At 1/5, the Kansas City money line is hardly worth betting and, though we realize the Browns are no slouches, 10 points against this arsenal doesn’t seem like much. Therefore, we’re going for the fun pick: take the over on an O/U of 57½ points. We’re thinking/hoping that Mahomes will open the track meet early and Baker Mayfield’s side will look to keep pace.
–written by Os Davis
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