NFL betting: News, information, odds shifts

NFLbets is all about how the action in America’s professional football league relates to betting and though the opportunity to get real insider information is more limited all the time, the NFL bettor must keep up-to-date on the latest news – particularly injuries. NFLbets will be focusing on news stories which involve immediate relevance to the games ahead.

We’ve all seen what results when a team loses a starting left tackle, free safety or “skill player” to injury or suspension. In addition, NFL football of the 21st century increasingly runs into another issue taking away players, namely suspensions for drug-related and/or violent activity. Again, though the window of opportunity to leverage injury and suspension information is quite brief indeed, knowing ahead of time always beats ignorance.

NFLbets also seeks to cater to fans of one of the NFL’s 32 teams, and our news stories are compiled for each NFL market within our “team pages” so that fans may follow the progress of their favorites – not to mention check our track record, win or lose. And hopefully we’ll demonstrate throughout that our only bias is toward making money. We’re cheering for the bettors against the house here, and week to week we care only that our picks come through – for the readers and us.

Finally, NFLbets pledges to keep all speculation and opinion to the “Rants” section. In this area, we’ll try to keep things purely informational (no mean feat in a “post-fact” world) – just the facts and no “fake news” here.

NFLbets wishes all bettors the best of luck; let’s all make some money out there, okay?

AFC Championship – Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs – preview, predictions, bets

Friday, 22 January 2021 15:32 EST

Betting on the NFL playoffs can prove quite profitable – if one can recognize the truth among a forest of blaring narrative pumped out by media outlets. This is the time of year when we have the opportunity to realize that historical performance is not necessarily indicative of future results; postseason play may differ significantly from that of the regular season, but mathematics and certain realities never really change.

To this end, the recommendations that NFLbets is making for the AFC and NFC Championship Games go against the grain of common wisdom – but we’re confident that we’ll be banking moneys as the mean happily regresses in the late game…

Buffalo Bills +3 at Kansas City Chiefs, over/under 53 points

NFLbets hears the arguments for covering the Chiefs minus the points in this game: Patrick Mahomes is a freakish, generational talent; Andy Reid has been in this spot oodles of times; they haven’t been blowing opponents in the season’s second half (they’re on a 9-0 SU/1-8 ATS run) but doing just enough to win; and of course the current 24-1 SU (13-11-1 ATS) run.

But here’s a theory I’ve been expounding upon to anyone who will listen: Repeating as conference champions is difficult. In this century, the only team not named the New England Patriots to do so is the 2003-2004 Seattle Seahawks, and NFLbets dares say that team had a defense substantially superior to what the 2020 Kansas City Chiefs are bringing.

Meanwhile, all the Bills have been doing since their week 6 loss to K.C. is winning in any conditions, by any means necessary. They’ve won at day and at night, at home and away, in Pacific and Eastern Time Zones.  In the wildcard game against the Indianapolis Colts, Josh Allen produced 376 total yards, two passing TDs, a running TD and zero turnovers to overcome 450 yards of total offense from Philip Rivers & Co. Last week, it was the defense battening down the hatches, limiting the NFL’s leading rushing game to 150 yards and nearly pitching the shutout.

Add to the Chiefs’ disadvantages in this game the dinged-up state of at least three “skill players” on the offense: Mahomes will be going in at less than 100% with both foot and head/neck injuries. Sammy Watkins and Clyde Edwards-Helaire will both be returning from injuries as well. All three have been limited or non-existent at practices through Friday.

Finally, consider the Bills performance in 2020 thus far: Against playoff teams, Buffalo has now gone 5-2 SU/4-3 ATS, but hasn’t lost SU since the aforementioned week 6 match against Kansas City. The quarterback has made the proverbial Leap, flipping from near the bottom to near the top of the completion percentage charts during an MVP-type season. Stefon Diggs proved a perfect superstar addition and, with the Patriots fading, a changing of the guard in the AFC East is happening. Looking back on this team, we may realize the inevitability of the “upset” looking to take place on Sunday night.

So, yeah, NFLbets is saying take the Buffalo Bills +3 at Kansas City. Furthermore, we’re going out on a serious limb and throwing a few moneys on Bills to win by 14 or more points at 5/1; we’ll look like goddamn geniuses for cashing that one…

For NFLbets’ predictions and betting recommendations on Tampa Bay Buccaneers +3½ at Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game, click here.

–written by Os Davis

NFC Championship – Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers – preview, predictions, bets

Friday, 22 January 2021 15:19 EST

Betting on the NFL playoffs can prove quite profitable – if one can recognize the truth among a forest of blaring narrative pumped out by media outlets. This is the time of year when we have the opportunity to realize that historical performance is not necessarily indicative of future results; postseason play may differ significantly from that of the regular season, but mathematics and certain realities never really change.

To this end, the recommendations that NFLbets is making for the AFC and NFC Championship Games go against the grain of common wisdom – but we’re confident that we’ll be banking moneys as the mean happily regresses, starting with…

Tampa Bay Buccaneers +3½ at Green Bay Packers, over/under 52 points

When the numbers were totaled, the Packers ended the 2020 season having played against the NFL’s easiest schedule by opponents’ winning percentage on the way to earning the no. 1 seed in the NFC. Fair enough, but NFLbets isn’t sure why a similar emperor’s-new-clothes mentality isn’t taken toward the Buccaneers.

Until last week’s win against a New Orleans Saints team sporting a aged Drew Brees and crippled Michael Thomas, the 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers had gone 1-5 SU/2-4 ATS against teams with a winning record. The sole SU/ATS came against these Packers in week 6, as Aaron Rodgers put in his single worst performance of the season. How much of an outlier was that game? The Green Bay offense has surrendered 11 turnovers *all season*; two came in week 6.

Consider: Under typical circumstances, when wouldn’t you bet on a cold-weather team with a Hall of Fame-level quarterback leading the NFL’s no. 1 offense on a 9-1 SU/6-3-1 ATS run against a warm-weather team prone to penalties and dependent on the bad play? Tampa Bay was down 10 points before the Thomas fumble essentially ended New Orleans’s season, and the hapless Washington Football Team shut down the Bucs offense for an entire quarter to get the FT to within 2 points going into the fourth quarter of their wild-card game.

So why is this line so low at all? Simply put, an irrational respect for the magic of Tom Brady. The truth is, however, that no one should bet on respect for career – ask anyone who covered Drew Brees’s team last week or Ben Roethlisberger’s the week before. Brady may be enjoying a more talented offense than he’d ever teamed with in New England, but his new team is hardly a model of Belichickian efficiency. Tampa Bay is just 14-of-31 on 3rd down in the past two games and, after getting a handle on excessive penalties in the season’s second half, seven mostly stupid flags kept the Saints in the game well beyond their expiration date.

The majority of action at the sportsbooks has been on Green Bay, driving the line to its present Tampa Bay +3½ from the +3 of Sunday night; this is the sole factor that gives NFLbets pause. But hey, maybe the masses aren’t blinded by the hype this time around. Take the Green Bay Packers -3½ vs Tampa Bay.

For NFLbets’ predictions and betting recommendations on Buffalo Bills +3 at Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game, click here.

–written by Os Davis

Betting NFL divisional round games: Will Packers, Bills or Chiefs lose…?

Friday, 15 January 2021 14:19 EST

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…

Los Angeles Rams +7 at Green Bay Packers, over/under 45½ points

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.

Baltimore Ravens +3 at Buffalo Bills, over/under 49½ points

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…

Cleveland Browns +10 at Kansas City Chiefs, over/under 57½ points

 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

Sure Bet: Buccaneers plus points at New Orleans all day, baby!

Thursday, 14 January 2021 14:22 EST

NFLbets admits that we blew our only chance in the 2020 NFL regular season at a “Sure Bet”, missing on Kansas City Chiefs -3½ at New Orleans Saints by – you guessed it – a half-point as part of the Chiefs’ 0-8 jag to close out the year. But whining about a bad beat in week 15 is crying over long-spiled beer and, besides, we’ve got a can’t-miss in the upcoming divisional round that’ll even recoup the losses Andy Reid’s team cost you.

We’re talking here about betting on

Tampa Bay Buccaneers +3 at New Orleans Saints, over/under 52 points

With a 3-point handicap given to the visitors, sportsbooks are more or less indicating that this game is even-up in a neutral location. Though seemingly weird for sportsbooks to continue automatically handicapping the traditional additional 2½-3½ points in stadium-empty 2020/2021, the sportsbooks are actually nailing it overall.

For the entire season plus last week’s six-pack of games, home teams are playing significantly worse than in typical seasons, when the success rate runs 57% to 60%. Homedogs are 129-132-1 SU and – get this – 129-132-1 ATS. This final area in which the Saints might have an advantage looks wiped away by pandemic conditions; indeed, the Superdome’s turf surface helps a speedy opponent just as much as the Saints as in games against the Chiefs, L.A. Chargers and Carolina Panthers.

History says that the team who goes 2-0 SU in the regular season against their playoff opponent advances in the playoffs. Since 1970, teams have played each other thrice in a season 21 times, and 14 times resulted in a sweep, but since 2004 that 14-7 shrinks to just 3-3 SU/2-4 ATS. Add to this the relatively miniscule point spread, third-smallest ever for a third meeting and shortest since 1993, and we can probably agree this factor is neutralized as well.

(For more on these 21 meeting, see the recent piece at Football Perspective entitled How hard is it to beat a team three times in one season?)

But trending and numbers aside, NFLbets just has to ask: What’s the deal with all this doublethink about Tom Brady?

Brady has been justifiably praised for months for his play well into his 40s, and it has been well observed that the 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers represent the strongest set of “skill players” in any offense he’s played with. Beyond Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, Brady has helped developed second-year pro Scott Miller into a viable third (and often second) option while enjoying the late reemergences of Rob Gronkowski (7 TD catches in the last 11 games) and Antonio Brown (5 in the last four games). And o yes, they’ve got Ronald Jones, good for 5.1 yards per carry, and human bowling ball Leonard Fournette out of the backfield. So playing on turf hurts which of these guys…?

Back to the regular-season sweep of the Buccaneers of which much has been made, the credence we may give those wins should probably be tempered slightly. New Orleans’ 34-23 week 1 came against a Tampa Bay side without Brown and Gronk; Brady et at have no real excuse for their subsequent 38-3 home loss to the Saints, but it was more than half a season ago. Since the second loss to the Saints, the Bucs are averaging a huge 34.2 points per game.

Granted, these numbers are pumped a bit by the fact that just three of the previous eight Bucs games have been against playoff teams, but NFLbets’d argue that 1) nearly five TDs per game is a lot to score against any NFL team and 2) the Saints have seen just two playoff teams in their past nine games.

You can likely tell where NFLbets is going with this, but what of those Saints? Their injury report is fairly clean seemingly: As of Thursday, indications are that DB Patrick Robinson and RB Latavius Murray will not play, but TE Jared Cook and DE Trey Hendrickson probably will. How Drew Brees will fare gritting out one more game after breaking 11 ribs, but the Saints have somehow managed a 10-7 ATS record with a fairly low-watt passing game – just three times since the second Buccaneers game have New Orleans quarterbacks went for more than 250 yards.

In analyzing these games, there comes a point when one can have too many numbers and we have officially reached that point. Truth is that NFLbets’ wager for this game was iced at halftime of the Bears-Saints game last weekend. So you’re putting Brady with this offense on turf in the late slot on Sunday against a team who was up 7-3 at halftime against Chicago and *giving* three points? Great! NFLbets says these are Sure Bets: Take the Tampa Bay Buccaneers +3 at New Orleans and take the Buccaneers ML at 1/1.

--written by Os Davis



Looking for upsets on wildest wildcard weekend ever (Part II)

Saturday, 09 January 2021 15:06 EST

Note: NFLbets is writing this up on Sunday morning and so can never complain about bad beats or chase after losses – both plusses for the bankroll, no matter how Saturday went.

As with Saturday’s games, NFLbets is attempting to scope out some upsets. Since 2000, underdogs have gone a respectable enough 32-48 SU but are an excellent 43-36-1; in a 4-game wildcard round, that translates out to about 1½ SU and 2 ATS wins per year. Theoretically, in this year’s round of six, history says we’re looking at 2½ underdogs to win SU and ATS.

Yesterday, we tapped the underdog Los Angeles Rams as a good bet SU and ATS, so one or two more mathematically seem likely for Sunday (again, writing this before Saturday’s games…) – and o yes, we’ve found some good opportunities for betting beginning at the top with…

Baltimore Ravens -3½ at Tennessee Titans, over/under 54½ points

NFL bettors and general NFL fandom alike are taking for granted that this is a guaranteed barnburner and so pound away at the over – particularly as the sportsbooks have this point spread set the shorterst by a significant margin.

So how does the under hit here at all? Mike Vrabel’s Titans have played just three games against the Ravens, with an inconclusive 2-1 SU/ATS mark going into this game. The over has hit once, in the 30-24 overtime win of week 11 this season.  

No matter: The 2019 Tennessee Titans defense, which was good to excellent most of the year and dominant in their first two playoff games, evaporated at some point in August. What’s left is a New York Jets-level D that’s bottom-5 in overall DVOA, total yards allowed, opponent time of possession, first downs and nearly any passing statistic you can think of. As a result, overs are an incredible 12-3-1 in 2020 Titans games. About the only plus the Tennessee D is getting here is that the Ravens’ game plan is seriously straightforward: After all, only one team in the league outdid the otherworldly Derrick Henry & Co.

As for Baltimore on the defensive side, begin with their having seen the third-least number of runs all season. The Ravens with their multiple run formations, ridiculous run blocking and the craftiness of Lamar Jackson don’t so much score lightning-quick as score efficiently, ranking 9th in points per possession (and 2nd in the stat in the season’s second half) and 3rd in time of possession.

Now, getting to 55 points should require at least six touchdowns along with five field goals or seven TDs and two FGs. The latter seems more likely, but even both Henry and Jackson et al romping freely through helpless defenses may not be enough for this many scoring opportunities. Many are bandying about the tidbit these are 2020’s top 2 rushing offenses, but NFLbets is focused on how both offenses are bottom 3 in attempts – even these two mighty running teams average only about 1.5 rushing touchdowns per game apiece.

NFLbets’ conclusion: If you’re betting the over here, you may as well also bet on a prop like “Game Will Go into Overtime” or “Defensive/Special Teams TD by Either Team.” But we’re going counterintuitive and pro-math: Take the under on an O/U of 54½ points.

Chicago Bears +10 at New Orleans Saints, over/under 47½ points

Before beginning, let’s get one thing straight: When the sportsbooks establish a point spread like this in the wildcard round, they’re not fucking around. Just eight wildcard games have kicked off with a point spread of 9½ or higher; such a line hasn't been seen since Miami Dolphins +11 at Pittsburgh in 2017. 

In those nine games, underdogs are 1-8 SU/ATS. The sole exception was in none other than the Beast Mode Activated game when the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks upset the seemingly Super Bowl-bound New Orleans Saints (imagine that) in a 41-36 seat-edger. Note, too, that the Seahawks’ win represented the sole instance of a double-digit home underdog in the round ever.

So is it as simple as deducing that no Chicago player can work miracles like Marshawn Lynch and therefore bet Saints minus the points? After all, the Bears took New Orleans – including Alvin Kamara, who’s back after a week in Covid protocol – to overtime in week 6, right? And the Bears were just one of the six teams of .500 or worse record that the Saints played to within 6 points.

Additionally, NFLbets can’t be alone in bafflement at how exactly the 2020 New Orleans Saints got to 12-4 in the regular season – though their 10-1 mark against non-playoff teams certainly comprises much of this. These Saints, crippled by cap space, have been in whatever-it-takes gear most of this season; NFLbets is certainly not expecting a Bears upset, but we’ll be damned if we can guess a margin a victory. So try this: Take the New Orleans Saints to win by 13 points or less at +127.

Cleveland Browns +6½ at Pittsburgh Steelers, over/under 47½ points

Yes, the Steelers have been particular victims of the schedule-wreaking effects of Covid, at one point playing five games in 3½ weeks – but the fact that Pittsburgh’s starters have played two good quarters in the last six games is at least slightly disconcerting for would-be Steelers backers. In fact, about a month ago, this matchup would have been the vogue upset pick of this year’s first round.

But Cleveland not only played limply against the Pittsburgh second-string in week 17, the Browns are going into this game down two OL starters (not great news against a pass rush spearheaded by T.J. Watt) and a head coach; here’s Covid insanity tipped in the Steelers’ favor. As much as NFLbets distrusts the Saints, however, these Steelers are looking like the archetypical team who peaked too soon.

After starting out 11-0 SU/8-3 ATS, Pittsburgh enters the postseason on a 1-4 SU/2-3 ATS skid – fair enough, four of these games were against playoff teams, but the fifth was an ugly loss to Cincinnati in which Bengals QB Ryan Finley went for 73 yards. Asking a team with a long past of failure and a roster composed of mostly inexperienced guys to win their first playoff game without a head coach may be a big ask, but keeping things to within a touchdown when temperatures are in the low 30s? That’s probably doable. Take the Cleveland Browns +6½ at Pittsburgh and take the under on an O/U of 47½ points.

–written by Os Davis

Looking for upsets on wildest wildcard weekend ever (Part I)

Friday, 08 January 2021 19:48 EST

Quick show of hands: How many NFL bettors didn’t think we’d ever get to this weekend on time with all scheduled games intact? And now for the first time ever, the NFL playoffs features back-to-back tripleheaders to get things started. See: Year 2021 is already better than 2020.

Now, as we get the ball rolling on this newfangled sort of opening playoff weekend, NFLbets is weighing heavily upon determining upset specials. (After all, it’s called the wild card round for reason…) Since 2000, underdogs have gone a respectable enough 32-48 SU but are an excellent 43-36-1; in a 4-game wildcard round, that translates out to about 1½ SU and 2 ATS wins per year. Theoretically, in this year’s round of six, history says we’re looking at 2½ underdogs to win SU and ATS.

Erring on the side of caution, then, NFLbets is going to look for three underdogs ATS and, if possible, two to cover SU. With marginal teams like the Chicago Bears and Washington Football Team, one might figure for easy pickings in this year’s playoffs, but these lines are making things tougher than they look. At least this playoff opener is easy:

Indianapolis Colts -7 at Buffalo Bills, over/under 51½ points

Were the Bills actually helped by the lack of bye week? Whereas conventional wisdom holds that the first-week bye is invaluable in the playoffs, the red-hot Bills hosting in ice-cold Buffalo may not exactly mind eschewing the free time to keep the increasingly fearsome-looking snowball rolling apace.

And whoa, is Buffalo rolling. On their current 9-1 SU/8-2 ATS run, the Bills are winning by an average score of 35-21 – yet for some reason have only been favored by more than 7 points once: in week 7 against who else but the New York Jets. The Bills face the Colts, who earn accolades as the greatest no. 7 NFL playoff seed of all-time; though note their only competition is the 2020 Chicago Bears.

At 11-5, the Colts are certainly no slouches but two glaring stats make the road uphill narrow in the extreme: The fact that they faced three top-10 defenses all season – at Chicago, vs Baltimore, at Pittsburgh – and went 1-2 SU/ATS while scoring an average of 17.66 points in those games. Why? Primarily because Indianapolis is the lowest-scoring second-half team remaining in the AFC and Philip Rivers still brings the lowest QB rating in the final 30 minutes.

Yes, we should expect regress to the mean after eight straight ATS wins, but just look at the way these Bills are playing right now. The Colts aren’t snapping this streak yet. Take the Buffalo Bills -7 vs Indianapolis.

Los Angeles Rams +3½ at Seattle Seahawks, over/under 44 points

Ah, now this looks like some upset material. Ture, underdogs are 4-8 SU/ATS in intradvisional wildcard games since 2000, but since four of these losses came by the Cincinnati Bengals or Cleveland Browns in the 00s, we’ll call it dead even and say familiarity breeds, well, familiarity – in this case probably enough to keep things to within a score.

Living within the designated home-market area of the Los Angeles Rams, NFLbets cannot accept any argument that replacing Jared Goff will hurt the Rams chances in this game any; indeed, Goff is as of Friday still listed as questionable on injury reports, was limited in practices and was quoted as saying he’s “ready to go” “if needed.” So it’s John Wolford, who may have led the Rams to a win in which they set a record for broken plays.

But Seattle, like the Pittsburgh Steelers, look lumbering coming into this game as well as limited in weaponry. Sure, the Seahawks are on a 6-1 SU run, but are just 3-4 ATS in that span which included only two games against playoff teams: at Washington and vs these Rams.

While the offense has improved from sieve-level porous (would you believe 38.4 points per game surrendered over the first 8?), offensive production is shrinking as defenses learn to deal with D.K. Metcalf as a deep threat; in two games against Jalen Ramsey and the L.A. secondary in 2020, Metcalf managed just 28 and 59 yards.

NFLbets might throw a few moneys at the Los Angeles Rams money line (ML), thanks to very good odds of +145 to +150, but to be safe just take the Los Angeles Rams +3½ at Seattle and take the under on an O/U of 44 points, which really cannot go low enough after three straight Rams-Seahawks games of under 40 points total.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers -8½ at Washington Football Team, over/under 44½ points

Tom Brady mystique aside, the smart bet here is probably still on the chalk. Since 1990, favorites of 8 points or more in the wildcard round are a solid 16-3 SU/13-6 ATS, and there is little reason to suspect these Buccaneers would fall prey to what is likely the weakest playoff entry since at least the 2002 postseason.  

And if any team has gone out with a win yet appears to be backing in to the playoffs, it’s the 2020 Washington FT. While Tampa Bay was thanking schedule makers for a final month of vs Minnesota/at Atlanta/at Detroit/vs Atlanta, Washington first fought its way into the playoff hunt with four straight wins and then suited up a fourth starting quarterback and put up three games of 20 points or fewer to again resemble their true 7-9 form.

The only hesitance here is abstract. If a time traveler sent from a month in the future told NFLbets the Buccaneers were playing in Super Bowl LV, we’d believe it; we’d likewise believe that Bruce Arians’s guys got flustered early in their first-round game, dumb penalties mounted, and Brady, Favre-style, threw a pick-six to end Tampa’s season early, we’d believe that, too.

So we’re saying take the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -8½ at Washington, but look to hedge after (or in, even) a low-scoring first half and take the under in live game betting … and then Sunday we get to do it all again!

--written by Os Davis

How we're taking on the Fantasy Football Playoof Challenge

Thursday, 07 January 2021 17:30 EST

You want to play a wacky fantasy football contest during the NFL playoffs? Check out the Fantasy Football Playoff Challenge; single entries cost either $35 to $200, with a $200,000 grand prize.

The FFPC format calls for players to fill out a 12-spot roster composed of 1 QB, 2 RBs, 2 WRs, 1 TE, 4 flex (RB/WR/TE), a kicker and a defense. The final submitted 12-man team is set throughout the postseason – no adds or drops – and points are cumulative through the Super Bowl. For the Super Bowl, all fantasy points are doubled. Remember that when a player’s team is eliminated, he takes a zero for that roster spot from then on.

The point system goes as follows:

•  4 pts for passing TDs
•  6 pts for non-passing TDs scored in any way by an individual player
•  1 pt for every 20 yards passing
•  -1 point for every interception thrown
•  1 point for every 10 yards rushing or receiving
•  1 pt per reception for RBs and WRs (or QB)
•  1.5 pt per reception for TEs
•  2 points for 2-pt conversion
•  1 point for PAT conversion
•  3 points for every FG of 1 - 30 yards plus .1 point for every yard thereafter
•  1 pt for D/ST sack, 2 pts for all turnovers
•  6 pts for all D/ST touchdowns
•  2 points for every return after a blocked/failed extra point or failed two-point try (i.e. on an interception or fumble)
•  5 pts for every safety
•  12 points for every shutout
•  8 points for allowing between 1-6 points
•  5 points for allowing between 7- 10 points

This format has been run for a few years now and, like most other gambling considerations, has been thrown an extra wrinkle with those newly added no. 7 seeds. For example, with 12 spots open but 14 teams represented, more fantasy owners have a decent chance of suiting up the maximum possible 8 players for the divisional rounds. (Not to mention that Covid and AFC tiebreakers have conspired to create at least four serious longshots in the wildcard round: Cleveland, Indianapolis, Washington and Chicago.)

After way too much deliberation and flipflopping, NFLbets has our FFPC roster card filled out thusly.

QB – Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills. The way NFLbets figures things, because of the top seeds’ bye week, the greatest potential number of points in FFPC fantasy will be earned by any Super Bowl quarterback that is not Patrick Mahomes or Aaron Rodgers. Therefore, we’re going with the quarterback we’ve got to win the AFC anyway here. 

RB ­-- Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints. You know who enjoyed the Arizona Cardinals’ late-season collapse and eventual playoff elimination? Bears fans and FFPC fantasy players. Thanks to Chicago squeaking in, the Saints most likely will survive this first week of play. As the dominant force in the New Orleans offense, Kamara would probably get this spot regardless of the Saints’ chances to advance – it’s just to guess he’ll be around for at least two games…

RB – Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

WR – Marquese Brown, Baltimore Ravens. As of Thursday, NFLbets is still mulling over Baltimore Ravens -3½ at Tennessee, so we’re devoting one space to the leader in all-purpose yards for each of two very high-scoring offenses right now. Even in just a single game, either one of these guys could go for two TDs.

WR – Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. An apparent knee injury taken in week 17 by Evans has been diagnosed as a hyperextension only. As such, Evnas is participating in practice leading up to the game and is a no-brainer on the level of Derrick Henry.

TE – Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs. Because, really, who else are you running with here? With Kelce aboard, this essentially becomes a third WR slot.

F1RB Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers. Packers backs have run for at least 120 yards in five of the past six games and as the leading RB, Jones should see plenty of opportunities if/when Green Bay plays with an early lead. Plus, Jones is second-high on the team in targets; combine this with the likelihood that the Packers get to the NFC championship and this is a no brainer.

F2 – WR Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams. On one hand, the choice of Kupp carries some risk in that he’s playing with John Wolford for the first time ever in the QB’s second career NFL start. On the other hand, Kupp has made Jared Goff look good for two seasons now and, representing virtually the only deep threat among the Rams WR corps, garnered a crazy 124 targets (crazy because Robert Woods was good for 129). Can Wolford throw the long ball? If he can, he’ll be finding Kupp downfield.

F3 – RB Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns. NFLbets dithered between Chubb and Kareem Hunt for well too long: Chubb racked up 1,217 all-purpose yards, Hunt went for 1,145. Chubb scored 12 times versus Hunt’s 6, but at 51 to 18, Hunt had nearly three times the receptions. Eventually, we landed on Chubb based primarily on Hunt’s recent statistical downturn and two games of below 60 yards against the Steelers thus far this year. Plus, we’re figuring on ground touchdowns in a grind-it-out first rounder.

F3 – .D.K. Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks. Metcalf cooled off in the season’s second half, just once topping either 8 targets and 80 yards in a game just once after week 9. Worse yet, he’ll be going up against All-Pro CB Jalen Ramsey and a Rams defense which has kept QBs under 240 passing yards for 10 games straight. Yet all it might take for the Seahawks in this first game is a late TD (to Metcalf!) to advance and face a more pass-friendly defnse.  

K – Cairo Santos, Chicago Bears. At least Chicago has one advantageous player for playoff fantasy football: Santos was a league-best 30-of-32 on field goal attempts in 2020, and he’s 11 of 13 on kicks of 40 or more yards. Now we have only to hope the Bears can put up a few points against New Orleans…

DEF – Pittsburgh Steelers. Not necessarily the best choice here, particularly as the Browns are coming in with a substitute head coach and will be mostly practice-free, but what other Pittsburgh “skill players” are worth the spot here? NFLbets has never hoped for a Cleveland Browns upset so mightily…

–written by Os Davis

Washington FT -6½ at Philadelphia for all the (small) marbles

Sunday, 03 January 2021 12:17 EST

It’s come to this in the NFC East – The final spot on this year’s NFL playoffs will be decided in a pair of NFC East intradivisional games, including the very last game of the 2020 season.

Four months ago, the season began for most of these four teams optimistically: The Dallas Cowboys brough a Super Bowl-winning coach for their big-name roster, the Eagles likewise looked forward to improving on a mediocre 2019; the Giants rebuilt their coaching staff and boasted seemingly the best power RB in football; even the Washington Football Team dropped their racist mascot, drafted a future defensive MVP and gave us the feelgood story of the season with the Alex Smith comeback.

Sure, 2020 happened – but these four teams all had issues of a fairly typical NFL sort: Injuries took out offensive sparkplugs for Dallas (Dak Prescott), New York (Saquon Barkley) and Philadelphia (numerous). And with Smith taking punishment when playing, Kyle Allen and Dwayne Haskins got a combined 10 starts at quarterback for a combined 2-8 SU.

So what’s the bet in an otherwise even more dismal than usual week 17? Glad you asked! We’re looking at…

Washington Football Team -6½ at Philadelphia Eagles, over/under 43 points

Facts relevant to this game: The Eagles have 9 of 22 regular starters out for this game, including Fletcher Cox; the temperature in Philly is expected to peak at around 40⁰ with rain all day and night the Eagles have been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention realistically about two weeks ago; and this Washington defense is freakin’ elite.

For NFLbets, this is the rub: While these offenses may be playing checkers, the FT D is playing 3-D chess. Since week 7, opponents are averaging just 17.3 point per game, and the Team is 5-5 SU/7-3 ATS in that span while the under is 7-3. Additionally, no NFC East team has put up more than 23 against Washington,.

And yes, it’s hard to imagine the 7-9 Washington Football Team making the playoffs with what could ultimately be their fourth different starting quarterback in 2020, namely Taylor Heinicke – but hey, Mitch Trubisky and his long-left-for-dead Chicago Bears could very well be in this same postseason. This has been 2020, after all. Take the Washingotn Football Team -6½ at Philadelphia, and take the under on an O/U of 43 points.

–written by Os Davis

Jared Goff won’t play for Rams on Sunday and that’s worth 5 points because…?

Saturday, 02 January 2021 16:44 EST

Since the 2020 NFL season’s start, most fans and bettors have figured that the Arizona Cardinals-Los Angeles Rams game in week 17 would be crucial for both teams and the entire NFC playoffs – just how crucial was certainly bargained on by few. And so the current line of...

Arizona Cardinals -3 at Los Angeles Rams, over/under 40½ points

…would make sense from nearly any vantage point during this season. Except that the line opened at Arizona +1½, despite the suspicion that the thumb injury taken by QB Jared Goff in the Rams’ week 16 game would keep him out for this one. Once the injury was confirmed – and Blake Bortles(!) brought back in from the Denver Broncos practice squad – this line rapidly flipped and then widened to as much as Cardinals -3½ at some sportsbooks.

So in the minds of most NFL bettors, Goff’s absence (plus other Rams offensive starters) is worth 4½ to 5 points?

Utter nonsense, NFLbets would suggest.

The truth is that when Troy Freakin’ Aikman, who wouldn't call out a fellow quarterback if he was caught in flagrante with Mrs. Aikman, is calling you out on a Fox Sports broadcast, you’re having a brutal season – and whoa, has Goff been terrible. At least two losses (at San Francisco, vs Seattle), either of which would likely have already clinched a playoff spot for his team, can be pinned directly on his poor play. As leader of the Rams offense, Goff has gone from leading an NFC-winning offense capable of going for 48 points against the Kansas City Chiefs to a team that can’t manage a touchdown against the 2020 New York Jets.

As mundane as Goff’s stats appear and as awful as he’s looked, a deeper dive into the stats reveals with profound depth literally just how useless he is in most game situations. His QBR is dead last in pressure situations at under 30.0, as his miniscule 4.5 yards per scramble. With a 19.6% completion rate under pressure, Goff’s on a par with Mitchell Trubisky and Teddy Bridgewater, both of whom might miss the playoffs altogether. No disproportionate share of blame is due the OL, either: at 23 sacks, Goff’s taken half as much abuse as, likesay, Russell Wilson (sacked 45 times) or DeShaun Watson (ditto).

Granted, this week’s Rams offense will be slightly makeshift for first-time starter John Wolford. Dominant WR Cooper Kupp is currently listed on the reserve/Covid list and will likely be out. RB Cam Akers is definitely out; Malcolm Brown may not play and instead the Rams may be depending on rookie Xavier Jones in the backfield. LT Andrew Whitworth is also out again this week.

But you know what? This team has been about defense first, second and third since Aaron Donald’s name hist the roster. The Rams D has been a force in 2020, going top-3 statistically in points allowed, passing yards allowed, passing TDs allowed, rushing yards allowed, rushing yards per attempt and opponents time of possession.

In the Rams’ last five *losses*, the L.A. D has allowed just 17.2 points per game while the offense has managed just 16.4 in those games. Considering that just one offense has averaged under 16 points in 2020 – whose else but the New York Jets’, at 15.3 ppg – Wolford has a pretty low bar, needing to show little more than competence as his defense can carry this game alone, particularly against Kyler Murray’s stumbling and inconsistent Cardinals offense. Not only does the 38-28 win at Arizona in week 13 represent the last 400-yard game for Rams offense, it’s also the last occasion on which the defense generated more than 1 turnover.

So call it addition by subtraction, call it rallying around the new guy, call it whatever you like; NFLbets believes that Goff to just about any current starting quarterback in the NFL is an improvement from Jared Goff. (Well, OK, maybe not Bortles.) Take the Los Angeles Rams +3 vs Arizona and take the under on an O/U of 40½ points.

--written by Os Davis



With one week remaining, gut feelings on NFL playoffs

Friday, 01 January 2021 17:16 EST

As NFLbets has stated previously, betting in NFL week 17 is a real bitch – not that we’ll avoid the sportsbook this week or anything, but our main focus is already on trying to beef up the Super Bowl betting bankroll over the course of the playoffs. To that end, we’ve got a few idea already penciled in for the first weekend of postseason games in 2021.

Along the lines we’re thinking are…

•  The Buffalo Bills are the team to beat in the AFC, if not the entire league. Along with the whole 2020 mojo, i.e. why not a team like Buffalo after a year like ’20, is the simple fact that this team has gone undefeated since week 7 save for the increasingly anomalous-looking last-second loss to Arizona. The spectacular rise of Josh Allen into MVP conversations was precipitated by the nigh-unstoppable Stefon Diggs, and the Bills have been good for a ridiculous 35.3 points per game over their past seven – that’s a 2019 Super Bowl champion Chiefs-like rate – and Buffalo boasts a defense that’s top-5 in DVOA.

NFLbets caught 6/1 odds on the Bills in the “To Win AFC Championship” proposition bet two weeks ago, and they’re already down to 9/2. And the 9/1 on them to win the Super Bowl is quite the shrinkage from opening day, when the Bills were getting 40/1 odds. These odds will only get shorter.

•  And NFLbets may like the Green Bay Packers even more – not because they’re necessarily better than the Bills right now, mind you, but rather because, well … what other NFC team can we believe in? The Saints are just 1-2 SU (0-3 ATS) against playoff teams not named the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and have played one postseason contender since week 10. The Carroll & Wilson Seahawks have been good for 10.66 wins per season the past nine, but haven’t won a game beyond the wild card round since their last Super Bowl. As for Tampa Bay, well…

•  The Buccaneers won’t survive the second round – if they survive the first. Since the Washington Football Team took care of business against the Pittsburgh Steelers, thereby serving up notice that, yes, they’re bringing a near-elite defense, NFLbets has believed that the Team would take the NFC East and upset a highly overrated Buccaneers team. Since then, Washington went to their third-string QB, cut him and will give Taylor Heinicke his first NFL start in week 17; is it any wonder the Dallas Cowboys crawled their way back into this “race”?

Meanwhile, the Bucs looked great dismantling the coach-less Detroit Lions last week and an 10-5 record is nothing to scoff at … unless you take a closer look. The truth is that the Buccaneers are an awful 1-5 SU/2-4 ATS against playoff teams in 2020 (assuming the New York Giants don’t win the NFC East; if they do, the Bucs went 2-5 SU/ATS in the statistic) with losses at New Orleans, at Chicago, vs New Orleans, vs the Rams and vs Kansas City.

Whereas awesome defense may not be enough to completely shut down a star-studded Tampa Bay offense and Tom Brady probably has one more miracle playoff game win in him, these Buccaneers certainly aren’t going far.

•  So why not the Kansas City Chiefs? NFLbets marvels every year at how NFL bettors seem to forget the rarity of repeat champions in the NFL: They have been just eight since Super Bowl I and only three since 1981. Too much can happen, too many any given Sundays, between one February and another.

Additionally, Mahomes & Co. simply aren’t intimidating teams as they did on the way to Super Bowl LIV. In December 2019, the Chiefs outscored opponents by an average score of 31-12; this past December, that margin had decreased to 26-22. Of course, Kansas City went just as undefeated in December ’20 as in ’19, but we’d daresay the Chiefs will face stiffer competition in the playoffs this time around as well.

•  Come on, now: After this season, it’s the Cleveland Browns, right? The weirdness factor for the 2020 season was certainly high, with Tuesday afternoon and Friday night games among the bizarre. But is even this enough for the Browns, seemingly antithetical with the concept of “Super Bowl.” Since the AFL-NFL merger, the joke has been that a Browns Super Bowl win would be tantamount to a sign of coming apocalypse – but at this point in history, the smart money is probably on the apocalypse arriving first…

–written by Os Davis