Saturday NFL divisional playoff games: Let’s … not overthink this

Friday, January 12, 2018 5:10 AM

Super sexy Patriots fanLook, it's already far past time to complain about underdogs going 4-0 ATS last week: The spreads in the Panthers-Saints game was too high because of CAm Newton and his willpower The spread in the Bills-Jaguars game was too high because of Blake Bortles and his dishtowel arm. (Seriously, with Blake in the game, how can the Jaguars *score* 9 points, much less cover 9?)

As for those Saturday games ... you know why those who bet on the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams last week lost? Because we overthought things.

Sure, nearly everything NFLbets could dig up in recent statistical trends and the overall 2017 season pointed toward the two favorites winning and even possibly covering. We were blinded by statistics and overlooked two simple bits of tried ‘n’ tested football wisdom for which all the numbers in the universe may be eschewed:

• The Chiefs were coached by Andy Reid.

• The Rams were the second-youngest team in the NFL led by the NFL’s youngest head coach with much of its roster utterly devoid of playoff experience – in short, the classic relatively easy-scheduled first-year playoff team destined to lose in their first appearance.

The animosity one ultimately felt for Reid and Pharaoh Cooper, the very embodiment of playoff jitters, was solely dependent on how much money he/she’d laid out on these obvious lost causes.

So we’ve resolved not to overcomplicate matters this week. (Of course, the bookmakers aren’t exactly making it easy with that Tennessee Titans-New England Patriots line.) Here’s howNFLbets looks to wager on Saturday’s divisional round games.

Atlanta Falcons -3 at Philadelphia Eagles
We begin with a classic example of a game in which the potential to overthink looms large. We could fret about how away favorites in the playoffs are just 13-12-1 since 2000, or flipflop indecisively about the improbability of these Egales as the first team ever to go in as a home underdog in the divisional round versus the inevitability of oddsmakers, likesay, knowing their stuff.

Nope, forget it. Let’s get simple: Have you seen Nick Foles? Don’t talk to me about his fluky 8-3 run in 2013. Have you *seen* Nick Foles *lately*? This team’s 2-1 with the former Ram as a starter, yet look utterly demoralized after losing a no-brainer against the Dallas Cowboys, 6-0, and going without an offensive score in the final game the previous week against a pitiably-coached Oakland Raiders team already mentally on vacation.

Is this enough? More than enough, NFLbets thinks. Take the Atlanta Falcons -3 at Philadelphia. Also, keep half an eye on the weather forecast for Philly. The closer it gets to kickoff (as of this writing, we’re about 45 hours out), anything around the 28⁰F mark currently predicted makes taking the under on an O/U line of 41 a good bet as well.

Tennessee Titans -14 at New England Patriots
Not overthinking things here requires the admission of a few high probabilities:

• The Patriots aren’t losing this one. Forget everything about Jimmy-gate (no one lese is calling it that, so why don’t we?) and related nonsense. Forget it all, because they will on Saturday.

• The Patriots aren’t losing this one. In the Belichick-Brady Era, the Patriots are 11-2 SU in this game (but 8-5 ATS; more on this below) – you’d have to go back to 2010 and the last New York Jets playoff win to find the Pats losing in the AFC divisional round.

• Finally, the Patriots aren’t losing this one. Again, those Belichick-Brady Patriots are ridiculously good in the playoffs, going 12-2 in their first game of the playoffs and 10-1 if getting the bye through the wild-card round.

Right. So the safest bet of the entire weekend is to take the Patriots to win SU – but that wager is currently paying out at a measly -950 (after starting Friday at -880), i.e. a successful bet of M25 (where M represents Moneys, the favored currency of NFLbets) nets just M2.63. Hardly worth doling out a portion of your bankroll for .. .plus, imagine if the Patriots did lose.

In any case, NFLbets is looking at hee-yooge pointspread and wondering if the Titans, after quite the inspired bit of play from QB Marcus Mariota, can cover. The truth is that Patriots are gonna get theirs: The Patriots are second-highest in scoring in the NFL and have scored at least 20 in 15 games this season, missing only in a 19-14 win over Tampa Bay in Florida. Hell, after being saved up for much of the season and angered by the recent rumormongering surrounding his team, Gronkowski may be good for four TDs on his own.

On the other side, the Titans are typically one low-scoring team, at just around 21 points per game. As of late, the offense has been tested by the playoff defenses of Los Angeles, Jacksonville and Kansas City in the past three weeks, going 3-0 ATS in those games. Perhaps most impressively of all, going back to last season, the Mariota-led Titans are 4-1 SU and ATS in away games played at temperatures under 40⁰F. (Right now, our friends at Weather.com put game-time temperature at a chilly 13⁰F.)

But here’s the most compelling bit of all, particularly if you believeNFLbets is underestimating the wiliness of the defense or the resourcefulness of Belichick (he’s a defensive guy!) in dominating in exactly the area of your specialty. We get that. But it hasn’t happened this year. Truth is the Patriots rank 31st in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric; less exotically speaking, they’re 29th in total yards allowed and 30th in total passing yards allowed.

In an average game against the 2017 New England Patriots, the QB went for 23-of-38 passing for 251 yards, and the Patriots D allowed 24 passing TDs against 12 interceptions. These latter three numbers would put Imaginary Patriots Opponent among the top 10 statistically. Here’s the thinking that Mariota and the guys can keep up on a chilly evening in Foxboro. Take the Tennessee Titans +14 at New England.

(Extra incentive: The Brady/Belichick Patriots have been given a playoff pointspread like this once before: In chasing up the undefeated season of 2007, the Patriots laid 13½ against the Jaguars in a Saturday-night divisional playoff game. Starting at 43⁰F at 8pm kickoff, Belichick was happy to grind it out, score two TDs in the third quarter and play the fourth to a 3-3 split for the 10-point win. This, again.)

As for the over/under, we’d advise you to ask yourself one question: How old do you think Tom Brady really is? If he feels most of that 40 years and the weather’s less than half that, the Titans can keep things verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry close by grinding it out with the resurrected Travis Henry tuckering out a Patriots defense that can’t seem to tackle anyone. Take the under on an O/U line of 48 points. (Extra incentive: The above-mentioned Jacksonville game? The over/under then was 51½ points. Final score: Patriots 31, Jaguars 20.)

– written by Os Davis