Wildcard Weekend was a bit of a disappointment. Only 4 of the 6 games were remotely competitive and of the 2 good games, one team pretty much held their lead the whole way through. It was also dominated by favorites, breaking one of the strongest trends in the NFL of Wildcard underdogs. Based on the fact that I went pretty dog-heavy, coming out of the weekend in the positive is a win but I would have hoped for better going into the weekend. However, my two strongest sides were the Bills and 49ers and both teams took care of business so I’m happy there. Here’s a recap of the #’s:
NFL YTD: 116-100-5 (53.9%) +11.51u
NFL PLAYOFFS: 6-6 +0.98u
The Divisional Round is another one dominated by dogs historically. Since 2004, underdogs are 41-29-1 (58.5%) ATS and home teams are 32-39-1 (45%) ATS. Additionally, if you tease a dog of ANY number by 6, they have hit at a 76% clip which greatly exceeds the regular season data there. So historically, this round has featured incredibly close games, which is good for a viewer but difficult to handicap. One key difference in this round vs. last round is that we have two teams off a bye (Titans, Packers). Historically, favorites off of a bye are 28-38-1 ATS in the divisional round. That doesn’t mean anything towards “rest vs rust” as these teams still have a winning record SU and teams like the Titans who were super banged up get essential time to heal up. However, it does tell us that the market maybe bakes a little too much value into the number when it comes to these top-seeds. That’s all for general thoughts on the round, let’s get into the games!
Bengals @ Titans (-3.5) o/u 47
This is a really interesting matchup to start the weekend. The Titans kind of flew under the radar all season as a team that lost some bad games and had a ton of injury issues (most glaringly Derrick Henry) but somehow ended up with that coveted #1 seed over the Chiefs and Bills. This offensive line and Ryan Tannehill have really carried the load and now we will see Derrick Henry and Julio Jones both return for this game. The Titans defense has also been a revelation and Vrabs has done an incredible job coaching up that unit. I think the secondary will be able to contain Burrow to an extent and be really tough on the ground vs Mixon. Offensively, I think Henry setting up the play-action is going to torch this Bengals D. Both teams should get theirs offensively but I think the Titans will be too much in the end.
Let’s just talk about who wins this game SU. Since Vrabel took over in 2018, the Titans are 22-12 (64.7%) SU at home. Since Zac Taylor took over in 2019, the Bengals are 6-16-1 (27.2%) SU on the road, better than only the Jets, Giants, Jags, and Lions. I think in general Mike Vrabel over Zac Taylor is the biggest edge of any facet of this game and that will be the difference which is why I’m going to work the Titans into a MLP with a basketball team to be named later (follow Action for that MLP to come through) or fit the Titans in with your favorite bet from any other sport on Saturday. The craziest trend of the weekend, Mike Vrabel with 9+ days to prep (off of TNF or a bye) is 8-0 SU (!) and 8-0 ATS (!!!) with an average cover margin of +18 PPG (!!!!!!!)- four of these have come as a favorite. Go Tits.
Pick: 1.5u Titans MLP with TBD, 1u o46.5
49ers @ Packers (-5.5) o/u 47
I am scared of how much I love this 49ers team. Deebo Samuel is probably my favorite player in the NFL and I worship the ground that Kyle Shanahan walks on. I thought they were brilliant against the Cowboys and pulled off the only upset of the weekend in what was my largest bet of the weekend. Now they head to Green Bay for a much tougher test where Aaron Rodgers has been unbelievable over the years. I do like what this 49ers defense can do in terms of getting after the QB and taking away the Packers’ best weapons offensively. That group of Cowboys WRs was great prep for Adams and co. and the 49ers’ secondary looked great in Dallas. Rodgers will always get his but I think this 49ers defense does enough to at least give their team a shot to win this game.
Offensively, a lot of attention is coming to Jimmy G’s health and how he will fair in this cold Green Bay weather. Well, Jimmy G has played the Packers in the playoffs before (granted this game was at home) in the 2019-20 NFC Championship Game, and here was his final stat line: 6/8, 77 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs. The 49ers ran the ball 42 times for 285 yards and 4 TDs, winning the game 37-20. Shanahan came up with a simple but genius game plan and just ran all over this Packer defense. Once again, Green Bay ranks 28th in rush defense DVOA and Shanny will come with the same game plan and now has Elijah Mitchell who is on fire and Deebo Samuel who is one of the most dynamic players in football. When the Packers narrowly beat the 49ers in the regular season, Mitchell was not even playing for the 49ers and Deebo was not in the evolved role he is now and the 49ers still scored 28 points in that game.
I think the 49ers will emphasize getting after Rodgers and taking away Adams defensively and will dominate in the run game offensively and this game could very well come down to who has the ball last. Some quick trends: Shanny is now 17-9 ATS as a dog and Jimmy G is an insane 14-4 ATS and 13-5 SU (!!!) as an underdog. Shanny is also great at game planning on a short week- over the last 3 seasons when he is at a rest DISadvantage, the 49ers are 6-1-1 ATS, the best in the NFL over that stretch. Also, under Shanny the 49ers are 3-1 ATS in the postseason. I’m putting my faith in him once again.
Picks: 1.5u 49ers +6, 0.5u 49ers ML +220
Rams @ Bucs (-3) o/u 48
The Bucs are in a tough spot right now. The latest news is looking like they will be without Wirfs. It appears that Jensen will give it a go but is really banged up. Having a banged up center lined up across from the most terrifying human in football history is a scary prospect, especially when interior pressure has been the only sure-fire way to beat Tom Brady over the past two decades. The Rams also have a couple of great edge rushers to attack Brady with Wirfs out. With the lack of weapons available for Brady already, I think they are going to have to chip with the TEs and leave the RBs in the backfield to help block and that is going to put a ton of pressure on Scotty Miller?? to get open quick for Brady to have an outlet.
When these two teams played earlier this year, the Bucs’ leading rusher was TOM BRADY with 14 rush yards. Now without an offensive line, I think the Bucs will once again really struggle to run the football. The only offensive player that really gave the Rams issues in the first matchup was Mike Evans and now with no Godwin, Jalen Ramsey can really lock in on Evans and try to take that option away as well. I think OBJ starting to click and the return of Cam Akers really takes this Rams offense to the next level and they will be able to get it done. Also, if it comes down to it, the Rams are 4th in the NFL in special teams DVOA and the Bucs are 27th. Sean McVay is 9-4 (69.2%) ATS as an away underdog since taking over as Rams HC (3rd best in NFL over that period). I think Brady drops to 0-3 SU against the Rams since becoming a Buc and the Rams return to the NFC Championship Game.
Picks: 1u Rams +3, 1.5u Rams teaser (see full card)
Bills @ Chiefs (-1.5) o/u 54
I can almost guarantee “Patrick Mahomes is 14-4-2 ATS when a favorite of -3 or less” will be the #1 most shared trend of the weekend and for good reason! It’s really impressive and I have used said trend before and it’s led me to winners. However, 75% of those 20 games took place on the road which makes a major difference. That means most of these games where the Chiefs were -2.5 @ Baltimore, for example, the Chiefs would have been between -4 and -6 at home against Baltimore. Obviously home-field does mean something, especially at Arrowhead, but this is a different dynamic. This Bills team is power ranked almost exactly the same as the Chiefs by most respected guys and if anything, the Bills are a tick higher in a few respected power rankings (in case anyone doesn’t know, these are power rankings used for setting point spreads, not SB Nation’s top-10 teams or some bullshit like that).
These are two of the top-10, maybe even top-5, offenses in the NFL and I trust both quarterbacks to put up numbers and score points. The difference is there is a MAJOR gap on defense. To give credit where it’s due, Spagnuolo has always found a way to scheme up a bend-don’t-break defense in the playoffs and that has allowed this team to be good enough to go to 3-straight AFC Championships and 2-straight Super Bowls. However, this Bills defense is the best in the league at the moment. I think they can give Mahomes a really hard time and Mahomes is still Mahomes but I can see him making a couple of bad mistakes like we saw a lot from him early in the season.
Josh Allen is 10-5-2 ATS as a road dog in his career and I don’t think he will be intimidated by the atmosphere at Arrowhead (he won there just this year). This Bills team lost to the Chiefs in last year’s AFC Championship Game and upgraded their roster in spots specifically to beat this Chiefs team in this year’s playoffs and I think they get revenge here. The Bills added more to their secondary that already had the best safety duo in the NFL and added multiple edge rushers to give Mahomes issues including Greg Rousseau who had a sack and an INT in the regular season matchup between these teams.
I love the Bills as a tease piece as I think this will come down to the very end and I may add the Bills as a side as well but that might have to wait until Sunday as final active/inactives come through. The other angle I like in this game is Bills 1Q. The Chiefs have been AWFUL in first quarters in the postseason with Mahomes. The Bills led 7-3 at the end of the 1st in the regular season game this year and despite losing the game by two TDs, the Bills led 9-0 at the end of the 1st in last year’s AFC Championship Game. Looking at the year the Chiefs won the Super Bowl, they trailed the Texans 21-0 at the end of the 1st and trailed the Titans 10-7 at the end of the 1st in the AFC playoffs despite winning both of those games by double digits. Also, just last week the Chiefs were blanked by the Steelers in the 1Q. Overall, Patrick Mahomes is 3-5-1 SU in the 1st quarter of playoff games, averaging 4.08 points per first quarter in those games. This season, the Bills were #1 in the NFL in 1st quarter scoring defense, only allowing 2.1 points per first quarter. I’m taking the Bills 1Q ML but not on the 3-way ML (3-way is where you can also bet a draw so a tie would lose, regular 1Q ML would push on a tie so bet that for safety).
Picks: 1.5u Bills teaser (see card), 0.5u Bills 1Q ML (+106)
1u CIN/TEN o46.5
1.5u 49ers +6
0.5u 49ers ML (+220)
1u Rams +3 (-115)
1.5u LAR +9.5/BUF +8.5 Teaser
0.5u BUF 1Q ML (+106)
(most likely possible add is BUF +the points for 1u)
That’s it for the Divisional Round preview! Only three football weekeneds left until August… cherish them with all your heart. Go 49ers Go.