NFL Divisional Round Betting Preview

Wildcard Recap

We started the playoffs successfully with a 3-1 record on Super Wildcard Weekend. In fact, I specifically mentioned I had the Bills’ final score modeled at 27-23 so was only off by a point and had Tampa at only a 6-point favorite when Alex Smith was assumed the starter. So, I feel good about how I am modeling these games out and hopefully the good fortune continues this weekend with Divisional games.

Last week we continued to see the same trend as in the regular season as road underdogs went 3-1 ats and underdogs in general 4-2 ats. As I have mentioned numerous times in this weekly article, and what the legend Joe House has declared the “TA Corollary”, road underdogs of six or less and a total of under 45 points went 15-2 ats in the regular season with 9 straight up wins.

We saw that trend continue with the Rams covering and winning outright as a 3.5-point road underdog and a total of 42.5 points. I continue to believe the reason for this trend this season is the lack of home-field advantage is skewing the proper pricing of some of these road underdogs and in short spreads (fewer than six points) where the two teams aren’t distinctively apart, the road dogs are much more valuable in a low totaled game. There are no teams that fit the criteria this week, unfortunately.

Overs did hit in three of five games with, depending on your exact final number, one push in the Colts/Bills game. Ironically, the games with the lowest totals (LA/SEA, TB/WAS, and CLE/PIT) all went over, and none were particularly close. 

Divisional Bets

Over 56 Cleveland Browns vs Kansas City Chiefs

I don’t need to drone on about why Kansas City will be able to score in this game. But the Browns have actually been the better offense for the back half of this season. While the Chiefs rank second in the NFL in EPA per play, the Browns rank sixth. Since Week 12, the Browns rank fourth and the Chiefs eighth. 

Excluding three bad weather games plus the Jets game when the Browns were missing all their WRs, Browns matchups have gone over the total in 10 of 13 games. Cleveland has faced six teams that rank in the bottom 12 in DVOA run defense. They have averaged 5.4 ypc, a 60% success rate (first in NFL), with four of six games when the Browns gained over 200 rush yards.

Kansas City ranks 31st in DVOA run defense. Lately, too, the Browns passing game has been tremendous as well. Since Week 12, the Browns are the fifth pass heaviest team in the NFL in the first quarter and have produced the third-best pass offense based on success rate. The Browns are the sixth-best pass offense on the season, based on EPA per dropback.

As good as the Browns offense has been, the defense has struggled. Their numbers (18th in yards per play allowed, 25th in DVOA defense, and 23rd in points per drive allowed) are not good but they are even worse when you consider they are third in turnovers forced per drive.

Excluding drives that end in a turnover, the Browns rank 26th in points per drive allowed. In addition, when you strip out three games in the middle of the season when they benefitted playing in extreme winds and poor weather, the Browns have allowed 3.2 points per drive, which would rank 31st in the NFL. This defense has not faced a difficult schedule of opponents, with the sixth-easiest schedule of opposing pass offenses when you look at success rate of opponents. Excluding bad weather games, the Browns have faced two teams (Baltimore 2x, Tennessee) which rank in the top 10 in points per drive. In those games the Browns have allowed 38, 35, and 47 points. KC ranks fourth in the NFL in points per drive. I would take this over up to 58.

Baltimore Ravens +8.5/Green Bay Packers -0.5 Teaser

I love getting the Ravens here over two key numbers (3 and 7). The Ravens rarely ever get blown out as they have one loss this season, and only three times in Lamar Jackson’s 39 career starts, by greater than six points (vs KC). The formula of a great run offense that chews up clock and a solid defense typically is blowout proof. The Ravens should have success against Buffalo who is 25th in success rate and 22nd in EPA allowed rushing.

I am not convinced the Ravens will be able to throw well enough against this Bills pass defense to win outright, especially if Josh Allen has success through the air. The Ravens are #1 in the NFL in lowest percentage of explosive pass plays allowed, which should help keep this game within single digits if the Ravens lose.

The Packers will be facing a really banged up Rams team this week with Aaron Donald questionable and Jared Goff continuing to play with a broken thumb. Goff has really struggled the back half of this season and will only play his third true cold weather game of his career (under 30 degrees). His only other two true cold weather games came in 2018. He played in Denver and completed 14/28 passes for 201 yards, 0 TD and 1 INT. He produced a 58.1 passer rating, the eighth worst rating of his career. Then later that same season, on a Sunday night in Chicago, he completed 20 of 44 for 180 yards and four interceptions! That game produced a 19.1 passer rating, which is the single worst game of his career.

It won’t be single digits in Lambeau Saturday afternoon but expected game time temperature is supposed to be in the mid 20’s. Being a California kid who has rarely ever played a cold game in his career is one thing but to do it with a dislocated thumb and making it doubly difficult to grip a football in freezing temperatures is another.

The Rams should be able to slow down this Packers offense, which makes covering 6.5-7 points dicey for me. I do have faith, however, that the Packers will be able to do enough on offense and be able to keep the Rams under 20 points which makes a teaser that only needs a Green Bay win attractive.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers +3.5 -130 vs New Orleans Saints

My model has this as Saints -2 so plenty of value here if you can get 3.5 with juice. I personally believe that the first two matchups this season between these teams is skewing this line in favor of the Saints. If those games didn’t occur, I truly believe this line would be closer to 2.5.

Looking back since 2000, underdogs playing a team for a third time in the playoffs are 17-10 ats (CLE and LAR covered last week). When a team has lost both times in the regular season, they are 4-3 ats and 3-4 straight up in the same situation as Tampa.

I think in their first matchup, a lot of what happened that game was a fluke. Tampa actually outgained the Saints, 4.8 to 4.1, on a yards per play basis and produced five more first downs on only one more play than the Saints. In that game, Tampa had three turnovers, including a pick-6 after a mix up in communication between Tom Brady and Mike Evans, as well as a blocked field goal attempt. One of the turnovers came on a muffed kickoff which led to another three points for the Saints. So New Orleans essentially scored 10 points on defense. That game was virtually even after you take away the turnovers. 

In their second matchup, Tampa was facing a huge injury with the loss of guard Ali Marpet, who is graded as the third-best guard in the NFL by PFF. In that game, Marpet’s replacement was journeyman Joe Haeg, who allowed seven pressures, including four hurries on only 44 pass block snaps. Brady has always struggled with pressure up the middle where he can’t step up, and Haeg got absolutely abused all game. Haeg received a pass block grade in that game of 20.1, which is as low of a grade as I can recall from an OL this season. The Bucs were attempting many deep passes early and Brady never had time to be accurate with his throws. Once the Bucs got down the game was essentially over. They won’t have to deal with that problem this time around as Marpet is back in the lineup.

The Bucs closed as a three-point favorite in that game and when you consider that home-field advantage is virtually non-existent, even if you grant home teams a modest 1.5-point advantage, this line should be closer to a PK based on that earlier season matchup. Neither team has really improved their ratings enough for this number to really change off of that in my opinion. I think we are in store for a great game on Sunday night.

Playoff Best Bets Record YTD: 3-1 ats (75%)

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