The debut of Super Wild Card Weekend was well received, with the six games delivering thrills, spills, and their fair share of surprises as well. Many casual fans had no idea who Taylor Heinicke was, but the young passer showed toughness and may have, as one analyst boldly predicted, secured a job in this league for 10 years as a backup. A limited Jared Goff and the Rams defense stunned the Seahawks, while the Bills needed a near-flawless Josh Allen performance to squeak past the Colts.
Just an average Wild Card Weekend, then.
My personal record was 3-3, as some of my hunches paid off on the underdogs, while the Bears couldn’t quite get there with the generous points spread (Javon Wims, catch that ball). The fascinating thing about the Divisional Round is how it differs from previous seasons; normally we see more than one double-digit favorite, but this year only the Chiefs can boast of that distinction.
Instead, we have two short home favorites in Buffalo and New Orleans, which speaks to the wide-open nature of the field. There are few better spectacles than the games of the Divisional Weekend each year, so let’s dive in.
Note that the over/unders are taken from VegasInsider.com
LA RAMS at GREEN BAY (-7 to -6.5) (Over/Under 46.5)
(Saturday, 4.35 pm ET, FOX)
The Packers are the Vegas odds-on favorites to be NFC champions at +135, but they will be taking nothing for granted as a fiery and physical Rams team comes to Lambeau. This marks the third postseason meeting between the teams, and it will be up to Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams to find ways around the touch-tight coverage of Jalen Ramsey. Rodgers is 10-8 in the playoffs since 2009, which includes a 3-3 ATS mark at Lambeau. Under head coach Matt LaFleur, however, the Packers have gone 11-6 ATS as home favorites, a 64.7% cover rate. Green Bay, thumbing its nose at Ramsey in the process, may choose to simply get physical on what is expected to be a frigid afternoon. If the Rams can go toe to toe with the Packers up front, however, suddenly the case for yet another L.A. upset is alive and well.
The quarterback situation for the Rams, of course, is the major talking point from their perspective. Sean McVay refused to declare a starter when speaking to the media on Sunday, but reading between the lines would suggest John Wolford will get the nod if healthy after his stinger. The contribution of Cam Akers last week in Seattle perfectly complemented the suffocating defense, and a similar effort will be required from the combination of Akers and Malcolm Brown. Another intriguing subplot here is the relationship between the head coaches, with McVay having helped LaFleur along a few years ago to eventually secure the Packers head coaching gig. Both teams have similar offensive DNA, something that could aid the Rams in their preparation. It would take a stumble from Green Bay to give L.A. encouragement, but defense travels and the Rams look like they will have Aaron Donald back after an injury scare.
Pick: Los Angeles
BALTIMORE at BUFFALO (-2.5) (Over/Under 50)
(Saturday, 8.15 pm ET, CBS)
While home-field advantage has not counted for much this season, the Bills have proven to be the exception. Even without the Bills Mafia in tow, they have gone 8-1 SU and 6-3 ATS at home. The last time these teams met was in 2019 when Lamar Jackson tossed three touchdown passes to lead his team to a fifth straight victory for Baltimore over Buffalo since 2010. But that was a different Bills outfit and crucially a different Josh Allen. The Bills quarterback was phenomenal last week against the Colts, singlehandedly leading the charge on the ground and through the air and willing his teammates to secure the win. With the injury to Zack Moss last week, it may once again fall to Allen to produce moments of magic. Considering how Tennessee’s vaunted rushing attack was routinely shut down by Baltimore, an air show might be the best route to success for the Bills.
John Harbaugh added to his fantastic Wild Card Round record in Tennessee last week, making it 6-1 under his stewardship. In the Divisional Round, however, the Ravens have stumbled, going 2-3 on the road during Harbaugh’s tenure. The most fascinating chess match in this game, however, may be that of Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale and how he chooses to attack Allen, who has been prone to mistakes often in the past. The match-up of the Bills’ deep wide receiving corps against the disciplined Ravens defense will be must-see TV. The winner of this game has an excellent chance to go all the way and take the Lombardi Trophy, and most would agree that both teams have more momentum than Kansas City entering the postseason. The Bills own a perfect 4-0 record in the Divisional Round at home. The expectation is that they can squeeze this one out in front of a hyped but less packed home crowd.
CLEVELAND at KANSAS CITY (-10) (Over/Under 57)
(Sunday, 3.05pm ET, CBS)
The lock of the week resides in Kansas City if you are to put stock in the Vegas line of -10 in the home team’s favor. When we dig a little deeper, though, the question has to be asked: with the Browns playing with house money as they are, is this in fact the most dangerous team for the number one seed Chiefs to be facing? An argument could be made to that effect, and we have witnessed our fair share of top seeds falling in the Divisional Round after a long rest. This marks the first postseason meeting between the teams, but former Texas Tech passers Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes II have locked horns once before, in 2018, when the Chiefs' maestro dropped 37 points on the unfortunate Browns. The Arrowhead factor cannot be discounted, with Mahomes recording a 3-1 record there and an overall 4-1 mark in his postseason career.
The points spread tax continues to hit the Chiefs hard, pushing this line perhaps a 1.5 higher than it really should be. To illustrate that, you have only to glance at the Chiefs’ ATS record at home – 3-5. However, all four postseason victories under Mahomes have come by 11 points or more, including last year’s insane comebacks against the Chiefs and Titans. The Browns will be talked about all week as being loose and ready for the challenge – and they could be – but let us not forget that the Chiefs have the ability to go from zero to 100 in a heartbeat. A ball-control approach featuring former Chiefs back Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb is the best hope for the visitors, and their offensive line could exploit a Kansas City front seven that has been soft at times. The potential returns of guard Joel Bitonio and cornerback Denzel Ward would be significant for the Browns, but will it be enough? When it comes down to it, though, it is the Cleveland defense that is the weakest unit in this match-up – and Mahomes eats defenses like theirs for lunch.
Pick: Kansas City
TAMPA BAY at NEW ORLEANS (-3) (Over/Under 52)
(Sunday, 6.40 pm ET, FOX)
The cream of the crop of the Divisional Round games, in this gambler’s humble opinion, featuring two golden oldies at quarterback and a wealth of intriguing subplots. The Bucs will remember the embarrassment they suffered at the hands of the Saints in Week 9, a shocking 38-3 result that left many questioning the viability of Tampa Bay as a playoff contender. Since then, they haven’t exactly erased all of their defensive problems, but they have tweaked the offense to suit Tom Brady. Last week, for example, the offense looked an awful lot like the New England days, with more two tight-end sets and play-action looks. The most important battle to win for the Bucs will be their offensive line versus the Saints defensive front, the latter of which has routinely bossed opponents all season. Tampa boasts one of the league’s best offensive line units, however, so the Saints may not have it all their own way. Brady will be featuring in his first Divisional Round road game since 2006, but he is undefeated in his previous eight games in the round overall.
While the Bears provided little in the way of resistance for the bruising Saints, there were encouraging signs that Drew Brees had taken another step in the right direction after his rib injuries. The return of Michael Thomas and Deonte Harris provided outlets for the veteran passer on quick passes, undoubtedly his forte at his advanced age. One wonders, however, if Sean Payton may have something cooked up to attack a Bucs secondary that has been, well, cooked often this season. Brees’ eyes are sure to light up if Payton gives him the chance to go downfield and put their division rivals away early. Given that Vegas has made this a -3 line in the home team’s favor, the message is that on a neutral field these teams are dead even, and they might be. The Bucs should be able to keep this close, but the Saints are fancied to book their place in the Conference Championship game behind a balanced attack and a stifling defense.
Pick: New Orleans
As with the regular season format, this article will give out not only the Best Bets for the postseason but also a rating of each one on a 1-3 Star scale. The more stars, the bigger the emphasis on that side of the game.
* ONE STAR GAMES *
- ALTERNATE HANDICAP DOUBLE (6.15-1 ODDS)
- LOS ANGELES (-0.5)
- KANSAS CITY (-13.5)
** TWO STAR GAMES **
- ‘UNDER’ DOUBLE (2.61-1 ODDS):
- LOS ANGELES/GREEN BAY – UNDER 46.5
- BALTIMORE/BUFFALO – UNDER 50
*** THREE STAR GAMES ***
- MEGA FOUR-TEAM ACCUMULATOR (4.28-1)
- NEW ORLEANS (-2.5)
- BUFFALO (-2.5)
- GREEN BAY (-2.5)
- KANSAS CITY (-2.5)
PICK(S) OF THE WEEK: Los Angeles, Buffalo, Kansas City, New Orleans
- SEASON OVERALL: 132-118-4 (53.1%)
- BEST BETS: 36-30-2, last week 3-1 (55.2%)
- PICK OF THE WEEK: 43-37-1, last week 4-1 (54%)
- LAST WEEK: 3-3
- POSTSEASON OVERALL: 3-3 (50%)
Good luck this weekend!
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