With 272 regular-season games in the books, now we turn our full attention to the playoffs. This year will once again feature 14 playoff teams, creating a bit of extra intrigue on this weekend, where six games will be played. It sets up to be a mouth-watering weekend of football, ladies and gentlemen.
The wild finish to Week 18 was somewhat fitting for a highly unpredictable AFC playoff bracket. After everything, we have the Raiders at the fifth seed and the Steelers at the seventh. Go figure. Lying in wait next week for one of these Wild Card teams is the top-seeded Titans.
The NFC bracket is stacked from top to bottom. An argument could be legitimately made for most of these teams to go on a run – apart from the lowest seed Philadelphia, perhaps. Then again, we would be foolish to count them out after their heroic Super Bowl run of late.
The point is, there is nothing like the playoffs, so let’s sit back and enjoy the ride.
Fewer games on the docket mean the Vegas sharps have ample opportunity to drill down and find every edge, so picking the right spots is crucial not only this week but throughout the playoffs.
Note that the over/unders are taken from VegasInsider.com
LAS VEGAS at CINCINNATI (-6.5) (Over/Under 49)
(Saturday, 4.30 pm ET, NBC)
It hasn’t been that long since these teams met. In Week 11, the Bengals rolled into Las Vegas, blasting the Raiders by a scoreline of 32-13, but this time could be very different. After all, the high stakes of the playoffs can make some players a little tighter, a little more hesitant. The playoff cauldron can also bring out the best in the very best players on the field, and there is little doubt that Cincinnati’s side of the ledger looks a lot more promising. Keep in mind, however, that the Raiders have been counted out for weeks on end and have continued to punch out of a corner, stunning opponents like the Colts and Chargers of late. There is fight in this dog, and Derek Carr is playing inspired football right now.
For the home favorite Bengals, it is their first playoff appearance since 2016, the days of the ‘Red Rifle’ Andy Dalton. They suffered many one-and-done disappointments in those years, but the Joe Burrow-led Bengals feel like a different animal entirely. Installed early on here as near-touchdown favorites, the market is bullish on the Bengals’ chances – and why wouldn’t they be? If things go to script, Cincinnati’s combination of defensive toughness and offensive wizardry should be enough to take care of business, but the +6.5 for a feisty Raiders team seems like a decent bet.
Pick: Las Vegas
NEW ENGLAND at BUFFALO (-4.5) (Over/Under 43.5)
(Saturday, 8.15 pm ET, CBS)
The underdog is 5-1-1 ATS in the previous seven meetings of this series, and there have been meetings aplenty recently. Indeed, these teams have faced off twice since early December, splitting the season series in contests that couldn’t have been more different in terms of weather conditions. The ground games of both teams are likely to be called upon this Saturday in the chilly evening conditions in Orchard Park, which should give a slight edge to the Patriots. However, the shaky play of Mac Jones of late – particularly his pick-six against Miami – is a reminder that he is an inexperienced player who can make critical, game-changing errors.
Perhaps it is that lack of faith in Jones that has the Bills locked in as 4.5-point home favorites, or perhaps it is simply down to the fact that, over the entire season, they have been the better team. Josh Allen’s ludicrous arm and leg talent continues to dazzle; he is capable of winning games on his own at times. The Patriots defense is a tough unit, but Allen, who carved them up in one of the most mature performances of his career in Foxborough recently, won’t fear them. On New England’s first postseason visit in the post-Brady era, they should be able to hang tight, but Buffalo is fancied to advance.
Pick: New England
PHILADELPHIA at TAMPA BAY (-8.5) (Over/Under 49)
(Sunday, 1.00 pm ET, FOX)
If you check out the playoff odds in the NFC, the Eagles rank dead last to win the Super Bowl. No surprises there, but it would be foolish to count them out so quickly if, say, you were the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In a Week 6 meeting of these teams, the Eagles narrowly fell 28-22, but that wasn’t the same Eagles team we see now. It was also a different Bucs team, with more receivers to play with and a more confident offense. The trouncing of the Panthers will have done the Bucs’ confidence a bit of good, but this figures to be a much trickier test.
For the Bucs, it is a case of taking care of business here. Once again, they will have to win three straight playoff games to reach the Super Bowl, likely culminating in a visit to Lambeau Field if things fall their way. In the sunny climes of Tampa, Tom Brady shouldn’t bat an eyelid as he tears the Eagles defense to shreds, even without Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown. The -8.5 is not a very attractive number to bet, but a six-point teaser to -2.5, combined with another game you like, is an excellent option. Brady and the postseason go together like hand and glove.
SAN FRANCISCO at DALLAS (-3) (Over/Under 50.5)
(Sunday, 4.30 pm ET, CBS)
Two historic franchises face off in the pick of the Wild Card games, as the red-hot 49ers roll into Dallas. It will be the first playoff meeting of these teams since 1994 when San Francisco overcame Dallas in Candlestick Park in the NFC Championship game on route to a Super Bowl victory. The 2021 version of the 49ers is a different beast, but no less threatening for the Cowboys. Among the many intriguing subplots is how Kyle Shanahan will deploy his Swiss army knife arsenal of weapons. Few defenses have been able to slow down Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk in full flight this season. How the Cowboys defense can hold up against motion will be critical to keeping the score down, as will good eye discipline not to buy the fakes. Still, the Dallas defense has been a machine at times this campaign; Jimmy Garoppolo is a quarterback they can exploit.
For the Cowboys offense, there wasn’t much to draw from the trouncing of the Eagles – other than, perhaps, the fact that they showed off their depth. Cedrick Wilson, for example, continues to be a legitimate threat as a third or fourth option. With Dak Prescott feeling his oats and primed to make a big splash on the postseason stage, the expectation will be for Dallas to take care of business at home. Jerry Jones needs this one, and this version of the Cowboys is poised to deliver for their owner.
PITTSBURGH at KANSAS CITY (-12.5) (Over/Under 46.5)
(Sunday, 8.15 pm ET, NBC)
The AFC playoffs may not run through Arrowhead Stadium technically, but they might as well. The Chiefs have been installed by Vegas oddsmakers as the slight favorites over the top-seeded Titans to take the Lamar Hunt Trophy, and they could hardly have asked for a better opening clash. If this had been the Chargers, it would have been game on. Instead, it is the refuse-to-die Steelers, who have just enough defensive grit to keep this one interesting – to a point. The Week 16 meeting of these teams – a 36-10 Kansas City victory – has perhaps influenced the sharps in Vegas, hence the 12.5-point line.
On closer inspection, given the Steelers offense has been smoke-and-mirrors for most of the season, it is a fair assessment. What Pittsburgh faces this week is a juggernaut, with Kansas City winning nine of their past 10 games. Home playoff games tend to be good to the Chiefs, who swept aside Cleveland and Buffalo last year. Expect Patrick Mahomes II and company to summon up a solid effort on both sides of the ball to dispatch of the Steelers and send Big Ben off into the sunset.
ARIZONA at LOS ANGELES RAMS (-4) (Over/Under 50)
(Monday, 8.15 pm ET, ESPN/ABC)
In the previous two meetings between these teams this season, the road team came away victorious, an indication of how just how closely matched they can be. For the Cardinals, making their first playoff appearance since 2016 when they were destroyed by the Panthers in the NFC Championship, this is a massive opportunity. The last few games of the season have been less than impressive for Kliff Kingsbury’s team, with run defense problems, offensive inconsistency, and frustration from star passer Kyler Murray. Now, with a chance to reset for the postseason at 0-0, Arizona can enjoy playing the role of underdog.
Sean McVay was criticized for his conservative approach to the final moments of last week’s home tilt against San Francisco, with many arguing that he should have run a few more plays to get into field goal range. Instead, overtime ensued, and the 49ers got the better of his team. The Rams should feel confident of getting the job done and advancing, and yet the Cardinals will present a tricky, albeit familiar, opponent. On recent form alone, the Rams are fancied to create a bit of chaos and hassle Murray, but the Cardinals will keep it too close for comfort.
WILD CARD PLAYS
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.
The lines this week provide good opportunities to tease the lines through the key numbers of 3 and 7, while the totals are also tempting.
* ONE STAR GAMES *
- TOTAL DOUBLE (2.6-1 ODDS)
- PITTSBURGH AT KANSAS CITY – UNDER 46.5
- NEW ENGLAND AT BUFFALO – UNDER 43.5
** TWO STAR GAMES **
- ALTERNATE HANDICAP DOUBLE (1.25-1 ODDS):
- LAS VEGAS (+9.5)
- ARIZONA (+7)
*** THREE STAR GAMES ***
- NFC ALTERNATE HANDICAP DOUBLE
- TAMPA BAY (-9.5)
- DALLAS (-6.5)
PICK(S) OF THE WEEK: Las Vegas, New England, Philadelphia, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Arizona
Good luck this weekend!
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