The Wild Card round provided plenty of entertainment, but it lacked a certain spark. As we narrow the field, the quality sees a major step up, making up for any lack of fireworks this past week. With young guns like Joe Burrow, Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes II to watch, it is shaping up to be a fantastic set of Divisional Round contests.
Let’s sit back and enjoy the ride.
Of course, fewer games on the docket means 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
CINCINNATI at TENNESSEE (-3) (Over/Under 47)
(Saturday, 4.30 pm ET, CBS)
Whether that Joe Burrow touchdown toss was whistled dead or not, the Bengals had the beating of the Raiders. Worryingly, a red-hot start for the Burrow-Jamarr Chase connection (and the criminally underrated C.J. Uzomah) established a cushion for the Bengals that they slowly saw trickle away. A laser-focused approach will be needed against the Titans, a team that seems to thrive on doubt and criticism. Make no mistake, though: this is a great draw for the visiting Bengals. Having knocked off Kansas City just a few weeks ago, man of the people Zac Taylor’s team shouldn’t fear a trip to Nashville.
The Vegas consensus has the Titans positioned as just three-point favorites, something that Mike Vrabel can use internally as a motivator to prove people wrong. After all, it is rare that a No 1 seed is so summarily dismissed by the wider football cognoscenti. A key subplot here is the return of the inimitable Derrick Henry, providing a shot in the arm and a physical presence against a relatively stout front seven. Tennessee’s offensive line should be able to control things upfront, allowing Ryan Tannehill to pick his spots off play action. Vegas has one thing right: on a neutral field, these teams are neck and neck. In Nashville, however, the Titans have the formula and the experience to edge it.
Key statistic: The Bengals have covered the spread in four straight games when playing the Titans.
SAN FRANCISCO at GREEN BAY (-5.5) (Over/Under 47.5)
(Saturday, 8.15 pm ET, FOX)
The San Francisco 49ers have that air about them. If you remember watching the 2007 New York Giants team, they had the same kind of quality to them: they got hot at the right time, they figured themselves out through adversity and the talent surrounding the quarterback provided a blueprint for success. What was lost in the Niners’ victory in Dallas, amid all the hullabaloo of the time running out, the fumble that wasn’t, and the penalties, was how ferocious the San Francisco defense played. They brought their big boy pads, while the Cowboys were left to peel themselves off the sun-soaked Jerry World field. The prize for knocking off America’s Team is America’s (other) team, the Green Bay Packers, who many people have pegged as the Super Bowl favorite. The key for the 49ers will be keeping this game on script for Jimmy Garoppolo. As we saw in Dallas, he is still capable of committing a crucial error or two per game; the Packers will not hesitate to capitalize should those errors creep in.
Bizarrely, the previous four meetings between these teams have all taken place in San Francisco, so the first (and most obvious) storyline here is the elements. The forecast calls for 16F with a little bit of wind, but that won’t knock Aaron Rodgers and company off their stride. In Lambeau Field, this team is very comfortable no matter the opposition; the Packers have won 14 of their last 15 home games straight up. That explains the slightly inflated points total of -5.5, but one must also remember how dominant the Pack has been throughout the season. Recency bias and the ‘hot team’ can get the best of us sometimes, but often the answer is staring us right in the face. The Packers belong in the NFC Championship game.
Key statistic: The Packers have covered the spread in four straight Divisional Round games.
Pick: Green Bay
LA RAMS at TAMPA BAY (-3) (Over/Under 48.5)
(Sunday, 3.00 pm ET, NBC)
The Rams may have one less day to prepare themselves mentally and physically for this game, but they were able to take their foot off the gas (early) against the Cardinals. As such, their bodies may not have the usual wear and tear of a typical postseason clash. The Cam Akers-Sony Michel combination provided some real juice to the L.A. offense on Monday night, while Matthew Stafford was quietly efficient. Having already knocked off the Bucs earlier this season, the Rams should feel that a win is within their reach here. The injuries on the Bucs offensive line should also give some encouragement to the Rams’ front seven.
But the Buccaneers might have something to say about that. Tom Brady, he of the "more postseason games played than all of the other quarterbacks in the postseason combined," may have something to say. Tampa Bay has been on a hot streak of late, winning eight of their last nine games straight up. The key test for the Bucs will be keeping Brady, who had a lightning-quick release time last week due to the pressure he was facing, upright. As long as this line stays at -3, though, it would be foolish to bet against Tom Terrific, who can make Divisional Round games look like child’s play at times.
Key statistic: The Bucs have covered seven out of nine games this season at Raymond James Stadium.
Pick: Tampa Bay
BUFFALO at KANSAS CITY (-2.5) (Over/Under 55)
(Sunday, 6.30 pm ET, CBS)
In case you forgot about the Week 5 clash between these teams, it was a 38-20 drubbing of the Chiefs by the visiting Bills in Arrowhead – and it wasn’t even that close. Josh Allen, as he was last week, was nearly unstoppable in that game – but that was a different Chiefs team. This feels like a tipping point in Allen’s career, a moment where he can either climb a rung above Patrick Mahomes II on the ladder or remain stubbornly on his heels for another year. Buffalo’s performance last week was hugely impressive; only a similarly crisp and efficient display will be enough to get the Chiefs out of their rhythm. It could be argued, though, that Allen’s best is better than that of Mahomes.
Andy Reid predictably pulled out all the stops last week, but without doubt, the old maestro has a few tricks still up his sleeve. Who knows, we may yet see the Travis Kelce package on the goal line once again. It will take a special Mahomes performance to match the red-hot pace of Allen, but then again that has been par for the course for the Chiefs quarterback. The edge of being at home could make the difference here, so the Chiefs are narrowly fancied to get back to yet another AFC Championship game.
Key statistic: The winning team in the past two meetings in this series has scored exactly 38 points.
Pick: Kansas City
DIVISIONAL ROUND 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.
* ONE STAR GAMES *
- WINNING MARGIN DOUBLE (19-1 ODDS):
- TENNESSEE – WIN BY 1 TO 6 POINTS
- KANSAS CITY – WIN BY 1 TO 6 POINTS
** TWO STAR GAMES **
- ALTERNATE HANDICAP DOUBLE (4.25-1 ODDS):
- TAMPA BAY (-6.5)
- GREEN BAY (-6.5)
*** THREE STAR GAMES ***
- FOR THE WIN QUADRUPLE (4.73-1 ODDS):
- KANSAS CITY – FOR THE WIN
- TAMPA BAY – FOR THE WIN
- GREEN BAY – FOR THE WIN
- TENNESSEE – FOR THE WIN
PICK(S) OF THE WEEK: Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Green Bay, Tennessee
Good luck this weekend!
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