And then there were eight. We’re one step closer to Super Bowl Sunday!
The two best football teams, the Chiefs and Packers, now enter the mix after earning a well-deserved bye. We get two days of playoff football again this weekend – two games Saturday and two games Sunday, so from a bettor’s perspective, we must plan accordingly.
We’re riding hot after going 3-1 against the spread last weekend. Let’s go 3-0 this weekend. Ahead are the best bets for the NFL Divisional round.
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Here are the top 3 bets, plus two super teasers, for the NFL’s Divisional round.
(Odds via the FanDuel Sportsbook; subject to change.)
Saturday, January 16, 2021
Los Angeles Rams @ Green Bay Packers (-6.5)
(Kickoff: 4:35 p.m. ET on FOX)
After finishing with the NFC’s best record, the Green Bay Packers earned an ultra-important first-round bye last weekend. They will now take on the Los Angeles Rams Saturday afternoon at an icy cold Lambeau Field in Green Bay. The Packers, who have the best scoring offense in football, face a formidable Rams defense that dominated the Seahawks as road underdogs last week. The line sits at 6.5, giving us the most intriguing line of the weekend.
Both teams boast top-10 rushing attacks and top-10 rush defenses and are the top 2 teams in time of possession this season. In other words, neither will give each other an inch, much less a yard. Expect a healthy dose of lengthy drives mixed with quick stops, both of which point toward a potential under. While I’ll probably sprinkle a few bucks on it, my pick is against the spread.
My take: Packers up to -6
The line isn’t there yet, but I want the Packers inside of six points. While I respect the Rams’ No. 1 ranked defense (hence wanting a better number), I think the Packers’ offense is well-equipped to penetrate it. However, if the opportunity doesn’t present itself, I’ll reserve this pick for one of my teasers.
When the Rams force third down, they’re stellar, but they’re facing the Packers, the NFL’s very best third-down offense. Additionally, the Rams have an average red zone defense, ranking a respectable but unimpressive 12th this season. Average won’t cut it against the Packers, who have converted an NFL-best 80% of their red zone trips to touchdowns this season. In the last three weeks, the Packers turned nearly 92% of their red zone trips into touchdowns.
Unlike the Packers, the Rams don’t have a great red zone offense. They converted just 57% of their red zone trips to touchdowns, and in the last three weeks, they’ve converted an alarmingly-low 20% to touchdowns. Part of that is due to Jared Goff’s thumb injury, but the injury hasn’t gone away and won’t go away in time for Saturday. Kicking field goals is a recipe for disaster against an Aaron Rodgers-led Packers team that almost always scores touchdowns.
While I fully expect the Packers to win, the Rams defense still has edge rusher Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey, two of the biggest defensive game-changers in the league. Both can disrupt Rodgers enough to force stops and keep the game close. However, I have little doubt that the Packers will prevail. Wait for a better line, and if it doesn’t come, we’ll tease it down.
Baltimore Ravens @ Buffalo Bills (-2)
(Kickoff: 8:15 p.m. ET on NBC)
Josh Allen versus Lamar Jackson. Does it get much better than that? Hardly anything separates these teams, making it the most evenly matched contest of the Divisional round. Both come into Saturday night white-hot. The Ravens have won six straight games, while the Bills have won 10 of their last 11 games. Their only loss came against the Arizona Cardinals and the now-famous Hail Murray pass that ended the game.
Neither team is dealing with significant injuries. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson injured his thumb last week, but it shouldn’t be an issue for Saturday night, at least not as much as the snow might. He’s never played a game in the snow. But even if it does snow, I don’t suspect that will be much of an issue either.
The Ravens are coming off a 20-13 win over the Titans, while the Bills beat the Colts 27-24. Who comes out on top in this one?
My take: Ravens +2 (or ML)
I know I’ve been getting chalky lately, but I love this underdog. When teams are this evenly matched, you must find outliers. The key to this game for the Ravens is the same as it was last week: third down efficiency.
Baltimore’s defense is the second-best in the NFL on third down, allowing a conversion just 34% of the time. That’s terrible news for the Bills, who converted third downs only 35% of the time in the past three weeks. Buffalo went an abysmal 2-for-9 against the Colts last week, playing right into Baltimore’s stingiest threat. Tennessee converted only 4-of-12 third downs on the Ravens last week.
Supporters of the Buffalo Bills can obviously retort that the Bills don’t need to convert on third down because they don’t often get in that position. While that may have been true in the past (Buffalo is the quickest scoring team per play in the NFL), they will meet their true defensive equal this week. The Ravens have the NFL’s lowest points-per-play rate this season, preventing teams from scoring quickly. In fact, teams have a tough time scoring on them, period. Baltimore allows the fewest points per game.
Furthermore, while brilliant quarterback Josh Allen and the Bills have the third-best passing offense in the NFL (289.5 yards per game), they’re taking on a Ravens secondary, led by Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, which ranks 6th-best against it (217.3 yards). For these reasons, the Ravens pose the most significant threat to Buffalo this season.
I’m backing Baltimore as road underdogs, and I could see them winning outright. Take whichever bet you’re most comfortable with, but strongly consider the Moneyline so you don’t have to pay any juice.
Sunday, January 17, 2021
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New Orleans Saints (-3)
(Kickoff: 6:40 p.m. ET on FOX)
Drew Brees’ Saints vs. Tom Brady’s Bucs. I mentioned a duel between young studs earlier, but what about one between future first-ballot Hall of Famers? With a combined age of 84 years, this is the oldest quarterback battle in NFL history. It’s one that’s happened twice already this season, with the Saints thumping the Bucs in both meetings.
Here’s the stat of the day: Since 2002, teams that have beaten an opponent twice in a season are 5-2 when playing a third time. The New Orleans Saints look to make it 6-2 and a season sweep against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. In their Week 9 meeting, New Orleans obliterated Tampa Bay, scoring 31 points in the first half and not allowing them to log a single first down until the second quarter. In the end, the Buccaneers scored as many points as Brady threw interceptions: three.
The Bucs are playing much better football this time around but based on the underlying statistics and Week 9 game film, they don’t match up well with the Saints. The sharp money may have come in on Tampa early, indicating a close game, but I think the Saints are the clear-cut bet to make this week. It’s my favorite of the week.
My take: Saints -3
I understand why bettors want to take Tampa. It’s completely understandable. They’ve averaged 40.7 points per game the past three weeks, and their defense is elite, finishing top-5 in blitz percentage, quarterback knockdowns, pressure, and sacks. Those metrics point toward Brees eating dirt for much of the game, but nothing has changed schematically since Week 9. I won’t say it won’t matter, but New Orleans has found a way to exploit an incredible defense with elaborate quick passes and screens. The Saints also have an X-factor: Taysom Hill.
Hill’s stats against Tampa Bay this season: 3-for-3 passing for 86 yards, ten rushes for 67 yards, two catches for 35 yards and two touchdowns.
The Saints use their two-headed monster with ease, don’t commit many turnovers, and should put up plenty of points this weekend. On the defensive side of the ball, the Saints can’t give up too many points. Luckily, the Saints are the best red zone defense in the NFL over the last three weeks, allowing a touchdown only about 18% of the time.
While they average the most points in the league, the Bucs’ offense converts only 47% of their red zone trips to touchdowns the last three weeks. If those offensive woes continue, they’re in for a horrible day against an elite Saints defense that rarely surrenders long touchdowns.
Too many signs point toward the Saints dominating for the third straight time. At only a field goal spread, I’m comfortably laying the three points.
Rarely will a teaser ever be my biggest bet of the weekend, but I feel one of them is can’t-miss. It’s a two-teamer at -120, so I think there’s strong enough value to call it an exceptional play on the two best and most well-rested teams.
Teaser #1 (6-point; -120): Packers (-0.5) and Chiefs (-4) – my biggest bet of the weekend!
Teaser #2 (6-point; +140): Packers (-0.5), Ravens (+8.5), and Chiefs (-4)
I think we’ve found some winners. Here’s to another exceptional weekend of sports betting! Let’s make some cash.