Beating the Spread: Divisional Weekend Edition

Last Week’s Record: 3-3

Recap: Welcome to the best weekend in football! The Divisional round matchups rarely disappoint. You have the 4 best teams in each conference, and most often, you can make a case that any team could win the Super Bowl from here. Though I will say that the number 1 seeds are still the most dangerous teams and should be the favorites to advance from their respective conferences. Last week, I was disappointed that the Bills didn’t put the Colts away after they went up double digits. I have to give Philip Rivers credit – it wasn’t his fault Indy lost. I have no words to describe what transpired in Seattle this past Saturday. I knew that the Seattle offense was struggling, but holy moly, when did their offensive line become that putrid? The Rams have a terrific pass rush, but it felt like Wilson was snapping the ball to his death, while Jared Goff threw for under 200 yards with a broken thumb and won a playoff game (sound familiar Patriots fans?). 

Washington covered with an incredible performance from Tyler Heinicke – there is no doubt that this was the best quarterback performance from Washington we’ve seen all season. For a minute there, you almost thought they could steal it until Brady shut the door. On Sunday, I felt so vindicated that the Steelers lost, the absolute frauds that they are. I’ve been calling it for weeks and I’m so happy about that. The Saints nearly didn’t cover, which would have been the last screw you from Chicago to me this year. I’m indifferent about the Titans/Ravens result. It was a pick-em game in my estimation, but the cowardly punt by Vrabel just killed me. It was also not a good day to be a Derrick Henry fan. 

Without further ado, I want to move on to some spicy bets: Divisional Weekend Edition! (Note: All spreads are as of Thursday night on DraftKings).  

SATURDAY GAMES:

Rams @ Packers (-6.5)

I find it inconceivable that the line is only 6.5 points for Green Bay. But this is only the 2nd most surprising spread of the week. The Browns being 10-point underdogs after crushing Pittsburgh feels disrespectful. I would find this line disrespectful to the great Aaron Rodgers, if I did not have immense respect for the Rams pass rush and Sean McVay’s offensive wizardry. There is something to be said that is the 2nd largest underdog spread that the Rams have had with McVay as coach, considering he’s had to deal with wildly inconsistent quarterback play the last 2 seasons after making it to the Super Bowl. But I say this with all due respect to the Rams  . . . they should get shellacked in this game. There is no way that the rested Packers with the best quarterback-wide receiver combo season since Manning-Thomas in 2013 (69 total TDs for the Denver duo vs. 66 for the Green Bay duo) should not put this game away at halftime. If Goff was in 2018 form, I’d probably pick the Rams to cover, but this defense may be as good as it was in 2018, the offense is not. I can’t see this game being close. The Rams will punt too many times for the 4th quarter to really matter. 

Bet: Packers

Ravens @ Bills (-2.5)

This should be the best matchup of the week. Both teams are actually amazing ATS, so picking this game is kind of like flipping a coin ten thousand times, both teams may win the same amount of times. Baltimore this season is 11-5-1 ATS which is the best in the NFL, whereas Buffalo is 11-6, which is 3rd best. Allen is an MVP candidate, and Jackson is the reigning MVP. After both suffered bitter playoff disappointments last year, they both got the proverbial “monkey” off their backs with respect to winning a playoff game. So now, I’d say the pressure ironically is roughly equivalent on Josh Allen as it is on Lamar Jackson. There have been whispers that he’s a more impactful player than even Patrick Mahomes, which is probably going too far, but 46 total touchdowns is no joke. Lamar won MVP last year with fewer total touchdowns than that last season, amidst the same whispers about his “value” over Mahomes. Mahomes won the Super Bowl last season, but now that both Allen and Jackson have a chance potentially to really show who’s the premier challenger to Kansas City in the conference *Tony Romo voice* I’m excited. However, I’ll say it, Josh Allen will lead Buffalo to the win. He’s been consistently better and more dangerous than Lamar Jackson, and the Bills have a great situational defense. Also, the Bills have covered 8 of their last 9, just missing out last week. 

Bet: Bills

SUNDAY GAMES:

Browns (-10) @ Chiefs

I cannot believe I’m typing this, but the Browns deserve way more respect. I know naysayers will say that the only reason the Browns won was due to the turnovers that Pittsburgh gifted them in the first quarter which allowed them to build a 28-0 lead. I will say that if they go up 28-0 in the first quarter again, I’d love to see the odds on Kansas City tying the game by half time a la last year’s Divisional round win. The Chiefs were not in great form heading into the playoffs, but I’m not someone to make grand statements on form alone entering the playoffs since each situation is different. Andy Reid is Bill Belichick-ian off a bye with winning %, so the Browns have a tall order against them to upset Kansas City. That being said, as I’ve mentioned before many times in my Chief’s takes: the way to beat Kansas City is to A) Not play Tyreek Hill single coverage, B) Run the ball well C) Don’t go 3 and out. The Chiefs are the Golden State Warriors of the NBA; they could play terrible for a half and then win handily within 10 minutes. The Browns have a solid secondary, with an excellent running attack with Chubb and Hunt, and Baker Mayfield has been money on 3rd down in recent weeks. Smells like a closer game than Vegas would like to admit. Also, Mahomes is 5-7 all time ATS when he’s a double-digit favorite. 

Bet: Browns

Buccaneers (+3) @ Saints

I’ll be the first to admit this: this is 73% a heart pick. But, for the remaining percent, allow me to explain the completely “rational” explanation for my unadulterated faith in Tom Brady. So, he is only 5-4 on the road in the playoffs. But, three of his losses were to his greatest rival Peyton Manning (who is a superior quarterback to Brees). Brady has won his last 2 road playoff games, including a memorable 2018 AFC Championship in freezing Arrowhead. The conditions in the dome are perfect for the aging quarterback (meanwhile Brees was not impressive at all last week) and the lack of home crowd will make playing in New Orleans not as challenging – though the Saints have been bounced out of the playoffs the last 2 years at home. 

Since the Saints last played the Buccaneers, and admittedly thrashed them, Tampa Bay has allowed pressure on Brady only 10% of the time, even through the blitz % has gone up to 36%. So, I have to give credit to Tampa Bay’s offensive line, especially last week when Brady shredded a top 5 passing defense. New Orleans should win this game: they’re at home, have the better defense, have the better coach, and they have Tampa Bay’s number. But I have a feeling if this game is close late, considering the heartbreaking losses they suffered recently), I can see a severe case of what I like to call “lemon booty.” Brady also has 13 4th quarter comebacks in the playoffs, which is 4 more playoff wins than Drew Brees has in his career (9, which incidentally is the number of wins Brady has had since turning 39). 

Bet: Buccaneers 

YTD Record: 43-51-4

Lal Birali

Lal is a recent graduate from Northeastern University, majoring in CS and Finance. What helps him unwind from the work week – football! Lal was raised in Massachusetts, so he makes his bed with Tom Brady and the NE Patriots. A 6-year fantasy vet and 1-time champ, Lal is what you would call an unconventional fantasy owner: he picks QBs early, usually care more about WR/FLEX over RB2s, and will typically draft one of the following players, if available: Jordy Nelson, Doug Baldwin, Todd Gurley, Aaron Rodgers, Emmanuel Sanders, James White, or Keenan Allen. In my spare time, I watch sports, go see movies, and draw.

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