Now we’re talking. Divisional Playoff Weekend, the best football weekend of the year. Two games Saturday, two games Sunday. Only the teams that were good enough to get a bye or win a playoff game. Big-time stuff!
Were there any big picture takeaways from Super Wild Card Weekend? Of course!
- Seventh seeds don’t belong – Philly and Pittsburgh got blown out, as did Chicago last year. The 2020 Indy team was the only seventh seed to even play a close game over the two years of the current playoff format. So going forward, we need to treat seven seeds as “non-bye byes” for the number two seeds—the football equivalent of #16 seeds in the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
- Home teams did well – Dallas was the only home team to lose last weekend/Monday. As discussed here last week, the last time home teams won more than they lost was in 2016, when they went four for four. This Wild Card Weekend bucked recent history.
- The games weren’t close, like at all – The Raiders and Cowboys both had last-second failed chances to win their games with touchdowns. The rest of the games were decided by an average of 22.5 points. So trying to thread the needle of taking the losing team to cover (as I did in a couple of games) was a very bad idea.
- There’s no Cinderella in the Divisional Round – It’s a stretch to think we don’t have the eight best teams in the league playing on. Of the teams that lost, Arizona was the last unbeaten but stumbled hard down the stretch, Dallas won a very weak NFC East, and New England felt like a paper tiger all along, as wins over bad or beat up teams fueled the “Belichick is back,” and Mac Jones is good” narratives. You can make a reasonable case for any of the remaining teams getting to and winning the Super Bowl. (Can I say Super Bowl, or do I have to refer to it as the “Big Game” or some nonsense like that? If so, sorry, NFL lawyers.)
We’re down to seven games left in the season. So let’s make them count!
(Standard disclaimer – NFL Divisional Playoff Betting Lines – All opinions are my own and may or may not reflect those of this website. “Analytic Lines” are ELO point spreads from fivethirtyeight.com, and “Vegas Lines” are courtesy of thelines.com, current as of the writing of this article. Predicted Line (“PL”) is my early week estimate of where the Vegas line would be set. Chosen games are those with a multiple point variance between the Vegas and Analytic Lines for the NFL Divisional Playoff Betting Lines.)
Last Week Accountability
A pretty “meh” week for picks. I went 5 – 1 straight up, but only 3 – 3 against the spread. ELO continued its late-season resurgence with an excellent 4 – 1 – 1 mark. For this week’s reviews, I’ll pull a key quote from last week’s column and see how it played out.
Game of the Week – San Francisco at Dallas – “Kyle Shanahan can coach circles around McCarthy.”
I think that pretty much sums this game up. It’s fair to say that 14 penalties and a completely botched last-minute drive to potentially win the game don’t speak to a well-coached team.
Philadelphia at Tampa Bay – “This one’s over early and over ugly.”
Another simple and absolutely accurate summation. Philly was never in this one.
Arizona at Los Angeles Rams – “McVay >>> Kingsbury, so I’ll grab the points, pick the Rams to win”
I was so caught up in Matthew Stafford’s lack of playoff…anything that I never considered that if Kyler Murray laid an egg in his first playoff start, this would get out of hand. But he did, and it did. As mentioned above, trying to thread the needle was a bad idea.
New England at Buffalo – “I like New England’s chances of mucking up the game enough that I’d rather have the points.”
Could not have been more wrong. Neither cold nor Belichick nor dead of night could stop Josh Allen from delivering touchdowns. Early, often, and all night long.
Pittsburgh at Kansas City – “At least I’ll be able to go to bed at a decent hour. This one should be over by halftime.”
I could have, but I didn’t, which was foolish because I had to get up at 5:00 AM Monday to shovel out from under 15” of snow, which is more interesting than the last three quarters of this game.
Upset of the Week – Las Vegas at Cincinnati – “They’re riding high after beating the Chargers on Sunday Night. Look for that to carry over into Saturday.”
I generally like teams who ended the regular season in “playoff mode” going into Wild Card Weekend, but four weeks of it may have been too much for the Raiders. They were beyond sloppy in the first half, and it ended up costing them. Yes, they were nine yards from a potential winning touchdown at the end, but the Bengals controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and were the better team.
Last week: My picks: (ATS) 3 – 3, (SU) 5 – 1; Analytics: (ATS) 4 – 1 – 1
Season: My picks, 74 – 74 – 1; Analytics, 73 – 72 – 4
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NFL Divisional Playoff Betting Lines
Game of the Week
Buffalo at Kansas City – Analytic Line: KC (-4.5), Vegas Line: KC (-1.5), PL: KC (-3)
The most significant disparity between ELO’s expectations and the Vegas line is the game that looks to be the most interesting of the weekend. A potential shootout, and the one game that you can look at and say this is probably the real conference championship game. A rematch of last year’s AFC Championship, won by KC, and Week Five, won by Buffalo. They’re very similar teams. Elite QB’s, one elite WR, “for display only” running games, good, but not elite defenses, and both generally healthy. KC has home field, the better coach, and Travis Kelce, all things that matter in the playoffs. It should be a barn burner, and I’m laying the points with the home team.
Make It A Parlay
Cincinnati at Tennessee – Analytic Line: TENN (-4.5), Vegas Line: TENN (-3.5), PL: TENN (-3.5)
Cinci popped their playoff cherry last week but took their sweet time putting away a Raider team that put the game on a platter for them. This is a step-up in class. Going on the road against a team that can play keep away from Joe Burrow and should do a better job of pressing their advantage over the Bengal O-Line when he does have the ball. Let down game for the Bengals. I’ll take the Titans and expect this to be the least competitive game of the weekend.
San Francisco at Green Bay – Analytic Line: GB (-7.5), Vegas Line: GB (-5.5), PL: GB (-5.5)
You know what this game reminds me of? December 27th, 2020. Tennessee, a team from a moderate climate, with an elite running game, a big, elite wide receiver, and a good D line, but porous secondary rolled into Lambeau Field for a night game in the cold and snow. Notice any similarities? Allow me to refresh your memory if you don’t recall what happened on that Sunday Night. The Packers played with a previously unseen defensive discipline and bottled up Derrick Henry. The Titans couldn’t cover Davante Adams. Matt LaFleur used Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon in the same backfield, causing confusion and some big plays. The Packers jumped out to a three-touchdown lead in the first half, survived a minor comeback attempt after halftime, and used Dillon to bulldoze the defense into submission in the 4th quarter, leaving the Frozen Tundra with a 40 – 14 win.
I’m not saying the Packers will win by 26 points as they did in that game, but the stars are aligning for them. San Fran will be playing back-to-back road games on a short week, and frankly, they weren’t all that impressive against Dallas, leaving them in a game they should have won handily. The Pack avenge their 2019 Championship Game loss to the Niners and look forward to avenging their 2020 loss to Tampa next week (foreshadowing alert!).
Non-Upset of the Week
Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay – Analytic Line: TB (-5.5), Vegas Line: TB (-3), PL: TB (-4.5)
I like the chalk, so no Upset of the Week. I know this is the trendy upset pick, but I’m not buying it. One reason:
Tom Brady Playoff Wins: 35, First: 2001 vs. Matthew Stafford Playoff Wins: 1, First: Monday
OK, two reasons, the Brady/Stafford thing, and the Rams are going cross-country on a short week against the defending champs.
That’s it for the NFL Divisional Playoff betting. Next week, on to the Championships!
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