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Welcome to the playoffs, and thank you to all who tailed throughout the regular season. Our final record was 19-15 (55.9%), and while my goal was 58-60%, I’ll never scoff at a profitable regular season. Plenty of room for improvement moving forward, but a successful first regular season is in the books.
For the playoffs, since there are significantly fewer games, I plan on changing the free bets article up a bit. I’ll still handicap my two best bets of the weekend, but I’ll also briefly touch on each game not included in the best bets section and mention any “leans” I may have to offer. Keep in mind, these are just leans, and they’re really just to help you get a better idea of how I approached handicapping the game.
Remember, just because you plan on watching 20 hours worth of playoff football this weekend doesn’t mean you have to bet every game; play responsibly.
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Seahawks/Rams Under 42.5
We’ve got the rarely-seen third meeting of the year between the Seahawks and Rams, and neither of their previous meetings reached this total of 42.5. Back in Week 10, Los Angeles topped Seattle 23-16, and in Week 16, the Seahawks got revenge in a 20-9 victory. A 39-point output followed by a 29-point output. Clearly, these teams know each other very well, are able to effectively plan against each other’s offensive scheme, and probably won’t be able to hit on many, if any, big plays as a result.
We all know how strong the Rams defense is; they’re 4th in defensive DVOA and 1st in both yards and points allowed per drive. They don’t give up big plays either. They rank 2nd against explosive pass plays and 3rd against explosive rushes. And, while Seattle’s offense was an absolute juggernaut earlier in the season, they’ve come to a screeching halt ever since Russ stopped cookin’ (I tried to come up with a better pun, I take full responsibility for how disappointingly square this one is).
In Seattle’s first seven games of the year, they averaged 33.7 points per game. In the final nine: 20.6. It’s hard to fathom the offense getting back on track against such a strong defense that’s already faced them twice. I’m actually not sure the Seahawks are trying to get their offense “back on track”; I think this was their intention. Slow down the drives on offense, and make life easier for the defense. And, it’s worked. Seattle’s defense is all of a sudden… good again.
We’ll use the same split for the Seahawks defense as we did for their offense: through the first seven games, Seattle’s defense allowed 31.1 points per game. In the last nine games, they allowed just 14.2 points per contest. And now, they’ll be going up against a Rams offense with question marks at the most important position: quarterback.
Jared Goff has practiced in a limited capacity this week despite undergoing thumb surgery less than two weeks ago. Starting Goff is like playing online poker and limping into a flop with pocket three’s, you know it’s a decent hand, but you’re going to need a little luck to pull off. If he plays, great. He’s obviously at less than 100%, and I can’t imagine a surgically repaired thumb is going to be comfortable to play within the rain, wind, and cold weather that Seattle has to offer this time of year. Expect a heavy dose of running plays from one of the most run-heavy teams in the league, and if Goff is forced to throw, look for a ton of short passes and not much over the top. If John Wolford plays, also great. He’s an undrafted rookie with one NFL start. And now he’s got to go on the road against Russell Wilson in the playoffs in his second NFL start? He’ll have jitters, and the Rams will of course be conservative.
A final point on this one, in addition to both defenses matching up really well with both offenses: where has D.K. Metcalf been lately? Metcalf was taking the top off of defenses left and right for the majority of the season, but of late, defenses have been taking away the deep ball from Seattle. Metcalf had 1,119 yards and a 17.8 yards per catch average through 12 weeks, but since, he’s totaled just 184 receiving yards and 20 catches in the final four games combined. Things won’t get any easier against Jalen Ramsey, that’s for sure.
Bills/Steelers Moneyline Parlay (-114)
This is basically a teaser; Buffalo is favored by 6.5 and Pittsburgh by 6. If your book doesn’t let you combine two moneyline bets into a parlay for whatever reason, feel free to enter this in as a six-point teaser with Buffalo laying a half-point. It’s the exact same bet, exact same odds.
This may be the last week where we’ll play a teaser or moneyline parlay. I usually try to stay away from them in the playoffs because of how incredibly unpredictable the games can be – even more so than in the regular season. However, this is the perfect storm and the odds are way too good to pass up. I’d play this down to -130; I know some books don’t provide the same friendly parlay odds that DraftKings does. Let’s start with the Bills, shall we?
Buffalo is a runaway train right now, and I’m not going to be the one to step in front of it. The 6.5-point spread is just a hair too rich for my blood; I’m a bit concerned about a backdoor cover from Indianapolis. Plus, the Colts run the ball really well, and while the Bills defense has drastically improved over the course of the season, they’re still just 18th in DVOA against the run, 29th in preventing explosive runs and 31st in rushing success rate allowed. I don’t really want to lay almost a touchdown in the playoffs with a mismatch like that staring me in the face.
That being said, the Bills offense absolutely cannot be stopped right now. They’re averaging 38.2 points per game in the six contests since their bye week, and have outscored their last three opponents 142-54. They may not be able to consistently stop the Colts, but they shouldn’t have too much of an issue out-scoring them. Plus, they’ll have fans in the building for the first time all season, and while it won’t be at its usual capacity, the team is going to want to show up for their long-suffering, insanely passionate fan base.
I loved Pittsburgh enough when the lines came out last weekend that I wrote up my handicap a week in advance. Unfortunately since then, a lot has changed, including the spread. So, I pivoted to taking Pittsburgh on the moneyline in a parlay. Much of my original handicap still applies:
Cleveland is a mess right now, on and off the field. Let’s start off the field, of course. Head coach Kevin Stefanski is in the COVID protocol, and if you want to downplay the fact that he’s not actually in pads and a helmet, fine. But before you do, just remember how bad the Lions looked against the Buccaneers when they lost their coach for the same reason. Are the Browns the Lions? No, but that performance by Detroit was one of the worst I’ve ever seen in my 20+ years of watching the NFL. Head coaches matter… a lot.
Also, offensive lineman Jedrick Wills and wide receiver Rashard Higgins were cited for drag racing earlier in the week. It may turn out to be nothing at all, but that’s a severe lack of focus and something I’m not willing to get behind.
Now, on the field: offensive lineman Joel Bitonio is out due to COVID protocols, and offensive linemen are the last thing the Browns can afford to lose going up against a tenacious Steelers defense. Baker Mayfield struggles under pressure, and the last two weeks really concerned me.
In Week 16, the Browns lost to the Jets. Sure, they were without essentially every pass-catcher on the roster. But they still inexplicably threw the ball 53 times with absolutely no success. In a must-win game against the then-one-win Jets. In Week 17, they were a failed two-point conversion away from heading to overtime against the Steelers backups. Again, in a must-win game. I watched a good amount of that game, and Mayfield barely outperformed Mason Rudolph. Now he has to go back to Pittsburgh to battle the Steelers starters without his head coach and one of his best linemen? Tall order.
I’m also concerned about the Browns receivers post-COVID. Their own teammate, Myles Garrett, has mentioned numerous times how tired and out of breath he was in his first few games back from COVID. The Steelers defense is tough enough as it is, and this is a legitimate concern.
Pittsburgh has been an average-at-best team down the stretch, but they’ve also been here before. The Browns haven’t, and I’m not a fan of betting on teams where the majority of the roster is making their playoff debut – quarterbacks especially.
Best of the Rest
Buccaneers (-9) vs. Washington (O/U 44.5)
This entire season has been bombarded with jokes about the NFC East, and I genuinely think that’s made people overlook how truly outstanding the Washington defense is. Their defensive line is a handful, ranking 6th in adjusted sack rate. Their defense as a whole is 3rd in DVOA and 2nd against the pass. Tampa Bay has far too many weapons to be completely shut down, but we know the best way to throw Tom Brady off his game, and that’s to get pressure on him. Washington is fully capable of doing that.
But, Washington’s offense has too many question marks to back them, regardless of how big this spread is. Alex Smith is less than 100%, and the Bucs defense is good. Points should be at a premium in this one, and since I expect a lot of dump-offs:
Lean: Under 44.5 and Antonio Gibson over 11.5 receiving yards
Titans (+3.5) vs. Ravens (O/U 54.5)
This is such a tough one. The Titans have had the Ravens number of late, but the Ravens are red-hot, albeit against bad teams. Two run-heavy teams in the cold, both of whom had Super Bowl aspirations coming into the year – it’s just difficult to really have a strong feeling on this game. It just seems really strange to me that Tennessee is getting a field goal at home. It feels like the books are begging us to take the Titans. I won’t oblige, and will probably pass altogether, but since the Titans defense is pretty dreadful:
Lean: Ravens ML (-175)
Saints (-10) vs. Bears (O/U 51)
I feel like this line is really inflated thanks to the Saints going insane on Christmas against Minnesota and then making quick work of Carolina last week. That being said, it’s tough to trust Mitchell Trubisky at all, let alone in the playoffs. He has been better of late, though. And the Bears have found a running game. Plus, ten points is just too many to lay in a playoff game. In the last three years, just two of the 12 Wild Card round games have covered a 10-point spread, so I’ll ever-so-weakly lean with that trend.
Lean: Bears +10