NFL BEST BETS
There are only seven games left in the NFL season, including four games in the Divisional round this weekend. Of the eight remaining teams, it’s cool seeing Detroit, Houston, Green Bay, and Tampa Bay among them. The Texans, Packers, and Buccaneers had upset wins last week, while the Lions won their first playoff game in 32 years. There’s a decent chance that one of these teams ends up in the Super Bowl and, personally, I would love to see it.
Last week, we were 2-1 with our best bets. We were wrong on the Steelers-Bills game, but made up for it on the Dolphins-Chiefs and Eagles-Buccaneers games. Like the Wildcard Round, most of these lines are just about where I would expect. The only real issue I had with a line last week was with Philadelphia being a three point favorite at Tampa Bay. No game in the Divisional Round stood out as being mispriced, at first glance. However, once again, I think the Buccaneers are being overlooked by the sportsbooks. That’s nothing new, as Tampa Bay has a 12-6 ATS margin this season, tied for best in the league. But, the team that they are tied with is the team they are playing, the Detroit Lions. So which team is being undervalued? I still think it’s the Bucs, as they are covering the spread by an average of 8.3 points per game, by far the highest in the league. The Lions, even with the same record as Tampa Bay against the spread, only covers by a half point per game.
There are no road favorites this week, so we can’t exploit the trend of road favorites having the highest winning percentage against the spread this year. But there are some other things we can look at to possibly gain an edge. I like to see which team the pros are higher on than the public. One way to do that is to compare the percentage of bets on a team to the percentage of money bet on that team. For example, 48% of the bets placed on the Chiefs-Bills moneyline are on Buffalo. However, 79% of the cash is on Kansas City. So while the public perception is betting on a Bills victory, the pros see more value in betting the Chiefs. When I look at the bets placed versus money wagered on the spread for games this week, I see that 45% of the bets are on Green Bay, but 58% of the cash is on San Francisco. So the big-time bettors once again are at odds with the public. I don’t automatically side with the pros, but it’s another data point to consider when betting.
Texans at Ravens
It’s a dream season for C.J. Stroud and the Houston Texans, going from the fewest wins in the league in 2022 to winning the AFC South and a playoff game victory at home last week. The Texans are a team on the rise and the future looks bright in Houston. This week, they travel to Baltimore to play the top seeded Ravens, who sit atop my, and most other’s, power rankings. This game has a big spread for a Divisional Round matchup, but the Ravens have been historically great this season, finishing with the third-highest team DVOA in history. As magical as Houston’s season has been, it’s going to be a tall order to take down Baltimore on the road.
The Ravens average 32 points per game at home. Their high-powered offense will be difficult for the Texans to slow down. Although Houston is good against the run, one of Baltimore’s offensive strengths, they still have to contend with Lamar Jackson, who is having his most prolific year passing the ball.
On the flip side, the Texans have one of the worst rushing games in the league. The Ravens will be able to focus on C.J. Stroud, who has not performed nearly as well on the road. He has only six passing touchdowns away from home and averages just 231 passing yards, compared to 17 touchdowns at home and 310 passing yards per game.
This game opened at -8 in some sportsbooks and has risen a full point since. I think that the line could be even higher. Baltimore is on a tremendous roll right now. They blew out the Dolphins and beat the 49ers handily. I think there’s a good chance the Ravens add another blowout to their season.
Packers at 49ers
It seems like we’re headed for a 49ers-Ravens Super Bowl. Both teams have been dominant, with the exception of San Francisco’s three game slide mid-season. They’re clearly the two best teams in the league. However, they still have to win two more games to get there.
To illustrate just how good the 49ers have been, 11 of San Francisco’s 12 wins have been by double-digits, including their last 10 wins. The Rams got to within 10 points because of a meaningless field goal with four seconds left in the game. You could argue they had a soft schedule, and that has merit, but their +3.4 ATS margin suggests they beat the teams they were supposed to beat by more than projected. Having said that, the 49ers are 0-5 against the spread in their last five home games.
San Francisco ranks first in Offensive DVOA while Green Bay is 27th in Defensive DVOA. When the 49ers offense is on, it’s almost impossible to stop. The Packers are going to have to score a lot of points to keep this game close. To do that, they will need to have a successful run game. Although San Francisco allows just 89 rushing yards per game, their run defense is exploitable. They’ve been able to overcome it by building up big leads and forcing opponents to air it out. If Green Bay cannot get the ground game going, the 49ers will be able to focus on stopping the pass, whicFh is something they do really well.
The Packers are the youngest team in the league. Their future looks bright, but I think their season ends this weekend. I have SF by 10 in my model, so as long as the spread stays under that, I’m taking the 49ers.
Bucs at Lions
I feel like the Buccaneers are the Rodney Dangerfield of football- they don’t get no respect. They’ve won six of their seven games, including their last three road games. And in their last four games, they’ve allowed just 44 points.
I mentioned earlier that Tampa Bay has a 12-6 against the spread this year, but it’s even better on the road, where their ATS record is 8-1. Part of that is because Baker Mayfield has the second highest passer rating in the league in road games. Detroit is allowing 380 passing yards per game over the last four weeks, so the stars seem to be aligning for Mayfield to have a good day. He will need to for the Bucs to win. They have a poor run game, and the Lions have the top rush defense in the league, according to DVOA.
Over their last five games, Tampa Bay and Detroit have legitimately played like top five teams in the NFL. I think this is a better matchup than people anticipate and I believe the Bucs will keep it within a touchdown, so I’m taking them at +6.5.
Chiefs +3 at Bills
This is the game we all want to see. A primetime matchup between two of the top teams in the league. Can Josh Allen get over the hump and make a Super Bowl run or will Patrick Mahomes reach his sixth consecutive AFC title game? I don’t know, but I think whichever team wins will win by less than a field goal.
The Chiefs lost to Buffalo in Kansas City by three points in Week 14. The Bills haven’t lost a game since. They’re playing their best football at just the right time. Kansas City easily disposed of the Dolphins last week and looked like a championship-caliber team for the first time in weeks. Buffalo comes into the game as a three point favorite, but that could be an ominous sign for them. In his career, Mahomes is 8-1 against the spread as an underdog, winning seven of those games outright. Meanwhile, the Bills are the only playoff team with a losing record against the spread. On top of that, Kansas City has two extra days of rest because Buffalo’s game was moved to Monday last week.
The Bills have a lot of injuries on defense and they’ve had difficulty defending the middle of the field. Travis Kelce could be in for a big day, which means we could see plenty of Taylor Swift reactions in the booth. There are some issues the Chiefs will need to overcome to win this game, however. They haven’t played very well on the road, tying for the 4th worst turnover margin and the 7th worst red zone touchdown percentage. But I don’t think there’s any way Mahomes will not come through this week. I don’t know that Kansas City will win this game outright, but I’m betting it will come down to the very end and be decided by less than a field goal.
Doug Burrell finished 2022 as Fantasy Nerd’s Most Accurate Expert in NFL Picks and Tallysight’s #1 ranked expert Against the Spread Expert out of 200+ experts. He is a veteran, a runner and an avid fantasy sports enthusiast since 1999. You can reach him on Twitter @dougwburrell.
Doug is a veteran, an avid runner, and works as a copywriter. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and three dogs. You can reach him on Twitter @dougwburrell.