Despite the 57-35 record to close the season, the Wildcard weekend turned-out to be a little too wild for us. We nailed the Bills and the Chiefs and missed on the others. I was shocked at the manner by which both the Bills and Chiefs dominated, but happy for the outcomes, nonetheless.
The Bengals game could’ve easily gone either way at the end. Neither team looked particularly great in that matchup. The Eagles were absolutely terrible in their game against the Buccaneers. Jalen Hurts had an absolutely abysmal first three quarters and then did what he usually does in the fourth quarter of a blowout loss: pad stats and finally settle-in.
The Cardinals and Cowboys were also equally embarrassing, but for different reasons. The Cowboys shot themselves in the foot with 14 penalties and boneheaded plays all over, while the Cardinals appeared to have absolutely no plan at all in their beatdown at the hands of the Rams.
The Playoffs are Heating up
This week, four amazing matchups will highlight what should be a much more competitive and entertaining week of football. First up are the Saturday games: Cincinnati at Tennessee and San Francisco at Green Bay. Cincy at Tennessee is certainly the game most people are least excited about.
San Fran at Green Bay should be fun and holds the “Aaron Rodgers can’t beat the 49ers in the playoffs” narrative. The Rams at Buccaneers has the narrative of Matt Stafford not winning playoff games vs the greatest QB of all time. Finally, we get the Cold War of the two most explosive AFC teams. It’s going to be an exciting week!
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Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook
Bengals at Titans -3.5
The Bengals came out last week and did little to really impress the league last week against the red-hot Raiders. In fact, you can argue the Bengals just did well to not screw things up last week. They realized it wasn’t going to be a shootout, so no Herculean effort was necessary. However, they nearly let the Raiders pull out the late win. It wasn’t pretty, but they got the job done.
The Titans may be the most disrespected #1 seed we’ve seen in two decades. The Titans lost to the Texans and Jets. Regardless of the elite teams they beat (49ers, Rams, Chiefs) people seem to gravitate towards their worst losses as justification for judging them so harshly. Offensively, the Titans have the 7th ranked offense, anchored by the run game but propelled by their play action. Defensively, they’re mediocre, but their strength is that interior defensive line.
The rub here is how easily teams can run against the Bengals. A big reason why most of the betting public and the sharps are on the Titans is the trench disparity. The Titans don’t have the most efficient run game, but they force their opponent to commit to it, which opens their play action. The Bengals pass rush and secondary will have their hands full balancing the defensive focus.
I expect the Titans will mix things well on offense and find moving the ball much easier than the Bengals will. People are all wrapped-up with the Bengals skill position guys, but the real battles will take place in the trenches. That’s why I trust the Titans more here.
On Friday afternoon, the Titans were 3.5 point favorites at 84% of the cash.
Titans 31 Bengals 23
49ers +5.5 at Packers
The 49ers played really solid football last week and managed to hold-off the Cowboys in Dallas last week. Down the stretch of the season, the 49ers have been solid. Over the last five games of the season, the 49ers went 4-1, with their only loss an away game against the Titans. The defense has showed-up in spurts, but still appears to struggle against play action. The fear in this game is that the wind doesn’t kick-up and Aaron Rodgers picks them apart on defense.
For the Packers, the stretch run seemed like another walk in the park. When we looked closely, the Packers were sort of in cruise control through that run to close the season. They just sort of went through the motions, controlled every meaningful game, and picked-apart defenses when they felt like it. With the Packers, we’ve had a lot of the “cat playing with its live food” going on. Now is the time for them to kick things into gear.
The rub here is two-part. For one, the 49ers have struggled against balanced offenses, particularly the ones who feature a good QB/WR duo. Justin Jefferson, AJ Brown, Davante Adams, and DK Metcalf all feasted against this secondary. When the opposing team has threats on the ground, the 49ers struggle to maintain defensive balance.
The other side of the rub is the Green Bay opponents this season. It’s not that their schedule was a joke, but they seemed to luck-out on most their schedule. The Packers got the 49ers when they were slumping, the Bengals before they got it together, the Cardinals when they began to fall, the Ravens in the thick of their injury crisis, and the Browns with multiple key players out. Now, they get the healthy 49ers who are firing on all cylinders.
Friday’s cash report listed the 49ers as 67% cash favorites. One can point to the historic record of the 49ers vs Aaron Rodgers, but the more critical X-factor is probably the emergence of Deebo Samuel as a true weapon (which the Packers didn’t get a taste of in Week 3).
Packers 30 49ers 27
Rams +3 at Buccaneers
The Rams looked incredible last week when they completely dismantled the Cardinals. We sure missed on that game, but we did learn some valuable things about the Rams. The Rams looked prepared and heavily motivated. The return of Cam Akers shows why the Rams went a little too pass-heavy through the middle of the season. Henderson and Michel just haven’t been the answer. Now, the Rams look complete and prepared.
The Bucs didn’t shock us last week, contrary to the final score. The surprising part was how absolutely putrid Jalen Hurts was. He missed easy throws, hard throws, easy reads, harder reads, and Jalen Reagor really helped bury the Eagles with the drops and the muffed punt. For the Bucs, they cruised on offense, but only because the offense just kept getting opportunities against a worn-down Eagles defense.
I’m clearly more high on the Rams here. They looked so good a week ago. Von Miller, Cam Akers, and Odell Beckham are all playing into form, and the defense looks to be a little more fierce than it was through much of the season. The Bucs have a banged-up offensive line, holes in the WR core, and a banged-up RB group. The Rams appear to be a little too much for the Bucs to handle this week.
Friday’s cash favored the Bucs at 65% but I’m going outside the cash model for this one, since last week didn’t quite play out well for us.
Rams 31 Buccaneers 26
Bills +2 at Chiefs
The Bills probably had the most flawless offensive performance in regular season or postseason history last week. They had seven offensive possessions which all ended in touchdowns. The final possession ended the game. One impressive note was that this not only had not been done in the NFL ever; it happened against a Top 5 defense in the NFL. This week, the Bills have a chance to avenge their AFC title loss to the Chiefs last season.
The Chiefs are in an odd spot here. They’ve been really solid down the stretch and potent when they’ve needed to be. However, they struggled mightily against the Bills earlier in the year. They also failed to really slow down both the Bengals and the Chargers offenses in the last month of the season. With all their shortcomings on defense, it’s important to remember just how good this team is on the offensive side.
For the Chiefs, keeping that offense going will be crucial against the suddenly invincible Bills offense. Jerrick McKinnon has really filled the RB void well since taking over the position, and the Chiefs likely won’t have Clyde Edwards-Helaire back in time to help (not like he’s done much lately anyways).
After last week’s performance against a Top 5 Bill Belichick defense, I can’t stray from the Bills this week. I expect the Bills offense to keep up the strong play, but also expect the Chiefs will keep pace. I like the Bills to win in a thrilling shootout.
The cash report on Friday listed the Bills as 78% cash favorites. We don’t want to stray too far from the cash model this week, so we are going with the Bills in this Cold War.
Bills 34 Chiefs 33