Good Morning, Bolts From the Blue!
The Chargers are due to play the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium in the afternoon window of the penultimate week of the season. Both teams will be starting backup quarterbacks after Justin Herbert and Russell Wilson’s seasons were cut short for entirely different reasons. Easton Stick vs. Jarrett Stidham is not the type of matchup that will sell tickets but it does provide an opportunity to look at the pieces around them and the structure of the offense itself.
Before the Chargers’ game gets started we have an early window treat that sees the Miami Dolphins going to the Baltimore Ravens to attempt a steal of the lead in the AFC number one seed race. The Cleveland Browns put serious pressure on John Harbaugh’s men by handsomely beating the New York Jets on TNF, leaving them only half a game back in the AFC North. The Dolphins are 1.5 games ahead of the Buffalo Bills and if they lose here and the Bills win over the New England Patriots, then that game will decide who takes the division crown and who drops to a wildcard spot.
DraftKings Sportsbook has the Ravens as 3.5 point favorites at home meaning the Vegas oddsmakers see them as pretty equal as you usually get a field goal buffer for playing at home. However I see a bigger gap between the two sides; the Ravens have beaten the brakes off of genuine contenders in the Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers whereas the Dolphins’ only statement win over a contender was a narrow scrape past the Dallas Cowboys last week. I am therefore taking the Ravens to cover the spread at -102. I am confident in the under bet for the total of 46.5 too at -110 because of Miami’s underrated defense. Since Week 8, Vic Fangio’s defense ranks first in EPA per play, total points allowed and total yards per game including a stout run defense. Their complicated system might take some time for Lamar Jackson to pick his way through so I think the under is a great play especially considering the way Kyle Hamilton and Mike Macdonald’s defense played in Week 16.
At the same time we can watch a game with big implications in the NFC South, as the New Orleans Saints take on the division leading Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Whilst the division itself has been bottom tier all season long, the late form of the Buccaneers has been impressive. Dave Canales has transformed Baker Mayfield into a renaissance version of the player he was Oklahoma, throwing darts with a swagger-like confidence. This resurgence has finally grown to compliment their solid defense and the results are clear to see as they have won four in a row to take a half game lead in the division. On the other side of this rivalry game are a Saints team that has seen a slight return to form, easily winning two games before losing to the Los Angeles Rams despite mounting a big comeback attempt in the fourth quarter. Their offense seems to be predicated on Derek Carr forcing the ball to the sidelines no matter the context and this just does not seem reliable. The Buccaneers are therefore my play to cover the 2.5-point spread at -110 and I like the over 42 points on offer at -112 because both teams are terrible at running the ball so this game will be a long one with the clock stopping multiple times a drive, giving time for Mayfield and Carr to put points on the board.
In the mid afternoon slot we will see the Cincinnati Bengals go up against the Kansas City Chiefs, and whilst this clash has lost some of its charm with both sides having subpar seasons, it has been made more interesting by the rise of Jake Browning happening concurrently with the fall of the vaunted Chiefs’ offense. Not even the heroics of Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce has been enough to paper over the negative impact that one of the worst wide receiving groups in the league has had on Andy Reid’s offense. The Chiefs’ defense has actually been the unit keeping them in games this season but even they have faltered allowing a shocking 27 points to a Patriots’ offense that the Chargers shut out a few weeks prior. The Bengals’ season has been miserable since Week 1 but they saw a burst back to life under new quarterback Jake Browning winning three games straight with over 27 points in each win, before coming back to reality against a tough Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense last week. Lou Anarumo’s defense has been a shadow of its former self however allowing a huge 383.4 yards per game, second worst in the league, however he showed the league the way to shut down the Chiefs’ offense during the 2021 AFC title game so maybe he has a plan to compile Mahomes’ frustrations to a fourth loss in five weeks. You may have guessed it already but I like the Bengals to cover the huge 6.5-point underdog spread at -108 and I’d even have a go at the moneyline odds of +250 considering how generous DraftKings Sportsbook have been! There is one caveat though as Jamarr Chase is questionable to go in this one, if he doesn’t play then the spread should be the play.
Here is how the BFTB staff sees this game breaking down:
What do you think, BFTB? Are any of you placing bets on Sunday’s slate?