Good Morning, Bolts From the Blue!
The playoffs roll into the second stage this weekend after an exhilarating Super Wild Card Weekend where we bore witness to three upset wins for the first time since 2019. It was the story of the underdogs as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers triumphed over the Philadelphia Eagles, the Houston Texans demolished the Cleveland Browns and the Green Bay Packers conquered the Dallas Cowboys.
Now that the number one seeds enter the fray, will this tale of the longshots continue? Let’s look at each game and the betting opportunities amongst them.
Houston Texans vs Baltimore Ravens
The Texans walked into the playoffs to face a team which many considered as the best defense in the league and they walked out having scored 45 points, even benching the rookie phenomenon CJ Stroud midway through the fourth quarter. Their offense showed the league just how explosive it can be under Bobby Slowik, the highly sought after offensive coordinator, as he picked apart Jim Schwartz’s vaunted defense with ease, meaning Stroud was able to do as he pleased. The Texans’ defense was the surprise of the day to many as they managed to shut down the Browns’ offense as well as stealing two touchdowns on Joe Flacco throws.
This game will be an entirely different beast as the AFC’s number one seed, the Baltimore Ravens, play host to DeMeco Ryans’ Texans at M&T Bank Stadium. Lamar Jackson and Todd Monken’s offense is one entity in its own right, however the battle people will be clamoring to see is how CJ Stroud will do against the actual best defense in the league. Mike Macdonald’s unit have held teams to a miniscule 16.5 points a game and they even surpassed that when they kept CJ Stroud and co. to a miserly nine points way back in Week 1. Stroud took the Browns apart on throws between the hashes with over 40% of his yardage coming on throws to this area, however the spine of the Ravens’ defense, made up of Kyle Hamilton, Roquan Smith and Justin Madubuike, is almost impossible to contend with so don’t expect this to be repeated.
When the Ravens have the ball it will be no picnic for them either as the Texans have a stout run defense which ended the regular season allowing the sixth fewest yards per game. So can Lamar Jackson lead his team to victory through the air despite averaging less than 200 yards a game? The answer lies in Lamar’s fourth place finish in yards per attempt amongst starters, this shows that when the Ravens want to get the ball in the air, they are more than capable of it. DraftKings Sportsbook have the Ravens as heavy 9.5-point favorites and I have three fancies on the back of this; take the Texans on the spread at -110, add the Ravens moneyline at -425 as well as under the 43.5 total on offer at -110. I really like the under here for the reasons I have explained above but add in the fact that these are two of the league’s cleanest teams in terms of turnovers as well as being two of the league’s best special team units, therefore neither side will be giving up bad field position and will force long drives to keep the score down.
Green Bay Packers vs San Francisco 49ers
Jordan Love has rounded out the 2020 quarterback class as one of the best in the past few decades after finally earning the Packers’ fans affection with a flawless performance against the Dallas Cowboys in the wild card round. Love ran rampant over a well rated Dan Quinn defense putting up video game numbers meaning that yes; the Packers have seemingly done it again. Love ended the season in threatening form so the more surprising twist was how a Joe Barry defense kept Dak Prescott quiet until he fluffed his numbers in garbage time, I still need someone to explain that outcome to me.
Enter the San Francisco 49ers. Not only did Kyle Shanahan’s side end the season as the number one seed on the NFC side of the draw, but they did it in some style by eviscerating anyone who dared to call themselves contenders in their conference. Their loss to the Ravens in Week 16 was the only real stumble and they haven’t been tested since so it will be interesting to see how they come out of the gates.
The imperious 49ers now face one of the youngest teams in the league and if I am being straight with you, I do not see a Packers’ defense being able to keep their offense within touching distance. This may be a big line at 9.5 points but I am taking the 49ers to cover it at -110 but I do back the Packers to get some points on the board against Steve Wilks’ defense so a bet on the over 50.5 points at -110 is a must.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Detroit Lions
Baker Mayfield and Jared Goff are the only two former number one overall picks left in the playoffs but neither play for the team that picked them, I don’t know what to do with this information but I thought I’d share it because it made my mind wobble a bit. Those who were paying attention to the NFC South (I really don’t blame you if you elected not to) noticed how Dave Canales seemed to have found a recipe that had started to work with Baker towards the end of the regular season. He showed that form was no fluke in a huge performance against the Eagles to complement a defensive route masterminded by Todd Bowles.
That win may have come easy in the end but in contrast their opponents this weekend, the Detroit Lions, were locked into an almighty battle where they emerged one point victors over the Los Angeles Rams. Dan Campbell’s embattled crew played two games that night, an explosive offensive tennis match in the first half and a dogged defensive fight in the second. This is what I wanted to see from the Lions, we know what their offense is and how dangerous it can be but their passing defense has been exposed at times so it was good to see some resolve on the back end.
That performance convinced me to take the Lions’ moneyline odds of -265 but I am still apprehensive about their defense so I am leaning towards taking the Buccaneers to stay within the 6.5-point spread. I am in favor of taking over 49 points at -108 though as both offenses have shown an ability to win in multiple ways.
Kansas City Chiefs vs Buffalo Bills
What a way to round out the weekend. This may not be the AFC juggernaut showdown we have become well acquainted with over the last four years but it is going to be a fun game nonetheless.
Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid and Travis Kelce are still here but their usual over-achieving supporting cast have fallen well below expectations this season. Only Rashee Rice can even be considered as a valued member of the one of the league’s worst wide receiver groups after a disastrous season meant they scraped their way to enough wins to earn yet another AFC West division title. This week the disappointing Chiefs’ offense will be going up against a much tougher defense than the Miami Dolphins could muster up with all their injuries so it seems like they will be once again relying on some Steve Spagnuolo magic. The mad scientist defensive coordinator is much adored by fellow film nerds but he deserves much more respect from the national audience and this may be the game he garners it.
The Buffalo Bills’ offense reminds me of David Bowie; every time you think you figure it out, it reinvents itself and you’re back to square one. They started the season relying on an always open Stefon Diggs, then Gabe Davis became the guy before James Cook hit top speed but then came the playoffs and their pair of tight ends stepped up into the limelight when needed. The one consistent has been the lead singer, Josh Allen, who plays his own way no matter what the situation. He will throw into triple coverage off his back foot with exactly the same face as when he trucks and jukes his way for a 50 yard gain. We should treasure his cavalier play style whilst we can. Sean McDermott’s defense has also been spotty over the course of the season mainly due to injuries but as they got healthier, the points allowed tumbled and with that defensive success came a six game win streak.
Back in Week 14, the Bills won by three points in Arrowhead and if we compare that game to this one, the Bills have only improved since then whereas the Chiefs may have even regressed. That means with the location switched to Highmark Stadium (thanks to that Week 14 win) I am keen to take the Bills to win and cover the 2.5-point spread at -120 but I am even more keen to bet the under 45.5 points at -108 as these two teams know each other all too well to fool for their usual tricks.
Here is how the BFTB staff sees Divisional Round breaking down:
What do you think, BFTB? Are any of you placing bets on the second week of the playoffs?