The NFL’s Divisional Round is here, and we have three games set. As usual, this weekly piece will dissect these games from an oddsmakers’ perspective, comparing them to where I would set the betting line. In doing so, I’ll establish where I see early value. So far, I’m 6-2 betting on the postseason, with a best-bet teaser still looming tonight. Let’s get to the games.
The fourth game will be added once Cowboys vs. Buccaneers concludes on Monday night. The winner of that game will face the San Francisco 49ers.
Where I set the line: Chiefs -7, Total: 50
The Jacksonville Jaguars accomplished one of the greatest comebacks in NFL postseason history on Saturday night. Down 27-0 deep into the second quarter, Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars came out of halftime like a new team. Lawrence threw four interceptions in the first half; some were unlucky, and others were just bad decisions. That version of Lawrence didn’t show up in the final two quarters.
Lawrence and his offense went on a melee of production, accumulating more than 200 yards on three straight touchdown drives out of the break. Travis Etienne ran hard, the offensive line protected Lawrence on key third downs, and their defense held the Chargers to only three second-half points. Even better, their second-year quarterback showed moxie and poise in the game’s biggest moments, willing his team to victory. The Jaguars ended up winning on an end-of-game field goal, cementing a storybook comeback.
Doug Pederson’s coaching style is clearly bringing out the best in his young team. Lawrence is showing the world why he was such a highly-anticipated draft pick, and the team seems unified behind Pederson and Lawrence’s leadership. No matter who they’re facing, the Jaguars are a dangerous team. They’ve now won six straight games.
Momentum is a real thing, and it’s paying dividends for teams like the Jaguars and New York Giants. Still, this is the Kansas City Chiefs we’re talking about. Arrowhead Stadium will be rocking, and Lawrence showed he can buckle under pressure. While Lawrence overcame his demons last weekend, the Chiefs are a different animal. Jacksonville’s offensive line played well against the Chargers as they only allowed two sacks. Otherwise, they provided Lawrence with plenty of time to throw downfield. They’ll need to be at their best this Saturday.
Chris Jones isn’t celebrated enough, but the six-foot-six-inch, 311-pound defensive tackle is in his prime, and he’s as ferocious as it gets. Kansas City’s defense hasn’t been good, but it barely matters if their opponent can’t contain Jones. The big man has 15.5 sacks and 29 QB hits this season. The Jaguars will have to limit Jones’ impact to win this game.
The Jaguars’ defense is good, and they have some electric, young athletes but slowing down Kansas City’s offense is another endeavor entirely. They don’t have the big-game experience to compete with the hyper-fluid style of Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes, and for that, the Chiefs deserve to be a significant favorite. I also think the Jaguars can keep up – we’ve seen how explosive they can be – especially since it’s not like the Chiefs are a top-tier defense (they allow opposing QBs to throw 65.91%, good for 21st in the NFL).
Early Betting Take: Even though I don’t show much disparity with the total, betting on the over is probably a good look. As far as betting on one side or another, I show value on the Jaguars.
The Chiefs will probably win by a touchdown, but Jacksonville has legitimate momentum and far less pressure than a Kansas City squad that’s expected to be in the big dance every year. The Jaguars also have the offense to keep up.
Where I set the line: Eagles -7.5, Total: 48
I gave the Eagles a little more credit in this line, but that doesn’t mean I’d want to bet on them this weekend. This write-up gets a little difficult for me since I need to put my bias aside as a Giants fan. After yesterday, it’s becoming harder to doubt the Giants.
Of all the underdogs on the wild-card slate, the Giants were ripe for an upset. They played Minnesota closely just three weeks ago, and right from the beginning of Sunday’s game, we saw why. The Giants did whatever they wanted to on offense. Daniel Jones ran for more than 70 yards and threw for two touchdowns.
They accumulated nearly 100 more total yards than the 13-4 Vikings (Giants: 431 yards, Vikings: 332). Minnesota led 7-0 after their first possession, but just three minutes later, the Giants tied the game on an impressive five-play, 75-yard drive featuring big runs from Jones and Saquon Barkley. The Vikings never held a lead, which is an impressive feat for a Giants’ defense that’s been inconsistent this season. Most importantly, the Giants never turned it over.
It was an all-around solid performance from the Giants, who have clearly turned the corner. Brian Daboll deserves every accolade imaginable for turning around a roster that simply couldn’t win and couldn’t sustain any success in previous seasons. The Giants were more creative, they were crisp in their execution and they looked more prepared than the Vikings. Next week, the Giants have a date with their division rival, the No. 1 seed Philadelphia Eagles in The City of Brotherly Love. It’ll be their third meeting this season.
The Giants were obliterated 48-22 at home in Week 14 against the Eagles, but I’m not sure how much that matters going into Saturday night. If anything, that’s more fuel to inspire the underdog. Since that loss, New York’s offense has averaged 28 ppg and 389.5 yards per game. Their defense has only allowed 18 ppg. I didn’t count Week 18, when the Giants didn’t play any of their starters.
The Eagles are the more talented team; there’s no doubt about that. But they’re also cruising into the postseason without any real momentum. After their big win against New York, the Eagles barely beat the Bears — one of the worst teams in the NFL. Then, they lost to Dallas on the road without Jalen Hurts. In Week 17, they lost at home against the Saints in a contest where they could’ve clinched home-field advantage. They ended the season barely beating the Giants’ B and C squads.
Hurts has been open about his throwing shoulder not being 100%. From all reports I’ve read, Hurts should be much closer to normal after a two-week break. The Eagles will need Hurts at his best against a Giants’ offense that’s finding its rhythm.
Early Betting Take: If you like the Giants, the best route might be to take them early. Not a lot of things have gone the Eagles’ way recently, and it’s reasonable to assume they might come out cold and clunky in the first half.
The Giants are riding a wave of positive energy and if there’s one obvious anecdote from Wild-Card weekend, it’s how well-prepared the Giants were for their first postseason game in six years. Just like the Dolphins-Bills and Ravens-Bengals games, I think this battle will be closer than many think.
Where I set the line: Bills -2.5, Total: 49
Both the Bengals and Bills were involved in unexpectedly close battles last weekend. I wasn’t blown away by either team’s performance.
Let’s start with the Bills. Against the Dolphins and third-string rookie quarterback Skylar Thompson, the Bills nearly lost at home. Of course, the Miami offense didn’t execute at a high level – they only gained 231 total yards – but big plays from their defense had Josh Allen and the Bills in vulnerable positions for the majority of the contest.
Allen was sacked seven times, threw two interceptions and fumbled three times. Luckily, only one fumble ended up being a turnover. My biggest concern from the Bills’ game is Allen not looking like himself for a solid two quarters.
Midway through the third quarter, Kaiir Elam picked off a bad Thompson pass on third down, giving Buffalo a short field and an instantaneous touchdown. That seemed to reset Allen’s comfort level, but his deer-in-headlights disposition wasn’t a promising sign in crucial moments. Regardless, the Bills did enough to secure a win, and they’ll move on to host the Cincinnati Bengals next weekend.
In a 24-17 win over the Ravens, the Bengals didn’t look as refined as during the last two months. In probably the sloppiest game of the Wild-Card round, the Bengals only gained 234 total yards on 4.3 yards per play. The Ravens’ defense deserves credit. They created constant pressure on Joe Burrow, never allowing the upstart quarterback to gain any rhythm. Burrow didn’t surpass 200 yards passing.
On top of that, Baltimore’s offense controlled time of possession and ran for 155 yards on a top-10 running defense. At one point, it looked like last year’s AFC representative in the Super Bowl might be granted a quick exit.
In one of the craziest plays anyone’s ever seen in a playoff game, a Tyler Huntley quarterback sneak on the one-yard line turned into a 99-yard fumble return touchdown for Sam Hubbard, giving the Bengals a seven-point edge in the fourth quarter.
The Cincinnati defense stepped up when it mattered and stifled Huntley and the Ravens on their final drive, but the away team had the ball in the red zone before a holding set them back. In the end, the Bengals were fortunate to escape with a win.
Early Betting Take: Before this weekend, the Bengals looked like, arguably, the best team in the NFL. After Sunday, it’s hard to make that assertion. It would be hard to assert anything similar about Buffalo, too. But when these two teams took the field in Week 17, they looked ready.
I think both teams play a cleaner game this Sunday, one reminiscent of the elite qualities that got these squads to this point. I would bet on the Bengals at this line. The Bills are undoubtedly one of the best teams in the NFL, but they don’t deserve to be favorites by more than a field goal. Cincinnati has done nothing but win and display dominant performances since November. I expect a first-class battle between two of the AFC’s best and a close contest.
Where I set the line: 49ers -5, Total: 47
The Cowboys took care of business on Monday night, knocking off Tom Brady in what could be his last game as an NFL quarterback. Dallas’ defense was aggressive and effective for 60 minutes, constantly garnering pressure on Brady with little to no blitzing – just a dominant defensive line led by the dynamic Micah Parsons.
Parsons made his presence known early with a scary two-yard tackle for a loss on Rachaad White on Tampa’s first play. He didn’t take his foot off the gas for the entire game, nor did Dallas’ defense. The Cowboys held the Bucs to only 120 yards and zero points in the first half, including a big red zone interception of Brady.
The bigger story coming out of the game was the play of Dak Prescott. In all the games I’ve seen Prescott play, this was his best yet. He showed poise, and decisiveness with his throws, and he made quick reads all game. The Bucs’ defense played a curious “Tampa 2” scheme, which gave Dallas’ wide receivers a lot of wiggle room off the line of scrimmage.
Regardless, Dak used it to his advantage and sliced and diced Tampa Bay’s secondary for 305 yards and four touchdowns. Their run game was effective when it needed to be, too. Their backs gained 128 total yards against a historically stout front seven.
The Cowboys will head to the Divisional Round of the NFC Playoffs with plenty of momentum now, but their foe has even more.
The San Francisco 49ers won their 11th straight game on Saturday, eventually overwhelming the Seattle Seahawks in true 49er-style. Seattle kept it close early, going into halftime with a 17-16 lead on the home team before Brock Purdy and the San Francisco offense found their footing on three straight touchdown drives to start the second half.
A competitive, one-point game quickly turned into a 38-17 San Francisco lead. The 49ers rode their lead behind their typically high-achieving defense, which held the Seattle offense to only 134 yards in the final two quarters. Geno Smith deserves credit for how fluid the away team’s offense looked early – most teams never have anywhere near that sort of success against DeMeco Ryans’ defense – but that’s probably more about a division team facing its rival three times in one season. We saw similarly close games in two other divisional battles last weekend.
Early Betting Take: It’s going to be hard to not bet on the 49ers, but I’m holding off for now. Two of the most storied franchises in NFL history will duke it out on Sunday in what should be a highly entertaining contest. The 49ers should be favorites over a field goal – they’re at home, and they’ve looked unstoppable since the end of October.
The question is – how well will Prescott fare against the vaunted 49ers’ defense? One thing is for certain: San Francisco’s front seven and secondary won’t play coverage as soft as what Prescott saw last night. Regardless, Dallas has the talent on both sides of the ball to keep this game within distance.
Right now, I would lean toward the 49ers, but it’s not something I’m betting on just yet. I would lean to the over, too. As good as these two defenses can be, both teams are predicated on putting up big points game-to-game. During their last seven games, the 49ers have averaged 34.5 ppg. The Cowboys have averaged 31 ppg during the same span.