Every week I will dissect various narratives that affect NFL betting lines. This is vital, considering that most bettors digest these same narratives weekly. The betting public is larger than ever, and while that’s exciting, it also means sportsbooks can lure and fool action junkies into taking a lousy wager based on repeated narratives purported by the media. My job is to ensure these narratives do not trick you.
Packers (-3) need Christian Watson to Beat Minnesota
All the way back in Week 1, the Vikings hosted the Packers. Minnesota came ready to play, marching right down the field on their opening possession and scoring a touchdown. Justin Jefferson caught a 5-yard pass in the end zone to cap off an impressive 78-yard drive, and this offense has been off to the races ever since.
On Green Bay’s opening possession, Aaron Rodgers opened their drive with an aggressive, deep pass downfield to Christian Watson, who was running wide open, but Watson dropped the pass. Green Bay went three and out and didn’t score for the rest of the first half.
Minnesota followed with 13 more points, over 250 yards in the first half alone, and eventually, they led 20-0 deep into the third quarter. In the end, the Vikings won 23-7, and although the stat sheet doesn’t quite show it, it was a dominant showing from Kirk Cousins, the Minnesota defense, and new head coach Kevin O’Connell.
If Watson caught that pass on Green Bay’s opening play, I think that’s a much closer contest. Of course, we’ll never know, but since then, Christian Watson has morphed into an entirely different player. In his last six games, the rookie wide receiver has caught 25 passes for 408 yards and seven touchdowns. In the process, he’s become one of Rodgers’ favorite targets, and he’s a massive part of their offensive maturation.
At the time of writing this article, Christian Watson has not practiced all week. He’s officially questionable for Green Bay’s crucial rematch with the Vikings at Lambeau Field. While Packers’ bettors are all hoping he plays, I’ll make the case that Green Bay doesn’t need the burgeoning star to beat Minnesota. Here’s why:
- A successful rushing attack is one of the biggest correlations to the Packers’ wins this season. In games where they ran for 138 yards or more, they’re 5-1 straight up.
- Minnesota’s defense is not exceptional against the run, as they allow 4.4 yards per carry (18th overall)
- Minnesota’s defense is even worse against the pass, allowing 7.3 yards per pass (31st) and 281.5 (32nd) passing yards per game. Their sack rate is also poor at 6%, ranking 23rd in the league.
- For the first time since Week 13, All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari practiced in limited fashion on Wednesday. Signs are trending up that he’ll play Sunday, a crucial piece for Green Bay’s offensive success.
- The Packers’ defense is entirely healthy and coming off its most impressive performance of the year.
Winner of Bills-Bengals Will Be in Super Bowl
This is false for many reasons, this is a huge game, but it’s still not the playoffs. Playoff intensity and the proceeding motivation it can produce cannot be duplicated or represented in any other type of NFL contest. Whether the Bills or Bengals win this game, both squads know they have the postseason in their near-futures. At the end of the day, especially if there’s a cause for concern over risk or injury to their star players, motivation can still wane in a regular season contest.
Although both teams should be highly motivated, the Bills and Bengals are vying for the best spots in the AFC, and this game could have a lasting impact on both teams’ seasons. The Bills can clinch the #1 seed with a win, while the Bengals can win the AFC North crown with a win and a Ravens’ loss.
Another reason why this is a false narrative is that we often see the opposite come true in these situations. When one team wins in the regular season, it creates a “revenge opportunity” for the loser if they meet again in the playoffs.
Last season the Rams were bested by the 49ers twice in the regular season, but Los Angeles beat San Francisco in the NFC Conference Championship.
Similarly, the Chiefs lost to Buffalo in Week 5 of the 2021 regular season, and it was a dominant beatdown at Arrowhead. In their next battle, a rematch in Kansas City in the AFC Divisional Round, Kansas City came out on top in a controversial overtime victory. Whether the Bills deserved a chance to score in overtime or not, the Chiefs put themselves in a position to win that game and came out the victor. Case in point, the team who loses on Monday Night Football, may be better positioned for vengeance if and when they face off again.
Finally, a team called the Kansas City Chiefs is still quietly winning and holding on to the #2 seed in the AFC Playoffs. Perhaps more than any other team, the Chiefs have myriad reasons to seek vengeance in the 2022 AFC postseason.
Everyone seems to be talking about and focused on the Bills and Bengals, and for good reason. The Bills are sorting through a tremendously rough schedule and finding ways to win time and time again. Undeterred, Josh Allen continuously outplays opposing quarterbacks, especially when it matters in the clutch. The same can be said of Joe Burrow. The Bengals have won 7 straight games since their embarrassing loss on Halloween. In what could be considered the most difficult stretch of games for any team through November and December, Cincinnati has beaten the Panthers, Chiefs and Browns at home, and the Steelers, Titans, Bucs and Patriots on the road.
Meanwhile, Kansas City is just kind of floating by. They’re eeking out wins against the league’s worst teams: the Rams, the Broncos and the Texans. Their defense has allowed 24 points or more in four of their last six games, and their offense rarely has the same big-play ability that we’ve seen in seasons past.
Still, doesn’t it feel like Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes are always a step ahead of their competition? After Kansas City’s disappointing loss to the Bills at home in Week 6, the Chiefs responded with a 44-23 thrashing of the 49ers in Santa Clara, CA. And after their defeat at the hands of Cincinnati in last season’s AFC title game, Mahomes has been as cerebral and brilliant as he’s ever been this season, on a mission to return to the championship game. At any point, it feels like Kansas City can activate a different gear and overwhelm any team in the NFL.
It’s been three seasons since the Chiefs won the Super Bowl in 2019. Don’t sleep on Kansas City, and don’t assume that this huge Week 17 game has guaranteed implications in the AFC playoffs.
Motivation Most Important Factor When Betting Final Two Weeks
Motivation is a huge consideration in the final two weeks since many teams have been properly booted out of playoff contention while others desperately seek a spot. But motivation alone should never be considered the most significant factor– it’s an additional consideration.
Allow me to share some examples. The Giants, Seahawks, Falcons, Commanders, and Lions all lost last week. Every one of those teams would have put themselves in way better situations if they had won. In fact, the New York Giants would have clinched a playoff berth since all the other aforementioned teams lost. Motivation had to be extremely high for every one of those franchises. What happened is another story:
- The Giants fought hard in a close game in Minnesota, but ultimately their defense wasn’t good enough to prevent the Vikings from reaching field-goal territory at the end of the contest. One 61-yard field goal later, the Giants lose the game and control of their destiny.
- The Seahawks never led, at any point, against the Chiefs in Week 17. They were outmatched early, with the Chiefs leading 17-3 into the fourth quarter, and it was enough to secure a Kansas City victory.
- With rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder behind center, the Falcons never held the lead against a fired-up Ravens defense.
- The Commanders played the 49ers close in the first half of Week 17, only to quickly fall behind once San Francisco made halftime adjustments.
- The Lions simply didn’t have enough defense to stop the Panthers on the road. In last week’s victory, Carolina stacked up 37 points and 570 total yards, 250 on the ground. I’m not sure if the better team won in this example, but they looked like the better outfit last Sunday.
Motivation is huge, and playoff implications often catapult a team’s potential beyond its normal capabilities, but that doesn’t mean it will result in wins. Nor does it result in those teams covering against the spread (ATS); the five teams above went 1-4 ATS in Week 17.
Factors like the matchup itself, the spot, and, quite frankly, on-field talent still matter more than a single intangible. If the better team is equally motivated, that’s a betting angle I can cozy up to.