Saturday's Best Bets
January 11, 2018
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NFL Playoffs Divisional Round – Saturday Best Bets
We are down to eight in the NFL playoffs as one of the eight teams left in the 2017-18 NFL playoffs will experience euphoria in a few weeks when they hoist the Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl 52. Our job is to figure out which teams will get there though, and now that Divisional Weekend is here, there are some important things to keep in mind.
For one, this is the week where we get the best of the best in the NFL this year at home and expected to move on. We've got a curve ball in that regard this year with #1 seed Philadelphia being the first ever top seed as a home dog in this round because of the Carson Wentz injury, but home teams are expected to win these games on the whole and many bettors approach these contests that way. Yet, there is something that can be said about the old “rest vs rust” argument and the idea that all the visiting teams this week experienced and got rid of those playoff jitters a week ago while these home teams are still yet to go through that. In the win-or-go-home scenario that is the NFL playoffs, sloppy or slow starts can end up burying these good teams too much that they can't come back.
Which leads me to my second point and that is that aside from Super Bowls, historically it's the Divisional Round that produces the most surprising upsets in the NFL playoffs. Just off the top of my head it's impossible to not think of the 2005 Steelers (over Indianapolis), 1996 Jaguars (over Denver), 1987 Vikings (over San Francisco), and the 1983 Seahawks (over Miami) as some of the most shocking upsets the NFL playoffs have ever had, and those all came during the Divisional Round. So with both #1 seeds in action on Saturday and one of them possibly falling into that shocking upset category should they lose as heavy favorites (New England), let's get right to the best bets on the day.
Odds per - Intertops.eu
Best Bet #1: Philadelphia Eagles +3
Oddsmakers had to come out with Atlanta as road chalk given the Wentz injury and the Falcons holding a decided “edge” in experience as the defending NFC Champions, but this number is flat out disrespectful to an Eagles team that was good/great all year. It also suggests that the consensus opinion of Wentz is that he's already a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer and his presence was the ONLY reason Philly won 13 games and got the #1 seed. Make no mistake about it, Wentz is a solid signal caller, but I'm not close to ready to anoint him yet and with Foles having plenty of experience in this league as a starter I'm comfortable backing him as well. Oh, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the rest of this Eagles team rally around him as they've all got to feel disrespected here.
On the flip side of things, let's look at this game from a historical perspective regarding the Atlanta Falcons. We all know that they are the reigning “runners up” in the NFL after losing the Super Bowl and while they did manage to make the playoffs again this year, Divisional Weekend is usually what spells doom for these teams.
Since the 1994 season – the year after Buffalo lost their 4th straight Super Bowl – reigning Super Bowl losers have never gotten back to the Super Bowl, but more importantly for our purposes, they've only got back to the Conference Championship game twice; the 2012 New England Patriots and 2013 San Francisco 49ers. Those teams that did make it to this week like Atlanta has are 2-6 SU in the Divisional Round, including 1-5 SU on the road. That is not good news for a Falcons team that is not only on the road, but are the first team ever to be favored over a #1 seed this week and it's all because of one injury.
Add in their troubled playoff past in outdoor venues, which includes an 0-5 SU record all-time as an organization on the road against NFC East foes in the playoffs (0-2 SU vs Philly), and I'm grabbing the points with the home side here in a game I believe the Eagles win outright.
Odds per - Intertops.eu
Best Bet #2: Tennessee Titans +13
Tennessee surprised the majority of bettors last week with their comeback win in Kansas City, as sportsbooks were thrilled with the result as the Titans wins killed all those KC teasers right out of the gate. Well, we've got a similar situation here as everyone has already written New England into the Conference Championship game as the Pats will be a favorite of teaser players again this week. But New England isn't without their flaws and their biggest one on defense plays right into Tennessee's strength on offense.
New England finished 31st in the NFL in yards allowed per rush at 4.7 and the Titans prefer to beat you with their ground attack of RB Derrick Henry, QB Marcus Mariota, and any other RB's that get time on the field. The Titans finished 9th in the league with 4.3 yards per rush on the year, and we just saw Henry go off for 156 yards on the ground against the Chiefs. The Titans path to a shocking upset has to have some element of them finding success running the ball, sustaining long drives and putting up TD's rather than FG's at the end of them. Given New England's weakness against the run, logic suggests that Tennessee should have some success in that regard.
Tennessee will also need their defense to step up and play the way they did in the 2nd half of that Wildcard game and not the 1st. That's where DB Logan Ryan's acquisition can pay dividends here (at least ATS) as he's very familiar with the Patriots system and what they look to do against you. Tennessee was able to keep the Chiefs off the scoreboard the entire 2nd half, and while the same result probably won't occur against New England, Ryan's knowledge of New England's system should help out the entire Tennessee defense stay stout. If the Titans give New England fewer possessions with long offensive drives of their own, the more pressure the Pats feel having to execute on each and every snap. If Brady or anyone else has a few mistakes in there with turnovers or such, then we've got another key ingredient for how these big Divisional Round upsets happen as I'm not ready to write in New England to the Conference Championship quite yet.
So with oddsmakers likely looking for a Pats win by less than six points (to kill all teasers), I believe Tennessee comes through for them again this week and keeps this game well within this double-digit number on the spread. And if you've got some stones or aren't afraid of big risks, a Titans ML play at +600 odds may be worth a flyer as well.
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