NFL Analysis and Picks (Division Round Playoff Games)
The divisional round of playoff games has given us many of the greatest games in NFL history and our most cherished sports memories.
However, when it comes to making wagers, we don’t want excitement. We want winners.
As much as I enjoy watching pro football as a fan — as a gambler give me a “boring” game over a thriller, anytime. Excitement typically means outcomes are unpredictable. That translates into our wagers turning into coin flips, usually decided in the final seconds. If you win a bet with a cover in the last minute of a game, you didn’t necessarily pick the right side. It means–you just got lucky.
I should issue a word of caution and point out that my W-L record (and profits) were far better earlier in the season when many “ugly” low-scoring football games were played. This has always suited my handicapping bias, which tends to cherry-pick underdogs and bet on more unders than overs. I vehemently dislike high-scoring, close games because the outcome is often difficult to handicap and impossible to predict. For instance, if you were able to pick the winning side in the epic Buffalo-Kansas City game in last season’s playoffs, congratulations! You got lucky. But ultimately cashing the winning ticket on the side after a see-saw back-and-forth battle had nothing to do with pre-game handicapping. That ball bounced your way on that day.
This weekend, I see similar unpredictable outcomes. All the totals are above average, which adds to randomness. This makes handicapping various aspects of all four playoff games wildly uncertain.
Accordingly, while I’ll offer my opinions on sides and totals because that’s what readers come here for, I’m concentrating more on props and exotics.
Note: Last week, I went 4-4 for a net loss of -$100. Read the REPORT HERE.
Now, let’s get to it.
NFL WAGERING RECORD (2022-23)
Starting Bankroll: $10,000.
Current Bankroll: $13,928.
Net Gain/Loss: + $3,928.
Historically, the top-seeded teams coming off a bye week have dominated in this round, since they enjoy the home-field advantage, extra prep time, and the luxury of playing the lowest-seeded opponents. These advantages will clearly favor both Kansas City and Philadelphia. The big question is, will the Chiefs and Eagles cover high pointspreads? In the last four seasons, top seeds are just 3-5 ATS.
What about the generous number of points being given to Cincinnati and Dallas in the other two games? Are those two live underdogs worth taking? Both pups are getting more than a field goal and — unlike the Jags possibly upsetting the Chiefs and Giants upsetting the Eagles, either of which would be shocking — these underdogs look like teams very capable of pulling off outright upsets.
Here’s my analysis and picks.
Sat: 4:30 ET / 1:30 PT
JAX at KC
Line: Chiefs -8.5
No team is a bigger shock than the Jacksonville Jaguars. They were 150-1 to win the Super Bowl when the season kicked off, and now are just three victories away from the impossible dream. The Jaguars have won 6 consecutive games and also won 8 of the 13 games in which they were underdogs this season. Not sure of its relevance, but let’s also note that as a head coach, Doug Pederson is 6-0 ATS as an underdog in playoff games. However, these two teams are in completely different classes–both in talent and experience. In the Patrick Mahomes era, KC is 7-2 SU and 6-3 ATS at home in the playoffs and 5-0 SU (4-1 ATS) in the Divisional and Wild Card rounds, covering the spread by an average margin of 6.9 points. The Chiefs also beat the Jags earlier this season by 10 (as -9.5 faves). The Jaguars won the turnover battle 3-0 and still lost 27-17. JAX has improved since then but is not anywhere near the class as KC.
The tipping point for me taking KC and laying points is the awful play of the Jaguars early in their previous two games. They were damned lucky to get the win vs. Tennessee two weeks ago, then fell behind 27-0 last week, ultimately rallying for a 31-30 win. It was the first time ever a team won a playoff game with a -5 turnover ratio. Then, there’s the consistent power that is the Kansas City Chiefs, especially at Arrowhead. In the last four seasons, KC won its first playoff game by margins of 18-20-5-21 points. The Chiefs are 8-3 in playoff games overall in that same span since 2018. The Chiefs also led the NFL in scoring this year with 29.3 PPG.
It must be pointed out that KC carries a heavy burden in this game as the top seed and a big favorite. In fact, it’s been profitable to fade these teams in the Divisional Round since they’re just 13-25-1 ATS over the last 20 seasons. Such teams favored by less than 10 points fare even worst, just 8-22-1 ATS.
For totals bettors, the UNDER is 54-38-1 at Arrowhead with Andy Reid as KC coach. When the Chiefs are 7-points favorites or higher, UNDER is 31-14-1.
Kansas City -9 — Risking $220 to win $200
Teaser: Kansas City -3 / Cincinnati +11.5 — Risking $240 to win $200
Sat: 8:15 ET / 5:15 PT
NYG at PHI
Line: Eagles -7.5
The other surprise playoff team is the New York Giants, who were 125-1 to win the Super Bowl according to preseason odds. To just about everyone’s surprise, the Giants were the best team in the NFL against the spread this season, covering 14 of 18 games (to date). That includes an astounding 11-2 ATS record as underdogs.
Meanwhile, the Eagles went 14-3 SU this season and won 14 of 15 games started by QB Jalen Hurts (the Eagles lost both of his two non-starts). Philadephia also dominated the NY Giants in both games this season. First instinct is that the Eagles are likely to win this game, but covering more than a TD will be far tougher. The hook on the touchdown at +7.5 makes the underdogs especially attractive.
I admit to being (potentially) wrong about QB Daniel Jones of the Giants, who I’ve criticized many times in the past. He’s certainly grown into the starter role (and team leader) this season, and especially in several critical games. Surprisingly, Jones performed very well on the road and as an underdog over the course of his career (Road Record: 18-7 ATS; Underdog Record: 27-15 ATS; and Road Dog Record: 17-5 ATS — which is the 5th-best of 254 QBs last 20 years within that span, according to Action Network). Let’s also point out that while Jones hasn’t been in this spot before (except for winning a playoff start last week), Philadelphia QB Jalen Hurts has played just one playoff game in his NFL career, which was a 16-point loss to Tampa Bay last season.
There are some overwhelming stats that favor the UNDER in this game. First, the Giants and Eagles have the two best rush offenses left in the playoffs and were both ranked in the top 5 in the regular season (rushing YPG). Assuming they both run the ball more than average, that should keep the clock moving. Key Stat: In the last 20 years, when two teams averaging at least 130 rush yds/game face off in the playoffs — which has only happened four times — the UNDER is 4-0, going under the total by 18 PPG. In playoff games between No. 1 and No. 6 seeds, the UNDER is 17-5 over the last 20 years, going under the total by 6 PPG. It’s also worth noting the UNDER is 33-16-1 in all Giants’ games since 2020, the most profitable team to the UNDER.
New York Giants +7.5 — Risking $220 to win $200
NY Giants (First Half) +4.5 — Risking $230 to win $200
NY Giants / Philadelphia UNDER 48 — Risking $220 to win $200
Sun: 3:00 ET / Noon PT
CIN at BUF
Line: Bills -6
The Bengals look like a solid underdog bet for many reasons. First, Cincinnati (12-4 SU) has won its last nine games (12-3 ATS in their last 15). They are 20-5 ATS in their last 25 games dating back to last season. This indicates that betting markets continue to underestimate the Bengals (and possibly overestimate the Bills–we’ll get to that in a moment). Even in the four games the Bengals lost this season, 3/4 were by a last-second FG. The only wipeout the Bengals have suffered in the last year (25 games) was an inexplicable blowout back in mid-Oct. at rival Cleveland. So, Cincy has the proven bettors’ pedigree to not only win games and cover spreads, but also when they lose, those games tend to be close.
The question surrounding betting on the Bengals plus the points this week is — injuries. Cincy is banged up. Their fate could depend on if they can field a healthy team and slow down the Bills, who enjoy obvious advantages, most notably the home-field edge. Two Bengals’ OL could be out, and one of their best cover men (CB Tre Flowers) is listed as questionable.
Let’s be clear. Anytime we put money on Cincy, the OL is always the major concern. This is a far-below-average unit, which surrenders lots of sacks (55 sacks allowed — 3rd worst in the league) and is utterly terrible at run-blocking. The Bengals rank #29th in the NFL in rushing, at just 92 YPG. Last three games, the Bengals were held to 53-73-55-51 rushing yards. Yuck! But somehow, this glaring deficiency hasn’t mattered. Typically, great playoff teams are founded on strong OLs. But Cincy is the exception, somehow excelling in other areas enough to compensate.
Cincy is 4-1 SU and 4-1 ATS in the last five playoff games; they are also 6-3 SU on road this season including four straight wins on the road. I especially like what we say from Cincy late in the season, beating Kansas City outright (arguably the best team in the NFL), defeating Baltimore twice, and defeating both the Bucs and Patriots. None of those were easy “gimme” games. Let’s also look at what Cincy has done offensively in that stretch — converting 89 of their last 184 (48 percent) third down plays, and scoring 37 touchdowns on their last 109 drives. Those are stellar Super Bowl-caliber percentages.
Let’s also note that the Bengals have a solid leader on the field: QB Joe Burrow is 4-1 in playoff games (the only loss was he close cover in last year’s Super Bowl vs. Rams); he also won a national title at LSU. Burrow played well above all expectations against winning competition: Burrow is 14-2 SU in his last 16 games vs. above .500 SU opponents / At LSU, Burrow was 15-3 SU and 13-5 ATS vs. above .500 SU opponents / NFL and college combined: 30-10 SU, 29-11 ATS vs. above .500 SU opponents.
Meanwhile, the Bills were favored in all 17 games this season (including their Wild Card and Divisional round game). But they finished just 8-9-1 ATS. Buffalo won their last eight games, scoring 32-35-35-34 in the last four contests. However, the Bills’ defense has also been surrendering lots of yardage and points. Buffalo is just 3-7-1 ATS since their bye week. Buffalo is 1-5 ATS in its last five games as a home favorite.
As much as the Bengals have concerns about the OL, the possible Achilles Heel on the Bills starts at the top — at QB. For all his talents, QB Josh Allen has been a turnover machine this season, often at the worst possible time. Allen had three more TOs in last week’s Wild Card round vs. the marginal defense known as the Dolphins and overall this year, he has 16 total interceptions and 16 fumbles on the season. That’s nearly one of each PER GAME. One more stat to consider: Under Josh Allen, the Bills are 50-30-3 against the second-half spread. So, Buffalo might be worth a 2H wager no matter what, especially if they’re trailing.
Interesting Stat: Road teams with a 70+ win pct. are 21-11 ATS in the Divisional Round over the past 20 years, but are just 15-20-1 ATS in all other rounds of the playoffs. So, this is the round betting markets aren’t giving these strong teams enough respect.
Finally, even though the stats don’t count, let’s remember that BUF at CIN game on MNF three weeks ago. When the game was suspended, and ultimately canceled, Cincinnati led 7-3. They outplayed Buffalo for a quarter. We can’t put too much stock in just 15 minutes, but whatever game plan the Bengals devised in that game was working. Presumably, that could carry over here and keep the Bengals close in a game they are certainly capable of winning outright.
Weather Forecast: Temperatures around 32, but high chance of snow during the game.
Player Props: I wanted to go OVER on the WR Chase receptions and yardage props, as I did last week. Chase has been on a monster stats run. Trouble is, the market adjusted and moved receptions from 6.5 to 7.5, and yardage is from 75.5 to 84.5. Snow in the forecast and an outdoor game in Buffalo isn’t something I want to fade with offensive-oriented stats. Another stat I strongly lean toward is Burrow under 39.5 pass attempts. He’s exceeded that mark in just 5/18 games this season. But since the Bengals can’t run the ball, might they pass on most plays? If the Bengals are playing from behind, that’s certainly possible. So, I skipped what otherwise would have been at least 3 additional prop wagers.
Note: The line moved on Saturday from Cincy +5.5 to Cincy +6.
Cincinnati Bengals +6 — Risking $220 to win $200
Teaser: Cincinnati +11.5 / Kansas City -3 — Risking $240 to win $200 (Bet on Friday-line was Cincy +5.5)
Sun: 6:30 ET / 3:30 PT
DAL at SFO
Line: 49ers -4
I’ll keep this short. The Cowboys are notorious for playoff collapses, but they did shake the stigma of a pathetic 25-year history by finally winning a playoff road game last weekend. Now, the competition gets much tougher.
San Francisco won its last 11 games (9-2 ATS). The 49ers are also 9-1 ATS as a home favorite this season. The biggest surprise has been QB Brock Purdy, who is playing like the reincarnation of Montana and Young. He’s a perfect 6-0 in games started and has thrown 2+ TD passes in each game. This is an intriguing matchup because you never know which Dallas team might show up. But because Dallas is getting +4, this becomes a very tough game to predict.
I will play two props: First, I like QB Dak Prescott OVER 249.5 passing yards. Prescott has exceeded that number in 9 of his 11 starts since returning from injury (in one game, he was pulled in the second half in the meaningless finale at Washington; otherwise he goes 10/11). Even in a blowout win last week where Prescott wasn’t forced to pass late, he threw for 305. Dallas could also have problems on the ground versus the 49ers’ excellent defense, which likely means more passing attempts. / In the other prop, I like the much-maligned Dallas kicker Brett Maher OVER 6.5 points. We all know about Maher’s four missed XPs last week. But he’s been solid all season long, and that malady of performance probably gives us some value (Gould’s point total is 7.5 points). Good fade opportunity to go against public overreaction to one game and an inexplicably awful game. I also see Dallas getting yards, and moving the ball, but having problems in the red zone, which spells more field goals for the Cowboys. Two FGs and one XP (13 points) are all we need to crack this number.
Prop: Dak Prescott OVER 249.5 passing yards — Risking $230 to win $200
Prop: Brett Maher OVER 6.5 points (kicking) — Risking $240 to win $200