NFL Divisional Playoffs: Analysis and Picks
Can Rest Lead to Rust?
Every week is different in handicapping. Circumstances which apply one week might not apply to the next. Yet, there are some commonalities which apply to the first two weeks of the NFL playoffs which are unique.
Consider last week’s four playoff games. All four road underdogs covered the spread, and three out of four won outright. All four dogs had something very important in common. All four of the teams getting points had superior, more experienced starting quarterbacks. All four quarterbacks had far more playoff experience. In fact, three of the starters for the favored teams had never started a playoff game before. None of the four had ever won a playoff game. This was one huge factor which I weighed heavily leading me to wager on all four underdogs.
The major difference between teams this weekend is — rest. Which teams are rested? All four home teams had last week off. Based on their regular-season records, they are the superior teams in each matchup. So, while last week the favored teams didn’t have nearly as much justification for laying points, this week’s four games are all markedly different. Nonetheless, the point spreads — ranging from 4.5 to 8 — are about in line with the numbers from last week’s games, which ranged from 2.5 to 8.5. So, the numbers haven’t shifted significantly even with a huge step-up in the class of opposition and far less disparity at the QB position (however, note that Kansas City’s Pat Mahomes is making his first playoff start).
I don’t think this point can be overstated, especially since 3/4 road teams won last week and must once again get on airplanes and travel. The rest factor might not be as big a deal win the DAL-LAR game, where Dallas had some advantages of being at home. But it’s going to be tough for teams like INDY and PHILA to travel again, in addition to licking wounds from game fatigue.
Accordingly, the key question we must ask ourselves is — have oddsmakers given the proper number of points to these four superior, well-rested teams? Moreover, might there be a situation or two where oddsmakers have overreacted? Can rest lead to rust?
“Rest” is the key concept when evaluating the divisional playoff games. Weighing this factor correctly is probably the most important determination of winning and covering.
This will factor heavily into my commentary and selections this week.
2018 NFL REGULAR SEASON RESULTS
STARTING BANKROLL: $10,000.
CURRENT BALANCE: $14,924. [+ $4,924.]
OVERALL W-L RECORD: 70 wins / 56 loses / 4 pushes
LAST WEEK’S RESULTS: 6 — 1 — 0 (+ $2,180)
Teaser: Indianapolis +7.5 / Seattle +8.5 — WON $1,000
Teaser: LA Chargers +8.5 / Philadelphia +12.5 — WON $500
First Half: Indianapolis +.5 — WON $200
First Half: Seattle +.5 — LOST $220
First Half: LA Chargers +1.5 — WON $200
First Half: Philadelphia +3.5 — WON $200
Game: Philadelphia +6.5 — WON $300
THIS WEEK’S PICKS:
Indianapolis / Kansas City UNDER 57 — Risking $330 to win $300
This total opened at 56 and was quickly bet up to 57 (why!?!?!?), and is now headed downward. I got this number last night at 57 (available everywhere in Las Vegas). This high total is absurd, even under the very best of playing conditions. NFL playoff games tend to be played much closer to the play-calling vest. This isn’t a Sunday night game in early October in primetime. It’s a critically-important playoff game played in mid-January. Didn’t anyone check the weather forecast? Snow and temperatures are expected during game time, which won’t help either passing-oriented offense. Neither of these starting quarterbacks has demonstrated any ability in the past to play in adverse weather conditions, particularly Chiefs starter Pat Mahones, who has yet to play in a frigid environment. Andrew Luck plays most of his games in a dome. So, why is this total so high at 57? What causes people to bet this total up to one of the key numbers — 57 is one of the higher key numbers in totals betting? I have no idea. Playoff choker Andy Reid has been a notoriously conservative playoff game coach and while fresh young Mahones gives him far more options, I’m not sure Reid will put all the pressure on his young QB. Add the Colts emerging defense playing as well as any unit in the NFL at the moment, and I don’t think Kansas City will match its explosive production level of earlier in the season. In their last 11 games (the streak in which the Colts have gone 10-1), Indy has not allowed ANY opponent more than 28 points. Six of those games, the Colts held the opponents to less than 20 points. Colts have gone 7-4 to the UNDER in that stretch. No doubt, the Chiefs have been an offensive powerhouse all year, scoring at least 27 points in every game this season. That’s a staggering statistic — something I’ve never witnessed before. However, later in the season, Kansas City did trend down in scoring averaging “just” 28 PPG in their last four home games. I realize that sounds like a poor justification for suggesting a Kansas City game will go UNDER, but if we add in the playoff pressures, adverse weather conditions, and perhaps some jitters (all the pressure probably is on Kansas City here), I think this total is too high. One of these offenses will struggle — not sure which. But even seemingly high-scoring games that lands 34-23, 30-27, 37-20, 38-21, 41-16 and the like gives us a push. In last year’s playoff game at Kansas City, the Titans ran the hell out of the ball and came away with a victory. I don’t think Indy wants to get into a shootout here, so look for a balanced attack from the Colts that eats clock. We’re freerolling the weather on this number, as it’s based on ideal conditions. I’m hoping things worsen and that creates havoc for at least one offense.
Plays: UNDER 57
Leans: Indianapolis +5.5
LA Rams -7 — Risking $330 to win $300
I’m counting on a rested, well-coached, offensively-geared Rams team will be able to easily handle the sporadic and perhaps fatigued Cowboys, who have struggled much of the time on the road this season. Dallas was lucky to get out of the Wild Card week with a home win (Seattle’s play-calling was horrific). The explosive Rams won’t be nearly as predictable as the Seahawks. Dallas went just 3-5 straight-up on the road this year. Moreover, the much celebrated Cowboys defense has allowed 25 PPG its last five games, not exactly impressive. To pull off the upset, Dallas will have to run the ball effectively, establish ball control, and eat up lots of clock to keep the Rams’ offense on the sidelines. I’m counting on defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to come up with one of his better game plans to stop the Cowboys, the former team he coached for four seasons. I also expect mediocre starting QB Dak Prescott to be exposed here. While WR A. Cooper clearly has been a bonus to the offense, Prescott’s passing remains inconsistent and isn’t up to the level of what’s needed to advance in the playoffs. I do have some concern betting the Rams, who haven’t won a game at this level yet, let alone covered by more than a touchdown. However, I expect the added rest and preparation time will factor in heavily here. Rams are 7-1 at home this season, and averaged nearly 40 PPG. So, this offense is expected to produce yards and points. Given the Rams’ advantages, I’ll lay the chalk.
Plays: LA Rams -7
Leans: Tease LA Rams down to -1
New Orleans -8 — Risking $330 to win $300
What a remarkable turnaround by the Super Bowl champion Eagles, which likely ends here in New Orleans. Let’s remember the Eagles wouldn’t even be in this game were it not for the unlikely double-doinked last-second field goal miss in Chicago last week. Philadelphia’s offense struggled much of that game. While the win showed some gritty determination, the conditions this week will be about as different as imaginable. New Orleans has been as dominant as any team in the league at home. They destroyed the Eagles 48-7 in mid-season. While that likely won’t be the margin again, the Saints do enjoy almost every conceivable advantage. New Orleans runs the ball more consistently. New Orleans has the far superior passing offense. New Orleans also fields the better defense, statistically speaking. One could argue Philadelphia is a different team with QB N. Foles as the starter, who brings the entire team a renewed sense of confidence. I certainly agree. However, Foles has been very average statistically (7 TDs and 4 INTs since starting). This is also the Eagles’ third consecutive road game — never a good omen for a win. They’ve played six straight nail-biting games that went down to the wire. Essentially, the Eagles have been faced with the weight of a playoff game every week since early December. It’s very difficult for any NFL team to maintain that level of performance, especially when the opposing team now represents such a steep rise in class. I look for the Saints to be ready for this one
Plays: New Orleans -8
Leans: Tease New Orleans down to -1
San Diego / New England (NWE -4 / Total 48)
I’m staying away from the Chargers-Patriots game, which appears to be lined and totaled just right. We don’t know what to expect from New England, which has the dynasty pedigree in its favor but hasn’t much looked like the old Patriots this season. To their credit, New England has been dominant at home, a perfect 8-0 straight up and 6-2 against-the-spread. Rested, the Patriots would certainly be the play against any normal opponent. However, the LA Chargers are unlike any team in recent memory. Chargers play better on the road, posting an 8-1 mark, including impressive wins at KC, PITT, and BALT. Chargers dominated the Ravens last week which could spillover here against a defense that’s not as good. While Chargers have played a tougher schedule, New England has played patsies, having not faced a playoff-bound opponent in any of its last nine games. So, the Patriots’ impressive 11-5 regular season record may be slightly misleading. If I could get the Chargers plus 6, I’d probably make a wager. Anything less, and it’s a no play. Line appears to be dropping now, as its +3.5 in a few places. Weather could also be a factor. Temperatures expected in the low 20s. That would seem to favor the Patriots. Chargers are also playing their third straight road game, which for me is an almost automatic stay-away-from team. Too much conflicting information to make a wager.
MY WAGERS ON NFL SEASON WIN TOTALS [FINAL RESULTS UPDATED – $3,475]:
Arizona Cardinals OVER 5.5 wins -180 — LOST $450
Buffalo Bills OVER 6 wins EVEN — PUSH
Cincinnati Bengals OVER 6.5 wins -170 — LOST $400
Dallas Cowboys UNDER 8.5 wins +110 — LOST $500
Detroit Lions UNDER 7.5 wins EVEN — WON $400
Houston Texans UNDER 8.5 wins +120 — LOST $400
Jacksonville Jaguars OVER 9 wins -145 — LOST $725
Indianapolis Colts UNDER 6.5 wins +170 — LOST $400
New Orleans Saints OVER 9.5 wins -145 — WON $500
Seattle Seahawks UNDER 8 wins -150 — LOST $1,500