Betting on the Divisional Round

My 1-2-1 record against the spread on Wild Card Weekend wasn’t ideal, obviously, but I wasn’t disappointed in any of my picks. The Bills (+3) held a 16-0 lead with 6:02 left in the 3rd quarter against the Texans, and DeShaun Watson somehow willed Houston to a 22-19 overtime win, netting me a push. The Eagles (+2.5) starting quarterback, Carson Wentz, got knocked out early on in his game against the Seahawks, so Philly never really had a chance. The Patriots (-5) lost at home, 20-13, against the Titans even though they only allowed 82 passing yards from Ryan Tannehill. The only game I got right was Minnesota (+8), and even there I assumed the Saints would win the game outright.

So yeah, I suck at picking NFL games against the spread. And even though I am big enough to admit as much, I’m definitely not big enough to refrain from spending a big ass opening paragraph making excuses for why even though I was wrong I was actually right. Does that make sense?

Luckily it’s now the Divisional Round, where the real contenders are coming out to play. As of right now the Baltimore Ravens (+185) are the odds-on favorites to win the Super Bowl, followed by the San Francisco 49ers (+300) and Kansas City Chiefs (+325). If I was a betting man — which I am, whenever possible — I would say the 49ers are probably the most complete of the eight remaining teams, and with that in mind I would have a hard time picking against them in any potential matchup.

As for this weekend’s games: in chronological order (all lines courtesy of Bovada):

1. San Francisco 49ers (-7) vs. Minnesota Vikings

I didn’t come up with this stat, but it’s true: Kirk Cousins is lifetime a 66% winner against the spread when his team plays games at 1:00 Eastern Time. Conversely, he wins only 33% of his games that don’t start at 1:00 Eastern. Theoretically a quarterback, or team, is supposed to win against the spread 50% of the time. So Cousins is roughly 16% better than league average when the game starts at 1:00, and he’s about 17% worse than average when the game doesn’t.

What does any of this mean? Who knows. All I know is the game this Saturday doesn’t start at 1:00 Eastern, the Vikings will be playing on a short week (since they just played on Sunday), and that their win against the Saints was emotional and exhausted much of what they have in the tank. I’m not saying they are incapable of winning on the road against the best team in the NFC. I just think it’s a spot where you either lay the points or stay away.

Final score: 49ers 30, Vikings 17

2. Tennessee Titans (+10) at Baltimore Ravens

Everybody loves them some Ravens and some Lamar Jackson, so I’m going to be the dick that buys Tennessee Titans stock. The Ravens zone read/downhill running offense seems built well for postseason football, and there is good reason that they are the frontrunners to win the Super Bowl. The problem is, Lamar Jackson really hasn’t proven anything in the postseason to this point (other than a first round loss to the Chargers last year). I’m willing to give him the benefit of the small sample size, but I do think there’s a case to be made for Tennessee to keep this game within one possession.

The entire case is this: His name is Derrick Henry. If Tennessee takes a lead of any sort in this game, the Ravens can expect to receive a healthy diet of Derrick Henry and more Derrick Henry. But should Baltimore jump out to a double-digit lead, I still think the Titans have enough playmakers in the passing game (A.J. Brown I’m looking at you) to keep it interesting.

Final score: Ravens 28, Titans 21

3. Kansas City Chiefs (-9.5) vs. Houston Texans

I’m completely incapable of being objective about my favorite team, but normally it goes in the opposite direction. Usually I’m extremely pessimistic about the Chiefs’ chances. And why wouldn’t I be? What have the Chiefs ever won? It’s basically an annual tradition for me to pick Kansas City’s playoff opponent on the moneyline, since if I get my heart broken from a loss I’ll at least recoup some money. It’s a hedge against my childlike sports fan emotions.

With that said, I think Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are going to kick the everloving shit out of the Texans on Sunday. My reason for this is simple: the first time these two teams played — Week 6 — Kansas City probably had their worst game of the season, Houston probably had their best game of the season, and the Texans won by a whole 7 points (despite KC leading for the majority of the game).

Not only that, but the Chiefs were banged up that day. That was back when Pat Mahomes was dealing with a bum ankle; KC’s most important defensive player, defensive tackle Chris Jones, didn’t play; they were without their starting left tackle (Eric Fisher) and starting middle linebacker (Anthony Hitchens). It was also the first game Tyreek Hill played since he left in the first quarter of Week 1 against the Jaguars, and he was only on the field for about 50% of the offensive plays.

I’m reserving the right to take Houston on the moneyline, because holy shit a mere $150 nets a cool $500, but I’m here and I’m absolutely convinced that the Chiefs are going to blow out the Texans this Sunday.

Final score: Chiefs 34, Texans 17

4. Seattle Seahawks (+4) at Green Bay Packers

I’m not in love with either of these teams, but either one of them would make a great narrative against the 49ers in the NFC Championship. I mean, just think about it. On the one hand you’ve got the Seahawks, who have played two of the toughest, most memorable games of the NFL season against the 49ers. I’m not saying it’s destiny (because in the real world there’s no such thing), but it would make a lot of sense for the NFC to be decided by a round three, between two teams that played two of the most coin-flippy games of the year.

On the other hand, Aaron Rodgers. You know, the guy who was passed up in favor of Alex Smith by the 49ers with the #1 overall pick in 2005. The guy who starred at Cal Berkley. The guy who effectively got his former head coach (Mike McCarthy) fired and then went on to lead the Packers to a 13-3 record and a first round bye. That guy.

I think this game is going to be ugly, and I think this game is going to be low scoring. The Packers are 4-point favorites, but I’m not going to be the idiot who bets against Russell Wilson to keep this game within a field goal. I’ll be rooting for Rodgers and the Packers, but 4 points feels a smidge excessive in this spot.

Final score: Packers 24, Seahawks 23

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