NFL Best Bets: Divisional Round

Last week against the spread: 4-2

2021 overall ATS: 38-39-1

1. Tennessee Titans (-3.5) vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Shit, if the Bengals win this game, more power to them. I think the Titans are about as bad of a top seed as I can remember, but they do have the benefit of (a) getting a crucial week of rest and (b) getting their stud running back, Derrick Henry, back from injury.

Occasionally I talk about NFL teams in terms of weight classes, and while I don’t necessarily believe Tennessee is a fucking juggernaut, I do think they have a collection of bonafide veterans and a coach who has significant playoff experience. Compare that to the upstart Bengals, who have a bottom-tier head coach, a young roster, and an ascending quarterback who is only in his second year, and there’s a bit of a mismatch there.

As much as I would love to pick the Bengals and take the points, I just think they should already feel fat and happy having won the AFC North and a playoff game. They are playing with house money at this point. The Titans, meanwhile, will be viewed as a massive disappointment if they are unable to squeeze past this group of young dudes. I think they are using all the talk about how they are undeserving of the one seed as motivation, even if it’s true that they earned it.

I expect something of a sloppy game where Tennessee manages to pressure Joe Burrow, and Titans QB Ryan Tannehill makes enough plays to win. The under 47 looks pretty juicy as well.

Score prediction: Titans 27, Bengals 16

2. San Francisco 49ers (+6) at Green Bay Packers

The Niners are one of my teams, man. I can’t help it. I know it’s football and everything and it’s not very smart to get attached to certain players and coaches and franchises, but at the same time all this team does is win when it matters. They play a brand of football that gives other teams trouble, and the Packers happen to be one of them.

Believing in conspiracy theories isn’t how I get my rocks off, but consider this one: Aaron Rodgers is not the player the NFL wants to celebrate in the era of COVID. Sounds stupid, right? I agree. But this is a league of continuity. It’s a league that forced every coach and every team personnel member to get vaccinated. It aggressively encouraged its players to get vaccinated, and made life harder on players who didn’t.

Well, Aaron Rodgers not only is unvaccinated, but he’s one of those batshit crazy mutherfuckers who listens to Joe Rogan and believes in all the crazy shit that anti-vax people believe in. Great football player. One of the best QB’s in the history of the NFL. Those are facts. But he’s also a weird dude. And he represents everything the NFL does not want to see standing in the winner’s circle when the season is said and done.

Truth be told, I would like the 49ers in this game anyway. It’s just a little bit of icing on the cake that Aaron Rodgers is who he is. It’s going to be cold in Green Bay, and that would seem to favor the team who would rather run the ball. The Packers are really good and I don’t doubt that they should be the favorite in this game. I just think 6 points is at least two too many, and I think if the 49ers are able to take a two-score lead it’s going to be really tough for the Packers to contain their running game.

Score prediction: 49ers 23, Packers 20

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3) vs. Los Angeles Rams

No one ever went broke betting on Tom Brady in the playoffs. He’s without Chris Godwin? Damn. He’s without Antonio Brown? Shucks. People forget that Brady has won multiple Super Bowls with playmakers much worse than receiver Mike Evans, tight end Rob Gronkowski, and running back Leonard Fournette.

And what do the Rams like to do, ideally? They want to run the ball. What does Tampa Bay’s defense do better than perhaps any team in the NFL? Stopping the run. Given that logic, you are basically asking Matthew Stafford — who has never been this deep in the playoffs in his entire career — to literally throw the Rams into the NFC Championship Game.

I know this sounds like a simpleton view of how things are going to play out; it rarely happens like you think it will; and even more rarely how I think it will. But in this matchup I am getting the home team playing the Rams who had to play on Monday night, giving them a rest disadvantage, and I am getting the quarterback who has won 7 Super Bowls playing a guy who just won his first playoff game. Let’s not overthink this.

Score prediction: Bucs 27, Rams 17

4. Kansas City Chiefs (-1.5) vs. Buffalo Bills

Surely if the Chiefs lose this game I will end up blaming myself for having picked them on my blog. It’s not something I enjoy doing (see: last year’s Super Bowl), for that very reason. Despite being an atheist and rejecting superstition in all avenues of life, I’ll submit to the fact that betting on my favorite sports teams, particularly in public forums, has generally carried with it a poor track record throughout my adult life.

The Chiefs are going to win this game because Patrick Mahomes plays quarterback for them, and he has an uncanny ability to take every little thing personally. Right now Bills quarterback Josh Allen is being compared to Mahomes, perhaps fairly but most likely unfairly, and the entire Kansas City Chiefs roster doesn’t appreciate that shit.

Payback is a real thing in the NFL, and the Bills whooped the Chiefs’ ass 38-20 in Week 5 this year. They did it on Kansas City’s home field, where this AFC Divisional Round game is going to be. I could probably look up the last time one team beat the Chiefs twice on their home field in the same season, but I won’t because it doesn’t happen very often. In the Patrick Mahomes era, it’s never happened.

If this spread was reasonable, say, Chiefs -3, like it ought to be, I would consider taking the Bills. But at half of that — at KC -1.5 — the price is too inexpensive to pass up. Even if we grant these teams as equals, which is debatable, betting markets are basically saying that Kansas City’s home-field advantage is only worth a point and a half. If we submit the the idea that the Bills are actually better, then I think we have some problems.

Last year when these two teams played, the Chiefs won (both at Buffalo and in the AFC Championship in Kansas City). The lines for those two games were Chiefs -4.5 (when the game was in Buffalo), and Chiefs -3 (in the AFCCG). Kansas City won and covered the spread both times. The AFC title game was almost laughable; after Buffalo took a 9-0 lead the Chiefs ended up outscoring them 38-15.

I believe this Bills team is better than last year’s, but I still can’t come to grips with the notion that Josh Allen — great as he may be — is ready to carry his team to victory on the road against Patrick Mahomes, the best quarterback on the planet. Could Allen do it? Of course he can. But it’s been my theory for a little while now that every year the NFL world and sports media at large are going to be putting all their efforts into building up a rivalry between Mahomes and the next-best dude that’s out there.

Right now that’s Josh Allen. And yes, the Bills smoked the Chiefs earlier in the year. But you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who believes that the current iteration of the Chiefs is the same as it was in Week 5. And while it was an impressive win, it was a win that came during the regular season, as something of a payback game for what Kansas City did to the Bills during the AFC Championship Game last year.

Here, Buffalo have the Chiefs’ full attention. No longer is Kansas City figuring themselves out on offense, or tinkering with their defensive personnel. They are going to press the Bills’ wide receivers, and blitz the hell out of Josh Allen. I don’t think the Chiefs are good enough to win by two touchdowns like they did in last year’s AFC Championship Game. But I do think they find a way to come out on top.

Score prediction: Chiefs 34, Bills 30

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