It has been a wild ride for the Bills and volatile quarterback Josh Allen, from a surprising loss in the season’s first week through a statement win in the wild-card round. As the stakes get higher, it’s about to get crazy, and hopefully more of these postseason games get much more competitive.
Buffalo’s road to the Super Bowl again goes through Kansas City, where the Bills hit a dead end in last year’s AFC title game. The rematch is the marquee matchup of this weekend’s divisional round.
“At the beginning of the season, I was big on the Bills,” MGM Resorts director of trading Jeff Stoneback said. “I thought this was going to be their year. But they were so inconsistent.” One consistency with the Bills has been the public betting support they attract, a fact reflected in the point spread. BetMGM opened the Chiefs -2.5, a line that shows respect to the underdog.
“I think we’ll take a lot of action on the Bills again this week,” Stoneback said.
Allen passed for 308 yards and five touchdowns as Buffalo embarrassed the Patriots 47-17 last week. He also ran for 66 yards. While it was an impressive showing, it also was an indictment of a New England defense that brought little energy and looked old and slow.
Up next is a defining game early in Allen’s career. After one of his finest performances, Allen faces his biggest test. A year ago, he came up a step short of the Super Bowl in a 38-24 loss at Arrowhead.
Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs have been just as volatile this season, rallying to win 10 of their past 11 games after sitting 3-4 at the end of October. Kansas City’s early slump included a 38-20 home loss to Buffalo on Oct. 10, when Allen outplayed Mahomes.
Both teams are hot at the right time, so recency bias is not a factor for handicappers. In the Chiefs’ 42-21 victory over the Steelers on Sunday, Mahomes overcame a sloppy start to pass for 404 yards and five touchdowns.
“I give the Bills a lot of chances to go there and play well,” said Michael Lombardi, a VSiN analyst and former NFL executive. “If the Chiefs continue to make the mistakes we have seen them make all year, if they do that against Buffalo, they won’t win.”
In mid-November, when the Bills lost 9-6 at Jacksonville before taking a 41-15 beating from the Colts, there were doubts about Buffalo even reaching the playoffs. Laying less than a field goal at home, the Chiefs also will get plenty of betting support on their drive toward a third consecutive AFC championship.
Led by the Bills and Chiefs, favorites won five of the six games in the wild-card round. The Bengals knocked out the Raiders in a thriller, but the Buccaneers blew out the Eagles and the Rams crushed the Cardinals. It’s the second time in NFL postseason history that three teams lost by at least 20 points during the opening round, the other instance coming nearly 40 years ago after the 1982 season.
“It’s going great right now for the bettors,” said Stoneback, who called the weekend a “small loser” for his book.
Bookmakers always need an upset and got one from the 49ers, the only underdog to advance. San Francisco was a 3-point dog in a 23-17 victory over the Cowboys. Dallas’ demise is the hot-take topic of the week.
“It was a very good result for us with the Cowboys going down,” South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro said. “We made a few dollars. No complaints from this end.
“With the two games on Saturday, three Sunday and one Monday, it creates more business. I look (in the book) and every chair is filled. The love that people have for the NFL shows. The wild-card weekend to me is as good as it gets. Next week will be just as good.”
The Bills-Chiefs showdown on Sunday will draw the largest wagering handle of the divisional round, but the 49ers-Packers game will place a close second. Green Bay is a 5.5-point favorite against a San Francisco team playing its third straight road game.
The 49ers escaped Dallas but not without injury concerns involving defensive stars Nick Bosa and Fred Warner, each listed as questionable for Saturday. San Francisco just beat slumping quarterback Dak Prescott, but Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is not slumping. Rodgers has put up astounding numbers — 37 touchdowns, two interceptions — since throwing two picks in a 38-3 loss to the Saints in Week 1.
“The 49ers’ front will put some pressure on Rodgers, but we know Rodgers won’t make a mistake,” Lombardi said. “I think you have to be honest and say San Francisco does have a good chance.”
Matthew Stafford’s first career playoff win on Monday sends the Rams to Tampa Bay, where the Buccaneers are 3-point favorites. The MVP is a two-horse race between Tom Brady and Rodgers.
If the favorites advance in the NFC, there will be a Brady-Rodgers rematch in the conference title game in Green Bay. Rodgers and Packers coach Matt LaFleur have had a year to think about how they blew it last year. I’m holding a Super Bowl futures bet on the Packers at 10-1 odds, so here’s hoping Rodgers gets revenge.
While the Bills-Chiefs game has the feel of an AFC title matchup, it’s important to remember the Titans are the conference’s top seed.
Tennessee is a 3.5-point favorite against the Bengals in the other AFC matchup, the least-appealing game of the divisional round. The Titans will benefit from the return of running back Derrick Henry, who could feast on a Cincinnati defensive front beat up with injuries.
Despite the lopsided results in the wild-card round, playoff expansion is a positive. More meaningful games are always better for bettors and bookmakers. Bet on the games being much more competitive this weekend.