Cinderella stories to end for Browns, Bills

With a quarterback who had starred in more TV commercials than playoff wins, the Cleveland Browns were a popular punch line. But if one game can change a storyline, Baker Mayfield is no longer an overhyped underachiever and the butt of jokes.

Mayfield can enjoy a few laughs at the expense of the Steelers, who paid the price for disrespecting an underdog. Mayfield’s three touchdown passes helped Cleveland rock Pittsburgh 48-37 on Sunday in an upset that proved costly for the betting public. The new Browns are not the same old losers.

The NFL’s new-look postseason format did not disappoint. With six games instead of four on an expanded Super Wild Card Weekend, the wagering action was a whirlwind.

“I don’t think this can be much better if you’re a bookmaker,” said Jimmy Vaccaro, veteran oddsmaker at the South Point sportsbook. “This racket is amazing. The expanded playoffs were great. The three games (each day) is an absolute monster.”

Vaccaro, a Pittsburgh native, spent Sunday night rooting for the Browns because bookmakers needed the Steelers to go down. “The parlays and teasers were all on the Steelers,” he said.

With the field whittled from 14 teams to an elite eight, one thing is not changing: The Browns are still underdogs. In fact, Cleveland, which is getting 10 points at Kansas City, is the biggest dog in this weekend’s divisional round.

Mayfield knocked out Ben Roethlisberger, who fell into a 28-0 first-quarter hole and finished with four interceptions, yet the odds are stacked higher against him with Patrick Mahomes and the reigning Super Bowl champion Chiefs next in line. This is when the Cinderella story comes to an inevitable end.

“It is very difficult to duplicate a big-time victory, and that’s why I will be on the Chiefs this week,” VSiN’s Brent Musburger said.

Double-digit home favorites are on a 6-1 straight-up and ATS run in the divisional round since 2011, with the home teams scoring 34.7 points per game and allowing an average of 20, according to research by VSiN’s Steve Makinen.

The Chiefs (14-2) went 0-7-1 ATS in the second half of the season and have not covered since a 35-9 victory over the Jets on Nov. 1.

Westgate SuperBook director John Murray expects the betting public to turn on Kansas City and side with Cleveland, saying, “I think the Browns could be a square dog this week.”

Square dogs in the NFL are not a bettor's best friend.

The Browns did attract some sharp action against the Steelers at BetMGM books in Nevada, where one bettor played Cleveland + 5.5 for $550,000 and + 210 on the moneyline for $100,000.

“We were rooting for him to win, believe it or not,” said Jeff Stoneback, MGM Resorts director of trading.

An avalanche of public play on Pittsburgh overwhelmed the isolated major wagers on the Browns, who could be converting many critics into believers. Cleveland and Buffalo each picked up their first playoff wins since 1995. 

So how about the Bill-ievers? While the AFC postseason road goes through Kansas City, second-seeded Buffalo improved to 10-1 in its last 11 games by beating Indianapolis 27-24 as third-year quarterback Josh Allen passed for 324 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 54 yards and a touchdown.

“Of all the favorites last weekend, the most popular one was Buffalo,” Murray said. “We needed the Colts to cover, so we did very well on that. That was the biggest game of the weekend. Buffalo is such a hot team right now. Everyone was looking to bet on the Bills.”

The wagering action will be more balanced Saturday night, when Buffalo is a 2-point home favorite over Baltimore. The Bills’ weakness is their run defense, and the Ravens’ strength is their rushing offense led by quarterback Lamar Jackson, who ran for 136 yards at Tennessee in his first career playoff win.

I faded the Bills last week and will do it again. The Ravens are my best bet this week. With the No. 1 rushing offense in the league plus a defense that stuffs the run and is solid in the secondary, Baltimore is built to beat Buffalo. The Bills caught all the breaks against the Colts, who rushed for 163 yards (5.4 per carry) and had a 472-397 advantage in total yards.

“I think the Ravens have the best chance to unseat the Chiefs,” Musburger said. “I’m not convinced the Bills defense can hold the fort.”

Underdogs went 4-2 ATS in the wild-card round. The only favorites to win and cover were the Ravens and Saints.

While the AFC’s final four features young-gun quarterbacks — Mahomes, Mayfield, Allen and Jackson — the NFC field has three all-time greats in Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.

Brady and the Buccaneers are 3-point underdogs Sunday night at New Orleans. Brees and the Saints whipped Tampa Bay 34-23 and 38-3 in the regular season, so cue up the cliche about how tough it is to beat a team three times in one season. In reality, since 1970, the teams that won both regular-season meetings went 14-7 in the postseason rematch. I’m leaning toward taking the points with Brady.

Rodgers and the Packers kick off the action Saturday as 6.5-point favorites over the Rams, who boast the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense. Green Bay has the biggest quarterback advantage of the week with the Rams’ Jared Goff and John Wolford each dealing with injuries after both played in an upset win at Seattle.

“You are going to get a lot of Packers-Chiefs teasers, and I would not really fault people for doing that because it makes a lot of sense,” Murray said. “I know who everyone is going to bet. The Packers could be our biggest decision of the week.”

I will play the Packers one way or another — moneyline parlay or teaser — because this simply feels like Rodgers’ year, and he’s not losing to Goff in freezing temperatures at Lambeau Field.

 

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