Divisional NFL best bets: A play on every game

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January 17, 2021 11:15 AM

The 2020 NFL Playoffs have finally arrived.

As has been the case this whole season, be sure to check injury and weather reports as we get closer to kickoff. Our experts Drew Dinsick, Dave Tuley and Matt Youmans combine to give their opinions on every game.

All odds as of Friday morning, from VSiN's NFL odds page.


Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs (-9.5, 57)

Dinsick: The Browns pulled off the most improbable upset of Wild-Card Weekend, punching their ticket on the back of a full team effort, in the absence of their head coach. It was impressive to see Cleveland take advantage of its early opportunities in the contest and the Browns remain one of the most dangerous teams in the scripted portion of their plays. The Chiefs will be rested in this one after taking Week 17 off and getting the bye, however a key player on their offensive line (Mitchell Schwartz) remains unavailable here and might provide the key to the Browns staying in this game. 

The Cleveland defense generates pressure with its front four only, blitzing at the third-lowest rate in the NFL (just under 25% of dropbacks). This strategy has worked well in containing Patrick Mahomes -- to the degree you can -- especially late this season, as Mahomes has seen his rate facing the blitz fall, along with his production and the Chiefs’ EPA per play (down from 0.224 before Week 12, to 0.107 since).  If the Browns defense can replicate this approach against Kansas City this week and keep them in the ballpark of 30 points, that opens the door for their offense, which is certainly capable of scoring at an elite level. 

My power numbers for these teams makes the point spread well short of + 10, even when accounting for the rest disparity and home-field advantage, so I will take the points on the ‘dog and look for live opportunities to back the Chiefs if the Browns get out to a hot start as they did in Pittsburgh.

Pick: Browns + 10 

Tuley: This is my favorite game of the weekend with the Browns getting too many points and a total that seems to be set too high (warning: we felt the same way about Ohio State and the Under against Alabama). The Browns ran over the Steelers, but that’s not why I like them so much here as they benefited from Maurice Pouncey snapping the ball over Ben Roethlisberger’s head on the first play from scrimmage and four INTs from Big Ben. The reason I like the Browns so much is that the Chiefs -- as great as they are -- continue to play close games and, in fact, are 0-7-1 ATS in their last eight games despite going 7-1 SU with only loss in Week 17 vs. the Chargers. 

There’s no reason the Browns shouldn’t be able to cover this huge number, especially if the Chiefs get off to their characteristically slow start (note: I also really love the Browns + 6.5 in the first half, and wouldn’t be surprised if that line gets to + 7 by the weekend). As mentioned above, I also love Under 56. This looks more like a 27-24 game or something in that neighborhood. Besides, the Browns will be trying to keep the ball away from Mahomes & Co. by running the clock with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and short passes to them out of the backfield.

Pick: Browns + 10, plus Under 57 (either separate or parlayed)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints (-3, 52)

Youmans: The Buccaneers have lost a game by more than three points only twice all season. Obviously, both of those losses were to the Saints by a combined score of 72-26, including the 38-3 beatdown at Tampa on Nov. 8. Maybe the Bucs’ season will end where it started, which was at New Orleans in Week 1, but Tom Brady is not going down without a fight this time. For all of their regular-season success in recent years, the Saints have not played at the same high level in the postseason, and I was not particularly impressed with how they performed against a bad Bears team last week. There is more pressure on Drew Brees, who probably knows his next loss will end his career. Most power ratings will show this number should be 3.5, and there’s no real value in taking three points, so I’ll go the teaser route. It would not surprise me to see Brady knock out Brees.

Pick: Buccaneers + 9 on a teaser with Packers -0.5

Tuley: This is being billed as the marquee game of the weekend with Brady vs. Brees, but my initial thought is that the Saints have shown themselves to be the superior team with a 34-23 win here in the Superdome in Week 1 and then routing the Bucs 38-3 in Tampa Bay on Nov. 8. Now, I’m sure you’ll be hearing the old myth that “it’s hard for a team to be another team three times in a season” this week, but the fact is that 67% of the time the winner of the two prior meetings pulls off the sweep. The offenses are pretty equal, but the Saints have the edge on defense, so I can’t pull the trigger on the Bucs plus just a field goal (and as a self-proclaimed dog-or-pass bettor, I’m passing on laying the points with the Saints). I might actually pass on this game altogether if I have live teaser tickets to the Buccaneers + 9.

Pick: Pass, unless live with teasers to Buccaneers + 9 (from Packers -0.5 and/or Ravens + 8.5)

Completed games

Los Angeles Rams at Green Packers (-6.5, 45.5)

Youmans: Packers -0.5 on a teaser with Buccaneers + 9; Under 46

Dinsick: Pass

Tuley: Rams + 6.5 or + 7 if it gets there, but agree with Youmans about using Packers -0.5 in two-team, 6-point teaser, though I prefer with Ravens + 8.5 

Final score: Packers 32, Rams 18

ATS winner: Packers

Total: OVER

Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills (-2.5, 49.5)

Youmans: Ravens + 2.5

Dinsick: Ravens ML + 125

Tuley: Ravens + 2.5, plus using Ravens in teasers

Final score: Bills 17, Ravens 3

ATS winner: Bills

Total: UNDER

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