NFL best bets: Picks, predictions for the Divisional Round

By VSiN Staff  (VSiN.com) 

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We have two games left on Sunday in what many consider to be the best weekend of the entire NFL season.

Our best bets article features picks from Matt Youmans, Adam Burke, Dave Tuley, Wes Reynolds and Ben Brown of Pro Football Focus.

Lines from our VSiN NFL Odds page as of Thursday afternoon. Betting splits available here.

 

Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3, 48)

DraftKings betting splits: 54% of bets on Rams, 58% of money on Rams

Rams-Buccaneers odds

Burke: Offensive line injuries are the big story for the Buccaneers in Sunday’s matinee against the Rams. Ryan Jensen and Tristan Wirfs are huge pieces of the puzzle even when not facing off against Von Miller and Aaron Donald, but given the personnel for the Rams, those guys take on even greater importance.

Tom Brady should get Leonard Fournette back and his addition to the lineup will be enormous, particularly if Brady is under duress more than usual with the standouts on the Los Angeles defense. Fournette will be a focal point and enough to create more single coverage for the wide receivers or Rob Gronkowski.

The burning question for the Rams offense is Matthew Stafford. He played well against Arizona in the Wild-Card Round, but wasn’t asked to do much, as he only had 17 pass attempts in a game that the Rams controlled throughout. Even late in the season, though, Sean McVay opted for more Sony Michel carries. Perhaps that had to do with a lack of confidence in Stafford, but the game-plan seems to feature more of a run-pass mix than what we saw over the course of the season.

Will a ball control style work against the Buccaneers, who are quite skilled at doing that themselves? Are we just going to end up with a lot of long drives in this game and a coin flip based on the team that has more red zone success? That would be my guess and that type of game favors the Buccaneers.

Tampa Bay was second in the NFL in touchdown efficiency in the red zone. The Rams were 15th. Odell Beckham Jr. has helped the cause, and most of his touchdown catches have been inside the 10, but the Buccaneers were a top-10 red zone defense. So were the Rams, but Tampa Bay’s additional offensive success might just swing the balance of this game.

The line matters a lot here. Don’t settle for Tampa Bay -3 if you can find a 2.5. Similarly, don’t take the Rams at a bad moneyline price or at 2.5 when 3 is out there. This is a tight game, a tight line and hopefully a game that lives up to the billing. 

I do think last week’s performance against the Cardinals offense was an outlier for this Rams defense, given that they gave up a lot of yards to the good offenses that they played throughout the season. Therefore, I’ll side with the more trustworthy team, which I find to be the Bucs.

Pick: Buccaneers -3

Tuley: This is the game that has me the most puzzled, probably because I see it as the biggest coin-flip result of this round. I actually have the Buccaneers as more than three points better than the Rams, especially at home, so I don’t see value in the Rams getting just a field goal, even though there are some things in their favor.

Stafford finally got the playoff monkey off his back, though I felt that was unfair, as he toiled in Detroit all those years. The Rams also beat the Buccaneers 34-24 back in Week 3, so they’ve shown they can play with the defending champs, though that was at home. So, while we’re not willing to back the Rams plus the points or on the moneyline, I believe they should be in the game the whole way against Brady and company and are a solid teaser play. 

I know + 3 isn’t an optimal line for a teaser, as you’re overpaying on the back end to get the “dead” + 9 number; however, we’re seeing some early Rams money as of this writing with several books going to + 3 -120 and even + 2.5, so we suspect many bettors are going to be teasing from + 2.5 to + 8.5 eventually. Our preferred teaser is to use with the Bills 8 (more on that below).

Pick: Two-team, 6-point teaser with Rams + 8.5 or better and Bills + 8 or better

Brown: The Buccaneers offense had a smashing opening-round playoff performance, as it looked undeterred despite the rash of injuries at wide receiver. This was only the third week that Rob Gronkowski finished under his receiving yardage prop since returning from injury in Week 11. The problem is his prop number continues to increase, as it currently sits at the second-highest number of his 2021 season. His usage increased without Antonio Brown or Chris Godwin in the lineup, but Gronkowski still posted under a 20 percent team target share over the past three games in addition to a dramatic dropoff in his aDot. 

If the Buccaneers' wild-card scheme was any indication, Gronkowski will be operating underneath with Gio Bernard while Mike Evans soaks up the majority of deep targets. The problem for Gronkowski this week is the matchup, as the Rams boast the No. 1 pass-rush unit in PFF’s opponent-adjusted grades. It was all the way back in Week 3, but in these two teams' prior matchup, Gronkowski posted the highest number of pass-blocking snaps of his season. Even if he is only asked to chip on his way to running a route, he could continue to slide down the pecking order for targets. It’s hard to see Gronkowski finishing over this inflated prop number no matter how the game script plays out. 

If the Buccaneers jump out to an early lead, the likelihood drops even further. PFF’s betting model does like the Buccaneers to cover, which aligns with this prop finishing well short of 68.5 receiving yards. 

Pick: Gronkowski Under 68.5 Receiving Yards (-120)

Reynolds: Another Week 3 rematch takes place here on Divisional Playoff weekend. The Rams (+ 1) dispatched of the defending Super Bowl Champions, 34-24. Tampa Bay was playing from behind throughout and Tom Brady was forced to throw 55 times. 

We know that Brady and the Bucs have had to overcome injuries in both the running back and receiver corps, but now the offensive line injuries have started to mount. Pro Bowl C Jensen and Pro Bowl RT Wirfs left last weekend’s game with injuries. Both players are listed as questionable with ankle injuries. They will both likely play but are not likely to be 100 percent. That is not great news facing Donald and the Rams front, who finished third in the league with 50 total sacks. The Bucs, even in a relatively easy 31-15 win over Philadelphia, did allow four sacks last week.

The trends will all clearly favor Brady and Bucs here over Stafford and the Rams, but the road team is 2-0 SU and ATS against the defending Super Bowl Champions over the last two years. The casual bettors will certainly back Brady as a smallish home favorite, but as we can see, there is substantial market resistance to the Bucs continuing their defense of the Lombardi Trophy.

Pick: Rams + 3

Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs (-1.5, 53.5)

DraftKings betting splits: 50% of bets on Bills, 54% of money on Bills

Bills-Chiefs odds

Burke: The game that everybody seems most excited about is the matchup between the Bills and Chiefs. We’ve actually seen this line come down based on some Bills money and it is hard to disagree given their season-long metrics and how dominant the defense has been. Josh Allen’s play has another gone up a few degrees now that he has gotten back to using his legs.

One piece of advice for bettors this week is that the Bills are not a good teaser candidate. Getting 3 and 7 will always have some equity, but this is projected as a high-scoring game and one that could be played in a high-variance environment. Teasers are most effective in games projected to be lower-scoring, where six points of line equity carries a lot more weight. In this game, six points may not mean much of anything if it lives up to the mid-50s hype.

When these two teams met the first time, the story was all about Patrick Mahomes and his turnover problems, but the Bills also racked up 8.1 yards per play with some truly explosive plays. The Chiefs defense allowed points on 37.3 percent of opponents’ possessions this season, while the Bills led the league at just 28 percent. Buffalo’s strength of schedule was certainly weaker, but Buffalo was 0.4 yards per play better than any other defense in the league.

All a team can do is play the opponents on the schedule. Dominance over those opponents certainly means something and the Bills, despite their record, were a statistically-dominant team throughout the season. Kansas City was not, though the Chiefs have obviously played much better in the second half.

These are two teams peaking at the right time. This game probably comes down to the team that has the ball last or some kind of special teams blunder. Buffalo is the more efficient red zone team on offense and defense, the team that does a better job of getting pressure, the better third-down defense and had a much stronger performance last week given the opponent.

I’ll ride the wave and also hope that my good friend Brian Blessing is smiling down on his Bills this week.

Pick: Bills + 1.5

Tuley: This the last game of the divisional playoff weekend and many people are calling it the de facto AFC title game. I’m not willing to go that far, but it should be a great game. In fact, I’m not so sure the right team is favored. When taking the whole season into consideration, I have the Bills as the slightly better team. The offenses are nearly even, with the Chiefs averaging about 14 more yards per game, while the Bills average 29.4 points per game to the Chiefs’ 29. The Bills defense has also been more consistent.

The Bills also showed they match up well with the Chiefs in their 38-20 win in the same stadium in Week 5. Granted, the Chiefs have worked through some of their issues and are playing better, but I still don’t see why they’re favored except for the fact that they’re the Chiefs and still more of a public team. The Bills are my top recommendation of the weekend as we get to move their line through the key numbers of 3 and 7. As stated above, my preferred teaser play is the Rams with the Bills, but I’ve already also bet Bengals + 9.5 with Bills + 7.5 and might add others during the course of the week.

Pick: Bills teased from + 1.5 to + 7.5 with multiple earlier games

Brown: Cole Beasley is an afterthought in this Bills passing offense, playing less than half of Buffalo's offensive snaps over the past three games. Isaiah McKenzie looks like the more dynamic option as Josh Allen's slot receiver, which relegated Beasley to under a 15 percent team target share over the past three weeks. Factoring in the low aDot on these targets, Beasley would need to come close to seven targets to possibly go over this number. 

The prop market adjusted to Beasley’s new usage outlook but, for some reason, corrected after a two-week close at 33.5 receiving yards by adding four yards to his opening number. Beasley has cleared his receiving yardage prop in only five of 12 games this season and is close to the fifth pass-catching option in this offense.

PFF’s betting model finds value in this game finishing short of the inflated game total, as the betting market has adjusted from an opening 55-point total. If this direction indicates the correct betting side and PFF’s betting model proves to be correct, then Beasley finishing under 37.5 receiving yards will be one of the easiest, sweat-free bets on Sunday night. 

Pick: Beasley Under 37.5 Receiving Yards (-120)

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