Tuley's Takes on NFL divisional-round games

By Dave Tuley  (VSiN.com senior reporter) 


Wild-card weekend wasn’t as wild as we wanted here in the Tuley’s Takes home office as form held with favorites dominating at 5-1 SU and ATS with very few chances for the underdogs to get backdoor covers.

As is usually the case with weekends like this, I received some sympathetic and not-so-sympathetic comments from friends and readers that ranged from “sorry your dogs had such a weekend” to “see, the dog-or-pass approach sucks.” However, I had to assure everyone that I was actually doing fine despite the chalk-fest. The key part of “dog-or-pass” for me is the “pass” part as we don’t want to be backing overmatched dogs or betting when we’re not getting enough points.

I passed on the Raiders vs. the Bengals and went with the Under 49 instead, so that worked out perfectly. I also passed on the Eagles against the Buccaneers and made a best bet of a two-team, 6-point teaser with the Bucs teased down from -8.5 to -2.5 (able to get -1.5 by game day) and the 49ers teased up from + 3 to + 9. Even though I went just 1-2 on the VSiN NFL Best Bets page in last week’s Point Spread Weekly, I made the point in this column that I liked the 49ers + 3 at the time but wasn’t considering it a best bet until I was able to get + 3.5, which we did by the weekend.

I did lose my bets on the Patriots, Steelers and Cardinals, but I feel “dog or pass” showed its worth as we made money on three of the six games despite dogs going 1-5 SU and ATS.

Now, we turn our attention to this weekend’s divisional playoff round. While a lot of people are seeing last weekend’s results as some kind of proof that favorites are going to dominate this year’s playoffs, I’m going to continue to go contrarian where I feel there’s value on the dogs, and I believe we have it in three of the four games.

Cincinnati Bengals at Tennessee Titans (-3.5, O/U 47)

This line opened Titans -2.5, and my first thought was that the Bengals could be a prime teaser play. When handicapping this matchup — the only one of the weekend that isn’t a rematch of a regular-season meeting — all my stats came up with the Bengals as a short favorite, but I wasn’t thrilled with the number being so short. However, it didn’t take long for bettors to push this past the key number of 3 to 3.5, and I feel much better about making the Bengals a best bet. I know running back Derrick Henry is expected back for the Titans, who earned the AFC’s No. 1 seed without him, and the Bengals have lost some players to injury, but it’s looking like DE Trey Hendrickson is trending in the right direction in concussion protocol. When taking the whole season into account, I trust Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon, Ja’Marr Chase, etc., who average 27 points per game, better than Ryan Tannehill, Henry, A.J. Brown, etc., who average 24.6 points per game. The defenses are pretty even, allowing around 21 points per game. I really respect Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel, so I don’t expect the Bengals to win in a rout, but I give them a coin-flip chance at the outright upset in a game that should be closer to pick’-em. I have the Bengals as a short favorite, but you have to give the Titans something for home-field advantage and the extra week of rest — but I really love getting more than a field goal. 

Best Bet: Bengals + 3.5.

San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers (-6, O/U 47.5)

After the 49ers’ upset of the Cowboys on Sunday, this line opened as low as Packers -4 with some books at -4.5 before others went with -5.5. I was more than a little surprised that oddsmakers set the line so low — in fact, in the midst of chalk dominating so much and the rising liability the books had on parlays, etc., they only have themselves to blame for setting it so low and inviting even more money on the favorite — but I took it as a positive sign. On my Twitter feed @ViewFromVegas, I wrote: “I was at least hoping for 49ers + 7 LOL. I think it shows how live of a dog the 49ers are against the Packers with their running game. I’ll still take them at + 4.5 or better.” Several Packer backers responded right away about how Green Bay is en route to the Super Bowl and well-rested with the bye, yada, yada, yada. I was tempted to engage, but I’ve found over the years that it’s not in my best interest to talk chalk-eaters out of betting the favorite. I want them to join everyone else in steaming the line higher so I get more value on the dog. Sure enough, the line has been bet up to Packers -6 as of Tuesday afternoon. Most people don’t realize this, but despite all the talk about how great Aaron Rodgers is — and how mediocre Jimmy Garoppolo is — the 49ers still average more yards per game (373.8-365.5) and nearly as many points (Packers lead 26.5-25.0). The Packers’ run defense doesn’t rank too bad, mostly because most teams abandon the run when trailing the Packers. The 49ers’ running game, led by running back Elijah Mitchell and wide receiver Deebo Samuel, is capable of gashing the Green Bay defense like it did in sweeping the Pack in 2019-20. The Packers did prevail 30-28 in Week 3 this season, but a similar result would also work for our purposes here.

Best Bet: 49ers + 6.

Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3, O/U 48.5)

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. Matthew 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, we believe they should be in the game the whole way against Tom Brady and company and make a solid teaser play. We 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).

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

Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs (-2, O/U 55)

This is the last game of the divisional playoff weekend and many people are calling it the de facto AFC title game. We’re 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 401.3 yards per game to the Bills’ 387.5 while the Bills average 29.4 points per game to the Chiefs’ 29, but the Bills defense has 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 + 8 and might add others during the course of the week.

Best Bet: Bills teased from + 2 to + 8 with multiple earlier games.

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