We have no complaints here in the Tuley’s Takes home office about the start of the NFL playoffs. Our ATS Best Bets on the Titans and Vikings won outright, though we only split our Over/Under Best Bets with a win on the Bills-Texans Under but a loss on the Seahawks-Eagles Over.
That coincided with the overall betting results of wild-card weekend, as underdogs went 2-1 ATS, with Seahawks-Eagles closing at pick-’em, and road teams going 3-1 ATS (remember, NFL road teams were 56% in the regular season and road dogs even stronger). The only home team to cover was the Texans -2.5, and I was glad I recognized it as being too short and hope some readers teased the Bills to plus 8.5, as we suggested in addition to the Under on that game.
In addition to giving the Titans plus 4.5 vs. the Patriots, we also hope many jumped in on the moneyline, as we advised taking them at plus or better and the Titans closed at most books. I wasn’t as confident in an outright upset by the Vikings, but the plus 8 was clearly the right side, as the Saints never led by more than that. I wish I had just gone with the Seahawks over the Eagles but hope some followers read between the lines (or went with my Seattle pick on the VSiN NFL Consensus page) and took that instead of my Over pick.
All in all, we like the underdogs in this week’s divisional round. On “The Opening Lines Show” on Sunday night and in my colleague Matt Youmans’ piece here
, Bruce Marshall of The Gold Sheet sided with all four divisional dogs. I’m not quite as dogmatic this week as I much prefer the two AFC underdogs, but let’s take a closer look at the matchups and then close with my take on the College Football Playoff title game.
Takes on NFL divisional round
Vikings (O/U 45) at 49ers (-7)
Tuley’s Take: Saturday’s first matchup is the divisional playoff game that I’m having the hardest time deciding how to bet. As I said on “The Opening Line Show” and “Betting Across America,” this number was too short for me to take the Vikings at plus 6.5. It is rare for a dog to be getting fewer points in this round against a team with a bye than it got in the wild-card round. I know a lot of oddsmakers and handicappers had the Saints power-rated higher than the 49ers, so I kind of understand the adjustment after the Vikes beat them, but I still think we should be getting more points on the road at the No. 1 seed. The line had been bet back up to 7 as of press time, so I’m going to go with my handicapping and take the points while holding out hope that it gets bet higher. But I do it with some hesitation, as I don’t like the fact the Vikings had to play the late game Sunday and now have to play the early game Saturday, plus the San Fran defense tends to play better at home and should benefit from the added rest and preparation time. Best Bet: Vikings 7.
Titans (O/U 47) at Ravens (-9)
Tuley’s Take: The Titans are again my favorite play of the weekend, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they pull another outright upset. Coach Mike Vrabel out-Belichicked Bill Belichick with his manipulation of the rules in milking the clock before the 5-minute mark of the fourth quarter, but he also outcoached him in other ways. He had NFL leading rusher Derrick Henry run the ball down the Patriots’ throats and used a smothering, well-prepared defense that shut down Tom Brady. I understand Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ offense is a different matter, but I expect Vrabel to be ready. Jackson, a shoo-in for MVP, has certainly improved his throwing since a season ago, but he’ll have tight windows to throw into against Tennessee. I also went back to the Ravens’ game off their bye week, and even though they put up 30 points at Seattle, Jackson was rusty at only 9-for-20 passing for just 143 yards as Baltimore kicked three field goals. The Titans didn’t need Ryan Tannehill to beat the Patriots, but from what he showed this season, I’m confident he can win a duel down the stretch. Best Bet: Titans 9.
Texans (O/U 50.5) at Chiefs (-9.5)
Tuley’s Take: I’m still alive with my futures-book tickets on the Texans. I’m not as confident with them on the moneyline in this game, especially as the Chiefs’ defense has really improved coming into the playoffs. But I’m still amazed at how many people are expecting the Chiefs to win in a blowout. It’s reflected in the betting market, as this line opened as low as -7 at Treasure Island and -7.5 at the Westgate and William Hill and has been getting bet steadily higher. They talk about Patrick Mahomes like he can’t possibly lose to the Texans, who they say barely got past the Bills. But I have to point out that the Texans won 31-24 in Kansas City in Week 6, and there’s no reason they can’t do it again. Or at least keep it close. Best Bet: Texans 9.5 but wait for 10.
Seahawks (O/U 46) at Packers (-4)
Tuley’s Take: Similar to the Vikings-49ers game, this line opened a little short for me (-3.5 at several books with some at -4), but hopefully it continues to move higher. The buy sign for me would be Seahawks plus 4.5, so early in the week I’m still calling it a lean at plus 4. Russell Wilson always gives his team a shot to win, even though he came up short in the loss to the 49ers that sent them on the road in the playoffs. However, that’s not such a negative, as the Seahawks actually performed better away from home this season at 8-1 SU and 6-2-1 ATS. I still expect Aaron Rodgers to have success against the Seattle defense and for this to be a shootout. Unders were 4-0 in the wild-card round and my only loss was on the Seahawks-Eagles Over, as I also thought that was going to be a shootout. But for now, I still like the total better. Best Bet: Over 46.
Take on CFP title game
It’s been a disappointing bowl season here in the Tuley’s Takes home office. We went just 5-5 ATS in the VSiN Bowl Guide, with the key loss being Kansas State plus 2.5 vs. Navy. We thought we had it when the Wildcats tied the score late before losing by a field goal. However, we’re still 29-18-1 ATS (61.7%) with our CFB Best Bets in this column and a still-respectable 101-80-1 (55.8%) overall on the VSiN CFB Consensus page elsewhere in Point Spread Weekly. We think we’re going to close with a winner.
LSU (-5.5) vs. Clemson (O/U 69.5)
Tuley’s Take: As I said on “The Opening Lines Show” and wrote on the CFB Best Bets page elsewhere in this issue: All due respect to what LSU and Burrow have done, but to be the champ you have to beat the champ, and I still have Clemson as the better team and will gladly take the generous points (just like last year against Alabama). Except for the close call vs. North Carolina, Clemson has actually been more dominant and won the much tougher national semifinal. I believe this line is an overreaction to LSU’s rout of Oklahoma, and Burrow & Co. will have a much tougher challenge vs. the Clemson defense, which is allowing just 11.5 points per game. Yes, I understand that was mostly against a down ACC schedule, but the Tigers also held Ohio State to 23. I also trust Dabo Swinney, who has beaten Nick Saban twice in national title games, over Ed Orgeron in a close game. I was asked for a score on the Best Bets page and came up with Clemson 30, LSU 27, so I do expect it to be close and well under the (also inflated) betting total of 69.5. Best Bet: Clemson 5.5 or better (Golden Nugget and CG Technology were at 6 as of Tuesday afternoon).