In last week’s column, we wrote about how we've had a love/hate relationship with the last week of the NFL regular season here in the Tuley’s Takes home office.
But it was all love this past Sunday as our best bets here went 5-1 ATS as the Jaguars, Texans, Steelers, 49ers and Raiders all covered — with the Jaguars, Steelers, 49ers and Raiders all pulling outright upsets — and the only loss on the Falcons. My picks on the VSiN NFL Best Bets page went 5-0 as I left off the Falcons as my least favorite dog. Then, after it was determined that Aaron Rodgers and other Green Bay starters were going to play despite having the NFC No. 1 seed clinched and the line went to Packers -1, I added the Lions as a bonus best bet in “Tuley’s Takes Today” on VSiN.com.
So, that was a great way to end the regular season, but now we’re on to the NFL playoffs starting with Super Wild-Card Weekend, which now has six games instead of the previous four, including a Monday nighter.
The playoffs are a different animal and we have to approach it a little differently. We’re still looking for value with our dog-or-pass approach, but we don’t have the benefit of lines being overinflated as much as we see in the regular season between the haves and have-nots as the teams are more evenly matched and we should see a higher quality of play. Regardless, the key is to put yourself on the right side as much as possible.
Let’s go over this weekend’s card. I’ll give my take on each game and offer my best bet. Postseason contests where you have to pick every game aren’t as common as in the regular season, but I’ve received a few invitations already, so if I really don’t want to recommend a “best bet,” I’ll offer a pool play like I do in the regular season, Otherwise, my leans should be pretty obvious.
Las Vegas Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals (-5.5, O/U 49)
When the Raiders kicked the winning field goal on Sunday night against the Chargers, it meant they were heading to Cincinnati instead of Kansas City. My initial thought was that I would love the Raiders plus the points since they’ve been very good at winning close games and anything over a field goal could come in handy. And it certainly seemed like a good move to avoid playing the Chiefs. However, the more I’ve been handicapping this matchup, the more I’m thinking “be careful what you wish for.” While the Raiders were routed 41-14 and 48-9 by the Chiefs, they also were blown out 32-13 by the Bengals. They were 2-point underdogs in that game, so we understand the line being higher even though home-field advantage has been negligible in the NFL this season. However, based on the first matchup, I would have liked for oddsmakers to make this line even higher as it now appears short. I made the mistake of taking the Ravens against the Bengals in their rematch after they lost the first meeting 41-17. The Bengals ran over them again 41-21, so I'm not going to make the same mistake twice. I project the score at Bengals 24, Raiders, 20, so I still lean to the Raiders, but I believe the better bet is to take the Under 49 points, especially as the weather forecast calls for game-time temperatures in the 20s with a chance of snow flurries. Those types of conditions don’t always lead to a low-scoring game, but it could slow down the Vegas offense, which hadn’t been very explosive lately as it averaged just 18 points a game in the five games before the finale, and that was an aberration as the Chargers couldn’t stop the run, especially on a key plays on third-and-23 and on the last third down of the game.
Best Bet: Under 49 points (pool play: lean to Raiders + 5.5).
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills (-4, O/U 43.5)
It’s impossible for myself, many VSiN colleagues and members of the Las Vegas sports betting community to think about this game without mourning the passing of Brian Blessing, who was a longtime radio staple here in Las Vegas, where he enjoyed a second career after being a legend in his beloved Buffalo. We know no one on heaven or earth is cheering more for a deep playoff run by the Bills than Brian, but we’re sure as weck (look it up if you don't get the joke, which I’m sure Brian would appreciate) that he would understand us taking an objective view of this game. The road teams won the two meetings this season between these divisional rivals, and we trust New England coach Bill Belichick is going to have his team prepared to go into Buffalo and steal another win. The Patriots beat the Bills 14-10 in windy and cold conditions in Week 13 as they dominated on the ground and grinded out the win. Temperatures are projected to be in the single digits, but the wind won’t be as much of a factor, so I don’t expect this game to be as low scoring. We expect Belichick to open up the attack more and also make the right adjustments on defense to slow down Josh Allen and the Bills offense after studying the tape from the 33-21 loss to the Bills in New England just three weeks ago.
Best Bet: Patriots + 4.
Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-8.5, O/U 49)
The Buccaneers beat the Eagles 28-22 in a Thursday nighter to start Week 6 but failed to cover as 6.5-point road favorites. The line is now up over a touchdown for this rematch, so it’s tempting to take the Eagles and hope for another backdoor cover like they got with Jalen Hurts running for a TD in the fourth quarter. The Buccaneers were playing that game short-handed, but they still outgained the Eagles 399 yards to 213 as Hurts was confused by the Bucs’ schemes but was effective running the ball. We expect the Bucs defense to contain him better and the game to play out in a similar fashion with Tampa Bay building a comfortable lead and holding on. The obvious best way to play this game is to tease the Buccaneers under a field goal just in case they let up at the end while coasting to victory. My top choice is to tease them with the 49ers teased up from + 3 to + 9. If you prefer containing your wager to a single game, I’d go with the Bucs -2.5 with the Under teased up to 55 in this game as we don’t expect the Eagles to contribute enough to turn this into a shootout.
Best Bet: Buccaneers in two-team, 6-point teasers, led by Buccaneers -2.5 with 49ers + 9.
San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys (-3, O/U 50.5)
This is the only wild-card game that isn’t a rematch of a regular-season meeting, though these teams did play in December 2020 with the Cowboys beating the 49ers 41-33. Of course, that was with Nick Mullens quarterbacking the 49ers and Andy Dalton the Cowboys, but both teams were out of the playoff hunt. The 49ers outgained the Cowboys 458-291 but lost the turnover battle 4-0. Say what you will about Jimmy Garoppolo, but he does a better job of taking care of the ball and being a game manager like he was when he led/managed the 49ers to the Super Bowl just two years ago. Dak Prescott still has to get over that hump, so this should be a game that comes down to the final gun. While everyone gushes about the Cowboys offense — No. 1 in the league at 407 yards per game and averaging 31.2 points per game — I actually prefer the 49ers’ weapons of WR Deebo Samuel, TE George Kittle and RB Elijah Mitchell or whatever other runner, including Samuel, Kyle Shanahan uses in his backfield by committee. I’m OK taking the 49ers + 3, but I definitely prefer to get + 3.5 which is looking more possible as of this writing as some books are starting to add juice to the Cowboys -3. For now, I’ll pass but will jump in when we get the hook. Please check out our daily “Tuley’s Takes Today” columns at VSiN.com later in the week.
Best Bet: 49ers if it gets to + 3.5 (but obviously still lean that way if offered a lower line in contests).
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs (-12.5, O/U 46.5)
I mentioned above how we don’t see as many inflated lines in the playoffs, but we have one here. I certainly understand the high spread with the Chiefs winning nine of their last 10 and having routed the Steelers 36-10 just three weeks ago, easily covering as 10-point home favorites. If anything, we’re kind of surprised the spread isn’t a little higher. What’s keeping this line under two TDs is that the Chiefs still don’t always cover when they win (6-4 ATS during this recent run), though that’s still better than late last season and early this season. So that’s why I fully expect the Steelers to be able to stay within this big number. After they were routed by the Chiefs, they bounced back with road upsets of the Browns and Ravens. There’s something to be said for a team living on borrowed time with nothing to lose. Very few people expected the Steelers to be here and they can play loose as all the pressure is on the Chiefs. The Chiefs defense, which has been lauded for turning their season around, has given up 34 points to the Bengals and 24 to the Drew Lock-led Broncos the past two weeks, so we expect Big Ben to be able to keep the Steelers close as Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs should be content to just get out with the SU win. Though watch out if the Steelers are able to bring more of a pass rush this time.
Best Bet: Steelers + 12.5.
Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams (-4, O/U 50)
Are you reading for some playoff “Monday Night Football”? We get it with this matchup to wrap up the long weekend. Both teams won outright as small road underdogs in their regular-season meetings, and the Cardinals inadvertently did themselves a favor by losing to the Seahawks on Sunday as they’re 8-1 on the road compared with just 3-5 at home. The Rams were just 5-3 at home compared with 7-2 on the road, so we don’t see too much of a home-field advantage here. The problem with the Cardinals is they haven’t been playing as well as they were when they routed the Rams 37-20 at SoFi Stadium back in Week 4. They limped into the playoffs, losing four of their last five games. The Rams had won four straight before losing to the 49ers on Sunday, but they’ve had their own troubles, most notably QB Matthew Stafford turning the ball over eight times in the last three games. Stafford is 0-3 in the postseason, all with the Lions, and there is some doubt about how he’ll perform with the pressure ramping up. These rivals know each other very well, so we trust we’ll have another close game here. Taking more than a field goal with the live road dog is clearly the play.
Best Bet: Cardinals + 4.