NFL Divisional Round Games

It is a “Football Friday” and we are up to the Divisional round of the NFL Playoffs – – so what else would you expect here besides my game comments and some picks?  Well, anything else you might expect will just have to wait…

In the Saturday afternoon game, the Falcons travel to play the Eagles and the Falcons are 3-point favorites on the road over the Eagles.  This is the first time ever where an #1 seed has hosted a Divisional round game against any lower-seeded opponent as an underdog.  The basis for this one-time event can be stated in two words:

  • Nick Foles

The Eagles were tearing it up with Carson Wentz under center; they were the betting favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.  When Wentz was injured, Foles replaced him in Los Angeles and played very well to preserve a victory in that game.  The next week, Nick Foles played very well against the Giants – – but then he was less-than-wonderful against the Raiders and was “deer-in-the-headlights-bad” against the Cowboys in Week 17.  The oddsmakers seem convinced that “mediocre-at-best” Nick Foles will come out of the tunnel in Philly this weekend.

  • Before going overboard in laying the wood to Nick Foles, remember that in his last stint with the Eagles, he played a full season where he threw 27 TD passes and only 2 INTs.  If THAT Nick Foles shows up on Saturday, the Eagles will be more than merely competitive.

If the Eagles are to win this game and advance, they will need to lean heavily on their running game and mix things up with Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement.  If they do not make the Falcons respect and play the run, I think the Eagles’ fans are in for a long and unpleasant day.  I see this game as a low-scoring affair; in such cases, I tend to want to take the points.  So, I’ll take the Eagles plus 3 points.

In the Saturday night game, the Patriots host the Titans and the Pats are 13.5-point favorites at home.  While the Pats were taking a week off and stories blossomed about a rift at the top of the organization, the Titans ran their way to this game by beating the Chiefs with a furious comeback.  Lots of folks have lauded Marcus Mariota for his game last week – including a pass to himself for a TD after it was batted back to him by a defender.  Frankly, I think the deciding factor in that game was the running by Derrick Henry; he bulldozed his way for 156 yards in that game.  Now, if you look at the season stats as a whole, you will likely think that Henry will do at least that well this week against the Pats whose run defense was 31st in the NFL in yards per attempt by the opponent.  However, those season stats may be misleading because the Pats’ defense was HORRIBLE in September and significantly better since then.

Looking solely at the defense and the scores allowed by the defense only, that unit for the Pats turned the corner in early October.  Since then, the Pats’ defense has only given up more than 20 points twice; in all the other games, they have yielded 17 points or less.  So, maybe Derrick Henry will gain a lot of yards and that will lead to nothing but a bunch of field goals for the Titans.  If that is the case, that will not auger will for the Titans because it is not difficult to see the Pats scoring 27-33 points in this contest.  I hate double-digit spreads in NFL games, so I will take this game to stay UNDER the Total Line of 48 points.

In the early Sunday afternoon game, the Steelers host the Jags and the Steelers are 7-point favorites at home.  On October 8, 2017 (Week 5), the Jags went to Pittsburgh and dominated the Steelers by a score of 30-9.  In that game, Ben Roethlisberger threw 5 INTs for the only time in his career.  That game was an organized ass-kicking perpetrated by the Jags.  So, how can the Steelers possibly be favored?

  • That game was LeVeon Bell’s first game back from his suspension.
  • The Steelers are a prideful team; they think they owe one to the Jags.
  • Ben Roethlisberger is the Steelers QB; Blake Bortles is the Jags’ QB.

Last week in the Jags’ win over the Bills, Blake Bortles was 12 for 23 for 87 yards and that stat line made him a “winning QB” in a playoff game.  Back in October when the Jags beat the Steelers, Bortles’ stat line was 8 for 14 for 95 yards.  The oddsmaker does not think that kind of output from the Jags’ passing game will get it done this week – – and I agree with that.  Here is the only statistical category where the Steelers are significantly weak for a playoff team:

  • In Red Zone defense, the Steelers give up a TD to their opponent 62% of the time.  If my calculations are correct, that is worse than the Red Zone TD percentage allowed by the Browns.  Yowza!

The oddsmaker has this game at Steelers – 7 and a Total Line of 41.  I like the Steelers to win and cover and I like the game to go OVER.

In the final game of the weekend late on Sunday afternoon, the Vikes host the Saints and the Vikes are 5-point favorites.  If you look at the Vikes’ defense and their recent stats, you might wonder how the total Line could possibly be as high as 46 points.  In their last 3 games of the season the Vikes defense allowed a total of 17 points.  It is hard to lose an NFL game when the defense only gives up 5.7 points per game – – notwithstanding the Eagles’ loss to the Cowboys by a score of 6-0.  Look a little deeper at the Vikes’ last three games:

  • Bengals scored 7 points in a dispirited effort.  Andy Dalton was the opposing QB.
  • Packers scored 0 points.  Brett Hundley was the opposing QB.
  • Bears scored 10 points.  Mitchell Trubisky was the opposing QB.

None of those 3 opposing QBs in the previous 3 games has shown any reason to consider them as “Hall of Fame Material”.  Let me be clear here; Drew Brees is indeed going to be in the Hall of Fame and it should well be on the first ballot where he is eligible.  The Vikes have an excellent defense; but in this game, they are going up against a real offense and not a makeshift offense.

No matter who wins this game, I believe that team will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.  I happen to think that the Saints are the most complete team left in the NFC, so I will take them plus the points here.

In case you are wondering, you can find the Saints at between +190 and +200 on the Money Line at various sportsbooks in Las Vegas.  If I were in Vegas this weekend, I would probably play a 4-team Money Line parlay with the Falcons, Pats, Steelers and Saints.  If my calculations are correct, a $100 wager on that parlay at current Money Line odds would yield $395 in profit.

Finally, for reasons that escape me, the betting lines for the Pro Bowl game are already posted.  There is no way that I will watch the Pro Bowl game so there is certainly no reason to wager on it.  However, the fact that it will happen a week from now and that the betting lines are available leads me to alert you to this comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“Richie Incognito has been named to the Pro Bowl. Finally a reason to watch a Pro Bowl: to see if the offensive guard bites anyone.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………