Hear me out—I've been doing this betting thing for a while now as a sports betting consultant and a regular on CBS New York’s Fanalysis and on Twitter at @OldManWhoBets. I report for duty today in order to share my learnings. Let's get straight to the picks.
Here Are Your Best Bets for the 2020 NFL Divisional Round
Vikings vs. 49ers (SF -7, 49 percent of bets)
Fresh off a major upset down in the Bayou (and arguably Kirk Cousins best post-game speech of his career: YOU LIKE THAT?!), the purple and gold are taking their talents to the Bay against the red hot 49ers.
These 49ers aren’t quite as hot as they were when they opened the season, especially on defense. After allowing 20 or more points just once in the first seven games, they’ve allowed 20 or more points in seven of their last nine. This defense still ranks second in the league in defensive efficiency, but I’m not sold that they should be a full touchdown favorite against Kirk & Co.
Looking at their overall team efficiency statistics, the 49ers rank fifth, just two spots higher than the Vikings who rank seventh. New Orleans ranked fourth in the league, and we saw how that went (26-20 Vikings victory, if you decided to avoid the playoffs last week).
The Vikings have been inconsistent this season, but they haven’t had any “bad” losses per se. The Vikings were also without key cogs in their offense, Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen, for a chunk of the season. When those two are on the field, this offense transcends to another dimension. The 49ers have also shown they’re not invincible, with their biggest gaffe coming against the Falcons. Yikes.
Looking at common opponents doesn’t get us much here if we're honest. Yes, the Vikings lost twice to the Packers, and the 49ers beat them by 29. Does this concern me? Not quite—the Packers getting up for two critical divisional games carries more weight than the 49ers beating them, as good as they looked. Even with a Falcons loss, and the Vikings easy win against them, this was a look-ahead spot for Jimmy G and shouldn’t be treated as anything more.
Looking at results against New Orleans and Seattle is what inspires me the most:
SEA versus MIN: Lost by 7
SEA versus SF: Won by 5, Lost by 3
NO versus MIN: Won by 6
NO versus SF: Won by 2
Key takeaway: All these games have been very close when they battle another good team, and that’s why I think a -7 merely is too much for the 49ers here.
Give me Kirk “You Like That” Cousins at +7.
Titans vs. Ravens (Ravens -9.5, 53 percent of bets)
Fresh off possibly ending the Patriots Dynasty, can the Titans shock the world two weekends in a row? Can lightning strike the same place twice? Two shooters on the grassy knoll? All great questions, all unanswered.
In short: The answer is no, and while I do see the Vikings shocking every state outside of Minnesota for a second straight week, the Vikings aren’t running into Lamar Jackson. Jackson, as we know, has been nothing short of spectacular this year. Ingram is expected to suit up, and Gus Edwards is a suitable fill in if he can’t go at 100 percent.
While Ryan Tannehill has looked incredibly efficient and Derrick Henry was the main reason the Titans' offense was so successful against New England, I don’t envision them being able to run enough clock or dominate enough possessions to keep Baltimore’s offense off the field.
Looking at efficiency stats, Baltimore ranks first overall compared to the Titans at ninth. The Ravens offense ranks first; the Titans sixth. Defense? Ravens, fourth; Titans, sixteenth. THAT, my dear friends, is the x-factor in this game. The Titans' defense stopped Tom Brady and his lack-of-weapons on the road, but stopping this Ravens' offense is seemingly not possible.
I am obligated to mention that the Titans DID beat the Chiefs, a team that Baltimore lost to, but that required Henry to run for 188 yards and two scores. While Baltimore’s run defense is ranked 19th, I do expect Henry to get by them, but his talent alone won't be enough to keep this game in reach.
With Baltimore’s fourth most efficient pass defense, they can afford to sell out to stop the run, creating a Tannehill vs. Jackson game script, and with that, I go with Jackson every time.
With the line at -9.5, I’m rolling with the home team, the Baltimore Ravens.
Texans vs. Chiefs (Chiefs -9.5, 52 percent of bets)
Shocking no one, I am fading the Texans yet again.
I’ve said it all year: Houston is a likable team, but one that’s been overachieving. Just last week, I said: “Houston is a team that the public loves to love, and for a good reason. Watt is exciting. Watson is exciting. Hopkins, Fuller, they are exciting.”
Well, Geoff—the Texans won and covered last week! Right you are, reader, but that required them to punch in two two-point conversions and backdoor it in overtime.
The buck stops here. Houston ranks 26th in defensive efficiency, which is a glaring issue against the high powered Chiefs' offense. The Chiefs' defense clocks in at 14th in defensive efficiency, with an astoundingly bad run defense (29th). Fortunately, they face Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson this week—not exactly something to fear.
While I have been focusing on sides rather than totals, there is some merit to betting the over in this one. Both teams have been lackluster on overs lately (KC 1-4 L5, HOU 2-3 L5), but both of these teams score often and can’t play defense. I’d like to see northern regression from both squads, and at 51 points, we have the highest total of the week. When it’s high, go higher.
Back to the match-up: Wild statistics of the week stems from coach Andy “The Big Tomato” Reid. Coach Andy is one of the best coaches in the league off a bye, and that extends into the playoffs. With an extra week to prepare, his teams are an impressive 17-3, including 5-0 in the playoffs.
With the Chiefs more efficient both on offense and on defense and The Big Tomato’s dominant bye-week trend, I’ll be taking them, -9.5.
Seahawks vs. Packers (Packers -4.5, 42 percent of bets)
A fantastic game to close out the weekend. Sunday scaries? Not during the Divisional round, baby! What’s more classic than an ice-cold game at Lambeau with Rodgers at the helm? Perhaps a Donovan McNabb Chunky Soup commercial circa 2006, but I digress.
This Packers team has been consistently underrated all year, and once again, Joe Public doesn’t like them! Jackpot.
Lambeau is going to be rocking on Sunday, with temperatures expected to be in the low 20s. This weather report is fantastic news for Packers' fans and bettors alike. In temperatures under 26 degrees, Wilson has been less-than-stellar, completing only 56 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and six interceptions. Rodgers, on the other hand? In December and January at Lambeau (see: assume cold), he has a career 110.7 passer rating, good for the best in NFL history. That’s something.
Looking at overall team efficiency, we do see Seattle with a slight advantage, ranking eight compared to Green Bay’s tenth. That, of course, is a regular-season statistic and one that featured Chris Carson all season, not Marshawn Lynch. Since Carson went down, the Seahawks run game has been anemic with Lynch averaging 2.8 yards in his first game, and 1.2 last week against the Eagles, mostly removed from the game plan.
Philly’s defense, of course, was fantastic against the run all year, so the game plan made sense. Green Bay’s run defense is a below-average unit at 23rd in efficiency, but will the Seahawks turn to haven’t-played-in-forever Lynch with their lives at stake? I say no I love BEAST MODE, don’t get it twisted). Green Bay’s pass defense ranks tenth in defensive efficiency, which should give Wilson some trouble.
Seattle's run defense, on the other hand, is also mediocre ranking 26th in defensive efficiency, and Aaron Jones has been simply electric this season, with 16 touchdowns, 1000+ yards, and 4.6 YPC. This rushing offense ranks fourth in rush efficiency. Seattle’s pass defense ranks 15th, meh, and I am bullish on Rodgers' ability to spread the ball around. Devante Adams has been his usual dominant self since returning from injury, and role players like Lazard have stepped up to give Rodgers the support he needs.
Rodgers at Lambeau in 20-degree weather is what I want. Fading the public on the game with the biggest public split of the weekend is what I want.