Motivation is one of the biggest factors in handicapping any sport. One of the unique challenges of handicapping the NFL postseason is the fact that the motivation angle is essentially gone since each team in the playoffs has exactly the same motivation: win a championship and prevent the end of the season.
Revenge is one of the most potent - and therefore most profitable - motivating factors in sports betting. The urge to seek retribution for past wrongs is primal and base in all human. Extrapolate that rage out to 300-pound mutants in carbon fiber padding and you can see that this is something that any football bettor must consider before choosing a side in a vengeance game on the gridiron.
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Last week's NFL Wild-Card Round was unique in that if featured road betting favorites in each of the four games. That's the first time in the modern era that has happened (and all four road teams managed to win, going 2-2 against the spread in the process). This week's Division Round games are unique in that they feature three non-divisional rematch games from the regular season. The fourth game, between Kansas City and New England, has its own lesser revenge angle from a primetime blowout in 2014. But the other three games are all rematches from games this season, with two of the regular-season matchups coming within the last month.
Here is a look at the four divisional games of this weekend through the lens of the revenge motivation attached to each:
KANSAS CITY AT NEW ENGLAND (4:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 16)
LAST MEETING: Kansas City 41, New England 14 (Sept. 29, 2014)
The Chiefs absolutely slaughtered the Patriots as a three-point home underdog last year on Monday Night Football. Kansas City rang up over 200 rushing yards in that game and held a 27-0 lead midway through the third quarter. Things got so ugly the Patriots actually benched Tom Brady in the fourth quarter and turned it over to backup Jimmy Garoppolo, and it was the worst primetime loss of the Brady-Belichick Era.
Things are a bit different this year. First and foremost, the Chiefs won't have the benefit of a raucous Arrowhead crowd behind them in this game. They'll also be without Jamaal Charles, who scored three touchdowns in that game. Charles has been out since early this season, and the Chiefs have been fine, riding an 11-game winning streak into Foxboro.
In regards to New England, their reputation for exacting revenge, against enemies both seen and imagined, is legendary. The Patriots have several off-field issues plaguing them this week, though, and I don't think that payback is the first thing on their mind.
GREEN BAY AT ARIZONA (8:15 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 16)
LAST MEETING: Arizona 38, Green Bay 8 (Dec. 27, 2015)
These two met in Week 16 in Arizona, and the Cardinals absolutely bum-rushed the visiting Packers. Arizona outgained Green Bay by more than 200 yards and blew open a 0-0 game with a 17-0 second quarter that led to a rout. Aaron Rodgers was held to his second-lowest rating of the season and limited to a paltry 151 yards passing.
Any time you lose by 30 you can use the word "inefficiency" as a reason. But Green Bay played one of its sloppiest games of the season, turning the ball over four times. That number includes two fumbles that were returned for touchdowns by the Arizona defense in the second half to put the game away. Green Bay was also 0-for-2 in the red zone, versus Arizona converting three of four red zone attempts.
Arizona is definitely the deeper, more talented team in this game. But Green Bay, and particularly Rodgers, always seems to play its best in the postseason. It is ridiculous to expect that Rodgers, who has a career playoff passer rating of 100.3, will come out flat against the Cardinals a second time.
SEATTLE AT CAROLINA (1 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 17)
LAST MEETING: Carolina 27, Seattle 23 (Oct. 18, 2015)
This series has quietly become one of the best rivalries in football. Sunday's game will actually be the seventh time that these two teams have played since 2010, it marks the fourth meeting since the beginning of last season, and it is the second year in a row that these two clubs will square off in the Divisional Round.
In regards to this year's regular-season meeting, Carolina pulled off a somewhat stunning upset in Seattle. They were seven-point underdogs, and Cam Newton hit Greg Olsen with a beautiful 26-year seam pass with just 32 seconds left to earn the victory. However, it is easy to forget that Seattle was actually up 20-7 in the third quarter and 23-14 in that game with less than five minutes to play. They seemingly had everything in hand. Also, that loss dropped the Seahawks to just 2-4 on the season, and Seattle was not playing nearly as well at that point in the season as they are now, due in part to injuries and in part to their Super Bowl hangover.
Prior to that upset, Seattle had beaten Carolina five straight times since 2010 and four times in the past three seasons. That includes three true road victories in Carolina. The three regular-season meetings from 2012-2014 were all basically the same game played on repeat: 16-12, 12-7 and 13-9. All three were close, low-scoring, physical games. And with two of the five best defenses in football on the field on Sunday, I expect more of the same.
PITTSBURGH AT DENVER (4:30 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 17)
LAST MEETING: Pittsburgh 34, Denver 27 (Dec. 20, 2015)
These clubs played a wild game in Week 15, with Denver blowing a 27-10 lead while getting shut out in the second half. Ben Roethlisberger eviscerated the No. 1 defense in football, going 40-for-55 for 380 yards and two touchdowns to All-World wideout Antonio Brown. Brown's last touchdown, from 23 yards out with 3:24 to play, sealed the deal for the 7.5-point home favorites.
However, like with the New England game, the change in venue this time around is significant. As is the fact that Denver will be starting Peyton Manning this week instead of young Brock Osweiler. Osweiler threw for three touchdowns in the first meeting. And there's really no telling what Manning has left in the tank. But there is no doubt that the Manning Mystique could be a factor for the motivated home team.
For the Steelers, the two stars of the first game - Roethlisberger and Brown - come into the weekend battered and bruised after a rugged rivalry game last week in Cincinnati. Brown is out but I expect Roethlisberger to play well. But I am also certain that Wade Phillips and the Broncos defense will have an entirely different game plan for dealing with them than the used last time.
This matchup is also one of the best playoff rivalries in the AFC over the last half-century. This will be Denver's eighth playoff game against the Steelers all-time, and they have been involved in some classics, including the 2012 Divisional Round game at Mile High that can best be described as the Tebow Game, with Denver winning 29-23 in overtime as a touchdown home underdog. Denver is 5-1 ATS in the last six meetings, and the Broncos have won three of the last four playoff meetings.
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Read more articles by Robert Ferringo
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