NFL Playoffs Divisional Round Betting: Ranking the Games by Value
The slate of divisional games this week is a solid one. Hard to argue about that. Solid enough quarterbacks all-round, good coaching for the most part - and Bill O'Brien - and some intrigue. But as is so often the case in this round of the weekend, we don't really have a lot of edge-of-the-seat intrigue. All four home teams, the ones coming off the byes, are solidly favored, and other than Green Bay all of them are favored by at least a touchdown. Any of the road teams winning would be an upset by definition but would also feel like a pretty solid upset given the realities of the two teams involved in each case. It's not nearly as interesting as it could be. But it typically isn't this weekend - at least not until the games are played.
But just because these aren't necessarily edge-of-the-seat betting tilts doesn't mean that they aren't fascinating for handicappers. Here is a look at the four games ranked from the most to least bettable from where I am sitting:
1. Green Bay (-4) vs. Seattle: What are you looking for when you look at an underdog? One that can win, of course. And it feels like Seattle is more likely to win their game than any of the other teams are. I say that for two reasons. First, I am just not nearly as impressed with Green Bay as I should be with a 13-3 team. They played only five playoff teams, going 3-2 - with two of those wins against the Vikings and the losses against the Eagles and Niners. The other win was against the Chiefs, with the giant asterisk that Patrick Mahoes didn't play. I don't think the Packers are as good as their record, Aaron Rodgers has not been what he can be this year, and I don't trust their coaching at all. And while I don't love the Seahawks, and losing three divisional games in your last four to close out a season is far from great, they have a QB who likes the spotlight, a coach who has been here before, and are coming off a road win. I would be far less surprised if the Seahawks won than the other three, and on a neutral field I am not convinced Green Bay is the better team. Actually, on a neutral field I would be all over Seattle. So, this game is at the top of my list. By quite a bit, actually.
2. Kansas City (-9.5) vs. Houston: I like this game second best, but for the opposite reason. I value two things above the rest in the playoffs - QB matchups and coaching. I like Mahomes a solid touch better than Watson anyway, and especially so when you look at the defenses they will be facing. It is far more likely that the Chiefs will have answers for Watson through the air than vice versa. And the coaching mismatch here is so massive that the league should almost step in and intervene. Andy Reid is a sharp football mind. Bill O'Brien's mind is as sharp as a football. O'Brien's game management is ugly, and he is going to get outplanned and out-prepared here - especially with an extra week for Reid. Kansas City is the better team here by a fairly wide margin, they won four of their last five by a wide enough margin to cover this spread, and they feel like a hungry team. Giving up less than 10 points is something I would be happy to do in this spot.
3. San Francisco (-7) vs. Minnesota: Again, I like this one because it feels kind enough to the home team, and I like the home team a lot. The Vikings earned a fair bit of respect in the New Orleans upset and have generally been a little better than they get credit for this year. But the Niners are dialed in. They have a defense strong enough to make Kirk Cousins be uncomfortably one-dimensional and to dictate how the game plays out. And they have more tools on offense, too - and while the Vikings might have a small edge at QB overall, it's certainly not by much. And the thought of giving Kyle Shanahan an extra week to prepare is a comforting one to me. I like the Niners by daylight in this one, so this is a playable game, and would be a tossup with the Chiefs for second best on the week.
4. Baltimore (-10) vs. Tennessee: This one being last is Derrick Henry's fault. The guy is dialed in and playing not just the best football of his career lately, but the best impact any single running back has had in a few years. He's a menace right now. But the two things we know about games when Henry is in form are that he eats a lot of clock, and that the dominance doesn't always translate into piles of points. Baltimore is a top five rushing defense and will have worked hard on slowing down Henry as much as is possible right now. The Titans could ignore that and run him right at them. Or they could look at alternatives. And what they do, and how it works for them, will have a major impact on how this game goes in terms of tempo. If it's a run-heavy game then 10 points is a very different thing then if it gets opened up a bit more. Too much uncertainty to get as excited about this one as the others.
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