The NFL expanded the playoffs this season to include three, rather, than two Wild Cards in each Conference. Only top seeded Green Bay and Kansas City have byes, resulting in six instead of four games this weekend.
Revised odds from the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook have Kansas City the 7-4 favorite (+175) to win the Super Bowl followed by Green Bay and Buffalo at 6-1. The Chiefs are also Even Money favorites to win the AFC title with Buffalo next at 3-1. The Packers are 7-5 favorites to win the NFC with New Orleans next at 11-4 (+225).
With the perceived lack of quality at the top of the NFC, it would seem more likely that of the two top seeds, Green Bay would be more likely to be upset than would Kansas City. But I’m of the belief that the Chiefs are more vulnerable because their path to the Super Bowl shapes up as more difficult than Green Bay’s.
I would not be shocked if the Chiefs don’t make it to Super Bowl LV. Going further, I would not be shocked if the Chiefs don’t even host the AFC Championship game.
The winner of Sunday’s game between Baltimore and Tennessee each match up well against Kansas City with dominant running games and offenses that excel at avoiding turnovers. Baltimore, because of its defense, is more likely to beat the Chiefs in the Divisional round than Tennessee. A win over Tennessee would also erase Baltimore’s memory of first-game exits the past two seasons. The Ravens are 6-1 to win the AFC, Tennessee 15-1.
However, should Kansas City win its Divisional game and host Buffalo for the AFC title, the Bills are certainly capable of trading points with the Chiefs.
Five of the six Wild Card games have point spreads greater than four as of mid-morning Tuesday. Since 2014 such underdogs have gone 5-8 SU, 9-4 ATS. But since 2017 those ‘dogs are 5-2 SU, 7-0 ATS. Underdogs of +4 or less have still been slightly profitable, going 5-6 SU, 6-5 ATS.
Colts +6.5 at Bills: Buffalo’s won six straight, each by double digits, including its last three by 29, 29 and 30 points and have covered eight in a row. Indy’s won six of its last eight with rookie RB Jonathan Taylor’s having a big second half of the season. Veteran QB Philip Rivers led the Chargers to a road upset at Baltimore two seasons ago.
After losing Wild Card games in 2017 and 2019 by 3 and 7 points, the Bills seek their first playoff win since 1995. They’ll also have a few thousand fans in the stands for the first time this year.
After losing Wild Card games in 2017 and 2019 by 3 and 7 pointsIt’s just the start! pic.twitter.com/5T9KMKs0H9
— Washington Football Team (@WashingtonNFL) January 4, 2021
Indy has the better rushing offense and on defense allow 0.9 yards less per rush than Buffalo. The Colts are also better at avoiding turnovers.
Buffalo QB Josh Allen is an MVP candidate and the Bills likely get the win. But this line is inflated by Buffalo’s recent dominating performances. Indy does enough things well to keep this game close. COLTS
Rams at Seahawks, Total 42.5: QB Jared Goff remains questionable for this game with an injured thumb. In two meetings this season the Rams won 24-16 with the Rams gaining 389 total yards and Seattle 333. In the Week 16 rematch Seattle won 20-9 with Seattle, gaining 334 total yards and the Rams 292. The average NFL game this season averaged a combined 718 yards.
The Rams were 13-3 to the Under while Seattle was 9-7 to the Under. But Seattle’s defense, a sieve early, got some mid-season additions and played seven straight Unders prior to Sunday’s comeback win over San Francisco which went Over by just four points. UNDER
Buccaneers -8.5 at Washington: Washington’s the third Division winner in NFL history to make the playoffs with a losing record, all since 2010. Both prior teams won their Wild Card game, including Seattle as a 10-point ‘dog against 11-5 New Orleans. Since seeding began in 1990 there have been 20 home underdogs in this round. Those ‘dogs are 9-11 S-U, 11-8-1 ATS. But, as ‘dogs of +4 or more, they are 3-1 SU, 4-0 ATS.
There’s much to like about Tampa and they should win S-U. But Washington, buoyed by its defense, went 6-4 following a 1-5 start. Their last five losses were by 7, 5, 3, 3 and 1 after each of their first four were by 14 or more. First-year and defensively-minded coach Ron Rivera has shown his ability to make adjustments and QB Alex Smith is an experienced veteran. WASHINGTON.
Ravens -3 at Titans: This is the weekend’s most attractive matchup as the NFL’s top two rushing teams square off.
Baltimore seeks to avenge last season’s playoff loss to the Titans. The top seeded 14-2 Ravens were upset at home by Tennessee 28-12, ending their 12-game winning streak. It was the second loss in two playoff games for Baltimore QB Lamar Jackson.
Baltimore’s won five straight and is on a 6-0 ATS run. Four of the wins were by 14 or more. Both offenses also excel at avoiding turnovers. Baltimore’s biggest advantage is its defense, with edges of 68 fewer total yards per game, 0.7 yards per play and 0.8 yards per pass completion.
Titans QB Ryan Tannehill is solid and can contribute with his legs. But running is a major part of Jackson’s game and he’s been waiting for this chance to silence the critics after those previous two playoff performances. RAVENS
Bears +10 at Saints: The largest line of the weekend likely hits 10 at some point. The Saints have a strong history in this series, winning all five meeting since 2011, going 4-1 ATS, with the lone loss by a half point.
New Orleans has edges in most key categories, including rushing and overall defense and is better in avoiding turnovers. QB Drew Brees was sharp on Sunday and appears to be over the injured ribs that caused him to miss four games New Orleans’ top three RBs missed the win over Carolina due to COVID-19 protocols but are expected to be cleared for this game.
After four strong performances against much weaker defenses, Chicago QB Mitchell Trubisky was below average against Green Bay. He’ll face the statistically best defense he’s seen all season in this game. SAINTS
Browns +6 at Steelers: Cleveland’s in the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Rookie coach Kevin Stefanski will receive strong support for Coach of the Year honors — Cleveland was 0-16 in 2017. However, he is expected to miss this playoff game due to testing positive for coronavirus as have his two coordinators.
QB Baker Mayfield has made great strides but it’s a powerful ground game that should be given much of the credit, averaging 148 yards per game. Contrast that to Pittsburgh, which averages an NFL worst 84 ypg, topping 100 yards just once in its last 11 games (106). That’s a major concern for the Steelers who average also an NFL worst 9.6 yards per pass completion.
Pittsburgh’s major edge is experience which counts for plenty. The Steelers were the much better team when they routed Cleveland here 38-7 in Week 5. But right now, the Browns are better. Don’t be surprised if this game comes down to a made or missed FG. BROWNS
Last week: 3-2-1