Coaching counts more in playoffs

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On Sunday afternoon, I had a brief Twitter exchange with sports betting and horse racing analyst Scott Shapiro. Both of us had the over in the Titans vs. Ravens game, and while I sat dumbfounded at Mike Vrabel’s punting decisions and Derrick Henry continuing to get carries, Scott knew this was a possibility.

“Handicapping what a coaching staff is going to do is part of the game,” he replied to me. And he is absolutely right.

Baltimore took a seven-point lead with 9:01 left in the third quarter. Henry got eight carries after that point for a total of 22 yards even though it was widely apparent that Baltimore was ready for the Titans’ rushing attack.

With 10:06 left in fourth quarter and Tennessee trailing 17-13, the Titans punted on fourth-and-2 from Baltimore’s 40-yard line.

According to Andrew Shackelford’s Surrender Index, Vrabel’s decision to punt was the worst situational punt of the 2020 season and it ranks in the 99.92nd percentile of bad punting decisions since 2009. Mike Tomlin’s punting decisions while trailing against the Browns were not much better.

All eyes will be on Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Lamar Jackson this weekend, but your betting slips need to have an eye on the guys with the headsets. Those decisions by Vrabel and offensive coordinator Arthur Smith were equally responsible for the point spread outcome of Sunday’s game as much as Jackson’s touchdown run or Ryan Tannehill’s interception.

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On fourth-and-goal at the Bills’ 4-yard-line in the second quarter, Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich elected to go for the touchdown instead of a chip-shot field goal. The attempt failed, and the Colts eventually lost by three points.

At the time, Reich’s decision was mostly applauded for the aggressiveness. Using hindsight and knowing the eventual final score, that decision looms quite large.

As you break down these games this weekend, think back to the initial quote that I opened this column with: “Handicapping what a coaching staff is going to do is part of the game.”

Analyzing a coach’s aggressiveness and decision making needs to be a part of your handicap. And now that the stakes are even greater in the Division Round, these decisions will get magnified.

Which coaches do you trust with your money?

Saturday

Rams +7 at Packers: This is a fun coaching matchup between two guys that will probably see each other quite often over the next couple years, but I do not think the Rams can score enough points to keep up with the Packers.

If Jared Goff was healthy enough to play last week, why didn’t he start the game? Was he benched in favor of John Wolford? I will gladly lay the points with Aaron Rodgers. PACKERS

Ravens at Bills, Total 50: The total in this one has fluctuated because it is harder to predict the weather in Buffalo than it is to predict these game outcomes. At press time, the forecast looks relatively stable and I am comfortable grabbing the over.

Buffalo’s offense presents a much different challenge than the Tennessee offense that Baltimore faced last week. The Ravens will go from seeing the league’s best running back and a traditional run game, to an unconventional Buffalo offense with a mobile quarterback. Both offenses should find success. OVER

Sunday

Browns +10 at Chiefs: Unless you got a rogue -2.5 against New Orleans in Week 15, the Chiefs have not covered a single point spread during the second half of the regular season. Kansas City has not won a game by double digits since beating the Jets in Week 8.

Cleveland is playing with house money at this point. They made the playoffs for the first time in 18 years, they eliminated their bitter rival and they did it while missing key players and coaches. The Browns have nothing to lose on Sunday. BROWNS

Buccaneers at Saints -3: Rosters change. Coaches change. This is Tom Brady’s first year in Tampa Bay. Those things are all true. But sometimes, a team just has your number.

New Orleans is 15-5 against Tampa Bay since 2011, including two double-digit wins this season. What can the Buccaneers do differently in this game to produce a different fate?

My only concern with New Orleans is their lack of rest. This is New Orleans’ 13th straight week with a game, while Tampa Bay had a bye in December. But Brees, Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara all missed games during that stretch, so those guys might have the freshest legs on the field. SAINTS

Last week: 1-4-1

Season: 52-55-1

About the Author

James Bunting

James Bunting covers college basketball, baseball and the NFL for Gaming Today. He has worked as a freelance sports writer for several outlets over the last decade, focusing specifically on the sports betting industry in the last five years.

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