LAS VEGAS — Robert Griffin III, the former pro quarterback turned media personality, zeroed in on a playoff attribute recently when he noted that five of last season’s six Wild Card victors ran the ball better than their opponents.
The Buffalo Bills (174 yards to 89), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (106-95), San Francisco 49ers (169-77), Kansas City Chiefs (106-56), and the Los Angeles Rams (140-61) all won and covered in the opening weekend of the NFL Playoffs.
The Chiefs did so as 13-point favorites at Pittsburgh. The Niners, in Dallas, won outright as 3.5-point underdogs.
For novice bettors seeking to add some spice to this season’s playoffs, is that a template for success? For that matter, is it an avenue for big spenders to fatten their bankrolls?
I posed the question to Westgate SuperBook executive vice president Jay Kornegay.
“If I had my choice, yeah, I’d love to be able to run the ball and stop the run,” Kornegay said. “If you were to look at every game, and [Team A] runs the ball and stops the run better than [Team B], I’ll play [Team A].
“But you can’t blindly take that angle and run with it, no pun intended.”
There’s just more — a lot more — that goes into postseason prognostications.
“Historically, there’s probably a little advantage with teams having more success when they run the ball and have a good rush defense,” Kornegay says. “But we’ve always seen upsets.
“And teams that can’t run the ball, like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers … a lot of people like them this week, and some are very respected handicappers. But they certainly can’t run the ball.”
At the SuperBook, one of four early five-figure bets on this Super Wild Card Weekend was placed on the Bucs, getting 3.5 points on Monday night at home against the Cowboys.
Another took the New York Giants +3 at Minnesota on Sunday.
Saturday’s first game pitting Seattle at San Francisco has seen such action on both sides; one person taking the Seahawks +10.5 and another on the Niners -9.5.
Injuries are another factor, as Skylar Thompson will replace quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (concussion) as Miami’s starter in Sunday’s first game in Buffalo.
Tyler Huntley is expected to start for a fifth time in place of Lamar Jackson (knee), for the Ravens’ tilt in Cincinnati on Sunday night. Anthony Brown will be staying warm in the Baltimore bullpen.
Kornegay had been interested in Cincinnati, as a hot team entering the playoffs. A record five squads go into this postseason with a winning streak of at least five games, and the Bengals’ stretch is eight games.
San Francisco (10), Buffalo (seven), and Kansas City and Jacksonville (both at five) round out that list.
However, Kornegay lost some enthusiasm for the Bengals by analyzing their record against playoff teams.
“They were outgained five of the six times they played a playoff team,” he says. “They beat up some poor and mediocre teams, but were outplayed by quality teams. This could be that one time, but…”
Kornegay compares those outcomes to Buffalo.
“The Bills outgained every playoff team they’ve played. They might have lost some momentum at the end of the season, because Josh Allen was turning the ball over, especially in the red zone. But their statistics are pretty impressive.”
Perhaps the key ingredient to how the SuperBook cooks its ingredients will be its clientele.
“We’re focused on the type of bets we’re receiving,” Kornegay says. “We’re monitoring who’s playing these games, if they are guys we respect who tend to have very good information.
“And if any of those types of wagers come in, we’ll move it a lot more aggressively than just seeing the market move.”
Los Angeles Chargers (10-7, 11-5-1 ATS) at Jacksonville Jaguars (9-8, 8-8-1 ATS)
Kornegay would like to know what second-year Chargers head coach Brandon Staley was thinking last week by playing receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams in a meaningless 31-28 defeat in Denver.
NFL · Sat (1/14) @ 8:15pm ET
|TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville, Florida|
Allen nabbed eight passes for 102 yards and two TDs. Williams (back), who caught four for 32 yards, was carted off the Denver field in the second quarter. He avoided serious injury and is expected to play against the Jaguars.
Doug Pederson, who guided Philadelphia to Super Bowl glory to cap the 2017 campaign, is in his first season as Jacksonville’s boss.
“I like Pederson more than Staley,” Kornegay says. “Staley seems to do crazy things, either when he shouldn’t or should, like he always wants to do the opposite of what everybody thinks he should do.
“Playing his starters for the majority of that game last week was terrible, especially guys as brittle as Williams … and Allen. They had no reason to be in that game, and it kind of came back to hurt them a little bit.”
Austin Ekeler has been the Chargers’ danger man, with 13 rushing TDs and five through the air. He averages nearly 100 combined yards.
Jaguars second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence has been on quite a run with 15 TDs and only two picks in his previous nine games, and he’s been sacked only four times in Jacksonville’s past five games.
Of every playoff team, San Francisco (0.282) is tops in points-per-play margin over its past three games, and the Jaguars (0.280) are second. The worst? Minnesota (-0.074), Philadelphia (-0.038), and Dallas (-0.026).
“The Jaguars have been winning ugly,” Kornegay says. “The Chargers are a little flashier. So I would think the public is going to probably favor the Chargers a little bit.”
Dallas Cowboys (12-5, 9-7-1 ATS) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-9, 4-12-1 ATS)
Have the planets just always been aligned for Tom Brady? The Bucs QB directs a team with a sub-.500 record, only to win its division for the right to play host in a Wild Card game.
NFL · Mon (1/16) @ 8:15pm ET
|Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida|
“Well, he’s created a lot of that luck,” Kornegay says. “They’re fortunate, this season, to play in a bad division and be in the playoffs. But his career speaks for itself.
“It certainly makes it a lot more interesting, I think, with the Buccaneers in there, rather than the Panthers or Saints. And you have the Dallas Cowboys. If I were the NFL, that’s a pretty good game to have Monday night.”
According to a Wednesday NFL media release, four of the top five TV ratings games this season involved Dallas.
Tampa Bay not only possesses the third-worst rushing attack of all the playoff teams over the league’s past three games, but the Cowboys have the third-best rushing defense over that stretch.
A 6-foot-5 receiver out of Texas A&M, Mike Evans had produced a mundane campaign before Jan. 1, when he caught 10 passes for 207 yards and three TDs at home against the Panthers. An illness sidelined him for the Bucs’ finale.
For Dallas, quarterback Dak Prescott returned from thumb surgery and led the Cowboys to six victories in their final eight games. In his past six, he had 13 TDs but recorded three two-pick games.
Prescott and Houston’s Davis Mills recorded a league-worst 15 interceptions on the season.
The Cowboys’ running game has been atrocious. Zeke Elliott hasn’t hit 100 yards in a game all season. Tony Pollard has three triple-digit efforts, but only 38 total yards in his past two games.
As a team, the Bucs ran for triple-figure yardage three times this season but allowed opponents to do so on nine occasions.
“The Bucs look like an old team, very slow,” Kornegay says. “And they just can’t run the ball. Their receivers are having a difficult time with separation, causing Brady to force some things, even more so when they can’t run the ball.”
New York Giants (9-7-1, 13-4 ATS) at Minnesota Vikings (13-4, 7-9-1 ATS)
Sun (1/15) @ 4:40 p.m. ET
TV – FOX
US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN
Vikings -3, Total 48
Giants quarterback Daniel Jones makes his first playoff start on the road, where the Vikings went 8-1 this season.
Then again, the visitors sport that gaudy against the spread (ATS) mark while the home team is under water against the number.
A key might be Christmas Eve, when the Giants lost 27-24 at Minnesota on Greg Joseph’s game-ending 61-yard field goal.
Since winning the Super Bowl to cap the 2011 season, the Giants are 0-1 in the postseason. In that span, Minnesota is 2-4 in the playoffs.
Kornegay labeled this “The Fool’s Gold Bowl Game.”
“Look at the stats and you wonder how these two teams made the playoffs. Both have been outgained and outscored by their opponents, yet there they are.”
Giants’ foes have outscored them 371-365, while Vikings’ opponents have a 427-424 edge.
Over the past three NFL weeks, regarding playoff teams, the Giants are fourth in rushing with a 157-yard average. Star tailback Saquon Barkley, however, has gone seven games without a triple-figure yardage effort.
Jones, the 6-foot-5 fourth-year quarterback out of Duke, injected adrenaline into that ground game with 91 yards and two TDs against Indy on Jan. 1, 107 yards and a TD at Jacksonville, and two TDs against Chicago.
The Vikings, of course, had that comeback overtime victory over the Colts after trailing 33-0 at halftime. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was 34-for-54 for 460 yards, and Minnesota needed every inch to pull off the stunner.
Of the 14 playoff teams, the Vikings own the second-worst rushing defense over their past three games (the Chargers are the worst). So if Barkley and Jones run wild and win, that’s why.
“I think three is the correct number here,” Kornegay says. “The reality is that whoever wins this game is most likely one and done.”
NFL Wild Card: Best bets to consider
Baltimore Ravens (10-7, 6-9-2 ATS) at Cincinnati Bengals (12-4, 12-3-1 ATS)
Sun (1/15) @ 8:15 p.m. ET
TV – NBC
Paycor Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
Bengals -9, Total 40.5
In four starts, quarterback Tyler Huntley is 2-2 for Baltimore. The third-year Utah product has two TDs and three picks, and he’s run one into the end zone. He hasn’t hit 200 aerial yards.
These two played last weekend in the same arena, and Anthony Brown went 19-for-44 for 286 yards and two interceptions for the Ravens.
Cincy had a 27-10 lead midway through the third quarter and put it into cruise control, winning 27-16. This opened around Vegas at Bengals -6.5 and 44, so the moves reflect scant faith in the Ravens’ offense.
During the Bengals’ eight-game winning streak, quarterback Joe Burrow has 19 TDs and six picks, and he’s been sacked only 12 times. Twice, he ran it in for scores.
Kornegay, however, keeps going back to those games against playoff foes.
“He’ll have to be spectacular, as he was during last season’s playoff run, to make a run to another Super Bowl,” he says of Burrow. “Another divisional rival, they’re very familiar with each other. It wouldn’t surprise me if this is a close game.”
NFL Playoff prediction: Bengals defeat the 49ers in Super Bowl 57
Seattle Seahawks (9-8, 7-10 ATS) at San Francisco 49ers (13-4, 11-6 ATS)
Sat (1/14) @ 4:35 p.m. ET
TV – FOX
Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, CA
Niners -9.5, Total 42.5
The neighbor who is a Niners fan flies that flag outside her casa. I passed by her Monday and wished her luck and she said, “That quarterback sure is Purdy!”
Yup, got the joke. Brock Purdy is the rookie out of Iowa State who was the last pick in the last draft, Mr. Irrelevant, who has been quite relevant to San Francisco this season.
Its third-string quarterback is undefeated in five starts, with 11 touchdown passes and two interceptions in 124 throws. He also ran a shorty into the end zone.
Now, though, it’s elimination time. The league’s past five rookie QBs to start a playoff game are 0-5 in those débuts.
The last one to get credited with a victory in his first postseason start was Russell Wilson with the Seahawks at Washington on Jan. 6, 2013.
Purdy has been more than serviceable, but the Niners also helped themselves with their mid-season acquisition of Christian McCaffrey.
It took him maybe five games to get accustomed to the playbook, but he has tallied at least one touchdown in the past six San Francisco games. Over that span, he has 767 total yards and seven TDs.
After a 6-3 start, Seattle quarterback Geno Smith returned to earth, losing five of six before ending with two triumphs that snuck the Hawks into the playoffs. He threw for eight TDs and had five picked off in his final five games.
“Teams made adjustments with Geno,” Kornegay says. “But laying points like that in a playoff game against a divisional rival is not the easiest thing to do. They’re very, very familiar with each other.
“It’ll probably go back up to 10, which sounds right to me.”
Miami Dolphins (9-8, 9-8 ATS) at Buffalo Bills (13-3, 8–7-1 ATS)
Sun (1/15) @ 1:05 p.m. ET
TV – CBS
Highmark Stadium, Orchard Park, NY
Bills –13, Total 43.5
The Fins’ tailspin started with Tua Tagovailoa behind center in four consecutive defeats. A concussion sent him to the sideline, and Miami lost another one before securing a playoff spot in an ugly 11-6 home victory over the Jets.
Kansas State product Skylar Thompson went 20-for-31 for 152 yards in that finale.
“He’s been really rough,” Kornegay says of Thompson. “They’re asking quite a bit of him, to go into Buffalo and beat the Bills.
“Obviously, the Bills have a lot to play for. They have a lot of energy. They’re inspired by their teammate [safety Damar Hamlin]. That’ll be a tough one for Miami. The Tua [concussion] just let the air out of Miami’s tires.”