LAS VEGAS — This weekend’s four NFL divisional round playoff games have a lot — namely, history itself — to live up to.
A year ago, the four divisional tilts were decided by a combined 15 points. The average of 3.8 points represents the lowest average margin of victory in NFL playoff history in a round with at least four games.
BetMGM director of trading Lamarr Mitchell began rattling off what happened, and his voice nearly rose to a crescendo as he recalled the game-by-game exploits.
“The Chiefs’ game was phenomenal, and nobody expected the Bengals to beat the Titans,” he said. “The 49ers’ game came down to the last second, and the Rams outlasted the Bucs. You’re right. It was a phenomenal weekend.
“This one will be hard-pressed to top those matchups from last year, but that’s essentially the cream rising to the top.”
Green Bay’s offense fizzled at home, and the Niners blocked a late punt and returned it for a touchdown to key their 13-10 victory. The Bengals won, 19-16, in Tennessee.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady, trailing 27-3 in the third quarter, led a fiery comeback to tie it, 27-27. But the Rams won on a 30-yard field goal.
Then, Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs and Josh Allen of the Bills staged a duel for the ages, combining for 707 aerial yards, seven touchdowns, and no interceptions in Kansas City.
In the final two minutes, the lead changed three times. Kansas City tied it at the end of regulation on a 49-yard field goal by Harrison Butker and then won it in overtime, 42-36.
This time around, NFL owners altered the playoff rules to allow both teams a possession in overtime. If it’s tied after that, then the next score wins. The extra period is 15 minutes, rather than the regular-season 10. They play till there’s a victor.
“The best teams are left in the divisional round, and I think the games will be great,” Mitchell said, “even though we have some high point spreads, with 7.5 [Giants-Eagles] and 8.5 [Jaguars-Chiefs].
“Thing is, the Giants are in a divisional game with the Eagles. And even though Patrick Mahomes is all-world, these two have played each other; the Jags may have learned something, and it could be a closer game than what we’re looking at.”
The Bills and Bengals, Mitchell is certain, were headed toward the makings of a great game on Jan. 2. And, he said, Dallas-San Francisco speaks for itself.
“That Cowboys-Niners rivalry starts up again, like prior years. This weekend has the potential to live up to last year, but it will be hard-pressed to pass last year.”
Super Bowl odds: Chiefs are the favorites heading into the divisional round
Dallas Cowboys (13-5, 10-7-1 ATS) at San Francisco 49ers (14-4, 12-6 ATS)
These two have met in the playoffs eight times, and Dallas has the 5-3 edge, with a 25.1-21.4 average score.
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|Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, California|
In San Francisco, however, they’ve played five of those games where the Niners have the 3-2 edge, with an average score of 26.4-24.8.
At BetMGM, the ticket count favors Dallas, 3-1, but the money is on San Francisco by a 4-1 margin. The opening total of 46 bumped up a tick to 46.5 on small sharp play but has returned to 46, Mitchell said.
“Both of these teams are public teams, and I expect this ticket count to be close to even when they kick off. Some small sharp play moved the spread down from 4, and I think that’s probably the number.”
Of the eight remaining playoff squads, Dallas is last in averaging 0.306 PPP on offense in its past three games. San Francisco is last in yielding 0.391 PPP over that span.
Mitchell said he envisioned an offensive struggle, giving the Cowboys an advantage with the veteran quarterback Dak Prescott.
Brock Purdy, the Niners’ third-string quarterback who is a rookie out of Iowa State, is 6-0 as an NFL starter, with 14 TD passes to only two interceptions. He’s also run it in twice.
“I don’t know about the defenses he’s played against in this winning streak,” Mitchell said. “The Bucs might have been the best one, maybe. Nothing against Seattle or other opponents he’s played.”
That’s true, according to defensive PPP; Tampa Bay rated 16th this season, which is the best of anyone Purdy has faced. He went against Seattle (24th) twice, Washington (17th), Las Vegas (28th), and Arizona (31st).
Dallas ranks fourth.
To highlight San Francisco’s 11-game winning streak, it has had a positive turnover differential in its past nine contests. The record for a single-season skein is 11, executed by Baltimore in the 2000 season, which it capped with a Super Bowl triumph.
“If the Cowboys’ defense does travel with them and their offense doesn’t turn the ball over,” Mitchell said, “this could be an epic battle — going back to the ’90s — for these two teams.”
Cincinnati Bengals (13-4, 12-4-1 ATS) at Buffalo Bills (14-3, 8-8-1 ATS)
BetMGM, featured at nine Strip properties, fielded its largest early-week divisional round action on Buffalo, “a sizeable six-figure bet on the Bills,” Mitchell said.
NFL · Sun (1/22) @ 3:01pm ET
|Bills Stadium, Orchard Park, New York|
Other than that bet, the money in this game has been about even. The ticket count, however, has been “all Bills, Bills, Bills, Bills,” Mitchell said.
He considered that big wager, along with other bets, sharp action that budged the opener of -4 up a tick. The total opened 50.5 and been sliced by punters who might not have been impressed by what they saw in both teams last weekend.
“Neither team looked that great over the past two weeks, in my opinion,” Mitchell said, “for who they are supposed to be.”
The Bills have won eight in a row but struggled to beat Miami, 34-31, in Orchard Park last weekend.
The Dolphins had taken a 24-20 lead on Zach Sieler’s 5-yard fumble return for a TD early in the third quarter. Even though Buffalo answered with two scores in that quarter, it tallied no fourth-quarter points and had to rely on its defense.
Quarterback Josh Allen was sacked seven times by the Dolphins, and he has eight TDs and five interceptions over his past three games.
Bengals QB Joe Burrow has tossed 27 TD passes and had seven picked off over his past dozen games, with five scoring runs. He’s been sacked 10 times in his past four games, and his 41 dumps on the season were sixth-most in the league.
Since returning from a hip injury, receiver Ja’Marr Chase has turned 72 targets by Burrow into 49 receptions for 525 yards and four TDs in six games.
In his past two games, however, wideout Tee Higgins has only five catches for 44 yards.
“This game should be close,” Mitchell said. “The Bills looked like world beaters early in the year. Joe Burrow takes a lot of hits. That offensive line is banged up, but he’s Joe Cool.
“As long as he’s upright, he’ll give those guys a chance.”
New York Giants (10-7-1, 14-4 ATS) at Philadelphia Eagles (14-3, 8-9 ATS)
This spread opened at -7, and the total at 47. The Giants had the early 3-1 edge on the Eagles in both money and tickets.
NFL · Sat (1/21) @ 8:15pm ET
|Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania|
In those recent-trend PPP categories, Philadelphia doesn’t rate well among remaining playoff teams in offense (seventh at 0.340), defense (seventh at 0.378), or margin (eighth and last at -0.038, as the lone playoff team with a negative rating).
“The Eagles earned that No. 1 seed, and were the best [NFC] team all year, pretty much,” Mitchell said. “Then they had some hiccups. How healthy will [Jalen] Hurts be? The Giants looked impressive versus the Vikings, so it’s a toss-up for me.”
Daniel Jones, New York’s fourth-year quarterback out of Duke, has been impressive. In his past 14 games, he’s thrown 14 TD passes and had only three picked off.
His 301 yards last weekend at Minnesota were his second-highest tally of the season. His wheels, though, have made Jones the danger man, complementing what tailback Saquon Barkley churns out on the ground.
Jones has run for at least 71 yards in three of his past six games, which includes his second two-TD performance of the season. He zipped off 107 yards and a TD at Jacksonville.
Barkley has only 434 yards in his past eight games, but he has scored six times, including two last weekend against the Vikings.
The Eagles won, 48-22, in New Jersey on Dec. 11 and again at home, 22-16, on Jan. 8. But of greater concern might be quarterback Jalen Hurts’s lifetime average of going 12-for-21 for 129 yards in six games against the Giants.
He has missed recent games due to a tweaked passing shoulder. In his past two, he has thrown no TD passes and had three intercepted, but he did run it in for three scores against Chicago.
Of this quartet of games, Mitchell earmarked this one — and the Giants — as an underdog to watch.
“That, if anything,” he said, “would be the biggest ‘unsurprise’ to me.”
Jacksonville Jaguars (10-8, 9-8-1 ATS) at Kansas City Chiefs (14-3, 5-11-1 ATS)
BetMGM opened Chiefs -9, which has been trimmed, and a 52.5 total opener has been pumped a bit. Tickets (by a 3-to-1 count) and money (5-1) favor Kansas City.
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|Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri|
On Nov. 13, at Arrowhead, the Chiefs defeated the Jaguars, 27-17. That’s part of a current roll in which Kansas City has won 10 of its past 11 games.
That was the sixth defeat in a seven-game run for the Jaguars, who clicked after that loss and a useful bye week, winning seven of eight games.
They continued that success in grand style last weekend in Jacksonville, trailing the L.A. Chargers at the half, 27-0, before mounting a furious rally and winning, 31-30.
Jaguars second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence had entered the playoffs on a nine-game run in which he had tossed 15 touchdown passes and had three of 318 attempts picked off.
The Chargers picked off four of his passes, but Lawrence did complete four for TDs. Moreover, he is a reported 37-0 lifetime since high school on Saturdays.
“Wow,” Mitchell said. “That’s pretty impressive. I did not know that. If that’s the case, I guess Chiefs fans will be upset this weekend.”
In that game at K.C., the Jags allowed Mahomes and the Chiefs to rack up 486 aerial yards, which is the most by a Jacksonville opponent this season. And the Jags ran for only 75 yards; they had only four lower-ground figures.
Rookie tailback and Clemson product Travis Etienne dashed for only 45 yards in that November game at Arrowhead, one of his lesser efforts in his past dozen games.
However, half of those tilts were triple-figure yardage games for him, including ripping off 109 last weekend against the Chargers. His success is vital to chewing clock and keeping the ball out of Mahomes’ rifle.
Of the eight remaining playoff teams, Kansas City sports the top points-per-play (PPP) margin over its past three games of 0.269. And its defensive PPP is the lowest, too, at 0.228. Offense? Third, at 0.497.
In fact, among the squads left in the tournament, the Chiefs and Jags are the only two teams that rank among the top four in those three categories.
When asked how he cooks that poor Chiefs ATS (against the spread) record into this game’s script, Mitchell said all ingredients are fair game.
“All those factors go into it,” he said. “ATS record, road record, home record, grade on grass, what the number looks like in the market, where we expect the sharp players and Joe Public to come in. All are factors.
“Intriguing to this market is that it’s been a while since Andy Reid has had a No. 1 seed that’s a stinker … I can’t imagine the Chiefs being up 27-0 and not holding a lead, but the Jags have that [comeback potential] in their back pockets.”
Fourth-quarter scoring might offer a prop advantage here, since the Chiefs are second among playoff teams with a 9.3-point average over their past three games, and the Jags are fourth at 8.