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After a very up and down Saturday slate, the column is back to break down the divisional matchups for the Sunday's slate. We have one side pick for the Sunday slate and we will sprinkle a few props for the first time this year.
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Before we get to the picks, let's first discuss the Trend of the Week, which I discussed in Saturday's preview. For those who didn't see it, here is what you need to know:
Trend of the week: No. 1 seeds are 9-17-2 ATS (36 percent) in the NFL Divisional Round since 2007.
The Divisional Round of the playoff has been a typical wild week for bettors. Most of the public flock to the No. 1 overall seeds who have been lighting up the season. We have seen the NFL’s top seeds fall flat in the divisional round. The bye and extra week of rest is already built into the point spread. You have a loss of trust, and a team that is coming off a win on Wild Card weekend and usually playing with confidence.
There are have also been a few times where the underdog flat out beats the No. 1 seed outright. Here are the most recent examples: Last year, we saw the unstoppable Ravens fall flat as 10 point favorites against the Titans. Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos lost outright as 9.5 point favorite to Joe Flacco’s Ravens. The New York Jets pulled off two of the upsets, once against the 2009-10 Chargers as nine-point underdogs and again versus the 2010-11 Patriots as 9.5-point underdogs. The Chargers upset Peyton Manning as an 8.5 point underdog in the 2007-2008 divisional round.
Now to the picks.
Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs
Spread: Kansas City (-9.5)
The opening game on CBS features one of the better stories of the playoffs. The underdog Browns will go into Arrowhead Stadiym hoping to upset the defending champions. The Browns are coming in hot after demolishing their division rival Pittsburgh Steelers to clinch their first playoff win in over two decades. The Chiefs are of course the Super Bowl favorites coming into this game at 14-2 overall.
However, the Chiefs have been lackadaisical and are 0-7-1 against the spread in their last eight games. There has already been tons of sharp money that has pushed the over from 54 to 57.5 in counting, meaning that this may be the most explosive game of the playoffs. The Chiefs rank second in offensive DVOA, second in yards per play, sixth in scoring, and they have the best quarterback on the planet with Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs will playing against a Browns pass defense that has struggled all year long with explosive plays. The Browns will get star corner Denzel Ward back, but it won’t be enough to stop Mahomes.
In the bigger picture, one area Kansas City has struggled is in red zone scoring converting 61 percent of their red zone opportunities into touchdowns. The Chiefs have struggled putting away teams in the second half due to an inconsistent running attack, so with a big spread of 9.5, the backdoor is always open.
The side will be determined by how much the Browns will score. Kansas City success on offense is inevitable. The Chiefs are scoring at least 30 points in this game, the question will be if the Browns can match the Chiefs score for score. I really believe the Browns can. Baker Mayfield has been graded in the Top 10 among league passers according to PFF since Week 8. The Browns should be to run the ball against a KC run defense that ranks 31st in run defense DVOA. The Chiefs have essentially been on cruise control for entire second half of the season. The last time the Chiefs won by double digits was when they played the Jets at home. Now they are expected to cover a double digit number against the Browns?
Like we mentioned before, the Browns are dangerous team playing with house money. They have been a great first half team, and if the Browns can get out to a lead, they will be able to control the time of possession with their running game. The Chiefs have performed below expectations throughout the entire season and are being priced as 9.5 point favorite for the performance they put on during last year’s playoffs, not for what they have accomplished so far this year.
I love the Browns in this spot getting double digits.
The pick: Browns (+10) (buy a half point if its 9.5) and Browns team total over 23.5
Tampa Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
Spread: New Orleans (-3)
I hold future tickets for both teams, so I will not be giving out a play in this game. We have broken this game down in the past but some things have changed.
We have mentioned before that the Saints present a nightmare matchup for this Buccaneers team. On defense, Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins are physical corners who match up extremely well with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. The Saints are able to get pressure on Brady with four rushers, which allows New Orleans to have extra coverage in the back end. In their last matchup, the Saints played two high safeties and took away the deep middle part of the field. They dared Godwin and Evans to beat their corners outside the numbers and they could not do it. The Saints shut down Tampa’s running game.
However, the Bucs offense has changed a lot since Week 11. Antonio Brown has become a big factor in the offense and Leonard Fournette have given Tampa a new edge in the running game. Also the implementation of using Rob Gronkowski as a sixth blocker has allowed Brady to have more time in the pocket and has increased the Buccaneers success on deep throws. The Saints new strategy to defend Antonio Brown should be interesting.
Offensively, the Saints present some problems for the Tampa defense. And by "the Saints offense," I really just mean "Alvin Kamara."
He is a mismatch nightmare in space because of his elite ability to run routes out of the backfield. Tampa linebackers are great at filling the run but they are horrible defending running back passes. Tampa has allowed more receiving yards to running backs than anyone in the NFL. After being ranked No. 1 in defensive DVOA throughout the season, Tampa has slowly regressed to fifth. It is also fair to note the Saints offense hasn’t been a juggernaut as well. This may be Drew Bree’s last run as the Saints quarterback. We will see if Sean Payton can maintain some balance in the passing game, so the Saints don’t have to solely rely on Kamara.
This game is a definition of coin flip so I will be staying away and simply enjoy two quarterback GOAT's compete against each other.
Picks: Stay away
Prop considerations: Mike Evans under receiving yards, Antonio Brown anytime touchdown, Kamara over receptions
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