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We are back for the divisional round of the playoffs. We started the playoffs with an up and down 2-2 start in the Wild Card round. We are looking to improve on that this week and our overall 56-42-2 record. We will have two separate breakdowns one for Saturday and Sunday’s contests. With Aaron out on an unofficial vacation, I also knocked out a college hoops gambling preview, which is sure to win you cash. So three separate articles to help you guys win money throughout this awesome betting weekend.
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Before we get to the picks, let's first discuss the Trend of the Week.
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.
Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay Packers
Spread: Green Bay -6.5
If you have followed the column all year, you could probably guess where we are going with this one. We have been on the Los Angeles Rams resurgence all year long. On the other side Green Bay has been equally as impressive. Aaron Rodgers is arguably having his best year and will likely win the MVP.
Last season, the Packers were the fraudulent NFC playoff team, but nobody is saying that this year. This is a matchup where we will see the best two units in football battle each other, the Packers offense against the Rams defense. Green Bay's offense ranks first in offensive DVOA, first in points per game (31.8), third in yards per play (6.3), and they have the best red zone touchdown percentage getting at least six points on 80 percent of their red zone attempts. On the other side the Rams rank first in scoring defense (17.6), first in yards per play, first in pass rush win rate, fourth in pressure rate, first in adjusted sack rate, and they have given up the least amount of explosive plays.
The biggest trump card in who is going to win this matchup is how the Packers handle star defensive lineman Aaron Donald. We know Donald is going to suit up and he is dealing with a cartilage injury in his ribs. Donald leads the NFL in pressures but he will go up against Cole Lindsey on the interior who is the top graded center in the NFL. The Packers offensive line will be vulnerable on the edges without David Bakitari and they cannot afford to let edge rusher Leonard Floyd - who is fourth in the NFL in pressure himself - have one on one opportunities on the outside. This will be the only matchup where Aaron Donald probably won’t be doubled in pass situations. If healthy, Donald will have an opportunity to wreak havoc in the back field. In the secondary, I feel Jalen Ramsey and Davonte Adams cancel each other out. I would love to see a separate broadcast following those two competitors. I don’t think Adams is going to be completely shut down, but he isn’t going to get his 10 catches and 150 yard game either.
Then you have the matchup in the red zone, where the Packers have been the best situational red zone offense in all of football. I have been watching a lot of film breakdowns of the Packers in the red zone, and they love to run these bunch sets, to either isolate Adams on the opposite side or set up pick plays for other receivers. The Rams have a corner that is capable of guarding Adams one on one, and in the red zone the Rams play a "cover one robber coverage" that is specifically designed to take a way crossing routes and picks. The free robber can help on the screened defender, and brings another defender up to help in the running game. In order for the Rams to win this game, they are going to have to make stops on third down and in the red zone.
Offensively, there is small path success for the Rams offense. I’m not going to pretend I have confidence in Rams quarterback Jared Goff. Goff recently had surgery to repair a broken thumb on his throwing hand, and he wasn’t very good this year even when fully healthy. Then add to the fact there will be freezing temperatures in Green Bay. Thankfully Sean McVay found a running game with Cam Akers. The Rams offensive line should bully a soft Green Bay front that ranks 24th in adjusted line yards and are allowing 4.5 yards per carry. The Green Bay rush defense has not been exposed because the offense has jumped out to early leads which forces teams to voluntarily give up on the running game. If the Rams can keep the game in reach, they can use the running and play action game to maintain long and methodical drives against this defense. So while everyone is bagging on the Rams offense, I give them a major edge against this Packers defense despite a maligned Jared Goff.
In conclusion, we are going to take the Rams once again here. The Rams are the time of teams the Packers have routinely struggled against, tough physical defenses and good running games. The Rams are essentially a slightly less offensively talented version of the 49ers last year. That team demolished the Packers in the playoffs last season. I know it's going to be cold in Lambeau and the Packers are great at home, but we are fading the public and Aaron Rodgers. Defense wins championships, and the Rams have a great one.
The pick: Rams +6.5
Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills
Spread: Bills -2.5
We have the more entertaining game of the Saturday slate in Buffalo. Both Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson got the monkey’s off their back getting their first playoff wins in their young careers. The Ravens came back from an early 10-0 deficit and throttled the Titans, while Josh Allen made a comeback of his own beating the Colts in a game that was closer than people expected.
The handicapping of this game has kind of been the same from most of the gambling content consumers. Everyone is assuming Lamar Jackson is going to run for 200 yards against this Bills defense. I’m not saying that's out of the realm of possibilities. The Colts had success running the ball last week. The Ravens have the best rushing offense in the NFL and the Bills rank 25th in yards per rush surrendering 4.7 per carry. But people don’t realize the Bills rush defense has significantly improved, they rank 17th in rush DVOA, and they rank sixth in rushing defense success rate since Week 11. The Bills defense was gashed against the run when both linebackers Terrrell Edmunds and Matt Milano had a long stretch on the IR.
Then we have to look up the last time Lamar Jackson faced Sean McDermont’s defense. People forget McDermont was the first coach who created the successful blueprint to slow down Lamar. In their first matchup in 2019, the Bills held the Ravens to 24 points, 4.5 yards per play, and held Jackson to 40 yards rushing. That is when the Ravens offense looked unstoppable. The Bills have the personnel on defense to defend outside stretch runs with Lamar. The Ravens didn’t look particularly sharp against a dumpster fire Tennessee defense, and really didn’t do anything aside from Lamar’s 50 yard touchdown run. Their offense had a slightly above average 52 percent success rate on early downs.
Offensively, I can’t wait to see what Bills offensive coordinator has in store for the Ravens defense. We know what the Ravens are going to do - they are going to blitz and play man coverage. The Ravens blitz at the highest rate in the NFL but Josh Allen has been one of the best quarterbacks against the blitz. Allen has 93.6 QBR against the blitz this season and has thrown 17 of his 37 touchdown passes against pressure. Buffalo has multiple receivers that can win one on one with Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, and Isiah McKenzie being elite man beaters. The Bills have the second best passing offense in the NFL and Buffalo will have an opportunity to light up the scoreboard.
The Bills are very public, but I like them to win this game. We will ride with the Bills Mafia.
The pick: Bills -2.5
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