Sunday's Top Wagers
January 12, 2018
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Raise your hand if you had “Blake Bortles” and “Case Keenum” in your quarterback survivor pool this far in to the season. The Sunday NFL divisional playoff battles are filled with so many questions, but none more fascinating than Bortles and Keenum playing for contracts.
Can they get the job done to keep their jobs?
Odds per BetOnline.ag
Jacksonville Jaguars (11-6) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)
Sunday, Jan 7th – Heinz Field – 1:05 p.m. ET
NFL Divisional Playoff Spread: Pittsburgh -7 (41)
Can’t say enough great things about the Jaguars defensively. They’re the top rated bunch of stoppers in the AFC, and to make matters worse for the Steelers they’re 2nd in sacks, picks and 7th in fumbles. They do everything you could possibly ask for.
I wish I could say the same thing about Blake Bortles, a man who is commanding an offence that I have no idea what to make of. Leonard Fournette went from talking about how easy football is in Week 1, to looking like a shell of himself by the end of the season. The receivers are all pretty damn good, but they have Bortles hurling footballs down the field like he’s trying to get a raccoon off his parent’s roof by throwing jugs of milk at it.
Nope. Can’t do it. Won’t do it!
Odds to win AFC Champion and Super Bowl LII
Jacksonville Jaguars +800 / +1600
Pittsburgh Steelers +225 / +550
How many times do we have to talk about Ben Roethlisberger’s demise, the Steelers’ defence falling apart or what have you before we just remind ourselves that Pittsburgh is really, really good at winning football games? Even with a half-healed Antonio Brown, they’re a truly balanced contender.
Besides, Jacksonville spent this season lost to the Jets, Cardinals, Niners and Titans on the road this season. I don’t care that they beat Pittsburgh in Week 5. That was a lifetime ago. The Steelers show up in big games when it matters unless they’re playing New England.
I could rip off a bunch of trends, but I’m also leaning on the tired old adage that “warm weather teams play bad in cold weather”. That may sound lazy, but that’s the impact Bortles is having on me overall with this game.
I am betting, cheering and hoping for the Steelers-Patriots AFC Championship we all deserve. The last thing I need is to come up Bortles jokes for another week. Real Ben Roethlisberger takes down Fake Ben Roethlisberger in this weekend’s Ben Roethlisberger lookalike contest.
The combination of Bortles and the Jaguars defence makes this UNDER about as appetizing as UNDERS get.
NFL Divisional Playoff Free Pick: Pittsburgh -7 (UNDER 41)
New Orleans Saints (12-5) vs. Minnesota Vikings (13-3)
Sunday, Jan 7th – U.S. Bank Stadium – 4:40 p.m. ET
NFL Divisional Playoff Spread: Minnesota -5 (46.5)
The oddsmakers painted themselves in to a corner when they thought that the Vikings would be a public team. Not so fast. New Orleans is roaring on this NFL divisional playoff betting line already. While I expect it to change, I would suspect that it lands somewhere around the natural home line as opposed to any drastic shift in the other direction.
But what’s the actual best bet here?
Minnesota spanked New Orleans when these two teams met in the first game of the regular season. Back then, the Saints looked like they were going to get blown out by everyone and Sam Bradford was pretty much the best quarterback walking this totally spherical earth of ours. Times have changed. Like, a lot.
The Vikings rampaged through the regular season with a brilliant, spread busting record of 11-5 ATS and built an actual Super Bowl contender around backup quarterback and recent Texans castaway Case Keenum. It’s strange to hear people talk about Keenum in reverent tones. He’s making $2 million this year and has been a total afterthought in the conversation his whole career. What he’s managed is incredible, but it’s crazy that he’s piloting the best overall team in the league.
It speaks volumes about putting a decent quarterback in a position to succeed. Zimmer had no choice but to entrust Keenum with the offence, and losing Delvin Cook along the way didn’t seem to slow down this team at all largely because he gave Keenum the freedom to be himself. Enter the lighting and thunder combination of Latavius Murray and waiver wire super hero Jerick McKinnon, couple them with two of the best receivers in the league and Minnesota is one of the best teams in the league.
Granted, having the league’s top rated defence helps a ton as well. The Vikings allowed just 275.9 yards and 15.8 points against, stats you know full well by this point.
This Minnesota team should be lauded for putting together a season to remember under otherwise impossible circumstances. It’s a great story that’s compounded by the idea that Minnesota could even be the first team to host and play in the Super Bowl.
Again, let’s pump the brakes there.
Odds to win NFC Championship and Super Bowl LII
New Orleans Saints +275 / +600
Minnesota Vikings +130 / +350
There’s a reason that people are jumping all over New Orleans at +5.0 already. The biggest tie breaker that exists in the NFL is the quarterback. Whacky, herky jerky things can happen in the playoffs but the better quarterbacks usually win out over the long term when all other things are relatively even.
New Orleans poses a massive threat to Minnesota with a trio of wide receivers that demand the attention of secondaries, giving Kamara and Ingram plenty of running room. The damage that the Saints can do on the ground is insurmountable in a game like this.
All of this completely opens up the offence for Drew Brees in a way that he has never been able to enjoy. The results are astounding. Brees threw for 4,334 yards this season with 23 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. That’s the lowest amount of yards he’s thrown for in 12 seasons since landing in New Orleans. His 536 attempts are also the second fewest ever outside of 2009. By cranking out a little less through the air, Brees has been able to mitigate mistakes. He has thrown for at least 11 interceptions every single year outside of 2018. And his rating is the third best ever during this tenure.
We all witnessed last weekend what Brees could do against a very capable Carolina secondary. He launched 23-of-33 passes for 376 yards and 2 touchdowns, completely taking over a game when his running game stalled out. This is deadly stuff. Brees as the engine of an offence was always terrifying. When he’s just one of many options? Holy hell.
People are also writing off the New Orleans defence like it’s not capable of ruining Case Keenum’s day. Of all the surprising metrics I’ve combed through to determine an advantage New Orleans might have that nobody is discussing, the fact that they hawked down 20 picks and 25 total takeaways this season is astonishing. Why? Because Minnesota only managed 14 and 5. That’s a big difference, especially considering that the Vikings played in a pass-first NFC North.
There’s unimaginable pressure on Keenum here, and a lot of signs point to him imploding. He’s playing for a contract. He’s still trying to prove that he’s the guy worth keeping over Bridgewater. He has to impress other NFL teams in dire need of a quarterback. At worst, he gets the franchise tag from the Vikings, but at best he’s offered a lucrative long-term deal that he frankly deserves.
Another surprising stat for the Saints is that they registered 42.0 sacks this season, tying them for 7th overall. By comparison, the Vikings only got to the quarterback 37 times which drops them to 17th overall.
We keep hearing about how other-worldly the Vikings defence has been while dutifully ignoring the simple fact that their division sucks, their schedule was easier than people want to admit and, most importantly, they’re playing the Saints this weekend.
New Orleans doesn’t have the same type of statistical numbers that Minnesota can boast defensively but they are sneaky in the big play areas – sacks and turnovers – that you need to turn the tides of momentum in a playoff game. I hate suggesting this about the Vikings, but they just don’t turn the ball over. They stop you – which is phenomenal – but you need a little bit more if there are genuine questions about what level your quarterback can take you to.
The public knows that New Orleans is an incredible bet at +5.0 right now. The sharps will bully this line down even further. Forget the road record of the Saints (4-4 SU and ATS) because a lot of it came against worthy teams like the Vikings in Week 1 before either team knew who they were, the Falcons and Rams with the Bucs stealing Week 17 away in their own version of a moral Super Bowl.
This Saints team has everything you could ever ask for and this game is way closer than the opening line suggests. Plus, Brees is in a dome. He LOVES domes! Let everyone else talk about how amazing the Vikings are defensively. They’re great. But New Orleans is stronger in strategically important areas that can shift the balance of power in a playoff game where the stakes are at their highest.
I loved the Saints prior to the playoffs starting as +1000 to win the NFC. I love them at +5.0. Hell I love them at any price on the moneyline when they’re getting points, but I’ll take the spread just to be safe. Especially when it’s this high.
NFL Divisional Playoff Free Pick: New Orleans +5 (UNDER 46.5)
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