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NFL Divisional Round – Sunday Best Bets

While the two Saturday NFL playoff games are intriguing in their own right, it's the two games on Sunday that will likely generate the most betting handle and provide the most overall excitement for the weekend.

Sunday gives NFL fans/bettors a look at two “rematch” games from earlier this year as the Steelers host the Jaguars and the Vikings host the Saints. It's the Steelers and Saints who are looking to avenge earlier losses to those respective opponents and you know they'd love to do it now when it means that much more.

But will those teams be able to accomplish that feat or will the same results we saw earlier this year with the Jags winning and Vikings winning replicate themselves?

Odds per -

Best Bet #1: Jacksonville/Pittsburgh Over 41

Best Bet #2: 6-point Teaser- Pittsburgh -1 with Over 35

Oddsmakers opened up this point spread (Pittsburgh -7.5) in the ideal spot in my opinion as it's going to be a number that gets plenty of action on both sides in the end. We've already seen Jacksonville money push that number down to eliminate that hook to make it -7, and I would not be surprised to see either side cover this number. However, I do strongly believe that Pittsburgh finds a way to win this game in the end as they aren't going to make the same mistakes over and over that they did in the first meeting with Jacksonville (Roethlisberger threw 5 INTS) and will do enough to survive and advance. Teasing to the Steelers down to -1 should be enough to cash on a Steelers SU win, but if you could always make it a 6.5 or 7-point teaser as well.

It's the 'over' that I really like here though as I do believe we see plenty of points scored here because we should see both sides at least start one drive with a very short field via a turnover. Roethlisberger may not throw five picks again, but this Jags secondary is so good that they should get at least one on him, while Bortles and all his offensive glory (kidding), is likely to have another tough day throwing the ball himself. Bortles may be a guy nobody wants to trust either ATS or for this 'over', but we've seen suspect QB's light up this Steelers defense at home already this year (Brett Hundley anyone), and Jacksonville's ground game that gashed Pittsburgh all day in that 30-9 win earlier this year will have success again, especially with Pittsburgh not having LB Ryan Shazier anymore.

Trusting Pittsburgh to score 20 or more is much easier to stomach, even against a top-level defense like the Jags. That statement comes with the caveat that Pittsburgh must run the ball with LeVeon Bell a lot more because as great as the Jags pass defense is, they can be had on the ground and in the quick passing game. Bell will critical to the Steelers success in this one, and if he gets going early and starts gashing the Jags, that's going to force Jacksonville to bring a safety closer to the line of scrimmage which will give WR's Brown, Schuster, and Bryant more room to operate.

Given how poorly Pittsburgh's offense played in that first meeting, you've got to believe they will stick with the run even if they get down here, and that's only going to be a good thing for both the Steelers and 'over' bettors.

Finally, with Jacksonville only scoring 10 points last week and moving on, they become the third NFL team in NFL history to score 10 or fewer points in the Wildcard Round and advance. The previous two were the 1991-92 Kansas City Chiefs and more recently, the 2015-16 Seattle Seahawks, and when both of those squads moved on to the Divisional Round, we saw 51 and 56 points scored respectively. That's not the biggest sample size I know, but that also speaks to the rarity of the situation, and with that kind of point totals in the following game I believe the same thing happens this week in the Steel City.

*Side note to those Chiefs and Seahawks Divisional games the following week for SU/ATS purposes here, the Chiefs lost by 23 points and Seattle lost by 7, which definitely doesn't hurt the notion of teasing down Pittsburgh to win SU.

Odds per -

Best Bet #3: New Orleans Saints +5

The final game of NFL Divisional weekend may be the most intriguing from a betting standpoint because it features two teams that were at the top of the heap in terms of net yards per play during the regular season (New Orleans #1, Minnesota T-2) and has all the feel of a NFC Championship tilt. Early bettors made their case known for the home side as they pushed this number up to it's current status after opening up at -3.5, as there are many out there riding this Vikings team to possibly get home field all the way through the Super Bowl and win the title. If the two favorites in the NFC win SU this week, Minnesota would indeed have home field throughout the rest of the playoffs, and with them knowing that result either way by the time they kick off, an Atlanta win on Saturday could be another motivating factor for the Vikings.

Yet, this Saints team is not like the ones of yesteryear in the sense that they prefer to run the ball and have a much-improved defense as well. Sean Payton's decision to go for it on 4th-and-2 to try and ice the game late brought up a lot of scrutiny – most notably the notion that he did so because he didn't have faith in his defense to hold – but analytically it was the right call if you ask me (get two yards to end the game) and if faith in his defense was wavering, the fact that they did hold in the end has to squash many of those concerns.

But what makes this year's Saint's team so dangerous is the fact that they've added a dominant running game to what has been one of the league's best passing attacks forever. No longer is this Saints team a one-dimensional offense, and with them being one of only three teams this year to have six yards per play or more in road games and this contest being played in a dome, New Orleans attack should feel right at home in this contest.

The Saints are also a much different team than the one that showed up here in Week 1 when they lost 29-19 as they are no longer trying to fit RB Adrian Peterson into the fold or give him the bulk of the carries against his old team. There is no RB Dalvin Cook to gash them like he did in Week 1 (22 carries for 127 yards) and while the duo of Thielen and Diggs torched them that day, the Saints will be more prepared on what to expect from those two budding superstars rather than treating them – Thielen for sure – as more of an after thought.

Finally, there is one big piece of history we can't forget about here. Everyone knows that the NFL team from the host stadium has never made it to the Super Bowl through 51 seasons, and Minnesota is hosting the big game this year. But what's lost in that is the fact that those same host teams not only never made it to the Super Bowl, they've never been able to get through the Divisional Round either. Last year it was the Houston Texans who fell in this round a year ago, and I believe it will be Minnesota's turn to do the same this week.

The fact that there was so much respected action early on this game to move this number up from -3.5 and through the key number of -4 has me backing off a Saints ML (+190) play a touch, but there will still be some funds allocated to that SU outcome. Grabbing the points is the much safer option but don't be surprised if we see the Saints use those analytics they've dominated all year in their favor to come out with the upset win this week.

· Marshall: Tech Trends - Week 16
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