Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:55 AM

Saturday's Best Bets

A Saturday triple-header in the NFL is probably going to kill some of the college football bowl action during the day, but that's just the nature of the beast. And with the NFL games consisting of five of the six teams still alive and/or playoff bound already, it's not like these matchups are short on drama.

New England and Buffalo are going at it for the second time this year with the AFC East title dangling above them, Houston's looking to take another step forward in securing their division crown, and the Rams/49ers game has LA holding on by a thread in terms of a playoff berth, while the 49ers are aiming to bounce back after a disheartening and embarrassing home loss last week to try and move back up out of the #5 seed in the NFC. That's plenty to play for for those five teams, and because of it we should see some great action on the field.

But I'm not here to break down potential playoff scenarios without a betting approach being involved, so hare are a side and total for Saturday's card that I believe deserve to be backed.

Best Bet - Side

Tampa Bay +3.5 vs. Houston

This number means you'll have to buy the hook off the current number of Houston -3, but with that spread sitting at -115 juice or higher on Houston currently, the price to do so on Tampa Bay isn't that steep. But even at a flat +3, this side is the one I'd consider, because I'm not sure nothing has really changed for the Texans.

Two weeks ago, Houston got caught in a huge flat, sandwich spot against Denver, as the Texans were coming off that big prime time win over New England, and had a road game in Tennessee on deck which they know would go a long way in deciding the AFC South division. Well, the Texans responded in proper fashion last week against Tennessee, and now sit firmly in the driver's seat to claim that AFC South crown. But really, as they believed prior to last week, that title is going to come down to their two games with Tennessee – last week, and at home in Week 17 – and that doesn't really change.

Sure, a SU win by Houston, combined with a Tennessee loss at home to New Orleans does clinch the division for the Texans, and there is no doubt they would prefer that. Clearly that's how the betting market sees this game playing out, as it's been nothing but Houston money since this contest opened up in the pick'em range. The whole narrative of one team (Houston) having plenty to play for while the other (Tampa) has nothing to play for goes a long way in getting heavily skewed action like that, but now at +3 and beyond, I do believe you can only look the other way.

That's because the other potential outcome for Houston in this game – an outright loss – doesn't necessarily hurt them dramatically going forward. They could still get a Tennessee loss on Sunday as the Saints are playing for playoff positioning still too, and even a win by the Titans still gives Houston the edge in the AFC South and they are once again tasked with beating Tennessee the following week, this time in Houston. That's really no different then the perspective they had going into the Week 15 game.

That's not to say Houston's going to lay down here, as the first scenario – a Houston win and Tennessee loss – is still ideal for the Texans. But when you combine the notion that Houston still has plenty of wiggle room left regardless of this Week 16 result, basically the entire betting market has already backed the Texans, and Tampa's already known to be a gunslinging team offensively that are playing great football right now with four straight victories, taking the points with the home side really starts looking attractive.

Throw in some projected rainy Tampa weather and a Texans team that's allowed an average of 28.75 points against in non-division road games this year, and the Bucs really start to feel like a live underdog. Even with all his turnovers this year, QB Jameis Winston is still using these final few weeks to fight for his career as a potential starter in this league, and the results this team has put up the past four weeks shows that they haven't quit on the year.

Houston made the hard-line decision two weeks ago that the rest of their season came down to two games – the two vs. Tennessee – and even with the first being the desired result for Houston, it's still tough to cast aside that mindset. I'm not sure Houston's going to be at their best in this spot, with the opponent and potential weather to boot, and unless Winston has one of his turnover machine games again, the Bucs winning this game outright is what we could very well see. Buy the hook to get Tampa at +3.5 just to be safe though.

Best Bet - Total

Buffalo/New England Over 36.5

The market this week has shown support for Buffalo in this game, not at an overwhelming rate, but one where the argument for taking the points with Buffalo does make plenty of sense. The Bills are a great defensive team, New England in 2019 is not the same Pats team of years past, and Bills fans would love a win over the Patriots nearly as much as getting a playoff win in a few weeks. And while the opening number of Buffalo +7 have all been gobbled up right now, the correlation between that and the 'under' that has seen the opening total drop two full points does make sense from a statistical standpoint. However, there is one thing that doesn't and that is this:

If you are a visiting team in Foxboro, you can't expect to win by tip-toeing in there offensively.

Being ultra-aggressive and taking it to New England is how road teams have one here in the past, as you can go back to the start of the 2016 season and see that of all the teams that have won here have scored at least 23 points in doing so. You had Seattle win 31-24 in 2016, Carolina and KC win in New England in 2017 with 33-30 and 42-27 scores respectively, and the Chiefs do it again this year with a 23-16 final. If Buffalo does want to win on the road here, they've got to step out of their own skin a bit and be aggressive in everything they do offensively. History suggests they'll need at least 23 points to do so, and if the Bills get to that number, there is a good chance 36.5 will easily be surpassed.

Heck, you can even take it a step further if you want to argue that the Bills will keep it close but probably fall short at the end in terms of the outright win. In that same span (since 2016), teams that have gone into New England and either won or lost by 7 points or less have put up at least 20 points in all those occurrences (11 times) outside of once – and that was the Dallas trip to Foxboro this year when the 13-9 final score came because the two teams were playing in a windy monsoon.

You take out this year's two games from that equation – KC's 23-17 win and the 13-9 loss by the Cowboys – and teams that have either won, or lost by 7 or fewer points in Foxboro have averaged 29.5 points scored per game. All of them scored at least 20, and again, if Buffalo gets to 20 and loses, well, this total of 36.5 points has long been surpassed.

Obviously, we could see New England win this game comfortably and this stay 'under', but the Bills have been waiting for their second crack at the Patriots since that 16-10 home loss back in Week 4, and this is where I do expect Buffalo to pull out all the stops offensively to try and end this six-game losing streak they've got going against New England. Flip flopping the total result in division rematch games also applies to this 'over' as well.

You can't go into Foxboro and expect to win a 17-13 type of game, no matter what kind of defense you've got, and if the 60% or so of bettors that have already backed Buffalo this week are going to end up being correct, then the play with the greater margin of error has to be the 'over'. This total is below that key number of 37 right now, and I haven't even touched on the possibility of New England winning in a blowout where they put up 30+ themselves.

If forced to back a side it would be the Buffalo side i land on, but the 'over' just has so much more potential here in my view, defensive statistical profiles be damned. Visiting teams just don't have success in Foxboro if they go in with a conservative mindset, and I don't expect that to be the case with Buffalo here.

If you want something bad enough in this world, you've got to be willing to go and aggressively take it, and you know that the Bills want to beat this Patriots team about as bad as anything right now. You just can't tip-toe into New England and expect to win, so if Buffalo is going to at least hang around, look for points to be put up in this contest.

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