Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:55 AM
Saturday's Best Bets
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Sunday's Best Bets
The NFL Playoffs have arrived and that means that bettors get to spend their usual amount of time handicapping NFL during the week, but narrowing down the research to just four games. That's quite critical in itself, but at the same time, just because it's the playoffs should you need to force a bet. Yes, you've got more time to dig into games, but if you don't find anything, you shouldn't be betting full units on plays you aren't fully comfortable with. Remember, if these matchups were held during a regular Sunday slate during the year, you might simply pass and move on to the next game. An important concept to keep in mind this time of year.
Nobody wants to read about how to pass on games in the sports betting market though, so let's see if we can find some significant angles for the games this weekend. The two AFC Wild Card games are up first, so that's where I'll begin.
Buffalo at Houston (4:35 p.m. ET)
Best Bet: Buffalo +2.5
A couple things to note off the top here, and that is, you probably want to buy this up to +3 for the best of the number, and with the juice currently sitting on the Houston side of things, it's not all that expensive. Secondly, thinking about the money-line (ML) with Buffalo is worth a look, but being safe is probably the better option for multiple reasons. Eventually this Bills run of not having won a playoff game since 1995 will be halted, and there is probably no better time then the present to do so.
However, I say taking the points is the better option because of one thing that speaks for backing Buffalo, but somewhat against taking the ML without some points already in your pocket. Opponent 3rd down conversion percentage.
In this 12-team football tournament known as the NFL Playoffs, in the past five years, the team that's got the worst opponent 3rd down conversion percentage entering the playoffs – ie the defense can't get off the field – is 0-4-1 against the spread (ATS) during Wild Card Weekend. That's the role the Houston Texans find themselves in this season with an absurd opponent 3rd down conversion percentage of 48.51. Basically every other 3rd down gets converted by Houston opponents, and if you give a Bills offense that prefers to sustain (and capitalize) on long drives, a much better chance to do so, the Bills defense will make sure things look bleak for you the rest of the way.
The problem with that stat suggesting a ML play is the fact that the straight up (SU) record by these teams is actually 4-1 SU in these five games. That's a lot of narrow wins by home favorites in this spot, as their suspect 3rd down defense will always leave the backdoor cover open at worst, or forces said team to be playing uphill for the majority of the game and squeaking by with a late score.
Last year it was the Dallas Cowboys in this spot, and as -2.5 home favorites – the identical role Houston is currently in – a 24-22 SU win by Dallas was good enough to advance but not good enough for their backers. The 2017 postseason saw a similar story with the Saints winning SU but losing ATS by the hook in a five-point win over Carolina, while the 2015 Steelers pushed as small road favorites, and the 2014 Cowboys couldn't beat the Lions by enough margin.
This game landing on two points or less in a Houston win isn't the most likeliest of options, so I can understand a ML play on Buffalo only if you like the Bills, but a lot of funky things can happen in the playoffs and you can never have too many points because of it.
Buffalo's defense should be able to contain a Texans offense that runs quite hot and cold, and with the banged up playmaker bodies they have right now, asking them to be on the hotter side of that equation is tough. If Josh Allen wants to continue to take steps forward in his growth and development as a player, winning a playoff game now would be just that.
Buffalo comes into the playoffs as the worst 3rd down team on offense – convert just 35.85% of their 3rd downs – but to do that and still be a 10-win team is impressive. It means that the defense keeps Buffalo in games no matter what, and against a Houston defense that gives up what they do on the “money down” the Bills offense should be able to get things running rather smoothly quite early.
Buffalo might end up being a rather 'popular' dog this weekend, but I'm more then fine with that being the case with these two teams involved.
Tennessee at New England (8:15 p.m. ET)
Best Bet: New England Team Total Over 24.5
Tennessee sounds like they could be another underdog that becomes a popular choice, as the belief in New England continuing to reign over the AFC might be at an all time low. And really, it probably deserves to be given what the Patriots have put out their on the field since about November 1st. The schedule got tougher and better teams – teams with winning records – exposed New England.
Yet, while I would side with the overall idea that the Patriots reign atop this conference is over this year, I'm not so sure this is the game that we will see it happen. This year's New England team has the look of an aging champion who knows time is short and they know they'll likely fall but they won't go down without a fight. A home playoff game against a Titans team that's got a QB that Bill Belichick knows really well, is one of those “last stand” moments for the Patriots as those aging champions.
A glimpse into what was is all this Patriots team can provide their fans this year, and at home against Tennessee I believe that's the Patriots team we see. Because what do we see next from those aging champions? The youthful, upcoming alpha puts a beating on them as the torch doesn't get passed, but taken. Doesn't that sound like what may happen in Kansas City next week if New England wins this one at home?
If the Patriots are the ones who stand up and look like the dominant Pats of old here, getting 25 or more points should be attainable. In games against teams that made the playoffs this season, Tennessee gave up 27 points per game in the four games that mattered (excluding Week 17 vs Houston).
And if I'm wrong, and this is indeed the spot that the Patriots do fall, I doubt they go out with a whimper on their own field. As I touched on earlier, Belichick's got plenty of past game plans for facing Ryan Tannehill, and has got a good idea for what should likely work. Flip that knowledge into an early turnover or two, and the Patriots put up points.
Finally, as I touched on in a piece a few weeks ago when Buffalo was visiting New England in Week 16, you “don't tiptoe into Foxboro” if you expect to win, and a Titans win is going to have to likely come because Tennessee needs 28+ points to win.