Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 13:55 PM
Saturday's Best Bets
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NFL Divisional Playoff Round Picks
The Wild Card round brought it's own brand of excitement last week, and unfortunately last week's plays here on the site were on the wrong side of basically it all. But ineptitude on offense from multiple teams (New England, Philadelphia, Buffalo) cost them games, as you can't keep settling for field goals and expect to win a NFL playoff game. Bad weeks happen all the time in this business though and all you can do is pull up your socks and move on to the next game.
And now that we are down to the final eight teams in the NFL Playoffs, I do believe we will see a higher quality of football overall this weekend. Part of that has to do with the four best teams taking the field after a week of rest, but the Divisional round does tend to bring a few more points on the scoreboard historically. In fact, the last time we had all four Wildcard games cash 'under' tickets like they did a week ago, was back in the 2012-13 NFL playoffs. The Divisional round that year saw all four games cash 'over' tickets and ironically enough, five of the eight franchises that are left on the field this season, were involved in those games as well (Baltimore, Green Bay, San Francisco, Seattle, Houston).
That's not to say what happened all those years ago has any impact on this week's contests, but I wouldn't go expecting the same offensive futility we saw seven days ago to be a repeat occurrence.
So let's get right to the breakdown of plays for Saturday's contests to start with, as the two No. 1 seeds take the field, and at least from their perspective, hope to take advantage of the benefits they get from being a top seed (win this week on extra rest relative to their opponent and then have an extra day of rest next week for their next foe).
Minnesota at San Francisco (4:35 p.m. ET)
Best Bet #1: Minnesota/San Francisco Over 44
Odds provided by FanDuel (IN, NJ, PA & WV only)
Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins was able to get the monkey off his back in terms of not being able to win a big game last week, as he led the Vikings on that game-winning drive to start overtime versus the Saints. It was an impressive drive to cap off an impressive game by the Vikings offense, as they made sure to use their rushing attack to open up things through the air, while trying to shorten the game as well. They'll look for more of the same this week on the road once again, and whether or not that happens remains to be seen, but I do believe the offense will do their best to make it a reality.
After September, Minnesota's offense has been much more consistent away from home, as they've scored at least 23 points in all seven road games they've played since October 1st. Cranked out as an average, the Vikings have put up 30.85 points per road game in that span and have gone 5-2 'over/under' (O/U) as well. With San Francisco averaging 32.4 points per home game this year, and never scoring fewer than 22 points on their own field this year, Minnesota has got to understand that they'll likely need to have their offense put up 24-plus points just to have a chance at winning this game.
Which brings me back to the monkey off Cousins back point, as getting a win in that fashion should allow him to be more relaxed out on the field, feeling good and playing loose. Yes, current forecasts are calling for a wet afternoon in San Francisco on Saturday – which has helped lead to some of the 'under' action we've seen already for this game, but to me a total below 45 is a few points too short regardless of weather. Both offenses have proven that they can put up points in their specific home/road roles here, and with all the stops being pulled out for the playoffs, why should we expect much different from either offense?
If anything, it could be the 49ers who come out a bit nervous and tentative after the rest and QB Jimmy Garropolo starting his first playoff game, but I wouldn't expect that to last long while at home. Defensively the 49ers have had trouble keeping opponents off the scoreboard in recent weeks – they allowed 20 or more in their final five games of the year – and they've got to figure they need to approach 28 points at a minimum to ensure a win. Slow start or not, the 49ers offense should eventually get things clicking, as they are 5-1 O/U in their last six at home, and are on a 11-5-1 O/U run in their last 17 games against a winning foe.
Both teams should find their way into the 20's on the scoreboard as long as settling for multiple FG's doesn't continue to be an epidemic from last week, and if that's the case, I've got no problem going 'over' this number and expecting these two to combine for at least 45 points.
Tennessee at Baltimore (8:15 p.m. ET)
Best Bet #2: Baltimore Ravens -9.5
Odds provided by FanDuel (IN, NJ, PA & WV only)
Did you know that Tennessee was just the 5th franchise in the history of the NFL playoffs to knock off the defending champs in the Wildcard round? Well, that's a true statement, and after doing some digging, I did find that of the previous four (Seattle in 1984, NYG in 1985, New Orleans in 2000, and Seattle in 2010), only two of them went on to face the top seed in the conference the next week. Both came from the teams in the 80's and the next week for them was not pretty. Seattle in 1984 went out the following week and lost 31-10 to No. 1 Miami, and the Giants ran into the '85 Bears in their Super Bowl year, losing 21-0 in that Divisional game.
Granted, the play by those teams 30 years ago has nothing to do with the 2019-20 Tennessee Titans, but historically, Tennessee is in a brutal spot this week. Those two teams that were in identical roles in the past lost by 21 points each time. Based on those results alone, laying the points with Baltimore appears to be a bit of a bargain. Fast forward to what we've seen from the Ravens and Titans this year and I wouldn't necessarily say the point-spread on Baltimore is a “bargain”, but it is one that I've got no problem laying.
For one, Tennessee as a team gained quite a bit of love in the market for knocking off New England, but the 2019 Patriots were far from a dominant team. Sure, there is plenty of Patriots reputation and stigma involved in the glowing perception of Tennessee's win last week, but both AFC East playoff teams got exposed last week for just how soft their schedule had been all year. The way I see it, if you replaced the words “New England” with any one of the other franchises in the AFC last week, there is no way Tennessee would be gaining this much respect for a hard-fought Wildcard win.
Furthermore, Tennessee has gotten plenty of love for their revamped offense since QB Ryan Tannehill took over (and rightfully so), as they've been a balanced attack with him under center. His throwing ability opened up things for running back Derrick Henry to lead the league in rushing yards this year, and from those taking the Titans this week, you'll hear a lot about how much they like that offense and trust it to move the ball against Baltimore's defense.
But did you know that it's been 12 years since we had a team boasting the NFL rushing leader (LaDanian Tomlinson in 2007-08) make it past the Divisional round? Eight rushing leaders have had their teams make the playoffs in that 12-year span, and the only ATS win by said team in this round came by the hook in 2014 when Dallas lost 26-21 to Green Bay. RB DeMarco Murray (remember him) was the rusher as the Cowboys covered the +5.5 spread they were getting that day, but only because Green Bay rightfully went for a two-point conversion on their final TD to take the lead (to try and push the lead to seven) and failed. That's it.
Leading the league in rushing is like the Heisman curse in the collegiate game in terms of winning a championship, as you'd have to go all the way back to 2005 to have the team's leading rusher make the Super Bowl (Shaun Alexander with Seattle). And 1998 was the last time we had the rushing leader win a Super Bowl – Terrell Davis with Denver.
Again, I know that those historical facts don't have much to do with this game particularly, and this isn't the round where a Super Bowl berth is on the line, but when historically you need only to pick the outright winner in the NFL playoffs and the point-spread is irrelevant 70%+ of the time, I think you've really got to believe Tennessee is a live underdog this week, and I just don't see that being the case.
I don't need to spend too much time on the virtues of what we've seen from Baltimore all year, as they are as dynamic as it gets offensively. Yes, the defense has had some issues at times, but for all the credit Tannehill has gotten for sparking the Titans offense this year, the bulk of that work came against lackluster teams like the Chargers, Bucs, Panthers, Jags, Colts, and Raiders this year. Sure, you can point to some strong performances against the likes of Kansas City and New Orleans, but are either of those organizations known for defense?
So give me this Ravens team who has to feel like their entire world has been flipped upside down offensively from this time last year. They protected QB Lamar Jackson like an infant at the end of last season and in their playoff loss to the Chargers, and now that they've let him loose and watched him learn and grow through 16 weeks this year, the difference is night and day, as will be their playoff result
Like those two teams from the 1980's that were in the identical spot that Tennessee finds themselves in this week, the Titans lose this game by 14+ points.