I am usually not one to start off with something negative, but is it fair to somewhat underwhelmed by the wildcard round games? Only one game was one-score game, and even that one (49ers/Cowboys) was a two-score game for most of the time. That being said, between the Bills dominating the Patriots, as well as San Francisco coming away with the upset, there were plenty of takeaways to be had.
With that, it’s time to turn our attention to the divisional round. Interestingly, once again, all but one matchup is a rematch from the regular season, and the only one that isn’t (Bengals/Titans) features the return of running back Derrick Henry. The “king” coming back to face off against the streaking-hot Bengals; this is what playoff football is all about
Now it’s time to take a look at the best bets to make in the divisional round! Utilizing advanced metrics and personal projections, I have found four picks that look quite favorable this week; this includes an over/under total, a teaser, and two prop bets. What are these beneficial bets? Let us take a closer look!
Stats via Pro Football Focus
#1: BUF at KC (Under 54)
An under with the most exciting game of the week? That’s no fun! Do you know what is fun! Making smart picks, and that’s what this under is.
When you look at season-long defensive numbers, the Chiefs don’t look remarkably impressive. However, that would be doing them a disservice. Since their acquisition of edge rusher Melvin Ingram III in Week 9, they are allowing just 16.5 points/game, and have only allowed over 21 points twice. The Bills, on the other hand, are by far the league’s best defense this season in terms of points allowed/game (17) and yards allowed/play (4.6). Suffice to say, these are two quality defenses.
According to Ian Hartiz of The Pro Football Focus Fantasy Podcast, the Chiefs primarily run cover-two looks, which is the toughest defensive look for Josh Allen. Meanwhile, no team ran more two-high shells against Kansas City than Buffalo, which played a great role in their offensive struggles when their first matched up; the Chiefs were held to 20 points and Patrick Mahomes had a 62.9 PFF passing grade.
Two-high coverage snaps vs. Mahomes:
1. Week 5 vs. #BillsMafia – 49 (!)
2. Week 6 vs. WFT – 29
3. Week 3 vs. LAC – 28
4. Week 8 vs. NYG – 25
5. Week 1 vs. CLE – 23
— Hayden Winks (@HaydenWinks) January 20, 2022
This season, when not blitzed, Mahomes is averaging 7.2 yards/pass attempt. When he is blitzed, that number jumps up to 9.1. Unfortunately for him…
The Bills didn’t blitz Patrick Mahomes even once on 63 dropbacks back in Week 5 (PFF)
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) January 19, 2022
With all of this in mind, it is hard to buy into Kansas City’s implied point total of 28 points. As for Buffalo, they have the ceiling outcome to exceed their implied 26 points when clicking on all cylinders, but Allen has also been inconsistent this season:
Josh Allen PFF passing grade by week this season pic.twitter.com/OwzWNBe2fs
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) January 19, 2022
As you can see, Allen dominated Kansas City the first time these two teams met, but Kansas City is a different defense now. Coming off of his peak game, I don’t we can expect Allen to have another flawless performance, while the matchups are actually stacked against Kansas City’s offense here. When there are any sort of question marks, a total of 54 is extremely high. A lot of points can be scored by two terrific quarterbacks in an entertaining game AND this total can still go under. It’s the best of all worlds!
#2: Teaser: BUF (+7.5) at KC, GB (+0.5) vs SF
We have already touched on the advantages the Bills have over the Chiefs here. Between their two-high, no blitz defensive looks, and overall production as a unit, there is a lot of reason to believe they can limit the explosiveness of the Chiefs offense.
I mean, are we sure Buffalo isn’t just the better team? This season, Josh Allen (89.5) is a higher-graded quarterback than Patrick Mahomes (78.8), while Buffalo’s defense reigns supreme. Now, defenses don’t win championships, but when the offenses are of similar caliber, that and the way the Bills are rolling right now can be a useful tiebreaker, no?
Regardless, these two teams are close enough for me to feel comfortable teasing Buffalo as over a touchdown underdog. This game is likely coming down to the wire, and, honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if either team won. Thus, take the points and run, while crossing a key number!
Will this be Aaron Rodgers’ final Super Bowl push as a member of the Packers? I have my doubts, but it’s safe to say the likely 2021 MVP will be ready to lead a Green Bay team coming off a bye to the Super Bowl he’s been striving to get back to. Between the Packers’ lackluster run defense, as well as their history against the 49ers, there are a lot of reasons to see San Francisco pulling off an upset here.
However, there is one advantage in Green Bay’s favor that I don’t believe the 49ers can overcome; the quarterback mismatch. Rodgers is PFF’s third-highest graded quarterback and can be trusted in a high-volume passing attack, which is the likely approach with how strong San Francisco’s run defense is. Considering the 49ers rank just 23rd in expected points added (EPA/play) allowed per drop back, there are plenty of reasons to expect Rodgers and Green Bay to perform at a high level offensively here.
This would put pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo, who already has his limitations as PFF’s 16th-graded passer. Meanwhile, he is also playing through a notable finger injury and shoulder injury, the latter of which appeared to hamper him against the Cowboys down the stretch last week:
— Hayden Winks (@HaydenWinks) January 20, 2022
In simple terms, I’ll take the team with the far superior quarterback, more flexible offense, and better defense coming off a bye. The Packers may also be getting back cornerback Jaire Alexander in this game, in addition to edge rusher Za’Darius Smith. Add in that they also have offensive tackle David Bakhtiari back in action, and they’re coming together at the right time. At the same time, given San Francisco’s quality as a team, I’m not sure Green Bay covers a 5.5-point favorite. That’s where the teaser comes into play. Now, you essentially can have them in a pick-em, which is tremendous value! Teasers aren’t always the optimal play, but with two strong picks here, it is for this week.
#3: Joe Burrow (Over 24.5 Completions)
This season, Joe Burrow is averaging just 22.94 completions/game. So, take the under, right? Nope! This is where context is needed, as is the case for anything regarding the Bengals this season.
Whether it was because Burrow was coming back from a torn ACL and MCL or head coach Zac Taylor being conservative, the Bengals have been a run-heavy offense for most of the season. However, as the games have become more and more important, that has changed:
— Hayden Winks (@HaydenWinks) January 18, 2022
Keep in mind that Burrow and most of the team’s offensive starters did not play in Week 18. In their past three “real games”, the 25-year-old is averaging 43.67 drop backs/game, 39.67 attempts/game, as well as 30.3 completions/game. As Cincinnati has opened up their offense, he has taken his game to another level.
Why would this approach change against the Titans? Tennessee’s defense has been an absolute pass-funnel all season long; they are allowing the second-fewest rush attempts (21.6) per game. On the other hand, they rank 20th in completions allowed/game with 23. If the average quarterback on an otherwise weak schedule can get close to Burrow’s completion prop, why can’t one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL on an offense that is suddenly pass-heavy?
I think there is a great chance the Bengals win this game outright. However, I think that only happens if they continue to pass the ball at a very high rate, and there is nothing to suggest they won’t do so against a pass-funnel Titans defense. To make matters better, Tennessee’s pass rush has the sixth-lowest PFF pass-rush grade, which a) could incentivize Taylor to call more pass plays and b) lead to more drop backs being converted into attempts, and, therefore, completions. This is a prime example why season-long numbers can be deceiving, and, now, we can benefit as a result!
#4: Julio Jones (Under 47.5 Receiving Yards)
Sticking with the Bengals/Titans game, we’re on the other side of the boat this time.
Recency bias can skew our perception of a player, which is true of Julio Jones. The last time we saw the future Hall of Fame in action, he had five receptions for 58 receiving yards and his first touchdown of the season against the Texans. That being said, I’m not sure we can expect Jones to replicate that performance.
Prior to that Week 18 coming out party, Jones had not gone over 47.5 receiving yards in any of his previous five games. In fact, in that span, he was averaging just 22.6 receiving yards/game in that span, as well as just 1.04 yards/route run. We tend to see receivers’ performance decline with age, and at 33-years-old, that has happened to Jones this season. His 1.76 yards/route run is the lowest of his career, while his 74.9 PFF receiving grade is the lowest since his rookie year.
Meanwhile, there isn’t a lot of passing volume to go around with the Titans offense, which didn’t exactly open things up this season:
This season, the Bengals are tied for 10th in PFF coverage grade. On the other hand, they are in the bottom-ten in PFF run defense grade. With running back Derrick Henry coming back into action, you can bet that the Titans are going to lean on their running game in this matchup. That’s not great news for Jones, the secondary option in this limited passing attack. On DraftKings right now, you can find this prop at 47.5 receiving yards, which has vaulted from earlier this year and is the highest of any sports book. Remember, every yard counts! Take the Jones under, and make sure to find the best line possible!
(Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire)