We are one day away from the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. All the talking points have been hammered home about betting big favorites, teasing top seeds and all the different ways to approach this weekend's betting slate. It's a different vibe from the regular season. You don't get to choose from 16 games packed with rest and travel advantages. Only the best eight teams are left, and everybody is dissecting the same four games.
Our brains get overloaded with information from hearing the statistical tug-of-war between backing favorites coming off a bye or betting underdogs over the key number of seven. Of course, there are no right or wrong answers when the teams are this competitive, as both sides can be accurate and rooted in solid data. But come Sunday, only one side will provide a deposit in your sportsbook balance, and the other will be a withdrawal.
So do we lay these big numbers or pray for close, competitive action? You may not have options in the games, but you have options for how to bet them. Last week, I started putting together alternative bets for those who wanted to wager on the favorites without laying the big number. So here are three more for the divisional round.
Kansas City Chiefs — team total over 30.5 (-135)
The Chiefs are currently 8.5-point favorites at BetMGM. Also, they are a scoring machine. That's why I am isolating the Kansas City offense with this bet. The concern with laying the 8.5 points revolves around the growth of Trevor Lawrence and the drastic improvement from Jacksonville. However, the Jaguars can be feisty and easily fight their way to a backdoor cover after making second-half adjustments. In fact, per Clevanalytics, Kansas City has been a 7.5-8.5-point favorite 10 times during Patrick Mahomes' career. The Chiefs won all 10 games but were only 2-8 ATS. That's why betting on the Chiefs offense against a Jacksonville defense that is 30th in pass DVOA and just gave up 30 to the Chargers is a good alternative to sweating out the potential back door.
Philadelphia Eagles — first half -4.5
This one is pretty straightforward. Surprisingly, the line stayed in the Wong teaser range at 7.5 as opposed to moving up to 9. If the books are not comfortable writing New York +9 tickets, that might be enough reason to pause on laying 7.5. Personally, I think Philly covers the number, but if you want to get under a touchdown, take the Eagles -4.5 in the first half. In the two regular season games between these two teams, Philadelphia outscored New York 40-7 in the first half with leads of at least 16 points in each game. In the first half this season, the Eagles are the league's high-scoring team (17.4 ppg) and rank second in EPA per play behind only Kansas City. The Giants rank outside the top 20 in both metrics. That's a really big discrepancy. Plus, after you bake in the rest advantage from the Eagles being off a bye and the Giants on consecutive road games, it's a solid bet the Eagles start fast.
Buffalo Bills — bet live (1st quarter entry)
In full transparency, I am on the dog in this one. Joe Burrow catching points is an auto bet for me, especially in the playoffs. However, Buffalo might have the most talented roster in the league, so if you are looking to back the Bills here, I'd rather offer some insight that might be helpful. The Bengals start fast, particularly in the last four weeks. Here's how each game has played out:
Week 16: 22-0 lead vs. New England
Week 17: 7-3 lead vs. Buffalo (canceled)
Week 18: 17-0 lead vs. Baltimore
Wild card: 9-0 lead vs. Baltimore
I have yet to do a deep-dive analysis on whether it's the scripted plays, but Cincinnati scores early, regardless. In Week 17, the Bengals marched down the field on Buffalo's defense and scored a touchdown like it was a 7-on-7 drill. Burrow and the Bengals' passing game cut through Buffalo's second-ranked red-zone defense like a hot knife through butter. If Cincy's early offensive success continues on Sunday, it will open an opportunity to bet Buffalo live under the key number of 3. Most bettors' internal battle is that they like the Bills but think anything over four might be too much. So if Cincinnati scores early, you'll be able to get a better number live.
Stats provided by clevanalytics, rbsdm, teamrankings.com.