It's a huge weekend in the NFL and something's got to give when Green Bay Packers host LA Rams says Mike Carlson as he makes his Divisional Play-offs picks
"If you’re looking for a real outside bet, the Bucs on the money line at 11/8 would be the one. However, I’m probably picking the Saints to win and, if they do, I suspect it will be a lower scoring game."
The play-offs always produce a different kind of football, in the sense that when you're dealing with the league's best teams playing each other, obvious advantages become harder to count on. Last week, for example, the Bucs might have faced a difficult with the talents pass-rush of Washington Team Football (or WTF) but it wasn't enough, given WTF's other shortcomings, to swing me around to them.
I did make the mistake of touting Rob Gronkowski as an anytime TD scorer, and Gronk spent most of the day operating as a third tackle, much as he had during the Pats' Super Bowl run a couple of years ago: he did a job on Chase Young, helping to keep the pass rush away from where it affects Tom Brady most, which is up the middle.
I was wrong about Antonio Gibson getting a TD, but right about taking the Bucs laying 7.5, and the Saints laying 9.5, and the Saints/Bears staying under 47.5.
Over in my value bets, I had the Titans/Ravens under 54.5, AJ Brown over 69.5 receiving yards and Lamar Jackson under 208.5 passing yards. It was a pretty good recovery from a bad day with the Bills. I read that one wrong, with the Colts throwing more than I thought, Zach Pascal not catching more than three (and yes, his fumble should have been called a fumble) and I got greedy on Jonathan Taylor, who got his TD but in the first half, not the second. Not a bad week, but could have been better.
I'm a little concerned a couple of this weekend's quartet might not play out as I read them, and it's easy to let the hype around some of the matchups influence you unduly: 85 years of Tom Brady and Drew Brees; Sean McVay against his former assistant Matt LaFleur; Lamar Jackson vs Josh Allen.
There are deeper crevices to dive into, though I find that the deeper I dive into the intellectual dark holes of the gridiron, the more confused I get. I had my best season ever picking the games straight up, but that was because I wasn't picking them on Fridays and writing out my reasons -- something which usually would cause me to change my pick by the time I'd finished the analysis!
Something's gotta give and it could be LA's D
To be honest, none of the spread winners seem exactly like best bets to me this week, and there are reasons not to go with this game either. It's a match-up of the league's top scoring team, the Packers (509 pts) against the team allowing the fewest points (296), so something's gotta give.
The Rams did face an easier schedule, against more offensively challenged teams. But (you see what I do to myself here) their best defensive player, Aaron Donald, will be playing against the interior of a line that relies on Aaron Rodgers' ability to move and get rid of the ball to avoid surrendering sacks.
But Donald had an injury to rib ligaments, which is painful and can hurt your breathing. So look at this matchup: Jalen Ramsey against Davante Adams: the league's best one on one receiver against probably it's best shut-down corner. But the Rams' QB is Jared Goff with an injured thumb and Cooper Kupp may not be 100%.
I like the Packers basically because they have that balance (140 pts scoring differential, third in the league) and I think that, if it's cold and windy, it might be an under 45.5. But my favourite bet here is Packer tight end Robert Tonyan as an anytime TD scorer at 17/10.
Landry to take the fight to the Chiefs
I lean toward taking the Chiefs (-10 at 19/20) because after a layoff Andy Reid teams tend to be well prepared and win, but it's hard to know whether they will show up flat, as they did against Houston last year, down 21-0 in the first quarter, then up 28-24 at the half, and 51-31 winners.
Maybe the better bet is the over/under, which has gone up by only half a point during the week, from 56.5 to 57. It's really high, but I'd still lean to the over at 10/11. Kareem Hunt at 13/8 as an anytime scorer is pretty good, and Patrick Mahomes undr 39.5 passing attempts is only 8/11 but I like that too.
Saints should edge low scoring game
If you're looking for a real outside bet, the Bucs on the money line at 11/8 would be the one. They're three point dogs at 10/11, but no guts no glory. However, I'm probably picking the Saints to win, and if they do I suspect it will be a lower scoring game, that they will be able to control Tom Brady and the offense.
But here's the counter-argument: Drew Brees, for all the talk of his spreading the ball around, really concentrates on Michael Thomas and he's the guy you have to stop. Tampa's turnaround since their last loss to the Saints has been built around Antonio Brown's presence making them difficult to defend on all levels, and that is the difference.
If you like the Bucs it will be either because you don't think the Saints can beat Tampa three times in a row, or because you think the Bucs' D can control the Saints. I'm counting on the Saints' D and maybe on Alvin Kamara, though as he's only 1/2 as an anytime TD scorer I guess the bookies are too.
The other of the weekend's four games, Baltimore at Buffalo, is my favourite of the match-ups and the hardest to pick. JK Dobbins evs to score a TD or Isaiah McKenzie at 13/2 might be my best bets. I'm thinking under 49.5 at 10/11 (before it drops even further- it was 50.5 on Wednesday).