The "Super" (ie, more) Wildcard slate was predictable. The "extra" wild card game, and the reduced byes to the divisional round, meant the two no2 versus no7 games were the blowouts we expected. That's why last week's best bet of Tampa -8.5 came through, despite the Bucs taking their foot off the pedal in the final quarter.
I also suggested Gronk as a TD scorer and the over which, thanks to the Eagles' antics late on, both covered. My fears of KC doing the same and not covering 12.5, though not strong enough to lean toward Pitts, kept me from suggesting that one too.
Thanks to those two, we got three blowout games from the six, though not many of us predicted the Bills' steamroller job on the Patriots, who really did go flat about a second after Micah Hyde made the interception of the season to stop a 7-7 tie maybe making things interesting. My value bet of under 44 didn't come through, obviously.
And my outside bet, of the Niners on the moneyline at 13/10 did come through, although not without some tension and refereeing controversy (though it's more a Dallas coaching controversy). But following the zebra madness in the Bengals/Raiders game (my podcast best bet to go under 49, which it did despite the Boyd TD being given) and maybe the disallowed AJ Green catch for the Cards against the Rams, it was more Quantum NFL (read Walt Anderson's explanation of the call on the Bengals TD; it's pure Twilight Zone). I nudged you toward the Rams giving 2.5 too.
When four teams had bye weeks coming into the divisional week, it was easier to pick bets. The combination of a week off, home field, and a higer seed usually made most of the calls obvious. This year, the matchups are far more interesting, and far harder to call.
The one 'questionable' wild card team plays the weaker of the two teams coming off the bye: while the Niners are an upset waiting to happen. The Rams match up well against the Bucs, and the Bills will fancy their chances of a repeat upset in Arrowhead. Makes my job tougher.
Bengals could make big outside bet
Saturday 21:30 - Cincinnati (11-7) at Tennessee (12-5)
The big news for Tennessee will come after I've written this, as Derrick Henry may come off Injured Reserve and play. This will have some impact, though we can't know how game-ready Henry would be were he to play, and the Titans were 6-2 with Henry and 6-3 without, so they have adjusted.
The big Bengal news is that Trey Hendrickson is cleared to play after his concussion last week: the Bengals depend on his pass rush. They've activated the recently signed Zach Kerr to fill the place of tackle Larry Ogunjobi, which he won't be able to do, but Hendrickson's return also means they can go back to more rotation and keep linemen fresher.
CB Darius Phillips is also out, but Trae Waynes might see some action, which he didn't last week. The Bengals' secondary has an assortment of former high picks from other teams (including Waynes' Ohio State teammate Eli Apple) but their star is their own Jesse Bates.
I look at the Titans like a better version of the Steelers, without quite the defensive front ppresence, but able to make you play the game at their level, and with a QB who, unlike Big Ben, is both ambulatory and can throw downfield more than once a quarter.
The key to the game, therefore, is not letting the Bengals' use their big play ability to grab an early lead and force you to play catch-up. On the podcast, I took the under 47 as my best bet: that is gambling that the Titans play from in front. How much faith you put in Joe Burrow and JaMarr Chase will determine if you go the other route. Oddly, I think the bookies see it that way too as I thought the Bengals would have got a bit more than the 3.5 they are getting.
I would consider the Bengals as an extreme outside bet on the moneyline at 29/20.
Packers strong enough to stop another Niners upset
Saturday Night (01:15 Sunday) - San Francisco (11-7) at Green Bay (14-3)
For the second week in a row the Saturday late game is hosted by the nothernmost city with an outdoor stadium, and temperatures are forecast in single digits fahrenheit (around -25 celsius or lower). This is the first Club Shanahan battle: Packers' coach Matt LaFleur and Rams' coach Sean McVay were both assistants to Niner's coach Kyle Shanahan when he was an offensive coordinator.
In the first quarter against Dallas, the Niners looked like a Super Bowl team, and really not until the fourth did they let the Cowboys back into the game, as Jimmy G made a couple of bad plays. Luckily, the Cowboys staged their own mini-meltdown. After the game ex-Packers coach Mike McCarthy appeared to do a Boris Johnson, not knowing whether or not he was on the Dallas sidelines running the team.
This game is a rematch of the Pack's week 3 win in Santa Clara, where the 38-20 scoreline was a little closer than it looks. That day, the Packers sacked Jimmy G four times and got a big kickoff retrun from Trenton Cannon (who comes off IR this week) to set up a score. Mason Crosby was also in fine form with three field goals, two of them from beyond 50.
As I thought last week, the Niners are again a team that could stage an upset, but they are going to need a lot to go right. The good news is that Nick Bosa, like Hendrickson, is back from concussion, which will put pressure on Aaron Rodgers, though no QB deals with pressure more effectively.
My key here, apart from Jimmy G having a solid four quarters, is Packers' defensive coordinator Joe Barry not sitting back and letting Shanahan's motion and magic distract them from what the Niners do. He may have seen how Dan Quinn made the outside difficult, but still the cut-back vision of Deebo Samuels was hard to stop.
In the end, however, with the week off, at home, and with Aaron Rodgers at QB, I have to think the Packers win. Whether they cover 5.5 is another story. But anyway,
Best Bet: Back Green Bay -5.5 at 9/10
Rams ready and capable ahead of Buccs test
Sunday 20:00 - LA Rams (13-5) at Tampa Bay (14-4)
You could look at this as a McVay/Brady Grudge Match following the Pats' 13-3 win over the Rams in the Super Bowl. More immediately, this is a rematch of the Rams' 34-24 win in LA, also in week 3, where Brady threw 55 times and was the Bucs' leading rusher (3 carries, 15 yards). Gio Bernard was their leading receiver with 9/71. The Rams were balanced and got three big catches from DeSean Jackson, as well good games from Cooper Kupp and SonyMichel.
I can't really see the same sort of game this time, although injuries could play a big factor.
The Bucs were without C Ryan Jensen and RT Tristan Wirfs yesterday. Wirfs is probably the best RT in the game, and key to slowing down Von Miller, who seemed to be saving himself for the playoffs. Leonard Fournette was suited up and practising. He and Gio give them two big receiving threats out of the backfield, and I see the Bucs passing a lot again.
The other question is whether Matt Stafford elevates himself to "elite" level (one game is all it takes in today's world of social media). The parallels between Tampa building up a star package around Brady and the Rams going out and getting Odell Beckman to replace Robert Woods is showing signs of working. Jalen Ramsey is likely to play Mike Evans man to man and make Brady beat them throwing to Gronk and his backs. Which, with Cam Akers back, becomes something the Rams can do.
Outside Bet: Back LA Rams +3 at 9/10
Back unders as Bills aim for Arrowhead triumph
Sunday 23:30 - Buffalo (12-6) at Kansas City (13-5)
The Bills beat the Chiefs in KC in week 5, but that's when the Chiefs' D was in disarray. It's hard to tell much from their stomping of Pitts. But the most interesting factor is that KC has adjusted somewhat to many teams following the Buccs' pattern for defeating them in the Super Bowl. It's based around classic cover-2 with two deep safeties to stop the deep ball to Tyreek Hill, and 'robbers' underneath to make life hard for Travis Kelce.
On paper, this is exactly the kind of coverage the Bills have always played, and although their rush isn't as individually dominant as Tampa's was, and they like to blitz more often, mostly from the secondary, they are speedy with Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds playing the David/White roles at linebacker.
The Chiefs will likely attack this with a run game, and I think Jerrick McKinnon, the former Viking/Niner who's been injured the last three seasons, might be key. He looked great last week. The other key is right tackle, where, with Lucas Niang and Mike Remmers both on IR, Andrew Wylie is the weak spot in the pass blocking. They've run the ball the second half of the season, and if they can against the Bills it will open things up for Mahomes.
The game plan for beating the Bills remains the same: keep Josh Allen from beating you with his legs, whether it's on the designed single-wing style runs that killed the Pats, or simply making more time to throw on the run. With Gabriel Davis back, their receiving group is a threat to the Chiefs' secondary, whose top corners, Charvarius Ward and L'Jarius Sneed, drew a ton of flags when they played the Bengals in week 17.
In that game John Hussey was scheduled to referee but he and half his crew were replaced by Ron Torbert, with no explanation (Covid testing has been the speculation). Hussey will work this week which could see DPI calls down.
This is Josh Allen's moment, like Stafford, to become this week's Greatest QB Ever, but it's also Mahomes' chance to shake the image of inconsistency which has followed him all season. It's hard to see the Chiefs blowing a second game at home when the Bills come due.
Value Bet - Back under 53.5 at 9/10