Earlier this week we released the first half of our 2021 power rankings for the upcoming MLB season.
Now that we know who ranks 30-16, we can take a look at the rest of the 15 teams, most of whom will be vying for playoff positions and dreaming about a World Series championship. It's been a wild offseason so far as we've seen a handful of superstar players finding new homes, and top contenders have gotten even better as teams attempt to separate themselves from the rest of the competition.
The Padres, Mets, and Cardinals all made attempts to improve their rosters to catch up with the Dodgers, but the defending champs made a splashy move themselves by signing one of the biggest fish in the free agent pond this winter by acquiring starting pitcher Trevor Bauer who they lured away from the Cincinnati Reds.
Position players, you’re up! https://t.co/N9LADklt0r— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Los Angeles Dodgers) 1614015548.0
2021 may be a season that depicts the haves and the have-not's more than any other in recent history. Thus far, we've seen the top teams spending to get better, and the bottom dwellers shedding whatever talent they have left to build for the future. Let's take a look at the teams that have a good shot to win this season.
15. Los Angeles Angels
2020: Finished 4th in AL West (26-34)
This is a perfect spot for the Angels dead center in the middle of the rankings. The Angels have had Mike Trout for his entire illustrious career, and the entire duration of it has been an utter and complete waste. Trout is undoubtedly one of the most individually talented players the league has seen in 100 years, but whether it's his mentality, leadership skills, or an incapable organization around him, it hasn't resulted in any tangible success.
High, middle, or low, @MikeTrout can hit everything. https://t.co/NdBVWjSJWW— MLB (@MLB) 1613781559.0
The team added some arms to help with their effort to leap over the A's and/or Astros in the standings this year, but offensively they only get Shohei Ohtani back, maybe? The fact that Trout has been able to go through most of his career without being criticized for his inability to help his team to the postseason baffles me. Don't forget that Trout had the opportunity to leave the Angels and test free agency to find himself in a better situation to win, but he chose to stay in California collecting a half billion dollar check while toiling in Middlesville USA with the Angels.
14. Cleveland Indians
2020: Finished T-2nd in AL Central (35-25)
Cleveland is in the midst of an offseason that saw them trade away Carlos Carrasco and Francisco Lindor. Lindor is a top three player at his position and a top 10 or so player in the league. So this may seem like a soft landing spot for a team on the decline, but the Indians have consistently proven the ability to reach into the farm system to pull out replacements for stars.
Cy Young winner Shane Bieber out of Covid-quarantine and has rejoined Tribe's bubble in Goodyear. Working out today.— paul hoynes (@paul hoynes) 1613844513.0
We have seen them do this since they've been regularly making playoff appearances and winning division titles since the mid 90's. The Tribe did add Eddie Rosario and Amed Rosario who will be nice additions to a lineup void of Lindor's bat, but this should be a transition year for an organization looking for their next franchise player. Unless the Twins and White Sox collapse, expect Cleveland to finish where they did last season, 3rd in the AL Central.
13. Milwaukee Brewers
2020: Finished 4th in NL Central (29-31)
Somehow the Brewers made it to the playoffs last year even as former MVP Christian Yelich had a terrible season. Yelich only two years removed from his MVP award hit a paltry .205 with 12 home runs, and his OPS went from 1.100 in 2019 to .786 in 2020. The Brew Crew were also without leadoff man Lorenzo Cain who also provides excellent defense in the outfield. Both will be hoping to turn the team's fortunes around this year, and they'll be joined by Kolten Wong who comes over from Saint Louis.
Poetry in motion. @ChristianYelich | #CactusCrew https://t.co/2nuqQlF5Af— Milwaukee Brewers (@Milwaukee Brewers) 1614023931.0
Milwaukee has some solid arms, Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes lead their starting rotation, and Josh Hader and Devin Williams provide high end stoppers in the bullpen. The Brewers will have stiff competition in the form of the Cardinals and Cubs within their division, and it will be a dogfight in the NL Central all year.
12. Tampa Bay Rays
2020: Finished 1st in AL East (40-20)
While the Rays' run to the World Series in 2020 may have been a bit of a surprise, once we saw them play it appeared that they had a solid foundation to build a dynasty upon. Since losing to the Dodgers though they have begun deconstructing the team that almost got them to the promised land.
Team ace Blake Snell was traded to the Padres and Charlie Morton walked as a free agent. The team has indicated they may be open to trading away more players before the deadline this season. It would be a quick fall from grace for a team that looked to be on the rise behind the play of Randy Arozarena down the stretch last year.
#Rays World Series stars Brett Phillips and Randy Arozarena head out for first full squad workout https://t.co/PhQ2rmgpNr— Marc Topkin (@Marc Topkin) 1614090405.0
The Yankees will be very good, Toronto should be much improved, and Boston will be better. The good news for Rays fans is that they still play in a division with the Orioles.
11. Toronto Blue Jays
2020: Finished 3rd in AL East (32-28)
Adding George Springer and Marcus Semien to a lineup that already included Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and Lourdes gurriel Jr. makes Toronto one of the most dangerous batting orders in the American League. Hyun-Jin Ryu was a Cy Young Award finalist in 2020, but the Jays will likely pursue some help for the rotation via a trade before the deadline.
Sights from (🎥 #BlueJays) camp in Dunedin, Florida. INF Vladimir Guerrero Jr. https://t.co/k67ZrRU4pb— Hazel Mae (@Hazel Mae) 1614031988.0
The team should produce plenty of offense, but the question for them is how many runs they can limit their opponents to. Playing in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox means needing a lot of arms to get to the top of this division.
10. Houston Astros
2020: Finished 2nd in AL West (29-31)
Unfortunately Houston is still a good baseball team. For as much as I'd like to see them go winless and all of their players be banned from the MLB for life, that isn't going to happen. Instead I have to take solace in the fact that they will be without Justin Verlander who is recovering from Tommy John surgery which should be enough to keep them from making yet another deep playoff run.
Carlos Correa can become a free agent after the season: “If the #Astros want to extend me I would like to get it do… https://t.co/QdKnXSq3DI— Mark Berman (@Mark Berman) 1614024946.0
Offensively they're still very talented. They fell just short of a third World Series appearance even with down years from Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve. The team lost George Springer to the Blue Jays, but they resigned Michael Brantley. The Astros have a few good young arms in the farm system, and they may be needed this season to fill in for their ace Verlander.
9. Saint Louis Cardinals
2020: Finished 3rd in NL Central (30-28)
The acquisition of all-star third baseman Nolan Arenado makes the Cardinals the favorite to win the NL Central this season. The Cubs finished just in front of them last year and now they're without Yu Darvish who they sent to San Diego. Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt present a problem for opposing pitchers in the middle of this order, and they have a very solid pitching staff to support their offense.
Francisco Lindor, Carlos Carrasco, Nolan Arenado, Blake Snell, Yu Darvish, and Josh Bell were all traded this offse… https://t.co/rEuT1Tz7Ad— Danny Vietti (@Danny Vietti) 1613505163.0
With no real powerhouse contenders in the NL Central the path is clearing for the Cards to return to the top of the standings in the division, and just maybe another World Series appearance.
8. Washington Nationals
2020: Finished T-4th in NL East (26-34)
After winning the World Series in 2019, the Nationals appeared to be dealing with a major championship hangover in 2020. Finishing at the bottom of their division and looking flat most of the year, the Nationals decided they needed some new blood on the roster entering 2021.
TASK: Choose a 22-year-old. 🔃 for Juan Soto 💙 for Fernando Tatis Jr https://t.co/3VTOxdq7nE— Dan Clark Sports (@Dan Clark Sports) 1613683204.0
Stephen Strasburg was injured a lot in 2020, but when healthy he's part of a lethal rotation that includes himself, Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin. Washington also brought in Jon Lester to solidify the rotation, and Brad Hand who has been a proven closer in both the American and National League. To round out the team's offseason acquisitions all-star first baseman Josh Bell was acquired from the Pirates, and long time Cub, Kyle Schwarber was signed as a free agent.
Overall the Nationals did a lot to improve the club and most importantly they added depth in places they needed to, especially with the addition of Lester who can alleviate any losses to the starting rotation due to injury.
7. Minnesota Twins
2020: Finished 1st in AL Central (36-24)
Minnesota looked the part of a championship contender during the 2020 regular season, but were swept by the Astros in the Wild Card round of the playoffs 2-0. With one of the highest run producing lineups in baseball, the Twins will return mostly the same roster with some minor improvements on the defensive side.
Nelson Cruz is heading back to the Twins on a 1-year, $13M deal. (via @JeffPassan & @jonmorosi) https://t.co/BAle0MOOiJ— FOX Sports: MLB (@FOX Sports: MLB) 1612327698.0
Andrelton Simmons was brought in, who is a former Gold Glove award winner, and J.A. Happ and Alex Colome will add to an already strong group of pitchers. There are quite a few strong contenders in the AL Central this season, but Minnesota is hoping that their explosive offense will be enough to keep them at the top of the division in 2021.
6. New York Mets
2020: Finished T-4th in NL East (26-34)
The Mets were one of the first teams to strike with a major move this offseason. By making the trade with Cleveland to acquire Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco, the Mets fast-tracked their timetable for winning a championship. Even in the current state of the league where we have giants like the Dodgers and Yankees standing in the way, the Mets will be toting a starting rotation that will include Jacob deGrom, the aforementioned Carrasco, and the returning Marcus Stroman who opted out in 2020 and Noah Syndergaard who missed last year because of Tommy John surgery.
Star gazing! 🤩 https://t.co/vtuiomF8Ag— New York Mets (@New York Mets) 1614013451.0
As for Lindor, he will join a lineup that already includes Michael Conforto, Pete Alonso, and Dominic Smith. The Mets should be considered one of the favorites to reach the World Series out of the NL if they can stay healthy. Even though they missed out on the Trevor Bauer sweepstakes, it already seems like people have forgotten how impactful the Lindor and Carrasco acquisitions by New York are going to affect baseball this Fall.
5. Chicago White Sox
2020: Finished T-2nd in AL Central (35-25)
The other Chicago baseball team is starting to look like the lead dog in the Windy City. As the Cubs have a bunch of major stars playing on expiring contracts, the White Sox are a team on the rise. After making the playoffs for the first time in over a decade last season, the Sox are looking to build upon the success they've started to enjoy.
Big goals for the Big Baby. https://t.co/xwVKJtrOda— Chicago White Sox (@Chicago White Sox) 1614042008.0
With one of the most dangerous lineups in baseball the organization knew they needed to add some arms to get them further than they got last year. In December, the team traded for starter Lance Lynn who will join Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel to form a very formidable front end rotation. But maybe more important for the team's success was the signing of Liam Hendriks who will serve as the team's closer. Hendriks had been fantastic in Oakland the past few seasons and helped them during their playoff run in 2020.
Long story short, the White Sox are a major World Series contender.
4. Atlanta Braves
2020: Finished 1st in NL East (35-25)
Atlanta wants another shot at the Dodgers this year after losing to them in the NLCS in 2020. After Mike Soroka went down with a torn Achilles, the rotation felt a little thin to be going up against the likes of the Dodgers or any other World Series contender. It was their offense led by the performance of Marcell Ozuna that really kept them advancing throughout the year.
Five @Braves land in the #Top100RightNow ▪️#4 Freddie Freeman ▪️#7 Ronald Acuña Jr. ▪️#37 Marcell Ozuna ▪️#70 Max… https://t.co/tf4BaUDqTw— FOX Sports: Braves (@FOX Sports: Braves) 1613697079.0
The team made it a priority to resign Ozuna who was an MVP candidate in 2020, and also addressed their starting rotation by bringing in Drew Smyly and Charlie Morton. It's unknown when Soroka will be ready to return, but when he does the Braves' starting pitching will go from being a weakspot in 2020 to a strength in 2021. Max Fried and Ian Anderson both improved while being asked to lead the rotation and any progression from them could mean trouble for the rest of the NL East this season.
3. New York Yankees
2020: Finished 2nd in AL East (33-27)
While the Yankees haven't made any splashy moves like the teams ahead of them on this list, they have made some very smart ones. For a short time it looked like the team and DJ LeMahieu weren't going to be able to come to terms on a new deal, but the two sides agreed to a six year contract last month. Retaining their star second baseman means the Bronx Bombers will get to run it back with the lineup they were hoping to be out there last season.
Full squad's here 💪 https://t.co/ocDHvGpQFd— New York Yankees (@New York Yankees) 1614007061.0
Injuries have been a thorn in the side of the organization over the past few seasons, but if they can keep this roster intact the Yankees should undoubtedly contend from start to finish. Two pitchers the team brought in this offseason are coming off injuries of their own, but Jameson Taillon and Corey Kluber both have high ceilings if they're able to return to previous form. Luis Severino is also expected to return at some point in 2021 after Tommy John surgery, but the team will be without Masahiro Tanaka who decided to return to play in Japan this offseason.
As long as Gerrit Cole and their bats are working, the Yankees could be adding some more hardware to their crowded trophy room.
2. San Diego Padres
2020: Finished 2nd in NL West (37-23)
The Padres started scratching the surface of what this team could be in 2020. Even though the Dodgers knocked them out of the playoffs in the NLDS, the Padres weren't expected to be there in the first place. That alerted the Padres' brass that this team is ready to win now. As a result we have seen San Diego be very active this offseason and now have one of the best starting rotations in baseball.
No longer unwritten. 🖋 https://t.co/MeyCBkvkgl— San Diego Padres (@San Diego Padres) 1614024032.0
The club traded for Yu Darvish (8-3, 2.01 ERA), Joe Musgrove (1-5, 3.86) and Blake Snell (4-2, 3.24 ERA) who will join Dinelson Lamet and Chris Paddack. The extension of shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. proves that the club is dedicated to long term success and they've identified Tatis as the focal point to build around. The only offensive addition was Ha-seong Kim from the KBO who can rake, but the Padres lineup will look mostly the same as last year. Don't mess with success.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2020: Finished 1st in NL West (43-17)
No surprise here. The rich got richer this offseason and the defending champs will enter 2021 as the favorite to do it again. Their offense will be led again by Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, Max Muncy, Justin Turner, and Cody Bellinger but they can hurt you 1 through 9 in the order and have reserves that can continue that trend.
Walker Buehler said he thinks Trevor Bauer's personality will fit in just fine with the team and the starting rotat… https://t.co/s9F4kxbpS9— Blake Harris (@Blake Harris) 1613846744.0
More impressive will be there rotation after signing Trevor Bauer to add to Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw. This is a baseball team designed to win a lot of games, and in a playoff series opponents will have to worry about seeing their elite three starters twice. With so many great teams entering the 2021 season, the Dodgers still seem far and away in a league of their own.
It may take some in season trades for anyone to seriously contend with LA this year.
Welcome to this week’s Wednesday night NBA betting guide.
Last week, I turned $30 into about $1600 with three parlays. You can bet as much or as little as you are comfortable with. I happened to find some great value last week, and I'm here to help you do the same tonight.
Tonight’s biggest favorite is the Atlanta Hawks hosting the Sacramento Kings. Keep an eye on those odds though, as the spread could change depending on the availability of De’Aaron Fox. Now let’s take a look at the best multi-leg parlay of the night, as well as a same-game parlay that could net you a boatload of cash!
Please note that all odds and lines are current as of 2:30 PM EST from FanDuel Sportsbook on Wednesday, January 26.
Top Multi-Leg NBA Parlay Of The Day
Charlotte Hornets at Indiana Pacers (+2)
Although Charlotte has lost a few games as of late, they are one of the most explosive teams in the Eastern Conference. Just a week ago, the Hornets annihilated the Knicks and the Celtics in back-to-back road games. However, the Hornets lost at home against the Hawks on Sunday, and they were bullied by Toronto on the road last night. The Pacers are pretty banged up heading into tonight’s contest. Malcom Brogdon, Myles Turner, and Domantas Sabonis have all been ruled out for tonight’s contest. Indiana will be without their three most talented players. Meanwhile, T.J. McConnel remains sidelined by his wrist injury. Although Chris Duarte and Lance Stephenson have stepped up in big ways for Indiana in 2022, the Pacers will be forced to rely on back-up guards Keifer Sykes and Duane Washington Jr. tonight.
In contrast, Gordon Hayward is the only big-name player that is currently listed as a GTD ahead of tonight’s contest for Charlotte. Miles Bridges, Lamelo Ball, and Terry Rozier will be in the Hornets’ starting lineup, shedding light on how much stronger their rotation is than Indiana’s. The Hornets are a more inspired and promising team than the Pacers. Charlotte will prevent a three-game skid from happening tonight in Indiana.
For slightly better odds, you can lay the two points that the Hornets are favored by and get a larger potential payout, though the Pacers often play close games, so it's a bit more risky. The Hornets have covered in 60.4% of their contests this season, good for the fourth-best mark in the NBA. They also beat the spread by 1.3 points per game while Indiana’s +/- per game against the spread is -0.1. All the peripheral stats, not to mention the missing talent from the Pacers’ starting lineup, point to a fairly easy victory for Charlotte tonight on the road.
Pick: Charlotte Hornets ML (-130) or Charlotte Hornets -2 (-110)
Los Angeles Clippers at Orlando Magic (-1)
The Clippers are on the road tonight taking on the Orlando Magic. Orlando ranks dead-last in the NBA with a 9-39 record while the Clippers are in the middle of the pack with a 24-25 record. Getting Los Angeles with these favorable odds (+102 on the moneyline) against an inferior opponent is excellent value. Not to mention, Orlando’s average margin of victory or defeat is -8.5 points. For Orlando to win their 10th game of the season, their best chance to do so would be at home, but certainly not against the Clippers. Although Los Angeles is without Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, their rotation is definitely more appealing than Orlando's. Ivica Zubac has stepped up in a big way recently for the Clippers, and I think he will create problems for Wendell Carter Jr. and Mo Bamba. Franz Wagner, who plays like a point forward, will also have difficulties against Zubac in the post. Although Marcus Morris is DTD, the rest of the Clippers (other than PG13 and Kawhi) are healthy. The Magic also have a healthy roster (Fultz remains sidelined) but they have a very slim chance against the sharp-shooting Clippers. Since Orlando has the worst record in the NBA while the Clippers remain in playoff contention in the Western Conference, the Clippers should defeat the Magic, even on the road.
Pick: Los Angeles Clippers ML (+102)
Same-Game Parlay Of The Night
Milwaukee Bucks at Cleveland Cavaliers (+4)
Leg 1: Bobby Portis Over 1.5 Three’s (-136)
Bobby Portis is having an excellent season. Much of his offensive production is coming from beyond the arc. He’s scoring 15.0 PPG while converting 47.3% of his attempts from the field and is nailing an impressive 41.4% of his shots from three-point range. He’s hit 75 of his 181 threes this season. Additionally, the Cavs are allowing the ninth-best three-point percentage to opposing centers this season. Portis is converting a career-high 1.9 threes per game this season and is attempting more shots from beyond the arc than ever before, evidenced by the fact that 36.9% of his shot attempts are from three-point range. He’s clearly gaining confidence from deep range. Last season, only 26.3% of his shots were from downtown. Portis has drained a three in 11 of 12 games in January and has converted multiple threes in six of those outings. Given all the attention that Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton garner, Portis should see plenty of open looks tonight in Cleveland.
Leg 2: Darius Garland Over 22.5 Points (-102)
The always healthy and offensively brilliant Darius Garland should be Cleveland’s biggest scorer tonight. Although he is coming off a 13-point (6-19 FG) dud against the Knicks, he scored at least 20 points in five consecutive contests before stalling out against New York. Though he’s averaging 19.7 PPG this season, he’s averaging more than 20 PPG in January. If Cleveland has any chance tonight, they’ll need massive scoring production from their best playmaker..
Leg 3: Jrue Holiday Over 3.5 Rebounds (-154)
When point guards play more than 30 MPG, they typically grab a handful of rebounds. Although Holiday has been limited to 36 games this season, he is logging 32.6 minutes per game and averaging 4.6 rebounds per contest. This is not because he is a particularly gifted rebounder, but rather that he gets a ton of opportunities given the number of minutes he plays. Like Stephen Curry (who is averaging 5.4 rebounds per game), Jrue Holiday is averaging close to five boards per game for the same reasons. Especially if Cleveland shoots poorly from the field tonight, Holiday should haul in at least four boards.
If Darius Garland hits 23 points or more tonight, this parlay should cash. It makes too much sense for Bobby Portis to drain 2+ threes and for Jrue Holiday to record at least four rebounds. For a +460 3-leg parlay, it doesn’t get safer than this tonight. View the actual bet that I placed on FanDuel below.
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After a plethora of blowouts during Super Wild Card Weekend, the Divisional Round was much more entertaining. All four games were determined by one score and came down to the wire.
Fortunately for the readers of this column, I nailed all four of my predictions for the Divisional Round. I have now correctly identified the winner of all but one game and am 8-2 against the spread in the postseason! We have netted over a grand in the past two weeks. Let’s keep this hot streak going as we gear up for the Conference Championship
After only one underdog was victorious in the Wild Card Round, three of the four road teams moved onto the Conference Championship this past weekend.
Divisional Round Recap
Despite Derrick Henry’s return to the top-seeded Titans, things couldn’t have started any worse for Tennessee. Ryan Tannehill threw the first of three interceptions on the first play from scrimmage and the Bengals were immediately in scoring position. Tennessee’s defense played well and held the Bengals to a field goal. After taking a 6-0 lead, the Titans tied it up behind a goal-line touchdown from King Henry. However, they failed to convert the two-point conversion. Rookie kicker Evan McPherson nailed a 54-yard kick to give the Bengals a 9-6 lead at the half. To begin the second half, Joe Burrow led Cincinnati down the field before Joe Mixon capped off the drive with a 16-yard touchdown scamper. However, Tennessee scored 10 unanswered points, including a 33-yard touchdown to A.J. Brown. But despite sacking Burrow nine times, the Bengals won the turnover battle. After picking Tannehill off with just 28 seconds to go in the game, Burrow hit Ja’Marr Chase on an absolute dart to the sideline, which set up McPherson’s game-winning 52-yard field goal. The rookie kicker was the player of the game despite strong performances from Mixon, Chase, and Tee Higgins.
After upsetting the Dallas Cowboys, the San Francisco 49ers traveled to Lambeau Field to take on the reigning MVP, Aaron Rodgers, and the Green Bay Packers. After Rodgers led Green Bay down the field on the opening drive, rookie running back A.J. Dillon found the end zone on a six-yard scamper. From then on out, it was a defensive and special teams battle. To end the first half, San Francisco blocked Mason Crosby’s 39-yard field-goal attempt. That wouldn’t be the only critical special teams play of the game. After swapping field goals in the second half, San Francisco blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown to tie the game at 10-10. Although the Niners did next to nothing on offense all day, Jimmy G found a way to get Robbie Gould into field-goal range for a game-winner. He nailed a 45-yard attempt as time expired, upsetting the NFC’s top seed. Davante Adams and Aaron Jones had solid games, but San Francisco’s defense and special teams were tremendous.
Sunday’s games kicked off with what looked to be a blowout. The Rams were in complete control mid-way through the third quarter with a 27-3 lead. However, you can never count out Tom Brady. Brady led three touchdowns drives in the final minutes to tie the game up at 27 with just 46 seconds remaining. However, the Bucs simply could not cover Cooper Kupp. After catching a 70-yard touchdown pass in the first half, Kupp hauled in two massive receptions (20 and 44 yards) to set up a game-winning field goal by Matt Gay. For the third straight game of the weekend, the road underdog was victorious.
Last but not least, we witnessed a game for the ages between the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs. Both quarterbacks were flawless. Patrick Mahomes threw for 378 yards and three touchdowns while adding 69 rushing yards and an additional score. Josh Allen totaled 329 yards through the air, four touchdowns (all to Gabriel Davis), and 68 rushing yards. Down by five points and facing a 4th and 13, Allen threw a dart to a wide-open Davis in the end zone. The Bills then converted a two-point conversion to take a three-point lead. But there was way too much time left on the clock. Mahomes tossed a 64-yard touchdown to Tyreek Hill to take a 33-29 lead with just over a minute remaining. Allen then drove his team 75 yards in 75 seconds to take a 36-33 lead with 13 seconds left. Somehow, Mahomes got Harrison Butker into field-goal range on two intermediate passes to Hill and Travis Kelce. The game went into overtime. How fitting? Unfortunately for Bills fans and bettors, the Chiefs won the coin toss and marched down the field fairly easily. On the eighth play of overtime, Mahomes hit Kelce in the right corner of the end zone, ending Buffalo’s postseason hopes. Sean McDermott’s Bills will be back with a vengeance next season and there is officially a rivalry between Buffalo and Kansas City after this epic contest.
So now that we reviewed this past weekend’s contests, let’s take a look at the upcoming matchups in the Conference Championship, as the Chiefs host the Bengals and the Rams host the 49ers. The spreads have changed slightly, so let’s take a look at the opening lines as well as the current lines.
AFC Conference Championship
After each team won their respective games in thrilling fashions in the Divisional Round, bettors will be treated to a Week 17 rematch when the Bengals found a way to defeat the Chiefs, 34-31, on the road. However, Kansas City led 28-17 at the half of that game and it looked like the Chiefs would end up routing Cincinnati before a lackluster second half. Ja’Marr Chase erupted for the most receiving yards in franchise history, the refs made a few horrible calls, and the Chiefs’ offense completely stalled out. I don’t foresee that happening in a playoff atmosphere when everything is on the line.
The Chiefs are the more talented and well-rounded team with more offensive firepower and they arguably have the best quarterback in the NFL. With Patrick Mahomes under center, the Chiefs are 8-2 in the postseason contests. Those two losses occurred against Tom Brady. Although Joe Burrow is becoming one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, he is not the GOAT. Burrow and his weapons at the wide receiver position will create tons of mismatches against Kansas City’s depleted secondary (especially if Tyrann Mathieu doesn’t play), but the Bengals’ offense can be slowed down by a solid pass rush and zone coverage.
The Chiefs have scored 42 points in back-to-back outings and should have no trouble against a middle-of-the-pack defense after dominating Buffalo’s top-rated defensive unit last week. Kansas City has all of their playmakers back at full strength on the offensive side of the ball and even their running game looked solid against the Bills. Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jerick McKinnon both should have pivotal roles in the Conference Championship, but the Chiefs are still going to rely on the passing game.
Although the total is a very high number (54.5 points), this is going to be a shootout, so I would suggest taking the over. A whopping 97% of the money thus far on Over / Under bets is on the Over. I’m following the smart money on this one. And despite a full touchdown spread, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Chiefs blew the Bengals out this week. Chiefs win and cover.
- Pick: Chiefs (-7)
- Prediction: 37-26
- Bonus: Over 54.5 Points
NFC Conference Championship
The Niners snuck into the postseason after overcoming a 17-point deficit to the Rams in Week 18 and eventually winning in overtime. Kyle Shanahan has beaten Sean McBay six times in a row and San Francisco seems to be the more physical team at the line of scrimmage, though Aaron Donald does make that difficult for San Francisco’s offensive line. Trent Williams’ return to the offensive line will certainly help the Niners’ pass protection and run blocking. Expect Eli Mitchell to get a ton of touches in order to keep the ball out of Stafford’s hands.
Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp have been phenomenal all season long, but the Niners realized that they were even better when facing the blitz. Stafford was the fourth-highest graded quarterback this season when facing blitzes. That’s why he was so effective against the Bucs last week, as Tampa blitzed Stafford a season-high 17 times, including on the game-winning pass to Cooper Kupp that set up Matt Gay’s field goal. Meanwhile, San Francisco managed to get pressure by just rushing four players. They blitzed Stafford a combined 14% in both games this season. Since the Niners are a little weak in the secondary, they have forced Stafford to make tough decisions by dropping linebackers into coverage. That’s the only way to defeat this Rams team and Shanahan knows it.
On offense, Jimmy Garoppolo has been very effective in throwing the ball down the middle of the field against Los Angeles. In their two meetings this season, Jimmy G completed 29-of-36 attempts for 319 yards and three touchdowns over the middle of the field. Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle will play pivotal roles in San Francisco’s upset bid.
All that said, the Rams are still the more complete team and their quarterback is far superior to Garoppolo. After losing Robert Woods to a season-ending ACL injury, they signed Odell Beckham Jr., who now has scored six touchdowns since joining the team after failing to find the end zone with Cleveland over the first half of the season. Beckham’s chemistry with Stafford has improved every week and Cooper Kupp remains unstoppable. Nobody in the 49ers’ secondary is going to be able to cover Kupp one-on-one so expect a ton of zone coverage. Still, Kupp should be able to find open space, and when he is double-teamed, Stafford will look for OBJ, Van Jefferson, or Tyler Higbee.
And don’t forget that the Rams did not have Cam Akers in the lineup for the previous two meetings between these two franchises. Akers provides much-needed explosion out of the backfield for the Rams. Although I expect the Niners to cover the spread and make this game a nail-biter, Los Angeles should come out on top if they can avoid costly turnovers.
- Pick: 49ers (+3)
- Prediction: 24-23 Rams
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Super Wild Card Weekend featured some great games that came down to some riveting finishes.
We also saw our fair share of blowouts. It was a wild beginning to the NFL postseason, specifically the way the Dallas Cowboys were unable to snap the ball before time expired against the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners were the only road team to win in the first week of the playoffs. We went 4-2 with our Best Bets of the week but correctly identified all six winners in their respective matchups.
Super Wild Card Weekend Recap
In the first playoff game of the season, the Cincinnati Bengals snapped their 31-year playoff game drought, as they dispatched the Las Vegas Raiders, 26-19. Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase were absolutely fantastic in their first playoff appearance, connecting nine times for 116 yards. Still, Derek Carr managed to march the Raiders down the field for a final attempt to force overtime. Unfortunately for Raiders' bettors and fans, Carr was picked off by Germaine Pratt with 17 seconds remaining, officially clinching the Bengals’ first playoff victory in 31 years.
The second game this weekend was not nearly as exciting. In what was expected to be a tight game between the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots, Josh Allen dominated from start to finish. The game was over before the second half began, as Buffalo led 27-3 at halftime. Allen had a perfect passing rating after completing 25 of 31 passes for 308 yards and five touchdowns. He additionally turned six carries into 66 rushing yards. And miraculously, he hit nine different receivers in this game. Mac Jones threw two late touchdowns to Kendrick Bourne in garbage time, but the Bills defeated the Patriots, 47-17.
Sunday kicked off with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers smoking the Philadelphia Eagles. Jalen Hurts looked uncomfortable all day as the Bucs’ defense was finally at full strength. Tom Brady tossed two touchdowns, and despite missing Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones, the Buccaneers’ running game was actually pretty solid. Both Ke’Shawn Vaugh and Gio Bernard scored touchdowns. At the end of three quarters, the Bucs led 31-0. Hurts led the Eagles to two late touchdown drives, but it was too little too late. The Bucs moved on easily after defeating Philly, 31-15.
In the most exciting game of the weekend, the San Francisco 49ers pulled off the upset in Dallas. San Francisco dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, Eli Mitchell and Deebo Samuel both had excellent days on the ground, and San Francisco sacked Dak Prescott five times and forced an interception. However, the Cowboys marched back from a 16-point deficit and had an opportunity to win the game on the final drive of the game. With 14 seconds remaining, Prescott took off from midfield and slid at the 33-yard line. Before the Cowboys could get set and spike the ball for a final throw to the end zone, time expired. The Niners won, 23-17.
After a slow start on offense and a defensive touchdown by T.J. Watt that gave Pittsburgh a 7-0 lead, the Kansas City Chiefs got it going in the second quarter. Mahomes tallied over 400 yards and five touchdowns. Even Travis Kelce threw a touchdown of his own. The Chiefs won this game with ease, 49-21. Ben Roethlisberger has likely played his last game in the NFL.
The final game of the Wild Card Round was expected to be a close divisional matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams. Instead, the Rams went up 21-0 by the end of the first half and never looked back. Odell Beckham Jr. had a great game and Matthew Stafford did an excellent job protecting the football. It was also great to see Cam Akers playing with some serious burst and speed considering it’s been just six months since he tore his ACL. Meanwhile, Kyler Murray was atrocious in the first playoff game of his career. He threw two interceptions (including one head-scratching desperate heave from his own end zone that resulted in a pick-six). The Cardinals have a talented roster, but without DeAndre Hopkins, they simply imploded late in the season. They will be back with a vengeance next season and for many years to come.
So now that we reviewed this weekend’s contest, let’s take a look at the upcoming matchups in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs. The spreads have changed in certain games, so let’s take a look at the opening lines as well as the current lines.
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Saturday Divisional Round Picks
The Bengals and Titans could not be more different when it comes to their respective offensive identities. The Bengals are a pass-heavy team with a stud quarterback in Joe Burrow and one of the best receiver tandems in the league featuring Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd. Don’t get me wrong, they can absolutely run the ball well too with superstar Joe Mixon, but Zac Taylor will look to exploit Tennessee’s secondary. The Titans allowed 245.2 passing yards per game, the eighth-worst in the NFL. It will be difficult to find any running room for Mixon, as Tennessee permitted just 84.6 rushing yards per game, the second-fewest in the league.
On the other side of the ball, the Titans will attempt to run the ball down Cincinnati’s throats, especially with the triumphant return of Derrick Henry. Henry may not be at full strength, but he is an upgrade over D’Onta Foreman, though Foreman should still get some carries in this matchup. That said, Cincinnati allowed the fifth-fewest rushing yards per game this season. Ryan Tannehill is going to have to air it out so that the offense doesn’t become so predictable. A.J. Brown is a matchup nightmare for the Bengals’ secondary and Julio Jones could serve as a solid red-zone threat after scoring his first touchdown of the season in Week 18.
Last week, I only picked one upset, but this week’s matchups seem much more even. The Titans are a good football team and are incredibly well-coached, however, the Bengals have a much more explosive offense. If Burrow and Chase can perform as they did against the Raiders, I expect Cincinnati to pull off the upset and knock out the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
- Pick: Bengals (+3.5)
- Prediction: 27-23 Bengals
After getting some much-needed rest, the Green Bay Packers will host the red-hot San Francisco 49ers. Although the Niners are in good spirits, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a minor shoulder injury, and defensive stud Nick Bosa suffered a concussion in San Francisco’s thrilling victory over the Cowboys. Without Bosa, I’m not sure the Niners have much of a chance at defending Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones, and Davante Adams. If Bosa is active, an upset isn’t out of the question. The 49ers’ secondary is the weakest unit on their roster. Without Bosa to put pressure on Rodgers, the reigning MVP will have way too much time in the pocket to find his talented receivers.
Kyle Shannahan will continue to do what the Niners do best and that is run the ball. Eli Mitchell and Deebo Samuel should combine for 30 touches in this game. San Francisco will attempt to move the chains and kill some clock to limit the number of possessions that Rodgers gets. Fortunately for San Francisco, the Packers allowed the third-most rushing yards per game this season.
Both offenses should thrive in this game, as each team’s offensive has several matchups to exploit. Davante Adams is going to have a massive game. Don’t be surprised if he catches 10 passes for 150 yards and multiple touchdowns. However, the 49ers are a very physical team, and if they can dominate the line of scrimmage as they did against the Cowboys, they have a shot at upsetting Green Bay at Lambeau Field. With the weather forecast calling for snow, that benefits San Francisco’s style of play, though the Packers are used to playing in cold weather. It may be a bit harder for Rodgers to get the passing game going in these conditions, but he’s a veteran with years of experience in these types of games. While I expect the 49ers to cover the spread, Green Bay will sneak into the Conference Championship by converting a last-second field goal.
- Pick: 49ers (+5.5)
- Prediction: 26-24 Packers
- Bonus: Over 47.5 Points
Sunday Divisional Round Picks
The Rams played mistake-free football Monday night against the Arizona Cardinals and now must head to Raymond James Stadium to take on Tom Brady and the reigning Super Bowl champions. Although the Bucs handled the Philadelphia Eagles quite easily, the Rams are a completely different type of foe with one of the best head coaches in the NFL. Los Angeles has defeated Tampa Bay twice over the past two seasons and will look to make it three straight. We all know that the only way to make Tom Brady uncomfortable in the pocket is to pressure him up the middle. Fortunately for the Rams, they have a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Aaron Donald. Plus, Leonard Floyd and Von Miller will make life difficult for TB12.
Without Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, Brady performed well against the Eagles. He hit Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski each for a touchdown. Cameron Brate made a few decent plays, but Tyler Johnson, Breshad Perriman, and Scotty Miller are no match for the Rams’ secondary. Jalen Ramsey will likely shadow Evans, which will force the Bucs to run the ball or throw to their least trustworthy pass catchers. Even if running back Leonard Fournette returns to action, the Rams allowed the sixth-fewest rushing yards per game this season. Something tells me Brady is going to have to play one of his best games to move on in the postseason.
All that said, Matthew Stafford and the Rams’ offense need to show up. We can’t get the inconsistent Rams that we saw towards the end of the regular season. Los Angeles needs to remain balanced on offense, mixing in Cam Akers and Sony Michel, while utilizing Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham Jr., Tyler Higbee, and Van Jefferson.
Cooper Kupp of the Los Angeles RamsGetty Images
Stafford needs to protect the football. Whoever wins the turnover battle in this contest will move on to the NFC Conference Championship.
Although only 50% of the bets on the spread right now are backing the Rams, a whopping 91% of the money has been wagered on Los Angeles covering the three-point handicap. I’m following the smart money and taking the Rams, though I’ll go a bit further and say that Los Angeles upsets Tampa Bay on the road, ending Tom Brady’s hopes of back-to-back Super Bowl titles with the Bucs.
- Pick: Rams (+3)
- Prediction: 30-23 Rams
This is the matchup that we have all been waiting for. Many pundits expect the winner of this game to win the Super Bowl, myself included. Both Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes were excellent during the Wild Card Round. In fact, Allen actually had a perfect passer rating. Mahomes was close, but he did throw an interception in the first quarter. Each quarterback threw for five touchdowns apiece. They also have some of the best weapons in the league in their respective arsenals. Will Buffalo’s league-best defense be able to limit Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce? That’s the big question.
Last year in the Divisional Round, the Chiefs defeated the Bills in a fairly comfortable fashion. This year’s Buffalo squad is much better than it was last year with the improvement of Devin Singletary, Gabriel Davis, Dawson Knox, and Isaiah McKenzie, plus the addition of Emmanuel Sanders. And don’t forget Stefon Diggs. This offense has some serious firepower and the defense has shut down opponents all year long.
If Buffalo’s defensive line can out-work Kansas City’s offensive line, Mahomes could be scrambling for his life, much as he did in last year’s Super Bowl. That’s clearly the recipe to success against this high-powered Chiefs offense. If this game were being played in Buffalo, I am convinced that Josh Allen would lead the Bills to victory. However, playing at Arrowhead is no easy task. Kansas City’s fans will make things difficult for Buffalo’s offensive line. And although the Chiefs have improved through the year on defense, Buffalo has too many skill players to cover on any given down. This is going to be an absolute shoot-out. Buffalo is more well-rounded, but if their defense doesn’t get to Mahomes, the Chiefs will light up the scoreboard just as they did against the Steelers last week.
Overall, this is a bit of a coin flip. I don’t love betting on this game as both teams deserve to move onto the Conference Championship, but if I had a gun to my head, I have to go with Mahomes and the Chiefs.
- Pick: Chiefs (-2)
- Prediction: 34-31
- Bonus: Over 55 Points