LeBron and AD hope to be celebrating a championship at the end of these playoffs

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With the playoffs starting, we have reached a point in the NBA season that was never a guarantee due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The bubble in Orlando has been a huge success for Adam Silver and the NBA, as they have been able to display the strength of the league by being able to quickly organize and execute a plan to safely resume their season. It has also been an opportunity to showcase some of the league's brightest stars, including Damian Lillard, Devin Booker, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The NBA is a league built on star power and storylines, and there was no shortage of either during the regular season play. Devin booker led his Suns team to an undefeated 8-0 record in the restart, just missing the playoffs. Jusuf Nurkic helped the Portland Trailblazers past the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday to secure the team's spot in the playoffs after the passing of his grandmother earlier that day. One of the favorites to win the championship this year, the Los Angeles Lakers, have been struggling heading into the playoffs and questions loom over their series with Portland, as they've been one of the hottest teams going into postseason play. Let's take a look at each first round series and we'll give you some of our predictions of what to expect in the upcoming weeks.


East

Bucks (1) +250 v Magic (8) +24,000

Series X-Factor Khris Middleton

Predicted Series Winner - Bucks

For fans of basketball there's a lot to like about the Orlando Magic. Aaron Gordon, the twice robbed dunk champion, is an athletic big man that can cut to the hoop and finish in the blink of an eye. Nikola Vucevic has transformed his game adding an outside shot that allowed the Magic to stretch the floor and open up lanes for Aaron Gordon to get to the basket. Markelle Fultz went from top pick to nearly out of the league with Philadelphia, but seems to have turned a corner in Orlando and is starting to look like the prospect that scouts once believed him to be. They also have a pair of young players in Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba that they are hoping develop into important players for the organization. Bamba has already been immortalized in Sheck Wes' song of titles after the player, but Mo will be out during the playoffs due to the coronavirus. The magic will also be without a fully healthy Aaron Gordon as he's been dealing with a hamstring injury and his status for the series against Milwaukee is uncertain.

Even with a healthy Aaron Gordon the Magic's chances of upsetting the Bucks in this series would be unlikely. But due to the fact that one of their main stars is coming into the series less than 100%, I do not see how Orlando could manage to win the series. Milwaukee will likely want to limit Antetokounmpo's minutes and keep him fresh for the rest of the playoffs. If the Bucks are able to get out in front of the Magic early in games they should be able to limit Giannis' playing time which will allow Khris Middleton to step into the primary scoring role to close out games in their series and defeat Orlando in this match up.

Raptors (2) +1,000 v Nets (7) +24,000

Series X Factor - Fred VanVleet

Predicted Series Winner - Raptors

The Nets have seen Caris Levert pick up his level of play during the restart in Orlando if they had a full complement of their starters including Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant the likely outcome of the series may be different. But under the current circumstances the defending NBA champions enter the postseason playing very well and will be a tough opponent for the injury ravaged Brooklyn squad to deal with. I anticipate Toronto's coach Nick Nurse will want to close out the series quickly to give his players the opportunity to head into the second round at full strength.

Drake, and members of the Golden State Warriors during last year's finals Toronto's highest profile fan, Drake, having a friendly conversation. JOSE CARLOS FAJARDO

Point guard Kyle Lowry has already been playing with a playoff level intensity in the bubble and looks determined to prove that the Raptors' championship was not just a result of Kawhi Leonard's one-year rental. Since Leonard left for Los Angeles, the Raptors have seen Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet step into larger roles taking on added responsibilities after the finals MVP's departure. We may see a repeat of this matchup in the playoffs next year under considerably different circumstances but considering this year the only shots that KD will be taking will be on Twitter I'm comfortable saying Toronto will win this series with relative ease.

Celtics (3) +1,700 v 76ers (6) +6,500

Series X Factor - Kemba Walker

Predicted Series Winner - Celtics

One unfortunate event of bubble play was the injury to Ben Simmons which will certainly affect Philadelphia's attempt to make a championship run. With Simmons healthy I would be more inclined to select the 76ers to advance past the Celtics, however the loss of Simmons' defense will have a big impact on the outcome of the series. Simmons would have likely marked either Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum,attempting to take one of them out of Boston's offensive gameplay. Coach Brett Brown is considering rookie Matisse Thybulle to replace Simmons in the starting lineup and while he is already an elite defender, Thybulle has struggled to make any significant impact offensively. Simmons' loss places more pressure on Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris to produce points in this series.

What I do hope to see from this series is the introduction of Kemba Walker on a national stage. For the entirety of his career up until this season, Walker has played in obscurity for Charlotte. Now the leader of a contending team it's time for Walker to show he is a bona fide superstar in this league and he has the supporting cast around him for the first time in his career to make a deep run into the playoffs. The series should still be competitive especially if Al Horford is able to elevate his play for Philadelphia, but I think that Boston has too much fire power on offense and the loss of Simmons is too much for Philadelphia to overcome. I'm taking Boston to move on here.

Pacers (4) +10,000 v Heat (5) +3,000

Series X Factor - Bam Adebayo

Predicted Series Winner - Miami

Erik Spoelstra and Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra and star player Jimmy Butler of the HeatYahoo Sports

Over the past two seasons the Indiana Pacers have had unfortunate and untimely injuries to a superstar leading into the postseason. Last year it was Victor Oladipo who dealt with a serious knee injury which kept him out into the 2020 season. This year, newly minted all-star Domantas Sabonis went out just under a month ago and will likely miss the entirety of the playoffs. One of the best big men in the league this season, Sabonis, has proven to be a legitimate two way player and would have been a catalyst for the Pacers in the post season. Unfortunately for the Pacers without him matching up with Miami's Bam Adebayo will be a challenge.

The combination of Jimmy Butler and Adebayo along with young stars like Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro provide Coach Eric Spoelstra the kind of squad that can make a surprise run. They can shoot for the perimeter and play hard defense for 48 minutes. Butler may not be the most popular or well liked player in the league but the fact that he's a leader and has a burning desire to win is clear. The Heat can gain some momentum by winning this matchup and could be a dangerous opponent for eastern conference teams.

West

Lakers (1) +350 v Blazers (8) +6,000

Series X Factor - Damian Lillard

Predicted Series Winner - Lakers

It's rare that a 1 versus 8 matchup is so anticipated, but Bubble MVP Damian Lillard, has the Blazers roaring into the first round to take on the stumbling Lakers. Prior to the pause, LeBron and the Lakers were rolling and a championship seemed to be a foregone conclusion, but since play resumed, we have seen them struggle to play with any kind of consistency. Playing without Avery Bradley (opt out due to coronavirus) and Ramon Rondo (injury) to conclude the regular season surely has affected their defensive effectiveness on the perimeter, but Anthony Davis has twice posted single digit scoring outputs in 8 games.

Damian Lillard of the Portland Trailblazers Damian Lillard has our clocks stuck on Dame TimeAshley Landis Getty Images

Don't be surprised to see this series go 6 or even 7 games, but also don't be surprised to see LeBron and AD put it together and begin to regain their dominate form we saw for most of the regular season. If Portland is going to complete this upset it will be on the coat tails of Lillard, who is enjoying one of the best stretches of his career right now. Rondo is expected back soon which will take some pressure off of Alex Caruso playing so many minutes. The Lakers still enter this series the favorites to win, but the luck of the draw did not do them any favors with their first round matchup with the Trailblazers.


Clippers (2) +300 v Mavs (7) +4,900

Series X Factor - Kawhi Leonard

Predicted Series Winner - Clippers

The Clippers are one of the three favorites to win the NBA title this year along with the Lakers and the Bucks. They're one of the most complete and deep teams with a shot to win the Larry O'Brien trophy and they have the reigning finals MVP in Kawhi Leonard leading the way. They take on an exciting Dallas Mavericks team led by their European duo of Kristaps Porzingis and Luka Doncic who helped their team lead the league in offensive efficiency this season.

The promise that the Mavericks have shown this season must have fans salivating at the possibilities in front of them. But a lack of depth will leave them at a disadvantage in this series. The Clippers have a deep stable of veterans with plenty of playoff experience and should be able to game plan a defensive strategy that will slow down the production of the fast paced Dallas offense. Once Dallas has a chance to put a few more pieces in place around Luka and Porzingis, they should contend for many years to come. This year however, expect the Clippers to make short work of Dallas.

Nuggets (3) +2,400 v Jazz (6) +4,900

Series X Factor - Rudy Gobert

Predicted Series Winner - Jazz

The news broke Sunday that Jazz guard Mike Conley will be leaving the bubble for the birth of his son in Ohio. He is expected back at some point in the playoffs, but will obviously need to clear protocol before being allowed to rejoin the team. Whether Conley will be able to play for the Jazz in the first round is yet unknown. Bojan Bogdanovic, the team's second leading scorer this season opted to have surgery to repair a ligament in his wrist during the pause in order to be ready for the 2020-2021 season. While all of this would appear to be leading up to the Nuggets rolling over the Jazz, instead I think it opens up the opportunity for Donovan Mitchell to rise to the occasion and spearhead an upset in the western conference.

Mitchell can provide instant offense from anywhere on the court and has never been one to shy away from getting his shots up. More importantly for Utah however is what Rudy Gobert can do for his team by taking the Nuggets' best weapon away in Nikola Jokic. The perennial defensive player of the year candidate, Gobert, has the ability to completely close down the paint to opposing offenses the way Persian arrows blocked out the sun over the Spartan army, but possesses the agility to defend further out on a player like Jokic. Utah has quietly been one of the best teams in a competitive western conference for a few seasons now, and they have a chance to put the league on notice with a first round upset. Everything goes through Jokic offensively for the Nuggets, and if Gobert can limit Jokic's effectiveness, the Jazz will be celebrating a victory in this series.


Rockets (4) +1,300 v Thunder (5) +6,500

Series X Factor - Steven Adams

Predicted Series Winner - Thunder

Steven Adams of Oklahoma City and Donovan Mitchell of Utah Steven Adams defending Utah's Donovan MitchellAP

One of the biggest surprises of this season has been the success that Oklahoma City has had after seeing both Paul George and OKC fan favorite, Russell Westbrook, part ways with the team this offseason. General manager Sam Presti made deals sending George to the Clippers for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari and acquired Chris Paul for Westbrook. Presti also accumulated a bevy of draft picks from both deals and are now set up to revamp their team with the additional picks through the 2026 off season.

The Rockets have been explosive with Westbrook and 2018 MVP James Harden in their backcourt. A lack of viable options in the front court leaves them with an untraditional roster structure, but second guessing the decisions of Daryl Morey often results in you being the one that looks bad. Even though the Rockets enter this series the favorites, the Thunder will have a secret weapon in Steven Adams to exploit the weakness of Houston at the center position. Adams is a handful and can dominate post play against formidable opponents. One of the aforementioned games that Anthony Davis posted single digit scoring was against Oklahoma City and Steven Adams. Without a clear defender to play on Adams, Houston will be forced to shift and double team him which will allow for open space for Gilgeous-Alexander and Chris Paul to work in. Westbrook and Harden are decent defenders, but are not defensive stalwarts by any stretch of the imagination. A matchup against a team like the Mavericks may have suited the Rockets better in their first round draw allowing them to just focus on out scoring the opposition, but the Thunder play with a chip on their shoulder and have size and length to disrupt the Rockets' offense. Expect to see a mini upset here sending the Rockets home early and Daryl Morey back to the lab to think up his next major move.

*odds from VegasInsider.com 8/16/2020

Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers

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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)

Learn more about the basics of sports betting!

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)

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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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Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

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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

Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs (-7)

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

San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams (-3)

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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Davante Adams of Green Bay Packers

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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

Cincinnati Bengals at Tennessee Titans (-3.5)

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

San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers (-5.5)

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

Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3)

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 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

Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs (-2)

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

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