The 2021 MLB season is coming sooner than you'd think, judging by the temperatures we're seeing across the country.
As spring training is right around the corner, FindBet is releasing their initial power rankings for the 2021 season. These rankings will be updated throughout the season; but based on what teams have done since the end of last year, here are where we see all 30 teams standing going into this new campaign.
We have seen some superstar players find new homes this offseason including Nolan Arenado, Blake Snell, and Francisco Lindor, just to name a couple. With some major contenders making moves to put themselves in a position to unseat the Dodgers as the reigning champs, this year is already shaping up to be a hot summer.
Agents for Corey Seager, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa and Javier Baez upon seeing Fernando Tatis Jr. contract ex… https://t.co/1KPvsMMpOf— Bill Plunkett (@Bill Plunkett) 1613613535.0
Let's jump into the power rankings.
30. Pittsburgh Pirates
2020: Finished 5th in NL Central (19-41)
The Pirates finished with the worst record in baseball in the 60 game 2020 season. This offseason has seen them ship out starting pitchers, Joe Musgrove and Jameson Taillon along with all-star first baseman Josh Bell. 2021 is not going to be any better for Pirate fans, if anything it's going to be worse.
Monster win total of 104 for the Los Angeles #Dodgers. Meanwhile the poor Pittsburgh #Pirates are below 60. https://t.co/HhQIX1jyx2— . (@.) 1613772679.0
29. Baltimore Orioles
2020: Finished 4th in AL East (25-35)
While their record may not indicate as such, Baltimore was in playoff contention for most of 2020, and they received an emotional boost when Trey Mancini returned after his battle with colon cancer. However, the AL East is uber competitive and they were unable to keep pace with the Yankees and Rays.
The biggest of strides into Sarasota. @TreyMancini is back and ready to work. https://t.co/iCpRuWC9ek— Baltimore Orioles 😷 (@Baltimore Orioles 😷) 1613924121.0
Jose Igesias, who hit .373 last season was traded to the LA Angels, taking away one of their best hitters from an already baron lineup. Unless the Yankees deal with injuries and we see major regression from Tampa Bay, don't expect Baltimore to climb the division this year.
28. Texas Rangers
2020: Finished 5th in AL West (22-38)
The Rangers sported the league's worst offense in 2020 as their star hitter, Joey Gallo, struggled to return to the form we saw him enjoying prior to his season ending injury in 2019. The Rangers have added Khris Davis and David Dahl to help bolster the lineup, but have also parted ways with Lance Lynn who had been the team's ace before being sent to the White Sox. Texas is expected to be aggressive in shedding contracts as they're in rebuild mode.
i wish i was as happy about anything in my life as Joey Gallo is in this picture at Rangers Spring Training today https://t.co/wyNT6dV36c— kennedi landry (@kennedi landry) 1613777853.0
27. Detroit Tigers
2020: Finished 5th in AL Central (23-35)
Detroit is in a tough spot currently as they don't have much talent on their major league roster, and play in a division with three playoff contenders in Minnesota, Cleveland, and the Chicago White Sox. So this year is already written off as a transition season. Detroit does however boast one of the league's best farm systems and the hire of former Astros manager A.J. Hinch, provides them with a leader with championship pedigree to try to mold some of the brightest prospects in baseball.
26. Colorado Rockies
2020: Finished 4th in NL West (26-34)
The Rockies started 2020 on fire opening the year 11-3. They finished the season on a 15-31 stretch which saw them miss the postseason. That promising start and disappointing ending is a perfect comparison to Nolan Arenado's career in Colorado. Not that he as a player was ever a disappointment, but after consistently proving he's one of the best two way players in baseball for nearly a decade, the organization never fully committed to building around him, and now he is a member of the Saint Louis Cardinals after being traded this offseason.
Something tells me that Francisco Lindor, Trevor Story, Corey Seager and Javier Baez feel the same way. https://t.co/5xlo7HHG1g— Mark Feinsand (@Mark Feinsand) 1613616438.0
Expect the Rockies to be shopping Trevor Story before the deadline as well as he will be due a big pay day following this season, and Colorado isn't the kind of team to give their players those paydays.
25. Arizona Diamondbacks
2020: Finished 5th in NL West (25-35)
Finished just a game behind the Rockies last year in the NL West, the Diamondbacks were a team that struggled to find their identity in 2020. Hoping to build on what they saw last year out of Merrill Kelly and Zac Gallen, Arizona could at least have a strong enough rotation to keep them competitive in one of baseball's best divisions. That's especially if Madison Bumgarner can get back to form after a tough first season in Arizona.
24. Seattle Mariners
2020: Finished 3rd in AL West (27-33)
Kyle Lewis had his MLB debut for the @Mariners on September 10, 2019, and is the second player to ever have a home… https://t.co/DUITsBbySu— Baseball Beyond (@Baseball Beyond) 1613691015.0
Finishing only two games behind the Astros, the Mariners just missed out on a chance to get back to the playoffs for the first time in nearly two decades. Seattle has been rejuvenated by outfielder Kyle Lewis who won AL Rookie of the Year with his outstanding performance in 2020. The Mariners also have a deep farm system with talented arms and a platoon of outfielders that could be utilized if need be. If Justus Sheffield can take a step forward this year, we could see the Mariners competing for a playoff spot in 2021.
23. Kansas City Royals
2020: Finished 4th AL Central (26-34)
The Royals face the same uphill climb as the Tigers do in trying to frog leap teams like Cleveland, the White Sox, and the Twins, but the difference between Kansas City and Detroit is that the Royals have been very active this offseason making moves to improve their roster for this season.
Additions include Carlos Santana, Michael Taylor, Andrew Benintendi, and Mike Minor. They aren't splashy moves that garner the attention of national media, but they are solid improvements to a team with a handful of good players returning. The Twins are the closest thing to a favorite in the AL Central, but no team is impervious to being overtaken by an up and coming team like the Royals.
22. Miami Marlins
2020: Finished 2nd in NL East (31-29)
The Marlins shocked the baseball world last year by earning a playoff berth with a roster that could have very easily been confused with that of a double A team. They were lead by their promising young arms in Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez and Sixto Sanchez. While the rotation looks to be on the rise, they don't offer much pop in their batting order. Over the course of a longer season we don't expect Miami to be as competitive as what we saw them be in 60 games last year. But out of respect they come in a little higher than maybe what they deserve to to open the 2021 rankings.
21. San Francisco Giants
2020: Finished 3rd in NL West (29-31)
The Giants managed to stay competitive throughout most of the 2020 and just missed the postseason in the waning moments of the season. We'll get to see the return of Buster Posey this year and they added Tommy La Stella who has flashed all-star ability at getting on base, but they don't have much in the way of starting pitching and they play in the NL West with the Dodgers and the Padres. Ouch.
20. Boston Red Sox
2020: Finished 5th in AL East (24-36)
There may not have been a bigger disappointment in Major League Baseball last year than the Red Sox. Everyone knew it was going to be bad after Mookie Betts went to the Dodgers, but they still had guys like Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and J.D. Martinez there to pick up the slack. Even though Martinez had a down year, offense wasn't their problem. Boston's pitching was horrid from their starters to the back end of their bullpen.
Chris Sale putting in the work. #SoxSpring https://t.co/pk0fToQdIL— Red Sox (@Red Sox) 1613836042.0
With Chris Sale still recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Sox are going to have to rely on Garrett Richards and Eduardo Rodriguez to keep opponents in check and hopefully allow their offense to win them some more games than they did last year.
19. Cincinnati Reds
2020: Finished 2nd in NL Central (31-29)
The Reds got into the postseason in 2020 behind the three headed monster of Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, and Trevor Bauer. The Reds saw Bauer leave in free agency this offseason and they traded closer Raisel Iglesias leaving a few gaping holes in their pitching staff. The Reds offense was poor last year and they haven't added anyone that will help with that matter. The pressure is really going to be on Castillo and Gray to deliver every time they toe the mound in 2021.
18. Chicago Cubs
2020: Finished 1st in NL Central (34-26)
The Cubs went from World Series contender to being a borderline playoff contender in the blink of an eye, and it could get worse after this season. With Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Anthony Rizzo all playing on expiring contracts, this could be the start of a rebuild depending on what the Cubs front office wants to do.
Jon Lester left to sign with the Washington Nationals and the team traded Yu Darvish to the Padres this offseason. Instead Chicago will send out Zach Davies, Trevor Williams, and Jake Arrieta to headline their new look rotation. Based on the club selling Darvish who has been one of the league's best starters over the past two seasons, we think the Cubs will be sellers before the deadline and a lengthy rebuild is on the horizon.
Good morning. @JArrieta34 is back. https://t.co/dh56g1KnR7— Chicago Cubs (@Chicago Cubs) 1613667412.0
17. Oakland Athletics
2020: Finished 1st in AL West (36-24)
Oakland has always managed to shuffle their roster, see budding stars leave, pluck a diamond out of their farm system, and find ways to sneak into the playoffs for years now. Very rarely though have we seen so much turnover in one offseason from the club. Major pieces from the 2020 roster are gone including Kris Davis, Joakim Soria, Marcus Semien, Tommy La Stella, and Liam Hendriks.
That's a lot of players from a team that had championship aspirations coming into 2021. The good news for Oakland is that they saw a down season from Matt Olson last year, and Matt Chapman went down with an injury halfway through the season. If they bounce back in a big way this year it would go a long way in making up for some of the losses they've incurred on their roster.
Some Matt Chapman action via A’s IG account. https://t.co/DXXS4fFgCb— Martín Gallegos (@Martín Gallegos) 1613690205.0
They also benefit from playing in a poor division. Depending on what we see out of the Astros, the A's could have little competition for the division pennant.
16. Philadelphia Phillies
2020: Finished 3rd in NL East (28-32)
The Phillies lack of success should be an anomaly. They were 10th in the league in ERA and fifth in runs scored. They let the Marlins sneak up on them and steal second place in the NL East and also a playoff spot. They will see catcher J.T. Realmuto returning along with shortstop Didi Gregorius who are both solid bats in the middle of the order.
This is gold😂😂 congrats on a great career, buddy! @locatejared https://t.co/b7IElUflO6— Jacob Realmuto (@Jacob Realmuto) 1613531333.0
Maybe most importantly they added Archie Bradley and Brandon Kintzler to help plug up one of the leakiest bullpens in all of baseball who allowed a 7.06 ERA in 2020, blowing plenty of leads and costing quite a few wins for the squad in 2020.
For the top 15 in the MLB according to FindBet check back on Tuesday Feb. 23 to catch the rest of our opening 2021 MLB power rankings.
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