As the game of baseball has evolved, a new level of respect has been put on relievers' names.
Since the early to mid-2010s, managers started eschewing traditional workhorse starters for situational pitching and fresh arms that toss high-powered gas at will. A sturdy, trustworthy closer has always been important, but with the advent of “Holds" as a statistic and fantasy category even middle relievers have obtained a place of prominence.
More so than any other position, relief pitchers are dependent on situational value. How can a strong closer notch saves without playing on a team that consistently puts them in save situations? Over the course of a full season, there are usually enough wins to go around and allow a reliever to make their bones, but it's the little things that separate you from a championship or missing the playoffs. That attention to detail is reflected below.
Cream rises to the top — whether we are talking about dairy products or relief pitchers, the idiom remains the same. There is a clear and defined group at the summit of these rankings with a steep drop off to base camp. The top three on this list are, on average, drafted within about 12 slots of each other (Hendriks At 58, Hader at 59, and Chapman at 70). This is no accident.
Here's a guy who might benefit the most from a change in circumstances. For the past two seasons, he's been a lights-out closer on an Oakland team that routinely competes for the AL West crown with a bargain basement payroll. After hitting the free agent market, he was signed by the team that he absolutely smothered in the Wild Card round last season, the Chicago White Sox.
Most experts had the young upstarts poised for a long playoff run, but that all ended after the A's offense did just enough and Hendriks' Herculean effort. Now, firmly cemented as the closer on a legit World Series contender, Hendricks vaults to the top of this list with his potent arsenal and two straight years of a sub-1.00 WHIP and sub-2.00 ERA. It's hard to make an argument against the Australian not claiming the #1 spot.
Up until recently, Hader held a death grip on the title of the MLB's undisputed best closer; and from a pure talent argument, he may still have a rightful claim to the throne. There's not much to say here that hasn't already been said about the long-haired flamethrower, and he represents a sure bet whenever you draft him.
However, the Brewers are on the verge of a make-or-break season after going from divisional winners to wild card round losers to finishing under .500 in a span of three years. As the team record declined, the likelihood of a Hader trade has increased, especially with the emergence of Devin Williams. If Hader were to be dealt to a prospect-rich contender, his fantasy value would Increase. This, also, would open the door to Williams, and his signature pitch, becoming a fantasy force of their own, forcing a re-configuring of any rankings.
Chapman never really got going in 2020 after missing the start of the season due to a positive COVID test and hitting the DL for about a month in the middle, leading to only three saves but more than respectable numbers for WHIP, strikeouts, and other periphery stats. His manager, Aaron Boone, pointed out during this Spring Training that Yankee fans and media have been able to avoid the annual tradition of worrying about Chapman's velo.
Usually, as he builds up to regular season strength, everyone goes all Chicken Little and screams that the sky is falling on the Cuban Missile's most important asset. Eventually, it ramps back up, and he returns to his usual best reliever in the AL form. As a Yankee fan, I've definitely been left with a bad taste in my mouth, having the season ended two years in a row by walk offs that Chapman let up, but EVEN that wouldn't stop me from drafting him, especially if he's adding a new pitch to his arsenal: the Splitter.
The path has been cleared for Karinchak to take sole possession of Cleveland's closer role with Brad Hand joining the anemic Nationals' pen. The 25-year-old moved up the organization quickly and established a reputation as a strike out force, punching out nearly two thirds of all batters he retired. There's no one else on the team that has as effective combo as his lively fastball and knee-buckling curve, so it seems to be a safe bet that he wins the job and becomes a productive addition to any fantasy team.
James Karinchak, 97mph Fastball and 86mph Curveball, Overlay (synced after release). https://t.co/kcHu8gusH6— Rob Friedman (@Rob Friedman) 1568560194.0
Pressly assumed the closer role in lieu of Roberto Osuna, who went down with an elbow injury in 2020. The former Twin was one of the 'Stros original diamonds in the rough that they polished by emphasizing his four seamer and curveball. Since the trade from Minnesota, he's been one of the most effective relief pitchers in baseball and should prove to be equally effective as a closer with ample opportunities for saves.
Ryan Pressly, Filthy 83mph Curveball. 😨 https://t.co/PsPsFhOEZz— Rob Friedman (@Rob Friedman) 1554951061.0
ON THE GROUND
How the mighty have fallen. The once powerhouse All-Star has become as shaky as they come since his move to Chicago. The first year and half were not confidence-inspiring, and this Spring has done nothing to change this narrative. He's on the wrong side of 30, and while his velocity may have seen an uptick, there's no accounting for his command.
KESTON HIURA WALK OFF HOME RUN OFF CRAIG KIMBREL!!! #ThisIsMyCrew https://t.co/N6SmDYRI35— Cream City Central (@Cream City Central) 1564282046.0
A trade deadline pickup for the Brewers from the Giants in 2019, Pomeranz transitioned easily to the pen and went on to find new life as a reliever. He signed with the Padres and continued to effectively eat up innings for them, cutting out a nice role for himself. While San Diego brought in Mark Melancon to compete for the ninth inning job, but Pomeranz should be able to still rack up holds, and you can't rule out him taking hold of it and not letting go.
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