Wild Card Weekend sure lived up to its name, didn’t it?
Well, maybe with the exception of the opener between Indianapolis and Houston, which the Colts controlled from start to finish with a business-like effort that felt a bit too dull for my liking (certainly from an offensive standpoint). In hindsight, I’m kicking myself for talking myself out of the obvious choice (the Colts as an underdog) and into a play on the Over (accounting for my only loss in a 2-1 weekend).
The wildest, of course, came in the final game of the weekend between the Eagles and Bears. Things were admittedly pretty boring for the first 3 quarters before the tension ratcheted up to incredible levels in the fourth, when the lead exchanged hands a couple of times — including on a fourth-and-goal touchdown by the Eagles with 56 seconds to go. Chicago responded by driving into field goal range before kicker Cody Parkey went double-doink on a potential game-winning 43-yard field goal attempt.
What could the divisional round possibly have in store to top that? Well, if last year’s divisional round was any indication, we may be in for another wild ride. The second round of the playoffs were when the Eagles came up with a late goalline stand to edge the Falcons 15-10, the Jaguars shocked the Steelers 45-42 in Pittsburgh and — last but definitely not least — the Vikings beat the Saints 29-24 on the Minneapolis Miracle Hail Mary to Stefon Diggs on the final play of the game. With such explosive offenses as the Chiefs, Rams and Saints poised to take the field this weekend, the dramatic possibilities seem endless, don’t they?
All odds that are referenced in this article were taken from Bovada.lv at 8:30 a.m eastern on January 11, 2019. These odds may have changed since the time of this writing.
1. Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs Under 57.5 -115 (Saturday, 4:35 p.m. eastern)
This is the game that I’m most excited to see this weekend, but not because I’m expecting an offensive shootout. There’s just so many compelling storylines going into this one, including how Patrick Mahomes will look in his playoff debut or whether an Andy Reid team will choke again in the postseason or what a remarkable bounceback season it’s been for Andrew Luck and the Colts.
So after all of those stats that I just listed, why am I backing the Under here? Several reasons, none of which I think are being fully appreciated by the bookies and by the betting public. The first is that KC’s defense has been much better at home than it has on the road this season, reflected in the fact that the Chiefs have actually gone Under (4 times) more often than Over (3) when playing at Arrowhead. The second is that Reid is known for getting ultra-conservative in the postseason and there’s a lot of pressure on the Chiefs to live up to the high expectations, meaning that we could see a very tentative attack from KC early in this one. The third is that Indianapolis hasn’t allowed more than 27 points in 9 straight games, making it likely that the Colts find a way to slow this Chiefs offense. And the final is that Indy wants to play a ball-control game here in order to play keep-away from Mahomes, milking seconds off the clock with a power running game that racked up 200 yards on 35 carries last week against Houston.
I know betting Under in a Chiefs game isn’t fun, and it’s always a sweat. But bear in mind how high this total is. With an Over/Under of 57.5, we could still see a 35-21 game or 30-27 game and still cash an Under ticket. You could also choose to play the first half Under instead (the total is 28), hope to hit an early winner if the teams start off slow and then put your feet up and hope for a thrilling ending. Personally, however, I’m content to place my wager on the full game Under. If Indy holds the lead late, the Colts’ ground game has the ability to go on a long time-consuming drive, and if this game is tight in the fourth quarter, I can see KC getting really tight as the pressure continues to mount.
2. 2-Team, 6-Point Teaser (-110): LA Chargers +10 over New England Patriots (Sunday, 1:05 p.m. eastern) and New Orleans Saints -2 over Philadelphia Eagles (Sunday, 4:40 p.m. eastern)
I like both the Chargers and Saints from a point-spread perspective on Sunday, but I feel a whole lot better about each side if I can move the line nearly a touchdown in my favor. That’s exactly what we’ll do here with a 6-point tease, moving LA up over a touchdown as an underdog while dropping the Saints down close to a pick ‘em range.
LA’s a better team right now than the Patriots. Their passing game is more consistent, their running game is more reliable, and their defense is far better. If this wasn’t the Chargers’ second consecutive early start on the east coast (not only meaning that kickoff is at 10 a.m. on their body clocks but also requiring them to fly back and forth across the continent several times) and if New England didn’t have such a great track record at home in the playoffs in the Belichick/Brady era, I’d be all over LA to win this game straight-up (in case you’re interested, the Chargers are +160 on the moneyline to pull off the outright upset). But given the situation, not to mention the Pats coming off the bye, I’ll go the conservative route and tease the Chargers over a touchdown instead.
If LA manages to keep things within 10 points or less, we’ll simply need the Saints to beat the Eagles by a field goal in order to cash a winning ticket. The odds of that happening are certainly in our favor, with New Orleans listed as the biggest moneyline favorite of the weekend (-340, slightly ahead of the Rams -310 versus Dallas). I know the Saints haven’t looked that great over their last 5 games — a span that includes a loss to Dallas, a 3-point win over Carolina and a tight home victory over Pittsburgh — but we can forgive New Orleans players for looking ahead to the playoffs once they’d sewn up the top spot in the NFC. This team has some unfinished business after last year’s devastating loss on the Minneapolis Miracle, which cost them a chance to face the Eagles for a trip to the Super Bowl. The Saints get their shot this year, they whipped Philadelphia by more than 40 points during the regular season, and coach Sean Payton upped the ante this week by bringing the Lombardi Trophy and a boatload of cash into practice this week to motivate his squad.
But as many reasons as I can think of to back New Orleans here, there’s almost as many reasons to fade the Eagles. This is a horrendous scheduling spot for Philadelphia, coming off last week’s dramatic win at the Bears and now being forced to play its 5th road game in the past 6 weeks (dating back to the regular season). The Eagles have been in must-win mode for nearly 2 months after a slow start to the campaign, and while you have to credit how Philly keeps digging deep to find a way to get the job done, you’ve also got to wonder just how much is left in the Eagles’ gas tank. And as much credit as Nick Foles gets for his sparkling record in big games as Philly’s starting quarterback (he’s 11-3 in his last 14 starts in December or later), the Eagles scored just 16 points in last week’s win at Chicago. I won’t be surprised at all if the Saints blow out a tired Philadelphia squad in this spot, but I’ll be outright stunned if the Eagles pull off yet another upset.