NFL Picks Divisional Round (2020 regular season)
NFL PICKS (DIVISIONAL ROUND)
BY PROFESSOR MJ
Written Thursday January 14th, 2021 at 11 a.m. Eastern Time (spreads/odds may have changed)
Last week in the Wildcard Round I made three official picks against the spread: the lone losing bet was the Bills -6.5, while the other two were winners (Ravens -3 and Saints -10).
Many people have asked me to recap my preseason win total predictions. Remember that I previewed each of the 32 NFL teams, while making a pick on the over/under for their win total. Those plays were largely based on the simulation of one million seasons using the projected point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
It turned out that 20 picks were right versus 12 that were wrong, a nice 62.5% win rate. I ended up racking up more than $8,000 on those bets. I wanted to go to Vegas to place larger bets, but COVID-19 prevented me from making the trip, unfortunately.
It’s now time for my Divisional Round picks against the spread. Buckle up, here we go!!!
DIVISIONAL ROUND GAME #1: LOS ANGELES RAMS VS GREEN BAY PACKERS (-6.5)
When the line opened at 7, I was clearly leaning towards the Rams. Early money agreed with me and went heavily on Los Angeles, so sportsbooks had to drop the line to 6.5. Since then, I have heard that bettors are hammering the Packers.
After analyzing the game in-depth, I am now betting Green Bay as 6.5-point favorites. Most of the time, I go against the public, but not this time.
The Packers are the number one seed and coming off a bye week. As mentioned several times this season, getting additional time to heal and gameplan has produced a much bigger advantage to great teams, as opposed to weaker squads who do not seem to make good use of this extra time. I believe we all agree Green Bay is a solid team.
On top of that, the Packers will be facing a banged up team. Jared Goff, John Wolford, Cooper Kupp and Aaron Donald are all hurt. They will likely suit up Saturday, but won’t be 100% for sure.
Also, L.A. is not used to playing in cold weather. We are expecting below-zero temperature, a situation where Aaron Rodgers is 29-7 straight up.
The Rams defense has been very impressive this season, but here is a jaw-dropping statistic: they have allowed an average of 13.5 points per game at home versus 23.5 on the road. That’s a huge difference! They haven’t been nearly as stifling as visitors this year. I do believe Rodgers and company will find a way to move the ball, especially if Aaron Donald is slowed down by his injured ribs.
Green Bay is a perfect 6-0 ATS in the last six meetings with the Rams. They are 11-6 as home favorites since Matt LaFleur took over as head coach.
Rodgers and Goff did face off against each other in 2018, a game in which the Rams won 29-27 in Los Angeles. Rodgers will get the victory by at least 7 points this time around.
Official pick: Packers -6.5
DIVISIONAL ROUND GAME #2: BALTIMORE RAVENS VS BUFFALO BILLS (-2.5)
Born in Florida, Lamar Jackson said it would be his first time playing in the snow, if the forecast is right about getting close to an inch of snow this Saturday in Orchard Park, NY. That would make the field more slippery, and therefore more difficult for him to shake and bake as a runner.
That’s one of the reason why I’m going with Buffalo as 2.5-point favorites. The Bills will also be at home for the third straight week, while Baltimore will be traveling for a third consecutive time.
Also, the Ravens lose one day of preparation after playing last Sunday and now playing Saturday. That’s not a huge blow, but still worth mentioning.
Some things are scaring me, though. Baltimore is 6-0 ATS as an underdog in the playoffs. They also match up fairly well against Buffalo since they led the league in yards-per-carry, while Buffalo’s run defense finished 25th in that category. Also, the Bills pass the ball often, which happens to be Baltimore’s strength on defense (they were much softer against the run this year).
Still, I’ll go with Buffalo, whose offense has been much more convincing. The Ravens were struggling against a bad Titans defense last week, until Lamar scored on a 48-yard scamper that completely changed the game.
Despite a recent surge by Baltimore, the Bills seem to be the stronger team and they will be at home on a cold day. They have been one of the hottest teams in the league during the latter portion of the regular season, and they have what it takes to win their first Super Bowl ever.
Official pick: Bills -2.5
DIVISIONAL ROUND GAME #3: CLEVELAND BROWNS VS KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (-10)
This won’t be an official pick since I don’t have that much confidence, but if I were forced to bet this game I’d bet Cleveland as 10-point dogs.
However, I do not like the fact that the Chiefs are coming off a bye. Under such circumstances, Andy Reid is 20-3 in his career, an astounding record! Kansas City will also be at home for the fourth straight week, which means they didn’t have to travel and will be well-rested.
Still, I am leaning towards the Browns due to their strong running game facing the Chiefs’ front seven that has been soft at times. Cleveland will be looking to control the clock and leave Patrick Mahomes on the sidelines.
After throwing 7 interceptions over the first 7 games of the season, Baker Mayfield has thrown just one in its past 10 matches! He has significantly improved, and he seems to be playing better since Odell Beckham went down to an injury.
The Chiefs have beaten the spread in 5 of their past 6 matchups at home against a team with a winning record, but they are just 1-6 ATS as favorites recently.
One more thing prevents me from pulling the trigger on this one: was Cleveland’s win in Pittsburgh last week their Super Bowl? Their subconscious might feel like they’ve already accomplished something great, and they may not be as hungry this week in K.C.
Lean: Browns +10
DIVISIONAL ROUND GAME #4: TAMPA BAY BUCS VS NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (-3)
You know how much I love the revenge factor. Beating the same opponent three times within the same season is very hard. That’s the challenge the Saints will be facing this Sunday. And that’s one of the reasons I’ll put my money on Tampa.
Am I super confident the Bucs will advance to the NFC Championship Game? No. The Saints might win a close game. If you back New Orleans, your ticket will be a winner only if New Orleans wins the game by 4 points or more. To me, that’s less likely to occur than Tampa either winning the game or losing by less than a field goal.
Sure, the Bucs are 0-5 ATS in their last five meetings with Sean Payton. They were also 1-4 ATS as road underdogs recently.
However, since their shameful 38-3 loss to the Saints in Week 9, Tampa has scored an average of 34 points per game. It took them more time to develop chemistry on offense, and they have since added Antonio Brown to the mix.
New Orleans has beaten the spread the last four times they were home favorites, but they post a disappointing 1-5 ATS record as playoff favorites over the most recent years.
I expect a very tight game that could go either way, in which case I prefer to side with the underdog.
Official pick: Bucs +3
Enjoy the games!
(Sports Betting Expert / University Professor / PhD in statistics)