NFL Picks Divisional Round (2021 regular season)
NFL PICKS (DIVISIONAL ROUND)
BY PROFESSOR MJ
Written Wednesday January 19th, 2021 at 11 AM Eastern Time (spreads/odds may have changed)
It’s time for my NFL picks for what may be the most exciting NFL weekend of the year: the Divisional Round!
Sure, the Conference Championship Round and the Super Bowl are exciting too, but we get to watch four high-quality games this weekend.
Let’s dive into each game right away!
DIVISIONAL ROUND GAME #1: CINCINNATI BENGALS AT TENNESSEE TITANS (-3.5)
Among the four games this weekend, this is the one where I had the most trouble making a pick. I am not going to place a bet on this game, but I’ll still provide a pick for entertainment purposes.
In short, most of the information I dug is pointing in Tennessee’s direction, but my gut feeling wants to back Cincinnati…
First, the Titans are coming off a bye week, which is vital this late in the season when all players are banged up. Some trends also entice me to bet the Titans. They are 6-2 ATS at home, and 5-2 ATS when facing teams with a winning record. However, they are 0-4-1 ATS in their last five home playoff games.
Cincinnati’s defensive line is thinned by injuries after losing Larry Ogunjobi, and having a banged up Trey Hendrickson, who led the team in sacks. You don’t want to be in that position when facing a well-rested Derrick Henry. Also note how Cincy surrendered an average of 7.4 yards per rush to the Raiders last week, a team that is not even good in that aspect of the game. That is certainly worrisome for Bengals fans.
The good news for Cincinnati is their passing attack is great, which turns out to be Tennessee’s weak point on defense. My only worry is whether the offensive line will be able to hold up after allowing the third-most sacks in the league this year.
I was going to go with Tennessee, but I changed my mind at the last second. That shows you how little faith I have in this pick.
Pick (very little confidence): Bengals +3.5
DIVISIONAL ROUND GAME #2: SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS AT GREEN BAY PACKERS (-5.5)
A key element in this game is the status of defensive end Nick Bosa. At the time I wrote this article, it remains unclear whether he will suit up or not. If he does not clear the concussion protocol in time, Aaron Rodgers should feast on the Niners’ secondary.
Even if Bosa plays, that should be a big problem for San Francisco. Their weakness on defense is defending the pass, which does not bode well when facing Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams. Granted, on the other side of the ball, Green Bay’s run defense is suspect while the 49ers use great running schemes that allow Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel to gain good chunk of yards on the ground.
Still, my pick goes to the team from the Frozen Tundra. The Niners will be on the road for the third consecutive week. The temperature is expected to be -17 degrees Celsius, or about 1 degree Fahrenheit. That won’t help the California team, unless gusty winds make the passing game more complicated, which would be a plus for the Niners.
The injury news are more favorable for Green Bay. I already mentioned the Nick Bosa injury. San Francisco may also be without linebacker Fred Warner. Meanwhile, the Packers are likely to get three key guys in their lineup: left tackle David Bakhtiari, star cornerback Jaire Alexander and linebacker De’Vondre Campbell.
The rest factor also gives an additional edge to the Packers since they had a bye week. You may argue that San Francisco has the revenge factor going their way after losing 30-to-28 earlier this year, but Matt LaFleur’s team has not forgotten losing the NFC Championship Game 37-20 in 2019. During that game, San Francisco ran the ball 42 times for 285 yards and they only needed to attempt eight passes in that easy victory.
Also, I find it hard to bet against the Packers as home favorites. Aaron Rodgers has done extremely well in this situation. In fact, Green Bay has covered the spread in six of the past seven games as home favorites. They won’t slow down if they have the lead and Jimmy G is likely to turn the ball over if that happens.
Pick: Packers -5.5
DIVISIONAL ROUND GAME #3: LOS ANGELES RAMS AT TAMPA BAY BUCS (-3)
Both squads had surprisingly similar numbers during the 2021 regular season. The Rams and Bucs defenses ranked 6th and 3rd in terms of rushing yards allowed per game. They ranked 5th and 8th in terms of passer rating allowed. On offense, the Rams produced the 25th-most rushing yards per game, versus 26th for Tampa. Finally, both passing offenses were stellar: the Rams had the third-best passer rating compared to first place for Brady and company. It’s incredible how similar the numbers were!
That sets up for a tight game, which is generally good for the underdog. In this case, the outlook for the Rams is even better considering the matchup.
We all know the best way to disrupt Tom Brady is to pressure him up the middle since he is not mobile. Well, the Rams happen to have Aaron Donald on the inside of the defensive line. And Tampa’s center, Ryan Jensen, got banged up last week. He is likely to play, but he does not seem to be 100%.
The Rams have been historically good playing in Tampa. Indeed, they have beaten the spread in each of their last five trips over there.
One thing that worries me is the fact that the Rams lose one day of preparation after playing last Monday. And they will be traveling across the country for this meeting.
Still, I like the Rams in this spot. Losing Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown at the wide receiver position will finally catch up with the Bucs offense. Since losing Godwin to an injury, the effect has not been too bad since Tampa played weak passing defenses: the Panthers twice, the Jets, and the Eagles. The absence of these two playmakers will be obvious this week.
I rarely pick overs/unders, but I have to admit I like under 48.5 points here. Both defenses looked strong, and the Bucs are getting a few guys back from injuries. Tampa has surrendered an average of just 14.2 points in their past five games, while L.A. has allowed an average of 17.1 points per game over their seven most recent outings.
Pick: Rams +3 and Under 48.5 points
DIVISIONAL ROUND GAME #4: BUFFALO BILLS AT KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (-2.5)
This is an awesome matchup. What a treat this game should be!
From a betting perspective, I have got to go with Buffalo. Both offenses are great, but the main difference comes from the defensive side of the ball, where the Bills clearly have an edge.
The Chiefs defense started the season on the wrong foot by squandering an average of 29 points per game over their first seven meetings. Then, they raised their game a notch by allowing just 13 points per match in their next eight. However, they have not looked as strong recently. As a matter of fact, they allowed 34 points to the Bengals, 24 to the Broncos and 21 to the Steelers.
Also, Buffalo has enjoyed quite a bit of success in Kansas City over recent years, as evidenced by their 6-2 ATS record at Arrowhead Stadium. The Bills won 38-to-20 at this venue earlier this year, but will want to avenge their AFC Championship Game defeat from last year by a 38-24 score.
The Bills have been great as road underdogs of late (9-3-2 ATS record), while the Chiefs have been equally good as home favorites (beat the spread the last five times in such conditions). Notice, however, how Kansas City has had a tendency to struggle after a great offensive performance. Indeed, the Chiefs are 4-11 ATS after scoring at least 30 points.
The Bills’ running game has improved a lot recently, thanks to Devin Singletary rushing for 93 yards per game on average over the past three matches, while adding five TDs on the ground.
Pick: Bills +2.5
If you asked me what my three best bets are for this weekend, I’d go with the Rams +3, the Bills +2.5 and under 48.5 points in the Rams versus Bucs showdown.
I cannot believe we only have seven more NFL games to watch this year. Enjoy it while it lasts! Thank you so much for reading this article, I appreciate you!
(Sports Betting Expert / University Professor / PhD in statistics)