Expert NFL Picks for All 4 Divisional Round Games, Including Ravens-Bills and Bucs-Saints
Chris Altruda of PennBets.com, Borgata sportsbook director Tom Gable and VSiN sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum offer their insights
This is NFL Best Bets, a recurring series in which professional sports handicappers lend us their insights and picks for the most intriguing matchups for each week of the football season.
For this edition of Best Bets, Chris Altruda, a national betting industry analyst for PennBets.com, Thomas Gable, the director of race and sportsbook at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, and sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum of VSiN share their opinions on all four Divisional Round games that will take place this weekend in the NFL, including the Packers hosting the Rams in Green Bay on Saturday and the Chiefs hosting the Browns on Sunday.
You’ve got places to go, people to see and possibly some wagers to make, so let’s get to it.
Los Angeles Rams (11-6) (+240, +6.5, O/U 45.5) at Green Bay Packers (13-3)
A compelling matchup because … this is not a matchup of elite quarterbacks, as Aaron Rodgers clearly outclasses Jared Goff, but seeing how Green Bay’s star QB fares against what might be the NFL’s best defense should make it a contest. The Packers only lost once at home this season, while the Rams have been a fairly mediocre road team (5-4). However, they did beat Seattle on the road last week.
Altruda’s Angle: Doubters about the staying power of the Rams defense (myself included) were put in a corner of shame last weekend as cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive lineman Aaron Donald did a number on the Seahawks, with the former bottling up DK Metcalf and the latter wreaking havoc on Seattle’s offensive line. Praise also goes to Goff, who shook off the pain of a fractured thumb to be just effective enough to balance the offense as Cam Akers rolled up 131 rushing yards in Los Angeles’ wild-card victory. While the Rams are being expectedly coy about the extent of Donald’s rib injury, it would take something otherworldly for him to not play. Ramsey has taken on all comers in furthering his status as an elite corner and he gets the ultimate test in Packers wideout Davante Adams this week, who compiled 115 catches, 1,374 yards, and 18 TDs despite missing two games this season. While the Green Bay running game had some hiccups in the season finale against Chicago, the line held its own without injured left tackle David Bakhtiari, and they’ll need to fend off Donald and company to give Rodgers time to work through his progressions. Rodgers has won four straight postseason home games but also has been on the wrong end of a pair, so the vaunted Lambeau home-field advantage may not be all that. This game has the feel of a cat-and-mouse contest between Rodgers and Adams versus the Rams defense, but don’t sell the Packers defense short, as they’ve held five of their last six opponents under 20 points. I like the under here, especially with that high-side hook on a TD+FG total.
Gable’s Guess: Donald, Cooper Kupp and Goff probably all won’t be 100 percent for the Rams here. It’ll be interesting to see how the weather and temperature at Lambeau will affect Goff’s grip on the ball with his surgically repaired thumb. The Rams’ defense presents a huge challenge for the Packers. I think watching the matchup between Adams and Ramsey is going to be appointment viewing. I look for the Packers to run the ball, keep the offense balanced and make play-action effective. Goff’s success really lies with play-action, so expect the Rams to try and establish the run early. The Packers have been defending the run much better than they were in the early part of the season. The Rams’ defense only allowed 281.9 total yards per game this season, with 190.7 coming through the air. Rodgers is coming in averaging 256.6 yards passing per game. The Packers just have not faced a defense like this all year. But, I think if you can grab the 6.5, lay the points here with Green Bay. If it’s at 7 or more, I’d look at probably taking the points with the Rams.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Rams (10-7 ATS) enter as the Cinderella-seed, having just upset the Seahawks 30-20 and winning outright as 3-point road dogs. Now they face the top-seeded Packers (10-6 ATS). Green Bay has won six straight and enjoys a bye week of rest. This line opened with the Packers listed as a 7-point home favorite. The public is happy to fade Goff and is rushing to the window to back Rodgers and the Packers at home. However, despite this lopsided support in favor of the Packers, we’ve seen the line tumble from Green Bay -7 to -6.5. This signals some sharp reverse line movement on the road dog, with respected pro bettors grabbing the Rams +7. This line movement is eerily similar to what we saw last week with the Colts falling from +7 to +6.5 despite heavy betting on the Bills. Divisional round dogs are 59 percent ATS over the past decade, with playoff dogs 64 percent ATS since 2017. Ron Torbert, the lead ref, has historically favored road teams (59 percent ATS). I’ll ride the sharp moves and bank on the Rams’ defense and stellar coaching of McVay to keep it close. Give me the Rams plus the points.
Our Pick: A hurt Goff in the cold on the road is scary. Lay the points with the Pack.
Baltimore Ravens (12-5) (+125, +2.5, O/U 50) at Buffalo Bills (14-3)
A compelling matchup because … the Bills come into this matchup having won seven games in a row while the Ravens roll in riding a six-game winning streak. A pair of quarterbacks from the same class, Josh Allen for Buffalo and Lamar Jackson for Baltimore, will face off in the playoffs for the first time, but based on both of their trajectories to this point, probably not the last. This could be a new AFC rivalry.
Altruda’s Angle: Lamar Jackson no longer has to answer questions about when he’s going to win a playoff game after an effective performance at Tennessee, helping the Ravens overcome an early 10-point deficit and finishing with 315 total yards of offense. The Ravens’ defense settled down after its early struggles and did the impossible — made running back Derrick Henry a non-factor by holding him to 40 yards. The willingness to let Jackson be a dual-threat — most notably calling his number for RPOs — similar to last year has been a primary reason for Baltimore’s late-season resurgence. Buffalo made things needlessly exciting at times in its win over Indianapolis, allowing a backdoor cover and knocking down a Hail Mary. Josh Allen showed his mobility, tacking on 54 rushing yards and a touchdown to go with 324 passing yards and a pair of TD tosses. Allen provides a challenge for the Ravens’ aggressive defense, and if they rush up the middle, Allen is fast enough to get to the edge, where his rollouts could prove devastating. That could prove troublesome on third downs — the Bills were fourth in the league in third-down conversion (48.5 percent) and the Ravens were second defensively in holding opponents to a 34 percent success rate. The line moved in Baltimore’s direction early before shifting back Buffalo’s way, and while there’s temptation in taking the Ravens and the points because a close game means Justin Tucker could make a difference, both offenses are operating at a clip where the over is a better play.
Gable’s Guess: This is the lowest point spread of the four games and it should, at least on paper, be the closest. We’ve taken a lot of Baltimore money here and people are betting them to win this outright. The last time the Bills lost at home was on October 19 against the Chiefs. They’re pretty much the hottest team in the league currently. But you could probably make the same argument for the Ravens. They are No. 1 in the league in rushing the ball, averaging 5.5 yards per rush, and Jackson showed just how dangerous he can be with his legs against the Colts on Saturday, though he really still has yet to prove his accuracy and consistency in throwing the ball. Defensively, Baltimore is slightly better in yards per play. They’re only giving up 5.2 to Buffalo’s 5.5, but the Bills have been generating more turnovers. I expect this game to be close. But with the spread continuing to fall here, I’m going to lay the points with the Bills.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Ravens (11-5-1 ATS) just took down the Titans 20-13, covering as 3.5-point road favorites. Now they travel to Western New York to face the Bills (11-6 ATS). Buffalo has won seven straight, including a 27-24 win over the Colts in last week’s playoff opener, although the Bills failed to cover as 7-point home favorites. This line opened with Buffalo listed as a 3-point home favorite. The public is split and doesn’t know whether to take the points or lay them. Despite this split ticket count, we’ve seen the Ravens move from +3 to +2.5. Some shops even briefly touched +2. This sharp line move signals respected pro money getting down hard on Baltimore plus the points. Pros really loved Baltimore +3 as soon as the line opened. Playoff dogs are 64 percemt ATS since 2017. Lamar Jackson is 5-1 ATS in his career as a dog. This is a pick’em game in my opinion. I’ll take the Ravens. Hold out for a +3.
Our Pick: Feels odd, but we expect Buffalo to play better. Lay the points with the Bills.
Cleveland Browns (12-5) (+380, +10, O/U 57) at Kansas City Chiefs (14-2)
A compelling matchup because … when Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield last played each other when the former was at Texas Tech and the latter was at Oklahoma, their teams combined for 1,708 yards of total offense, an FBS record. In Oklahoma’s 66-59 win, Mayfield threw seven touchdown passes while Mahomes had seven scores of his own, five through the air and two via the ground.
Altruda’s Angle: It was worth the 18-year wait between playoff appearances for the Browns, who gleefully kept adding gasoline to the dumpster fire that was the Pittsburgh Steelers as they built a 28-0 lead in the first quarter and then kept them at arm’s length for pretty much the rest of the contest last week. Mayfield did his part with 263 yards and three touchdown passes, but more importantly, he did not turn the ball over, as Cleveland finished plus-5 in takeaways. Head coach Kevin Stefanski is expected to return after watching the win in his basement due to COVID-19, and the secondary gets a major boost as corners Denzel Ward and Kevin Johnson were activated off the COVID-19 reserve list. Much has been made that the reigning Super Bowl champion Chiefs were not as dominant as they were last season, but the AFC was not chopped liver. If you’re playing this weekend, you have at least 12 wins in 17 games. Chiefs rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire returned to practice this week, but his availability is still uncertain and it adds to the subplot of Browns running back Kareem Hunt facing his former team. But let’s get real: this game comes down to how often Cleveland’s defense can turn away Mahomes. There’s also a gut feeling the Browns may be a “just happy to be here” team this weekend. Ten points is a big number, but the feeling is the Chiefs won’t screw around — I’m riding the champs to cover.
Gable’s Guess: The highest point spread of the weekend here. That hasn’t moved from where we opened it. The Chiefs have been atrocious against the spread lately. They’ve been very good for sportsbooks, because the public continues to lay the points with them. We all know Andy Reid’s history off a bye, so I would expect to see some plays on offense that you haven’t seen this year from them yet. The Browns are capable of scoring a lot of points as well. For them, it’s going to be really important to establish the run early and open up play action for Mayfield. They should get Nick Chubb a lot of carries and Hunt needs to be involved heavily as well. Defensively for Cleveland, I don’t know if they have enough to stop the Chiefs. So, Cleveland needs to keep their foot on the gas offensively. The Chiefs have not won a game by more than six points since Week 8, when they beat the Jets. The Browns have scored more than 40 points four times this year. I don’t trust the Chiefs enough defensively here. I do think they win, but I’m going to take the over in this game.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Browns (7-10 ATS) just shocked the Steelers 48-37 last week, winning outright as 5.5-point road dogs. Now they travel to Kansas City to face the top-seeded Chiefs (6-9-1 ATS). This line opened with Kansas City listed as a 10-point home favorite. The public is split and doesn’t know who to back. They love Mahomes at home, but are also wary of laying double-digits against a feisty Browns squad. This line hasn’t budged off the opener of 10, but we are seeing some books juice up the Browns +10 (-115), signaling some liability on the dog and a possible drop to 9.5. Divisional round dogs getting 7 points or more are roughly 60 percent ATS over the past decade. Clay Martin, the lead ref, has historically favored road teams (70 percent ATS). The Browns will get a boost with the return of Stefanski, Ward and possibly offensive lineman Joel Bitonio. A road team with a good run game getting double-digit points in a playoff game is hard to pass up. I’ll back the Browns +10.
Our Pick: Don’t like any of the options. Reluctantly siding with the over.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-5) (+140, +3, O/U 52) at New Orleans Saints (13-4)
A compelling matchup because … this will be the third time this season these teams have played, and will likely be the last time Drew Brees and Tom Brady face each other. New Orleans will be looking to avoid another disaster at home during the playoffs while the Bucs are, in a way, playing with house money. Still, a loss for Brady and Tampa would be somewhat of a disappointment despite their underdog status.
Altruda’s Angle: In two previous meetings this season, the Saints completely flustered Brady. Brees looked like his typical self in leading the Saints past the Chicago Bears last weekend by throwing for 265 yards and a pair of scores while facing little pressure, and Alvin Kamara kept the chains moving with 99 rushing yards. Stud receiver Michael Thomas also looked sharp after missing the final three games of the season, contributing five receptions for 73 yards and a TD. Brees played well in both wins over the Bucs, totaling 382 yards with six TD passes, and he was only sacked twice. In contrast, Brady was picked off five times and sacked six times as he had only two scoring throws. While the Buccaneers offense was able to move up and down the field versus the Washington Football Team, the defense left something to be desired as the unfancied Taylor Heinicke had a 300-yard game. New Orleans’ defense has been the difference in this series because it can stop the run and generate pressure on Brady without needing to blitz. That creates tighter passing windows, and, while Brady can still fire it into some spots, there are others he cannot. Look for the Saints to make it 3-for-3. I’m laying the points with the narrow spread.
Gable’s Guess: If you would’ve told me Washington would have scored three touchdowns against Tampa, I would say more than likely they would have won that game. It’s very surprising Tampa gave up what they did defensively last week. It makes you wonder what they’re going to be like against New Orleans, a much better offensive team. Brady had 12 interceptions on the year. Five of them came against the Saints. Since Bruce Arians took over as head coach in 2019, the Buccaneers are 0-4 against the Saints and have lost by a combined 46 points in just the two games this season. He has not had any success whatsoever against Sean Payton. But they have looked much better since they got routed the second time they played. Brady’s been getting rid of the ball a lot quicker the last several weeks. Antonio Brown continues to make strides every week. He’s becoming a favorite target for Brady. Tampa is going to need another huge game out of their offensive line to be successful. This is another game I’m going to take the over. I see both teams scoring well into the 20s, if not 30s.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Bucs (9-8 ATS) have won five-straight and just beat Washington 31-23, although they failed to cover. The Saints (10-6-1 ATS) have won three straight, including a 21-9 victory over the Bears in last week’s playoff opener, covering as 11-point home favorites. This line opened with New Orleans listed as a 3.5-point home favorite. Some shops opened closer to -4. Pros immediately pounced on Brady and the Bucs getting the hook (+3.5), forcing oddsmakers to drop this line down. The juice looks like it may rise back to 3.5. Divisional round dogs are roughly 59 percent ATS over the past decade. Tampa is expected to get star linebacker Devin White back from the COVID-19 list. The Bucs enjoy a 1-day rest advantage, having played last Saturday while the Saints played on Sunday. Give me the points with Brady. Wait to get the hook (+3.5)
Our Pick: Brees can’t end his career with a home loss, can he? Lay the points.
Last Week: 2-4, Season: 49-40–1
Editor’s note: Lines fluctuate throughout the week based on injuries, weather reports and other factors. Make sure to double-check odds before betting.
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