Expert Picks for All 4 of the NFL’s Divisional Round Playoff Games

Borgata sportsbook director Tom Gable and VSiN sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum offer their insights.

January 21, 2022 7:00 am
Kansas City's Clyde Edwards-Helaire rushing vs the Buffalo Bills at Arrowhead Stadium
Kansas City's Clyde Edwards-Helaire rushing vs the Buffalo Bills at Arrowhead Stadium.
David E. Klutho/Sports Illustrated via Getty

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, 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 for all four Divisional Round playoff games, some of which could be affected by lingering injuries or positive COVID-19 tests.

You’ve got places to go, people to see and possibly some wagers to make, so let’s get to it.

Cincinnati Bengals (+3.5, O/U 47.5) at Tennessee Titans

A compelling matchup because … expected to get back star running back Derrick Henry and have top receivers A.J. Brown and Julio Jones back in the lineup, the Titans should be healthier against the Bengals on Saturday than they were for much of the regular season. The Titans went 6-3 without Henry and it’s only reasonable to expect Tennessee to be a bit more explosive and have an expanded playbook with him back in action. On the other side of the field, the Cincinnati offense did just enough to put away the Raiders last week, letting Las Vegas hang around until the bitter end. Cincy’s defense also couldn’t put away a mediocre Vegas offense until the game’s final whistle. The Titans have just as much overall talent as the Bengals and the rest advantage, tons of playoff experience and a strong coach in Mike Vrabel.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: This line opened with Tennessee listed as a 3-point home favorite. Respected money seems to be laying the points with the Titans as we’ve seen Tennessee jump up from -3 to -3.5. The Titans are receiving 62% of bets and 71% of the money at BetMGM. Much of the value seems to be gone on Tennessee, who wiseguys preferred at the opener of -3. At this point, the Bengals offer some buy-low contrarian value getting the hook. Joe Burrow is 10-7 ATS in his career as a dog. Favorites off a bye in the Divisional Round are just 28-38 ATS (42%) since 2004. Both teams are giving up roughly 21 points per game on defense. The difference comes on offense, where the Bengals are averaging 27 points compared to the 24 points the Titans average. Now that the line is up to 3.5, I’ll grab the Bengals plus the hook. I like a dog who can score and keep pace or a backdoor cover. Burrow and Chase fit the bill. I’d also lean to the over.

Gable’s Guess: The big news for the Titans is Henry probably being available. We don’t know how much of a workload he’s going to get for this game, but we know from what we’ve seen in the past he’s relied upon very heavily by the offense. You wonder whether or not he will be in the same state physically we’re used to seeing him in. A lot of people wrote the Titans off when Henry went out. But kudos to them. They continued to win and got the No. 1 seed. Their defense is what’s been most important for their success this year, especially after the Henry injury. The Bengals did enough to win but may have gotten the benefit of some officiating against the Raiders. But they won and they’re coming in as the underdogs on the road. I think the Bengals have a bright future with Joe Burrow at quarterback, but the offensive line issues they have had all year aren’t going away. I believe the Titans should be able to cover.

Our Pick: Would rather have the line at 3, but we’ll bet on a healthy Henry and the Titans to cover the number.

San Francisco 49ers (+5.5, O/U 47) at Green Bay Packers

A compelling matchup because … no team played a closer game with Green Bay this season than the 49ers, who hosted the Packers in San Francisco earlier this season and lost by two points. The Packers did not play last week while the 49ers had to go on the road and left Dallas with a win after a tough, physical game. Playing on a short week, the banged-up 49ers will be relying on Jimmy Garoppolo, who was very, very shaky down the stretch against the Cowboys. San Francisco’s defense could be missing Nick Bosa and will have a hard time containing Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay’s defense will also be healthier than it has been all year. Due to his time with the Rams, Green Bay coach Matthew LaFleur is also very familiar with Niners coach Kyle Shanahan.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: This line opened with Green Bay listed as a 4.5-point home favorite. Early money poured in on the Packers, driving this line up to the key number of 6. However, we’ve seen some buyback on the 49ers getting the key number of 6, dropping the line back down to 5.5. The Packers are the most lopsided play of the weekend, with 77% of bets laying the points. Green Bay will be a popular teaser as well, dropping the line down to a pick’em. Kyle Shanahan is 26-18 ATS (59%) in his career as a dog. Jimmy G is 14-4 ATS (78%) as a dog. Ron Torbert, the lead ref, has historically favored road teams (62-44 ATS, 58%). I’ll grab the points with the 49ers, ideally waiting for a +6 to pop back up.

Gable’s Guess: Over the last few weeks of the regular season and even last week against the Cowboys, we’ve seen respected money come in on the Niners. Not sure that we will get to 6. If it does go to 6, it probably won’t stay there very long and you’ll probably see some buyback on the Niners. The weather should be extremely cold in Green Bay. I think they’re calling for single digits at game time. Garoppolo suffered a sprained throwing shoulder to go along with his thumb injury. The Niners also have some defensive line questions heading into this one. I think the Packers are just too good. The Niners have had a nice little run, but they’re still prone to make some mistakes. Garoppolo still makes mistakes and he’s not 100% healthy, I look for the Packers to be able to roll here and cover this number.

Our Pick: Don’t really love the 5.5 on either side. That being the case, we’ll look for points and go with the over.

LA Rams (+3, O/U 48) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A compelling matchup because … many members of the Rams were part of the team that went to the Super Bowl three seasons ago and lost to Tom Brady and the Patriots. Those players got some revenge earlier in the season when the Bucs went to LA and lost by 10 and will seek to exact further vengeance by beating Brady for the second time in a matter of months. That won’t be easy, as Brady will be at home for this matchup and the Buccaneers have had an extra day of preparation and rest. It’s tough to imagine Brady faltering in the fourth quarter of a hard-fought playoff game and letting longtime Lion Matthew Stafford get the best of him.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: This line opened with Tampa Bay listed as a 3-point home favorite. Currently, 64% of bets and 67% of money are laying the points with the GOAT at home. However, the line has remained frozen at 3 and the Rams +3 is being juiced up to -115, signaling a possible fall to 2.5. This signals some respected money going on the Rams plus the points. Pros looking to back Brady might be waiting for a drop to 2.5 below the key number of 3 or targeting the Bucs on the moneyline (-150). The total opened at 48.5 and hasn’t budged off the opener despite 87% of bets taking the over. This indicates some wiseguy line freeze action on the under. Shawn Hochuli, the lead ref, has historically favored unders (34-25, 58%). The forecast calls for 10-15 MPH winds. Divisional round home favorites are 27-8 (78%) straight up over the past decade. This is also a revenge game for Tampa Bay after losing to LA back in September. I learned a long time ago not to bet against the GOAT. Give me Brady on the moneyline -135.

Gable’s Guess: You may see this line go back and forth throughout the week. That’ll be the same with the Bills-Chiefs game. It’s kind of interesting. The Buccaneers have some concerns on the offensive line, but Brady looked extremely comfortable against that Eagles defense. That game was pretty much over at halftime. We haven’t seen the Rams defense play the way they did against the Cardinals in a long time. It was a reminder that they still can. Stafford looked very good and got a playoff win under his belt on Monday. Odell Beckham came through with a great touchdown catch, but Cooper Kupp was a bit silent considering the season he’s had. I think Tampa’s secondary can get exploited by Stafford if he’s on. The Rams have enough talented receivers to take advantage, but it’s going to be a little bit harder to run on Tampa Bay than it was on Arizona. I’ll take the 3 with the Rams.

Our Pick: If Brady wins this one, he’s going to the Super Bowl. We don’t think he will. Rams with the points.

Buffalo Bills (+2, O/U 53.5) at Kansas City Chiefs

A compelling matchup because … last year in the AFC Championship Game, Patrick Mahomes and co. pounded the Bills in Kansas City 38-24 to end Buffalo’s breakthrough 2020 season in a painful manner. The Bills got revenge earlier this season when they smoked the Chiefs 38-20 on Sunday Night Football. Since then, the Chiefs have seemed to regain some of their mojo and resemble the team that made it to the Super Bowl last season. Buffalo has won five games in a row, including Saturday’s win over New England, and boasts the top point differential in the NFL at +194. However, they haven’t won a game this season that was decided by a single score.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: This line opened with Kansas City listed as a 2.5-point home favorite. The public loves the idea of getting Mahomes laying a short number at home. However, this line has dipped to 2 or even 1.5 at some shops, signaling some wiseguy Bills money. Josh Allen is 16-9 ATS (64%) in his career as a dog. Both teams are averaging nearly 30 points per game on the season. But the defensive checkmark goes to the Bills, who are only allowing 17 points versus KC allowing 22. These teams met back in Week 5 and Buffalo upset the Chiefs at Arrowhead. I’ll back Buffalo and tease them up to +7.5, +8 or +8.5 which goes through multiple key numbers while pairing them with the Packers and teasing that down to a pick’em.

Gable’s Guess: This is shaping up to be a great game. The market is expecting a lot of points in this one. You have two good offenses and you could certainly see a lot of money coming in on the over here. On the sides, it’s pretty evenly bet so far. My concern with the Chiefs is their defense. They gave up 58 points in the last two weeks of the regular season. It doesn’t ease my mind at all what they did against Pittsburgh last week. Pittsburgh is a broken offense. This is going to be the true test for the Chiefs. I think the team that comes out of this game victorious is probably going to be representing the AFC in the Super Bowl. I’m going to wait and see if I can get 3 with the Bills. I’m not going to take the Bills at 2 or 2.5.

Our Pick: The Bills are at the door. We’ll bet Kansas City keeps it shut for one more season. Lay the points with KC.

Last Week: 3-3; Season: 42-50-2(We blame COVID-19!)

Editor’s note: Betting lines fluctuate throughout the week based on injuries, weather reports and other factors such as COVID-19. Make sure to double-check odds before betting.

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