NFL Best Bets: Experts Pick Every Divisional Round Matchup

A trio of sharps look at the four Divisional Round games coming this weekend

January 19, 2024 9:13 am
The Chiefs and Bills will meet in the playoffs yet again.
The Chiefs and Bills will close out the NFL's Divisional Round.
Ryan Kang/Getty Images)

This is NFL Best Bets, a recurring series in which football experts and handicappers lend us their insights and picks for the most intriguing matchups for each week of the professional football season.

In our Divisional Round edition of Best Bets, Thomas Gable, the director of race and sportsbook at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum of VSiN, and Mike Golic Jr. of DraftKings share their opinions on the quartet of win-or-go-home games that will be played on Saturday and Sunday. Hopefully this weekend of NFL action lives up to the hype, as last week’s “Super” wild card round was anything but.

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

Texans (+9.5, O/U 43.5) at Ravens

Appelbaum’s Assessment: This line opened with the Ravens listed as a 9.5-point home favorite. It briefly dipped to Ravens -9 before rising back to -9.5. It has never risen to -10. Reading between the lines, all liability seems to be on the Texans plus the points. Houston is receiving 72% of bets, which worries me as a contrarian, but all of my system matches on Houston. Playoff dogs are 4-2 ATS this postseason and 47-31 ATS (60%) since 2017. Playoff dogs who missed the postseason the previous year, like Houston, are 3-1 ATS this postseason and 37-18 ATS (67%) since 2017. Fading divisional round favorites off a bye is 59% ATS since 2003. CJ Stroud is 6-2 ATS as a dog in his career. Lamar Jackson is just 1-9 ATS as a favorite of 7 points or more since 2021. Give me the Texans with the points.

Gable’s Guess: The Texans have played way above expectations this entire season, and being one win away from the AFC title game is huge for C.J. Stroud in his rookie season. Cleveland’s defense could not stop Houston at all last week. I think it’s going to be a lot tougher for Stroud on the road this week. There could be a rust factor here as several Ravens sat out the last week of the season and then had another week off. Baltimore has the No. 1 seed, and every game will be a home game for them, so there will be questions if they don’t get it done. I give Stroud a lot of credit for how he looked in his first playoff game, but it’s a different story here. I want to lay anything less than 10 with Baltimore.

Golic’s Gamble: Houston has been an incredible story all season, but I think Baltimore is built to hurt them in all of the wrong places. The Ravens’ defense is most vulnerable against the run, which is where the Texans rank in the bottom half of the league in most categories. A Texan defense that is vulnerable against play action papered over that last week against a Browns team that had lost its bite in the rushing attack. It will be difficult to do that against the No. 1 rushing offense in football and one of the best-rushing QBs ever, who is also the foundation of a lethal passing attack. Laying the points with the Ravens.

IH Best Bet: Expect Baltimore to get hit — and hit back. Think the Texans keep it close, which means points. Over.

Packers (+9.5, O/U 50.5) at 49ers

Appelbaum’s Assessment: This line opened with the 49ers listed as a 9.5-point home favorite. We saw the 49ers rise to -10 briefly before falling back down to -9.5. As a contrarian, I hate the fact that the Packers are the public play, getting 66% of bets. However, similar to the Texans, all of my system matches are on Green Bay, including playoff dogs, playoff dogs who missed the postseason the year before and fading divisional-round favorites off a bye. Jordan Love is 9-5 ATS as a dog in his career. I have to take the points with the Packers.

Gable’s Guess: The Packers are certainly one of the youngest teams in the league, so there isn’t a ton of playoff experience there. Jordan Love has been playing tremendously, but have to wonder how is he going to stack up against this 49ers defense. Green Bay’s offensive line has been giving him great pass protection, but I don’t know if they’re going to have as easy of a time against the Niner secondary as they did against the Dallas secondary. I think Love will have a tougher time. Is there going to be a rust factor with the Niners? They rested lots of guys the last week of the year when they lost to Carson Wentz and the Rams. Anything less than 10, I’ll lay with the 49ers.

Golic’s Gamble: Here are two defenses with strong cornerback play and some question marks against the run. I think there’s an invitation to go up the middle on both sides with the 49ers ranking 24th in rushing success rate on defense and the Packers dealing with some inconsistent linebacker play. Both coaches know each other well enough to make this a game that should be tightly contested. Siding with the under.

IH Best Bet: It’s a big number, but the 49ers have had Green Bay’s number. Going to lay the points.

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Buccaneers (+6.5, O/U 49.5) at Lions

Appelbaum’s Assessment: This line opened with the Lions listed as a 6-point home favorite. The public is jumping on the Detroit bandwagon and 60% of bettors are laying the points with Detroit. This lopsided betting has pushed the Lions up from -6 to -6.5, with some shops even flirting with a move up to -7. Tampa Bay may not be sharp play, but I consider them to be a value play. The Bucs are only getting 40% of bets, giving them contrarian value in a heavily bet primetime game, plus an inflated line. The Bucs are 12-6 ATS this season and 9-3 ATS as a dog, both the best in the NFL. Tampa Bay also has the better defense, allowing 18.6 PPG (5th best) while Detroit is giving up 23.2 (23rd). I’ll wait and shop around for the key number or buy a half-point and take Bucs +7.

Gable’s Guess: The Lions just got their first home playoff win in decades, and now they get another home playoff game. Maybe there’s a letdown coming because it was such an emotional game. Now they have to get up and do it again against Tampa. For the Bucs, I thought Baker Mayfield played a great game against Philly. Honestly, Tampa should have won that game by even more than they did. Guys who are normally pretty sure-handed like Mike Evans were dropping balls left and right. Tampa looked good and I think they can get some of those mistakes corrected, so I’ll take the points. The Bucs should be able to keep this close against Detroit.

Golic’s Gamble: Detroit is finally healthy on both lines of scrimmage in a way that makes them VERY dangerous. Starting center Frank Ragnow has dealt with a variety of injuries this season, but is determined to gut this out, while the defense got Alim McNeill back in the middle of Week 18 and watched him show up in the backfield constantly vs the Rams last weekend. With those two units solidified, as well as Jahmyr Gibbs’ continued ascent, I think the Lions will follow up their first postseason win in three decades with their second in much less time. Laying the points with the Lions.

IH Best Bet: The Bucs are playing with house money with all the pressure on Detroit. Tampa and the points.

Chiefs (+2.5, O/U 45.5) at Bills

Appelbaum’s Assessment: This line opened with the Bills listed as a 2.5-point home favorite. The public is riding Buffalo, with 62% of bettors laying the points. This lopsided betting is pushing most books toward Bills -3. Kansas City is in a rare contrarian spot, receiving only 38% of bets. The Chiefs enjoy a rest advantage, having played on Saturday while the Bills played on Sunday. Patrick Mahomes is 8-1 ATS in his career as a dog, including 2-0 SU and ATS against the Bills in the playoffs. I can’t pass up the opportunity to sweat Mahomes as a contrarian dog. I’ll wait for the line to move or buy up the Chiefs to the key number of +3.

Gable’s Guess: If the Bills lose to the Chiefs, I think you almost have to move on from Buffalo coach Sean McDermott because it’s starting to feel like they can’t get past the Kansas City ceiling. You don’t want to waste the entire career of Josh Allen, so you’re going to have to move on and find somebody else to guide the ship. I thought the Chiefs played the most complete game we’ve seen from them in a long time in the wild-card round. Aside from some poor execution in the red zone, I thought they looked pretty good. That said, this is Patrick Mahomes’ first playoff game on the road. It’ll be interesting to see if he can go into an opposing city and still come away as a winner. This may be the year Buffalo finally gets over the hump. I think KC certainly has a championship-caliber defense, but the offense is not. I am going to back the Bills here. I think they’re going to be able to finally get past Kansas City.

Golic’s Gamble: If not now, then when? The Bills are the hottest team in football no matter the temperature. Josh Allen should be leading the charge on the ground vs. a Chiefs team that sits 28th in EPA/play vs the run on defense. The Bills’ defensive front can get pressure rushing four with much greater ease than the Dolphins, who were forced to blitz Patrick Mahomes (a historically bad decision) last week. It all should add up to a Bills win. I think we have a false sense of how much the Chiefs improved because of how bad Miami was last week. I think Buffalo finally gets it done. Laying the points.

IH Best Bet: It’s crazy to say, but the Chiefs are more of a cold-weather team than the Bills. Taking the points.

Last Week: 3-3, This Season: 48-38-4

Editor’s note: Betting lines fluctuate based on injuries, the weather and other factors. Double-check the odds before betting.

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