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Divisional Round - Vegas Lines, Over/Under Picks & Predictions


Welcome to the Divisional breakdown here at RotoBaller! The Wild Card round played out vastly different than most of us anticipated, and it has given us some hefty spreads for the second round of the playoffs. Three of the four teams are currently priced to win by at least a touchdown, which puts us in an awkward position when handicapping these games.

In general, overreactions are prevalent in the sports betting world. It is what allows bookmakers to set prices that look appealing on the surface but are meant to be nothing more than fool's gold. I think that is something you need to keep in mind when doing your research this week and try not to let any single thing you saw last weekend cloud your judgment going forward

There are a lot of moving pieces to begin any NFL week, so I will update this article as pertinent information comes to light. Without further ado, let's jump right into the NFL Divisional round.

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Minnesota Vikings vs. San Francisco (-7.0): O/U 45.0

The Minnesota Vikings are not a bad football team, but their victory over the New Orleans Saints did come as a bit of a shock to most people watching on Sunday. I don't think the result was overly surprising when you consider the fact that the Vikings featured a run game that could cause New Orleans issues if they took advantage of outside rushes. But despite the surprising win, we shouldn't all of a sudden forgive their missteps along the way this year.

There are a few key points we should look into when trying to figure out what the casinos believe the proper line should be behind this game. It is important to note that the Vikings opened as an eight-point underdog on the road last week to New Orleans, and regardless of what shop you use as your source for initial pricing this week against the 49ers, you are going to be looking at a range between +6.5 and +7.0. The reason I find diving into the matchup in this fashion is because we do have some information about what the proper number would have been just a week ago.

Let's not forget that the 49ers traveled into New Orleans during Week 14, a game where San Francisco was pegged as a one-point underdog on the road. Somewhere around three points generally is the accepted power rating for what home-field advantage is worth if other mitigating factors aren't coming into play, so we are looking at a spot that says sportsbooks had the 49ers two points better than the Saints on a neutral field.

When we come back around to tie this whole picture together, a proper opening line would have been about 10 points for the 49ers and Vikings just a week ago. I don't believe casinos would have wanted to take on the full liability of giving sharp bettors a key number of 10 to begin the week, but we were probably looking at around -9.5 when taking into account all determinants. All of this begs the question: Why do we get this over adjustment? And how can we take advantage of it?

Public perception is the answer to the first part of the question, but there is a common misunderstanding when it comes to why shops open numbers where and how they do. Books aren't trying to provide a price that is dead even in terms of value; rather they are looking to find the ideal going rate that draws action towards the area they want. That might mean looking for even bet splits on games where they don't want any liability and sometimes it means releasing a number that is going to make them need one team or another.

I don't want to make it sound as if a correction of three points isn't possible, but a movement of that kind this late in the season would require injury or some other variable to shift the line. If you go back and watch how the Vikings were able to escape New Orleans, you will see they used their personnel in an ideal fashion. Minnesota moved their outside pass rushers to the middle to apply pressure up the gut, which caused Drew Brees issues because of his height. On top of that, the Vikings ran Dalvin Cook directly to the outside because of injuries suffered by the Saints to their outside defenders. You can't take away Minnesota's superior gameplan, but you can begin to question New Orleans' lack of adjustment and the inability they showed to defend their flaws.

The Vikings have done a solid job on the year in defending tight ends when teams enter the red zone - only allowing one score, but their 91 receptions surrendered place them fifth-worst in the NFL. That is a little alarming going up against George Kittle, but their most significant disadvantage might come on the outside and through the trenches. The Vikings rank 26th in defensive success rate against the pass, as well as 31st against the rush. That is a bad combination against a team that likes to take shots to Emmanuel Sanders/Deebo Samuel and then use their three-headed backfield to deliver the kill shot. I think we see this game get ugly early and expect San Francisco to roll into the NFC Championship.

Prediction: 49ers 27 – Vikings 17 

Recommended Picks: 49ers (-7.0), Under 45

The total appears to be pretty close at 45, although I do think there is still a little value left on the under at that number. Head coach Kyle Shanahan is most likely not going to be overly aggressive with QB Jimmy Garoppolo making his first playoff start, and it was obvious last weekend that the Vikings prefer to shorten the game by running themselves.

 

Tennessee Titans vs. Baltimore Ravens (-9.5): O/U 47.5

If I told you before the game last week that Ryan Tannehill was going to go into Foxboro and throw for 73 yards, you would never have expected for Tennessee to come out of New England victorious. Well, that is precisely what he did, as the Titans ran 49 offensive snaps for a whopping 4.8 yards per play in the game.

To me, this is a Tenessee team that might have been sharp around the time Ryan Tannehill took over for the squad in Week 6, but when we look at their schedule during that duration, only two wins have come against teams inside the playoffs, which includes a victory against a Houston Texans unit that was resting their starters in Week 17.

The Titans have faced the eighth-easiest schedule in the NFL in terms of passers, but it has only amounted to a success rate that places them 23rd in the league. Yes, they deserve some credit for stopping Tom Brady and company, but that was a team who was struggling to find an identity on offense all season. It is going to be extremely hard for the Titans to have any chance of springing the upset if they can't figure out a way to put the Ravens in third-and-long situations throughout the game, and if we look at the numbers, they are only ranked 28th against the pass during first and second downs.

On the flip side of the ball, the popular sentiment is going to be that Derrick Henry has a chance to lead the Titans to another upset victory, but we need to discuss that possibility for a second. There is no taking away from Henry's dynamic performance last Saturday, but the size difference between what New England has on their front seven and what the Ravens possess is vastly different. Baltimore has enormous defenders that should be able to disrupt Henry's attack, and it was apparent to me last weekend that the Titans are going to struggle to produce points if they ever find themselves behind early.

The first few minutes of this contest might tell a significant story about what kind of a game we are in store for, but I find it challenging to handicap this in a manner that gives the Titans much of a shot. Tannehill is going to have to show me something offensively that I don't think they can accomplish against an upper-echelon sort of defense, and assuming he can't, this has blowout potential written all over it.

Prediction: Ravens 31 – Titans 13

Recommended Picks: Ravens (-9.5), Under 47.5

Similar to the first game on Saturday, there is some value on the total because of my stance on the underdog. It is probably a little more dangerous in this contest since the Ravens are so dynamic offensively, but I do believe the Titans' downside is greater than the Vikings. 

 

Houston Texans vs. Kansas City Chiefs (-9.5): O/U 51

I haven't touched this game yet in any fashion, but I do have some friends that are professional gamblers that unloaded on the Kansas City Chiefs (-8.5) when this spread opened. I'm not sure if I will get myself to go down the same road, but they do come from opinions I trust.

Knowing Bill O'Brien the way we do, I can't foresee the Texans going any route other than conservative on the road. Houston was able to pull the upset in this exact scenario during their Week 6 matchup, but I don't want to take too much away from that game. Patrick Mahomes was still dealing with some minor injury concerns, and the game got away from them schematically.

When we look at how that team was constructed at the time, the Chiefs were in a midst of a shaky start to the season, their defense was still adjusting to Steve Spagnuolo's new 4-3 system, and their injury list was about as long as you could find at that point in the year. In total, five starters missed the game, including offensive linemen Eric Fisher and Andrew Wylie.

However, that situation isn't where we are at as we enter the Divisional Round. Every player on the Chiefs' active roster has been healthy enough to practice this week, and there is a real argument that can be made that the secondary is the most underrated unit in football. Those factors make me believe that O'Brien takes a conservative approach, which could cause this game to be played at a slower pace than expected.

Despite being heralded as an offensive wizard, Andy Reid's teams have struggled offensively the week after a bye. On the six occasions to date, all games have gone under the posted number, and it is not as if the totals have been egregiously high at an average of 44 points. I realize those trends can be thrown out the window since not every situation had the dynamic Mahomes under center, but it doesn't help that the Texans are most likely going to attempt to keep the contest competitive early behind Carlos Hyde. I think Houston's ultimate downfall will come from their conservative nature, but it might be enough to keep this game at a slower tempo than expected.

Prediction: Chiefs 30– Texans 17

Recommended Picks: Chiefs (-9.5), Under 51

Sharps and squares both seem to be on the Chiefs. That should push this up to +10 eventually, as books hope to get a little buyback.

 

Seattle Seahawks vs. Green Bay Packers (-4.0): O/U 47.0

The final game of the Divisional Round places two of the NFL's most overrated teams against one another. Only three of the final eight combatants left feature a negative net yards per play, and as you may have guessed by the opening statement, we have two of them here (the Texans are the other).

Depending on what statistics you find important, you can make a solid case for either side of this game. Do you believe Green Bay's inept run defense and faulty secondary when it comes to explosive plays will falter? Or will it be Seattle's defense that ranks last as a complete unit of all the remaining teams?

My personal power rating on these two sides slightly differs from most. I think a lot of Green Bay's early-season struggles were masked by their record, but the fortunate luck of being able to slip into the two seed should pay dividends now. Wide receiver Davante Adams is healthy and firing on all cylinders, and running back Aaron Jones has provided this offense with a running game that hasn't always been able to be counted on in years past. I am not going to try and sell the narrative they are the best team in the league, but I do think they are a few points better on a neutral field than where I have the Seahawks.

I don't like placing home-field advantage above four points in any spot, but Lambeau Field does reach right around that threshold for me. With the 2.5-point edge I give the Packers on a neutral field, I have the spread being -6.5 if we bestow the full advantage to this spot. I am not necessarily going to argue against anyone that disagrees and likes Seattle in this situation since both teams aren't quite what meets the eye, but you are going to have to roll with the information you believe to be true and go from there.

Prediction: Packers 31– Seahawks 20

Recommended Picks: Packers (-4.0), Over 47

 

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