Early leans for NFL’s divisional round: Don’t sleep on the Vikings
As we mentioned a few weeks ago in this article, the success of favorites in the regular season could potentially provide underdog value in the postseason, which we saw during this past weekend (all four underdogs covered). I think we have a few more inflated lines this upcoming weekend, but I can’t stress enough the importance of shopping for the best line with all four games hovering around key numbers.
Atlanta Falcons (-3, -105) at Philadelphia Eagles | O/U: 42
Saturday, Jan. 13 | 4:35 PM | NBC
The forecast calls for 58-degree temps at kickoff, which will benefit the Falcons playing outside of the comforts of their dome. Eagles had the highest red zone touchdown scoring percentage in the NFL this year at 65.45%. However, over their final 3 games with Nick Foles under center, that percentage dropped to 55.56%. Not bad, as that rate would have put them at 13th in the NFL this year, but certainly not elite. Philly should keep the chains moving on the ground against an Atlanta defensive line that ranks 28th in Power Success Rate (defending short runs), but the Falcons offense has also excelled on third down all season long. I will likely stay away from this game, as I’m not sure the Falcons deserve to be a 3-point road fave, but I’m not in a rush to bet an Eagles team that simply lacks any momentum or identity after the Wentz injury against an Atlanta squad that has been in playoff mode for a few weeks. The Wentz to Foles drop-off will be most evident on third down and red zone success, which will ultimately keep the Lombardi Trophy out of Philadelphia.
Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots (-13) | O/U: 47
Saturday, Jan. 13 | 8:15 PM | CBS
The Titans cannot cover tight ends and running backs in the passing game, ranking 24th and 32nd, respectively, in Football Outsiders’ coverage metrics. Expect huge games from Gronk and Dion Lewis, and for Tom Brady to dink-and-dunk his way down the field at will. On the other side of the ball, the Titans should have success running on New England’s 30th-ranked rush defense in DVOA. My early lean is the under, as I expect both offenses to keep the clock moving with their styles of play, and don’t anticipate too many explosive plays. I will grab the Titans if the line touches 14 at any point this week, as that number is simply too high. Value even sits with Tennessee at the current spread, as I make this line closer to 10.5/11.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers (-7.5) | O/U: 41
Sunday, Jan. 14 | 1:05 PM | CBS
As we saw against the Bills in the wild-card round, the Jags’ D-line can take over games. However, the Steelers are well-equipped to neutralize Jacksonville’s front. Pittsburgh’s O-line ranks No. 1 in adjusted sack rate and No. 7 in adjusted line yards (run blocking). After getting blown out by the Jags at home earlier in the season, Mike Tomlin will have the Steelers extra fired up. I have zero faith in Blake Bortles’ current form, and Le’Veon Bell should fill up the box score against the NFL’s 25th-ranked yards-per-carry defense. I like the Steelers in this spot, but wait for -7 if you missed it on the open.
New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings (-3.5) | O/U: 45
Sunday, Jan. 14 | 4:40 PM | FOX
These two teams played in Week 1 (Viking 29, Saints 19), but throw that result out the window. In that game, Minnesota got enormous days from Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook, neither of whom will play on Sunday. This contest will come down to third-down conversions on both sides of the ball. Minnesota ranks No. 1 (by a significant margin) in third-down conversion defense (25.3%), while New Orleans’ offense surprisingly struggles (19th overall, 37.6%). In fact, the Vikings allowed the lowest single season third down conversion rate since the NFL started recording the stat in 1991. The Saints have been even worse on defense (40.0%, 26th), which spells trouble against a an elite Vikings third-down offense (43.5%, third overall). Give me Minnesota in this matchup, but I’ll wait to see if I can grab a 3 before betting it.
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