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NFL Playoffs Live Betting: How To Live Bet the Divisional Round on Sunday

NFL Playoffs Live Betting: How To Live Bet the Divisional Round on Sunday article feature image
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Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images. Pictured: Legendary jewelry courtesy of Jerry Rice.

With two of the NFL’s “final four” already set, we had two more tickets waiting to be punched on Sunday. The Bengals have already taken care of business against the Bills. Now, it’s time for the weekend’s finale as the Dallas Cowboys travel to San Francisco to take on the 49ers.

Live betting the playoffs is a unique challenge, as by definition, only teams with solidly winning records are left. It’s easy to get misled by pace stats with those teams — for example, all eight remaining teams play slower in the second halves of games.

That’s largely because they’ve spent most second halves protecting leads, but they can’t all be ahead this time. Therefore, we’ll be looking more at things like pass rate over expectation, and trailing vs. leading splits in our analysis.

Here are the live betting angles we’re watching on Sunday.

The Live Bets to Watch For on Divisional Round Sunday

Cowboys-49ers:  Unders With a 49ers Lead

This game is a bit more challenging, since both teams skew run-heavy (both are bottom-ten in pass rate over expectation) and also stick to similar paces regardless of the scoreboard.

San Francisco plays slow whether trailing or leading, with the 28th and 30th ranked pace stats respectively. Dallas plays quickly no matter what, coming in at third and fifth.

The defensive DVOA splits don’t do us much good, either. These are the top two teams in the league by overall defensive DVOA, with both ranking top five against both the pass and the run.

However, the offensive DVOA numbers are where we have some insight. San Francisco is actually more efficient throwing the ball, despite doing so relatively infrequently. Thus, we should expect less overall offense with them protecting a lead — which should drop their pass rate even further.

Beyond that, the more important angle is to zig when this game zags. If this total gets pushed up for any reason, or we see some fluky scores (or fluky stops, like red zone turnovers or fourth down plays at the goal line) we want to be on the other side moving forward.

With a pregame total of 47, we’ll likely take anything considerably higher or lower should it arise, especially if the “eye test” tells us the actual score differs from what we’d expect at the time.

Bills-Bengals: Unders if Buffalo Leads, Overs Otherwise

As mentioned above, this is a rematch of a Monday Night Football game that never saw the ending in Week 17. Not much seemed to have changed from how we were approaching it from a live betting standpoint. Here’s how we saw it then:

“This one is fairly straightforward. The Bengals play at roughly the same pace regardless of game script, while the Bills follow more standard splits.

“Buffalo plays extremely fast when trailing, running their average play in just under 24 seconds. When leading, that number jumps to almost 28, with close games falling roughly in the middle.

“When you combine that with the Bengals’ steady pace, this one should play fastest with the Bills behind, and slowest with them leading. The Bills are also a far more efficient offense when throwing the ball, so them getting in front should lower the game’s efficiency as well. (For what it’s worth, the Bengals are better running the ball from a DVOA perspective, but it’s basically even.)

“Therefore, we need to weigh game script and total here to come up with the right time to make the bet. The pregame total is right around 50, so we’ll be looking for a better number than that on either side of it. Obviously, a high-scoring game with Buffalo in front or a lower-scoring Bengals lead would be ideal, but we’ll play it by ear.”

The pregame total was again right around 50, so the approach was essentially the same. The only caveat was that we were expecting the Bills to be a bit more aggressive even with a lead, so we’d need an even better line before taking any unders.

Instead, this one quickly went the other way, with the Bengals taking a big lead early. We’ll keep monitoring this for now to see how things unfold to start the second half and where the live number ends up.

How We Approach Live Betting in General

The NFL is perfect for live betting, with the pauses between plays providing plenty of time to get bets in. This season, I’ve built a model to project the pace of play under a variety of in-game scenarios. These include first vs. second half, as well as which team is leading or when the game is within a touchdown.

The primary benefit is for betting totals. If the game is going to be faster or slower than was assumed pregame, the application is obvious. Faster-paced games tend to produce more points.

Player props also present some interesting opportunities. Sportsbooks are offering a variety of live player props, and faster or slower than expected games create obvious opportunities.

Take a look around various books before placing bets, though. There tends to be more variation between shops in live markets than there is pregame.

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