How often are you upset that it's a Friday? Not often, right? Well, I'm annoyed that today is only Friday. I want it to be Saturday because that's when the awesome weekend of sports will begin. I'm very much looking forward to the NFL playoffs, college basketball and soccer this weekend.
Last weekend's NFL playoff games sucked. I've already spent time here complaining about it, but I've also spent time convincing myself that last weekend's games sucking only means it's a lot more likely this weekend's games will be awesome. First of all, we've trimmed the fat. If the Wild Card suckfest accomplished anything, it was thinning the herd of all the bad teams. Only the best eight remain, and now the games will improve.
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They have to. They're due. So I've convinced myself that we're all in store for the most incredible 48 hours in NFL history. I hope you're ready. Don't worry -- I'm here to get you ready if you aren't. Today's letter is packed with picks for the entire weekend, including picks for three of the four NFL games. Before we get to them, though, let's catch up on all the latest news.
- The biggest NBA storylines heading into the second half of the regular season.
- It looks like the Giants didn't have to leave the state to find their new general manager.
- Eight underrated college players who really improved their draft stock this season.
- It looks like another American could be making their way to the Premier League.
Now let's find some winners.
All times Eastern, and all odds via Caesars Sportsbook
🔥 The Hot Ticket
The Pick: Wisconsin -3 (-110): Wisconsin is an odd team. When watching the Badgers, I'm constantly struck by the idea that I'm watching a team that has no right to be playing as well as it is. Johnny Davis has been fantastic, but nothing about this team strikes me as elite. Still, it's hard to argue with the results.
The Badgers are not only 15-2, but they're 15-2 while playing one of the most demanding schedules in the country. If the season ended right now, they'd be no lower than a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But the season has a long way to go, and odds are the Badgers will come back down to Earth a bit before it does. I don't think the process begins tonight.
Michigan State is coming off a 64-62 home loss to Northwestern, but, while that's a bad loss, what concerns me more about the Spartans is their lack of a challenging road game. Sparty has played only three road games this season, and they've come against Butler, Minnesota and Northwestern. They've won all three, but neither Butler nor Minnesota are any good. Northwestern's fine, but there is no environment at Northwestern home games. People are literally reading books in the bleachers.
The Kohl Center will be a much more difficult environment to play in, and it could impact a Michigan State offense that's a little too reliant on the three-pointer right now. Also, the Spartans have had trouble with turnovers all season long, and that's not likely to improve tonight, either.
Key Trend: Wisconsin is 8-2 ATS in its last 10 as a favorite.
Here's what SportsLine is saying about the game: The SportsLine Projection Model likes a play on the spread in this one too, but does it agree with me?
💰 Weekend Picks
The Pick: Bengals +3.5 (-110) -- Hi, I'm the guy who has been betting against the Titans all season long, and I see no reason to stop now. If you're going to do it, it's best to do it when the Titans are favored. Tennessee is 10-7 ATS on the season, but it's 4-5 ATS as a favorite compared to 6-2 as a dog. And while it's a good team that's getting back to full strength, I still don't have a healthy Tennessee team as being this large a favorite against the Bengals.
I've watched Joe Burrow thrive in too many big spots already to go against him now. This isn't a fluke. I'm not going to proclaim that Burrow is already an elite QB and embarking on a Hall of Fame career just yet, but Burrow is definitely elite and will be in the Hall of Fame (as long as he stays healthy). The surest way to get there is by covering the spread! Join me on the bandwagon now, so 20 years from now, you too can say that you knew it all along.
Key Trend: The Bengals are 6-1 ATS in their last seven road games.
The Pick: 49ers +5.5 (-110) -- I love betting on the 49ers and Kyle Shanahan as underdogs. Since taking over in San Francisco, Shanahan's 49ers teams have gone 25-17 ATS as underdogs, compared to 16-24-1 as favorites. Taking it a step further, as road dogs, the Niners are 17-10 ATS. As road dogs outside the division, they're 11-6. Aren't these wonderful trends?
Also, while they went 3-0 ATS last week, large favorites don't tend to do well in the NFL playoffs. Including last week, they're 11-13 ATS since the 2017 season, and my dumb brain tells me that we're bound to see some regression this week after those blowouts last week.
Maybe it's wishful thinking, but my numbers back it up as well. I have the Packers much closer to being field-goal favorites in this matchup than nearly touchdown favorites.
Key Trend: San Francisco is 11-6 ATS as road dogs outside the NFC West under Kyle Shanahan.
The Pick: Under 48 (-110) -- I want to take the Rams here, but I can't bring myself to do it. Still, it's hard to shake the image of Tom Brady being under pressure so often in the win over Philadelphia after Tampa suffered a couple of injuries on its offensive line. If Tristan Wirfs and Ali Marpet are less than 100% in this game, how will they fare against Aaron Donald, Von Miller and company? That said, it's still Tom Brady, and I'm not all that interested in betting against Tom Brady.
Instead, I'll bet the total. Those concerns I have about the Tampa offense are real, and I'm not as convinced the Rams' offense will look as strong outside on grass as it did at home indoors. Furthermore, Shawn Hochuli will serve as the ref for this game, and his games tend to be lower-scoring. I assume it's because everybody falls asleep while he's spending 15 minutes explaining every penalty to you. Like father like son!
Key Trend: The under is 5-2 in Tampa's last seven playoff games.
Manchester United vs. West Ham United, Saturday, 10 a.m. | TV: Peacock
The Pick: West Ham (+280) -- It wasn't in the column last week, but I bet Aston Villa to beat Manchester United. The match finished in a 2-2 draw thanks to a late comeback by Villa, but United lost the xG battle 2.1-1.0. Villa was the better team. On Wednesday, I bet Brighton to beat United too. That bet also lost, but the xG battle was much closer, as United won 2.3-2.2. The point you should take away from this is that United's defense is an absolute mess at the moment, but David De Gea has played out of his mind and saved his team's hide repeatedly.
The run comes to an end this weekend against West Ham. West Ham is a better team than Man United! It might not have the brand name, and it might not have the players the whole world knows, but it's a better team, and it has been for a while. Whether looking at traditional stats or newer "advanced" metrics, it's hard to find one that says Manchester United is the better team in this match, so if I can get the Hammers at this price, there's no way I'm passing it up.
Key Trend: Manchester United has allowed 4.3 xG over its last two matches, which is not good.
Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur, Sunday, 11:30 a.m. | TV: Peacock
The Pick: Tottenham or Draw (+110) -- Chelsea just beat Tottenham 3-0 across two legs in the Carabao Cup semis, and I think that's impacting the line for this one a little too much. Outside those two matches, Chelsea hasn't been at its best lately. It's been struggling in attack -- outside of a match against Chesterfield, anyway -- and not creating many chances. That was why Chelsea lost to Manchester City last week and could only manage a draw against Brighton on Tuesday. Then there's the match congestion, that's likely playing a role in these struggles. This will be Chelsea's seventh match in January, so it's playing a match once every three days after playing nine matches in December.
Then there's Tottenham. While it lost two matches to Chelsea, it hasn't lost a Premier League match since Antonio Conte took over, and it's flying high after a miraculous comeback against Leicester on Wednesday. While momentum doesn't exist in sports, confidence does, and Tottenham looks like a team that believes in itself for the first time in a long time. It pays off Sunday.
Key Trend: Tottenham haven't lost any of their nine Premier League matches under Antonio Conte.
AC Milan vs. Juventus, Sunday, 2:45 p.m. | TV: Paramount+
The Pick: Juventus (+175) -- Juventus got off to a terrible start to the season, and it could cost them a Champions League spot, but they've been playing much better since the end of November. They've only lost one of their last 11 matches (eight wins), and that loss was a 2-1 loss to Inter in the Supercoppa. Granted, a lot of this has to do with competition. Juve has been beating up on teams in the bottom half of the Serie A table, but they've also managed a win and a draw against Roma and Napoli.
Meanwhile, Milan seems to be in a bit of a funk. The 2-1 loss to Spezia on Monday was the result of bad luck and bad officiating, but Milan is less than 100% right now and missing key players. I just cannot shake the feeling that these two clubs are trending in different directions right now, so I will take the one trending up.
Key Trend: Juventus have lost only three of their last 11 matches.
🔒 SportsLine Pick of the Day: One week after going 3-0 with his Super Wild Card Weekend best bets, legendary NFL handicapper Hank Goldberg has top three plays for the Divisional Round.
🏀 NBA Player Props
We're getting back in the props game! Since I've only got one play for Friday night, here are a few NBA props to help get you through until Saturday.
- TOR OG Anunoby Over 6.5 rebounds & assists (-125)
- GSW Stephen Curry Over 25.5 points (-115)
- CHI Coby White Over 7.5 rebounds & assists (+110)