The NFL divisional round might be the most popular football weekend of the year. Just like the wild-card round, it features four games, but the wild-card round also tends to knock out the weakest playoff teams. So, when the divisional round comes along, we have four games with the eight teams that should -- hypothetically -- be the best eight teams in the NFL this season.
That usually leads to better games, or so the theory goes. In reality we have one team favored by 10 points (Ravens) and another currently favored by 9.5 (Chiefs) that could creep to 10 before kickoff Sunday. In fact, only one of the four games this weekend currently has a spread lower than a touchdown as I write this on Friday, and that game is between two teams many advanced metrics tell us aren't nearly as good as their records suggest.
Well, maybe this year's divisional round won't be great, but there's one tried and true method for making every NFL weekend exciting: betting on the games. So let's do that.
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One thing we often see in the divisional round is that the home teams coming off a bye are typically overvalued. While there's a reason for that when it comes to winning the games themselves, when it comes to the spread, those home teams tend to get too much credit. So I like looking for road underdogs in these spots, but the only one I truly love this year is Minnesota.
I took the Vikings as road dogs last week, and it paid off, and I like the odds of history repeating this week. There are a couple of remarkable trends involving these teams that are difficult to ignore. One is that the 49ers are 5-12-1 against the spread as a favorite under Kyle Shanahan, and that includes a mark of 3-8-1 ATS as a home favorite. Then there's an insane trend with the Vikings under Mike Zimmer that seals this play. Minnesota's struggles have always been within the NFC North. Under Zimmer, the Vikings are 18-18 ATS in division games. Against everybody else, they're 44-19-1 ATS. That's right, 44-19-1 ATS.
Prediction: 49ers 24, Vikings 20
Who should you back against the spread, on the money line and the total in every divisional round game? And which top Super Bowl contender goes down hard? Visit SportsLine to see their divisional round cheat sheet, all from the model that is up over $7,000 on its top-rated picks.
2. Titans-Ravens Under 47
I want to take the Titans +10 here on principle alone because it's hard to pass up on a double-digit dog in a playoff game. At the same time, I don't much feel like betting against this Ravens team at the moment. Instead, I'll take advantage of the style of play these teams prefer, as well as the conditions they'll be playing in. Both teams are built around running the ball. Baltimore does it with its Heisman-winning duo of Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram. Tennessee uses its Heisman winner Derrick Henry. These are two teams that will establish the living hell out of the run and do so effectively, which keeps the clock running, limits overall possessions, and tends to suppress scoring.
When we factor in current weather forecasts, which are calling for winds between 11 and 14 mph, with stronger gusts, that has an impact on the offenses as well. Finally, Bill Vinovich is officiating this game. While I would never suggest betting a game based merely on a referee, it's difficult to ignore that the under has gone 57-42 in games with Vinovich is the ref. That's just a cherry on top of this play.
Prediction: Ravens 27, Titans 17
3. Seahawks-Packers Under 47
I want no part of the Packers as a home favorite, nor do I want to trust a Seattle team that likely doesn't get past Philadelphia last weekend if Carson Wentz is healthy the entire game. The Seahawks offense is still decimated by injuries and difficult to trust, while Aaron Rodgers hasn't been Aaron Rodgers for a while now, even if people are afraid to say it too loudly.
The Packers have been reliant on their run game to win this season and will no doubt look to ride Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams to victory in Lambeau on Sunday. Factor in the cold weather -- the Packers offense has not been great in cold weather as of late -- and the fact the Seahawks have averaged only 18.6 points per game in their last five, and the under seems like the wisest play.
Prediction: Packers 20, Seahawks 14