NFL Betting: How to Pick the Divisional Round Games

Going into last weekend, there were 14 football games left in the 2020-21 season (including the college football national title game). With just seven matchups left, we’re gearing up for what’s typically the best slate of football in the NFL playoffs: Divisional Round weekend.

Unfortunately, it’s tough to find betting value during this stretch of the postseason, so you have to dig deep and get creative. One way I’ll look to bet this week is player props, but I need more time to find the best wagers, so I’ll tweet out what I like on Saturday morning.

I’ll give a full preview of the games on a Periscope show I host called Weekend Warriors. The show will be live for an hour this Saturday at 11 a.m. ET and can be seen on Stadium’s Periscope channel or Stadium’s Twitter.

Here are my thoughts for the Divisional Round.

Rams at Packers (-6.5): The line for this game opened Packers -7 with a total of 46.5. The line has gone down a tick, and the total is now 45.5.

Case for the Rams: The Rams are led by a strong defense, and Sean McVay has done a tremendous job coaching the offense. McVay has a lot of familiarity with Packers head coach Matt LaFleur from their assistant coaching days in Washington, so I expect an amazing game plan from McVay this week. For most of the season I rated the Packers and Rams evenly, but I’ve downgraded the Rams since a Week 16 loss at the Seahawks when Jared Goff broke his right thumb. Even with the downgrade, I made this line Packers -5.5, so there’s a case for line value on the road team.

Case for the Packers: The Packers having a first-round bye last week and playing at home against a Southern California team justifies why this line opened at -7. The other case for the Packers is Goff playing in 30-degree weather less than three weeks removed from thumb surgery. Goff was 9-for-19 in relief of John Wolford last week and the added element of the weather makes it hard to trust the Rams in a pregame bet.

Last week I was looking at unders in Rams-Seahawks before settling on the first-half under as my favorite pick from the game. It looked like a good bet until a pick-six by the Rams with 6:40 to play in the second quarter changed the game. This week I’m going to be looking to bet under again as the Rams need to run the ball, which will chew clock. Under 45.5 is worth a small play, but I’ll be looking to bet more on a live under after the first few possessions if the number is higher than 45.5. I want to see how Goff looks early, and I also want to wait at least one Packers possession before going under. I expect LaFleur to have a very good game script for Aaron Rodgers and the offense, especially with extra time to prepare. If you don’t have access to live betting then you can go second-half under at halftime.

Pick: Under 45.5

Ravens at Bills (-2.5): The line for this game opened Bills -2.5 and instantly got as low as -1 in some spots. Since then, there has been “buy back” on the Bills, and it’s back to the original number.

Case for the Ravens: The Ravens are on a six-game winning streak and have improved on defense after injuries and COVID-19 hit the team in the middle of the year. Offensively, the run-happy Ravens should matchup well against the Bills because of Buffalo’s weak rush defense.

Case for the Bills: The Bills overcame a slow start and had some good fortune in their win over the Colts last weekend. It was the franchise’s first playoff win in 25 years; Could it be the close victory they need to propel them through this postseason? The Bills closed -7 against the Colts last week, so you can argue this line is short if you aren’t a believer in the Ravens.

This is a game I’m torn on. I think the number is right where it should be. If it got to Bills -3 then I would consider the Ravens catching a field goal. If this was a normal NFL week, I would have the Ravens teased up to +8.5, but I don’t think there’s another leg I trust to pair with them this week. As for the total, I was thinking of over 49.5 in this game until I checked the weather. There’s a chance of snow on Saturday night in Orchard Park, so I want to wait closer to kickoff before taking a stand there.

Pick: Pass 

Browns at Chiefs (-10): Shortly after the Browns upset the Steelers on Sunday night, the Chiefs opened as a 9.5-point favorite in this game with the total at 54. That quickly moved to Chiefs -10 and a total of 55.5. The total has continued to rise (now at 57), while the spread has remained the same throughout the week.

Case for the Browns: I’ll start by saying this number is inflated, as I personally made the line Chiefs -8.5. The Chiefs haven’t covered a closing point spread since Nov. 1 against the Jets and oddsmakers are going to continue to charge a tax if you want to bet on Kansas City because bettors love backing this team. The Browns are expected to get a lot of important parts back who missed last week, including head coach Kevin Stefanski and cornerback Denzel Ward. Thanks to the way they run the ball and protect quarterback Baker Mayfield, the Browns’ offense has a favorable matchup against the Chiefs’ defense.

Case for the Chiefs: Just like the Packers, the Chiefs benefitted from a week off last week and that shapes the current number. The most obvious case for the Chiefs is their offense will be able to score against a spotty Browns defense, especially coming off a bye week. You can also argue it’s a letdown game for the Browns after beating a hated division opponent last week and snapping a 17-game losing streak at Heinz Field (for the record, I don’t buy that argument because there shouldn’t be a letdown in a postseason game and the Browns are a well-coached team).

There are several bets I’m considering in this game. Browns +6.5 first half and +10 for the full game are ways I could go. The full-game over is another one I like because I expect both offenses to exceed their lofty expectations on Sunday. The one bet I want to isolate is the Browns’ team total over. I can see the Browns covering this spread, and if they were to do that they’ll need to score to keep up with the Chiefs. I can also picture the Chiefs scoring a late touchdown to cover the spread, so I’m hesitant in taking a position on +10. That leads back to Cleveland’s team total over, which I’ll really like if the Browns’ offensive line gets healthy.

Pick: Browns’ team total over 23.5

Buccaneers at Saints (-3): The spread and total moved quickly in this matchup, going from Saints -4 to -3 with the total rising up to 52. This is the third meeting of the season between these two division opponents with the Saints taking both contests to help them win the NFC South.

Case for the Buccaneers: It’s hard for me to make a case for the Buccaneers. The narrative will be it’s tough to beat a team three times in a season, but the Saints won handily in both meetings. The first game was Tom Brady’s Tampa debut, and it ended in a 34-23 loss for the Buccaneers. The last meeting was in Week 9 and resulted in a resounding 38-3 win for the Saints on a Sunday night.

Case for the Saints: Before last week, I bet on the Saints to win the NFC. I thought they would get past the Bears, and I was confident they would beat their opponent this week whether it was the Seahawks or Buccaneers. The Saints clearly have a matchup edge based on what happened in the previous two meetings, and I think the line should be Saints -3.5. The Saints are also getting healthy at the right time, and they’re right up there talent-wise with the Packers for the best team in the NFC.

I already have the Saints future to win the NFC, but I would add another bet at Saints -3 or a cheap moneyline wager before this game kicks off. In the meantime, I’ll be rooting for the Rams to upset the Packers on Saturday to setup an easier path for the Saints to reach the Super Bowl.

Pick: Saints -3