Divisional Round Recap

I realize that probably not many people read these recaps but I think they are the most important part of my process. We had another solid week, going 2–2 ATS and 2–0 on game totals, hitting our big play of the week for another solid profit of +5.09 units. But the final record doesn’t always tell the whole tale. Let’s dig in.

BUF -2.5 v. BAL (6 Units): Win 5.45 Units, BUF 17–3.

I thought we might be in trouble on this one when the Ravens opened the game with 6 straight runs for 42 yards. But, as predicted, you don’t win playoff games by running the ball. After those six plays, the Ravens gained 4, 5, 6, 3, 9, and 9 rushing yards on their first six drives. 13 carries for 36 yards. Lamar Jackson did made a couple of nice throws in this one, including a 3rd-and-18 conversion. But when he was knocked out of the game on the last play of the 3rd quarter they were already down 17–3 and facing a 3rd and 23 deep in their own territory. The Ravens’ passing game simply isn’t creative enough to consistently have an edge when the run game falters. We have seen this repeatedly. I’m not sure whether it stems from Jackson’s limitations as a passer or the offensive play-calling (or some combination of both), but if they don’t fix it they will continue to be an easy fade in the playoffs against the best competition.

However, one aspect of this game I did not predict correctly was how much the Bills’ offense would struggle. This game could have been much closer if Jackson had not thrown an unforgivable pick-six in the end zone while trying to tie the game. The Ravens’ defense came to play, and I think I underrated them because their being healthy and Covid-free coincided with a series of easy matchups. I underestimated them based on their season-long performance but the truth is that this defensive unit was elite when healthy, and I should have adjusted up the expectations accordingly. Wind also played a factor (on both sides), diminishing the offensive performance here. Overall, I’m pleased we made this the Play of the Week and think the process was sound.

NO -3 v. TB (3 Units): Loss 3 Units, TB 30–20
Under 52 (1 Unit): Win 0.91 Units

This was another game where I correctly predicted one side of the ball but whiffed on the other. I spent 220 words handicapping the Bucs’ offense and only 44 words on the Saints’ offense, but my incorrect handicap of the Saints’ offense v. Bucs’ defense cost me the pick. It stings especially because my handicapping formula suggested this game would be a pick ’em, and I ignored it because I thought the Taysom Hill games were bringing down the Saints’ numbers. I was wrong there, but more on that in a bit. I’ll start with what I focused on in my write-up and got right.

The Bucs averaged 4.6 yards per play. I predicted that the Bucs would “struggle to score consistently here and may settle for field goals.” Here is a recap of all Tampa Bay drives in this game:
Punt (3-and-out)
Punt (3-and-out)
Field goal
Touchdown drive of three yards (off an interception)
Punt (3-and-out)
Field goal
Punt
Touchdown drive of forty yards (off a fumble)
Field goal
Touchdown drive of twenty yards (off an interception)
End of game

On their three touchdown drives, the Bucs managed 63 total yards. They only scored touchdowns when they started in Saints territory. This team continues to try to throw deep on first down and in short yardage situations, which is not a high percentage, consistent offense. You can talk about drops all you want, but drops are simply more common when you make low percentage throws. I do not believe they have a reliable winning formula, particularly against good defenses. Here, the Saints were winning 20–13 in the third quarter and driving to take a two-score lead. Then Jared Cook fumbled the ball away on a catch for 1st down in Bucs’ territory. From there it was all Tampa Bay as Drew Brees gave the game away with turnovers. The last time the Saints had three turnovers in a game was in 2017. Yet they had four turnovers here. You don’t win many NFL games losing the turnover battle 4–0.

Which brings me to the Saints’ offense. Why did they struggle so much? I think they really missed Taysom Hill and Latavius Murray in the run game and Deonte Harris as well. Last time these teams faced each other (a NO 38–3 victory), Hill accounted for 123 yards, Murray had 42 yards, and Harris had 40 yards. It was obvious in this game that Kamara is not built to handle every snap in a run-heavy offense. Instead of upgrading the Saints’ offense with Brees, I should have downgraded it because they need those gadget plays and they need that balance to be successful. I should have recognized this angle and that was why I ended up on the wrong side of this one.

I also ignored my own advice. I tweeted Friday about how I loved the Bills because they were far better at passing than rushing and the Ravens were far better at rushing than passing. In the playoffs (especially), passing success is far more predictive than rushing success. The Bucs were 2nd in passing yards per game and 28th in rushing yards per game, whereas the Saints were 19th in passing yards per game and 6th in rushing yards per game. I should have applied my analysis here as well and at least lowered my unit count on New Orleans.

Fortunately I salvaged a unit on the Under because both defenses outplayed the offenses in this one. The only reason it was close to going over was the aforementioned short-field touchdowns.

CLE +10 @ KC (2 Units): Win 1.82 Units, KC 22–17

Not too much to glean from this game. Browns getting the 10 points was probably the correct play, but the Chiefs may have been on their way to cover the 10 if Mahomes had stayed healthy. They were doing anything they wanted to against the Browns’ defense early on, and only slowed down a little when Mahomes hurt his foot. The Browns should have scored before the half on that unfortunate fumble out of the end zone by Higgins, but even then it probably would have been 19–10 Chiefs at halftime instead of 19–3. I still liked the Browns to backdoor, but it ended up being much easier after Mahomes got knocked out of the game with a concussion. The Browns even had a chance to pull off the outright upset but would not have against a healthy Mahomes.

One quick note about the spread in this game: I mentioned that it was an inflated spread to avoid people teasing KC down to below 3 points. Sure enough, on Sunday, the spread moved down to 8 where it belonged. With no fear of bettors taking the GB/KC 6-point teaser (because GB had already played), books were able to break the key number down. Just an interesting tidbit on the betting market there.

The only other thing I have to say on this one is huge props to Andy Reid, Eric Bieniemy, and Chad Henne for the game-winning call on 4th down.

LAR +6.5 (1 Unit): Loss 1 Unit, GB 32–18
Over 45.5 (1 Unit): Win 0.91 Units

I didn’t feel great about this game because I was worried about Aaron Donald. But on Friday I bought into the reports that he was fully healthy and downgraded the Packers’ offensive line with Bakhtiari out, leading me to put 1 unit on the Rams. This was a mistake. Sean McVay cannot be trusted when speaking to the media. He literally said at half time that he was not limiting Donald’s snaps. Yet Donald played 39 of 72 snaps. If that’s how often you want to use your best player, then that’s bad coaching.

Perhaps this game would have been closer with a healthy Donald, but the Packers probably still would have covered. The offensive line was just playing out of its mind in this game, and completely neutralized the Rams’ pressure. You give Aaron Rodgers that much time and you can just go ahead and go home. One play in particular sticks out to me: in the third quarter, on 2nd and 17, Rodgers held the ball in his own end zone for nearly 5 seconds before throwing a strike to Lazard for the first down. That can’t happen if you’re going to beat the Packers.

Fortunately we nailed the Over to offset the loss. Sometimes you get a bit of an echo chamber on a certain angle in a game, and everyone in the world assumed Goff would just collapse here because “he can’t play in the cold.” But with such a small sample size, his lack of success in the cold likely has as much to do with the specific matchups he’s had as the weather. This narrative angle drove the Over/Under price down, and we got good value at 45.5. Easy as that.

Props & Parlays:

CLE Team Total O 23.5 (-107) Loss
Aaron Jones to score TD (-106) Win
Lamar Jackson O 196.5 yards passing (-112) Loss
Tom Brady U 305.5 yards passing (-112) Win
Allen Lazard O 38.5 yards receiving (-112) Win
Marquez Valdes-Scantling O 23.5 yards receiving (-112) Win
Alvin Kamara O 35.5 yards receiving (-112) Loss
BUF -6.5, NO -6.5 (+700) Loss
LAR, BUF, KC, NO money line parlay (+1118) Loss
Teaser: KC +0, BUF +7.5, NO/TB U 62 (-115) Win
Lamar Jackson U 74.5 yards rushing (+124) Win
Mike Evans U 63.5 yards receiving (-112) Win

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