Season Record ATS (Overall): 4-2 (67% win percentage)
Season Record ATS (Units): 8-2 (80% win percentage)
Season Record – Best Bets: 2-0 (100% win percentage)
Last week, we extended our streak to two straight best bets that not only covered the spread as underdogs but won the game outright. Unfortunately, we published our picks prior to the news that third-string QB David Fales would be getting significant playing time for Miami, but that goes to show how unpredictable Week 17 can be. Regardless, after another week in the green (1.5-1 ATS in units; 1-1 ATS overall), it’s officially playoff time!
In the opening round, we have an excellent duo of NFC games, coupled with an underwhelming pair of games in the AFC bracket. (Can we get to the inevitable New England v. Pittsburgh AFC Title Game, please?) Let’s get to our picks:
Best Bet (4 units):
Atlanta (+6.5) over LA RAMS
There are so many reasons to love Atlanta in this one that I almost don’t know where to start. While we’d love to get the full 7 points here, getting 6.5 with the playoff-tested QB vs. a second-year QB in his first career playoff start is more than enough. In fact, this game is eerily reminiscent of last year’s Green Bay at Dallas game, where the young QB Prescott fell short as a home favorite vs. the more experienced Aaron Rodgers. (We’ve seen this movie before, with young QBs faltering at home in their first playoff action – i.e. Russell Wilson over Teddy Bridgewater and Rodgers over Kirk Cousins in 2015.)
Furthermore, I think there’s a distinct “hunger” factor the Falcons have this year that the Rams could not possibly possess after overachieving this season. Remember when the Miami Heat faced the OKC Thunder in the 2012 finals after blowing the Finals vs. the Dallas Mavericks in the previous year? The Thunder, seen as the more talented team, was a heavy favorite (-200) going into the Finals. However, what people didn’t account for was when the game got tight, the Heat learned from their lessons in the past, obsessing all offseason about how they’d fix them if given the opportunity. Similarly to the Heat, I think the Falcons, who collapsed in excruciating fashion in the Super Bowl last season, will be ready this time when the going gets tough. The Rams, conversely, will have had a tremendous season regardless of the result in this game. As a result, I’ll gladly scoop up the 6.5 points with the better QB and the hungrier team.
Other positive trends:
Teams’ Records Are Misleading – Yes, the Falcons were 10-6 and the Rams were 11-5 (truly 11-4, if you throw away last week’s loss by the team’s second string). However, for the purpose of this game, the two teams’ records discounts two major elements of predictive performance: a) home-versus-road splits and b) strength-of-schedule. LA fans are not known to be particularly fiery like Pittsburgh, Green Bay, New England, etc., so the fact that they finished 4-4 at home and 7-1 on the road makes sense. Given the lack of a true home-field advantage coupled with Atlanta’s strong road record (5-3; better than LA’s home record), we don’t see a true home field edge here. Moreover, as a result of playing in the toughest division in the NFL (3 of 4 teams advanced to the playoffs) as well as facing non-divisional opponents such as New England, Seattle, and Minnesota, the Falcons played the NFL’s toughest schedule based on opponent winning percentage this year. As such, the 10-6 record underestimates the team’s performance this year. Advantage, Atlanta.
Rams Kicking Game: It’s no secret that the LA Rams had a great kicking game this year. However, in Week 16, Greg “Legatron” Zuerlein went down for the season, downgrading the Rams from perhaps the best kicker in the league to the worst. Prior to Zuerlein’s injury, the Rams led the league in points per FG attempt at 2.9. In the two weeks since the injury, Zuerlein’s replacement Sam Ficken has missed an extra point as well as a 36-yard field goal. (He has not connected on anything other than two 20-yard field goals and a few extra points). The team has absolutely no trust in him, and I believe we are likely to see an important missed field goal in this one. (At the very least, the Rams will be apprehensive to attempt any field goals over 40 yards, which could cut an otherwise surefire 3 points off the board.) This could be the difference in a tight one.
As a result, we love Atlanta in this spot here. Consider sprinkling some of your bet (20-25%) on the money line, as well.
Other Bets I’ll Dabble With:
NEW ORLEANS (-6.5) over Carolina (1.5 units)
I normally don’t like to lay this many points, but no team outside of New England makes you feel more comfortable laying 6.5 at home. First, I’d like to point out a trend I’ve heard on the RJ Bell Dream Preview Podcast all year – New Orleans is 19-4-1 in its last 24 home games against the spread when they have a winning record going into the game. Even though the spread accounts for the fact that the Saints are so good at home, they still manage to cover time and time again, with a prolific offense that blows the doors open in the Dome. On the other side of the token, we have a Panthers team with an impressive 11-5 record, but included within those 5 losses are two double-digit losses to this same New Orleans team. In fact, Carolina is 0-4-1 against the spread in its last 5 games against the Saints. One final point: despite having an MVP reputation from 2 seasons ago, Cam Newton hasn’t been the same quarterback since. He was 2nd in the league in interceptions this season and finished 28th of 32 qualifying passers in completion percentage. Give me the better quarterback, the better matchup, and the home field advantage.
Quick Thoughts on the AFC Games (Which I Will Not Be Betting On):
JACKSONVILLE (-9) versus Buffalo
KANSAS CITY (-9) versus Tennessee
I wrestled back and forth with myself on these games, but ultimately, I must admit that I don’t have a strong feel for either. In some cases, the line is just correct, and creating a narrative for the sake of creating one is unprofitable as a bettor. In this case, we have two highly-favored, but flawed, home teams facing two teams that, quite frankly, are not playoff-caliber. In the case of the Jags’ game, while I’d really like to fade Buffalo, a team that a reminiscent of last year’s Miami Dolphin team (i.e. negative point differential for the season & just happy to be there), I cannot justify laying 9 points with Blake Bortles in his first playoff game. As for the other game, we have a very hot-and-cold Kansas City team facing a Tennessee team with a negative point differential and a 4-6 record in games outside of the friendly confines of the AFC South. I could see Kansas City winning by 4, or I could see them winning by 13. Either way, I don’t see any value on either of these spreads.
“Money won is twice as sweet as money earned.” (The Color of Money). Good luck this weekend and may the picks be with us.