Season Record – ATS (Overall): 5-3 (63% win percentage)

Season Record – ATS (Units): 12-3.5 (77% win percentage)

Season Record – Best Bets: 3-0 (100% win percentage)

For the third time in as many weeks, we had our best bet (with a whopping 4 units wagered on the game!) beat the spread by double digits. Atlanta not only covered the 6.5-point line vs. the Rams, but they won the game outright by 13 (our previous two best bets – SF over JAX and ARI over SEA – beat the spread by 15 and 11, respectively, leaving us with an incredible, but unsustainable, 15.2-point average in beating the spread). On the flip side, for our secondary bet: while the Saints led by double digits for the majority of the game, a backdoor score by Carolina allowed the Panthers to cover the spread by a narrow 1.5 points.  While it was a tough beat, we’ll move on to the second round of the playoffs with our third winning week in as many tries!

The second round of the playoffs is often an interesting one to bet, as you have 4 home teams coming off byes vs. 4 road teams coming off a win. Rest/rust vs. momentum/fatigue is a key factor in this round, and it’s often difficult to predict how a team will come out. Regardless, there are two games I like quite a lot this week, and the first one may surprise many of you:

Best Bet (2.5 units):

PHILADELPHIA (+3) over Atlanta

Before I even get into some game analysis, let’s discuss a simple concept I know we all can agree on…VEGAS. Vegas wins money, they build fancy hotels off said money, and they comp your benefits so they’ll win more of your hard-earned money. Now, let me pose a question: in a game of Blackjack, would you rather be the house or the player? Sure, being the player is fun – you get to make decisions, feel like you’re part of the reason you could win, etc. However, being the house is statistically profitable (you have a 53-47% edge). Even though it may not be as entertaining, I’d take being the house any day. Now, let’s look at this Philadelphia-Atlanta game, where everyone and their mother is on Atlanta (seriously, ask any of your friends whom they would take with this spread). Yes – I get it, they looked impressive last week, they made the Super Bowl last season, they have a top 10 QB, an elite WR, and their defense isn’t half bad. If you bet Atlanta and they win, it’ll be exciting and you’ll feel really smart because of the way they would feasibly win (highlight catches from Julio Jones, Matt Ryan consistently moving the ball, and the Falcons generally clicking on all cylinders). Conversely, Philadelphia, I admit, has lost a lot of its luster in the past month. It went from a feel-good story led by rising-star QB Carson Wentz, to a team trying to find an identity without him. I get that this doesn’t sound like an appealing team to back, and that placing a wager on Nick Foles can make one feel queasy. (I know you all know there’s a “but” coming). BUT, I’ll explain why backing Philly is like being the house in blackjack, and it can be simplified into two words: The Spread, which in this case already accounts for ALL of these factors I mentioned previously, and then some. Even though there is a chance Foles could tank and make me look foolish, the value is way too much to pass up. In fact, the only reason the line is 3 points is that the public has been so all over Atlanta that the “house” has to entice some Eagles action (and dissuade more Falcons action) by sweetening the deal. Enough of the Vegas analogy, though. Let’s get to some facts:

  • Home underdogs are the best subset of a bet in the NFL (you would be well above 50% blindly betting them).
  • We even get a home underdog off what is essentially a double-bye week (Philly rested its starters in the 2nd half of its Week 17 game).
  • The Philadelphia defense has been dominant at home – holding 5 of 8 opponents this year to 10 points or fewer at Lincoln Financial Field. (Wentz did not play on defense, so I think we’re good there).
  • Many people think of the Falcons as the high-flying offense from last year, but this is not the case: Atlanta scored 17 points or less in almost half of its games this year (7 of 16). For a reference point, New England has scored 17 or under 0 times this year.
  • The Falcons may have won by 13 last week, but the performance was a bit overrated. They benefited significantly from 2 fumbles by the Rams’ kick returner, which is unlikely to occur again. The Rams even outgained them yardage wise.

One last point: Don’t get caught up in recency bias. Remember: Vegas makes money for a reason. The Falcons aren’t as sexy as they looked last week, and Foles (with 2 weeks to prepare) isn’t as dreadful as he looked in Weeks 16 and 17. Eagles +3. Lock it in.

Other Bets I’ll Dabble With:

PITTSBURGH -7 over Jacksonville (2 units)

In my secondary bet last week, I laid nearly a touchdown at home with the Saints and got burned with a backdoor cover. However, we’re back to that well this week (the well of home favorites, that is). With this one, there are a few major factors, but I’ll start with my favorite: the revenge game. Earlier in the season, a Jaguars team nobody thought much of at the time came into Pittsburgh and dominated with a 30-9 win. Big Ben threw a career-worst 5 interceptions in that game, and it set the light bulb off in Pittsburgh that it was time to start focusing. (The Steelers have won 10 of 11 since with the only loss coming via a questionable call by the referee in the New England game). You better believe the Steelers, essentially coming off a double bye like the Eagles, have been thinking about this one ever since the playoff bracket came out, and I believe they’ll be rested and ready to roll. Furthermore, I’ve harped on this point in previous columns, so you all know how I feel about Blake Bortles. However, I will give Bortles credit for one thing in his career, he does have some natural arm talent and has shown some flashes. His major problem, though, is confidence – and when he loses it, the wheels often come off. Coming off 3 straight poor games and the bright lights of the media coverage shaming him for holding back this otherwise rock-solid roster, I don’t see this changing in round 2. Adding to Jacksonville’s issues is that Bortles’ saving grace offensively this year – the running game – is trending downward lately. Running Back Leonard Fournette looks to have hit the “rookie wall”, averaging 3.1 yards per carry in his last 5. I also anticipate it to be even more difficult for Fournette to run against a stacked box this week, as the Steelers will dare Bortles to beat them. Jacksonville, thus, will likely have a difficult time moving the ball. Lay the 7 and take Pittsburgh, a team that is also a phenomenal candidate for a teaser this weekend.

Quick Thoughts on the other two Games (Which I Will Not Be Betting On):

MINNESOTA (-5) versus New Orleans: While I like Minnesota to win the game, 5 points seems like a lot. (If you could get it at 4, I might take a shot on Minnesota). I don’t like the Saints either, as they are a 4-4 road team traveling to a Vikings team that is 7-1 at home. Additionally, the lack of a running game from Kamara and Ingram last week worries me.

What to Watch: If Case Keenum rises to the occasion and plays to the level at which he’s performed all year, this Vikings team is unquestionably the favorite to win the Super Bowl.

NEW ENGLAND (-13) versus Tennessee: The Brady-Belichick-Kraft scandal actually has me a bit worried, as does the massive spread total. While I obviously think the superior talent of New England wins out in this one, I could see them struggle a little bit in doing so. On the other side of the coin, Tennessee won its version of the Super Bowl last week (and saved the coach’s job in the process), so I can’t back them either in worry of an emotional letdown.

What to Watch: Tom Brady. He’s without question the GOAT of NFL QB’s, but he’s 40 years old and has shown some signs of slipping from his immortal level (5 straight games with an INT prior to the season finale; 6 straight games without reaching 300 yards passing after reaching that mark 6 times in the first 10 games). If the Pats win but Brady doesn’t look great, we could have an opportunity a week or two down the road to fade the Patriots profitably.

“Money won is twice as sweet as money earned.” (The Color of Money). Good luck this weekend and may the picks be with us.

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Zach Zaffos
Zach is a South Florida native who doubles as a CPA and semi-professional poker player. He is also an avid sports bettor, with a specialty in the NFL. Known to be a bit of a contrarian, Zach provides insight into trends on the field not typically noticed by the casual fan.