Divisional round opening lines: What to bet and look for
The schedule is set for the divisional round, and there isn't a bad matchup to be found. We're at the ready with an early look at the opening point spreads for the NFL's best weekend of the year.
Since the league has given us the twist of wild card Monday Night Football, we have to include both options to visit Tampa Bay, the Cardinals and Rams, in an updated look at the ratings we've been keeping all season. The only team to get a bump this week are the Bills who not only performed on both sides of the ball in their best game of the campaign, they did so right from kickoff and left the contest unscathed.
The following table includes my end-of-year ratings for each remaining playoff team and the net points assigned for home-field advantage.
Bengals @ Titans (-3.5, 47)
We've got a spicy one off the top as the Titans opened as an under-a-field goal favorite, only to see early money come in on the AFC's top seed. Other than having a week off, what did the Titans do to be rated this high?
I was with the opening line, as I have this game as Titans -2. The debate will be whether the week off and the prospect of Derrick Henry returning are enough to appropriately push this through the key number of -3.
There's nothing from any previous point spread this season that indicates the Titans should be giving the Bengals 3.5 points. They closed as three-point favorites at home to the Dolphins in Week 17 and three-point home underdogs to the 49ers the week before that. Tennessee closed as 8.5-point favorites to the Jaguars a month ago. Are the Bengals just five points better than Jacksonville?
49ers @ Packers (-5.5, 47.5)
The Packers opened in no man's land between -4.5 to -5.5, depending on where you looked. While that may seem low, market-based power ratings have the Packers -5 at home. My ratings have this contest slightly tighter. Like the game above, how much extra credit do the Packers get for having the week off?
Even more relevant, the 49ers saw their two most important defensive players leave Dallas with injuries, as both Nick Bosa and Fred Warner took scary hits leaving them writhing on the field. An injury update on those two will result in a shift one way or another to this point spread and will dictate how we'll bet the game.
Bills @ Chiefs (-2.5, 55)
This is the round's easiest point spread for oddsmakers to make. The Chiefs were -2.5 when the Bills traveled to Kansas City earlier this year. The Chiefs were -2.5 in the AFC Championship Game last season. With no significant changes to either side, that's where it is again for Sunday.
Bettors buying into the Chiefs' turn-key approach will happily lay under a field goal, while those looking to back Buffalo after the weekend's most impressive showing will patiently wait to see if, only for a moment, +3 becomes available. If so, expect significant buyback on the underdog.
Projections, pending MNF:
Cardinals @ Buccaneers (-6, 47.5)
If the Cardinals beat the Rams on the road, the betting public will be back on Arizona next week - a team many loved to overrate for much of the season. Would that be enough to see this game open lower than -6?
My ratings have this slightly lower, and I'll be paying close attention to injury updates regarding the Buccaneers' offensive line. Tampa Bay built a lead and its defense dominated an overwhelmed Eagles outfit Sunday, but the O-line became a glaring weakness once Tristan Wirfs hobbled off the field.
Rams @ Buccaneers (-3.5, 48.5)
If the Rams win, the line will be dictated by the manner in which they beat the Cardinals. Unless it's a blowout, bettors should be able to get Los Angeles at over a field goal. Anything higher than 3.5 points is an automatic buy.
My ratings make +3.5 the right number, but the matchup between Tampa Bay's banged-up offensive line against Von Miller, Leonard Floyd, and Aaron Donald makes the Rams enticing, especially with L.A. beating Tom Brady twice in the last two seasons.
Matt Russell is a betting writer for theScore. If there's a bad beat to be had, Matt will find it. Find him on Twitter @mrussauthentic.