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One time for John Madden

Derek Carr

Derek Carr

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

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Remember in high school playing an unhealthy amount of beer pong games? A lot of times you would be on a roll and call “For Fire.” That is basically what has been happening here this last month. Thank God the regular season is over.

Now, we have the privilege of seeing the big boys play. Having matured into an avid, but classy consumer of the ever so smooth Clase Azul, I find playoff winners to be just as tasty. Welcome to the show.

Here is a hint as to where my head is at. Over the past five seasons, underdogs on Wild Card Weekend are 15-7 ATS.

Best Saturday Wild Card Weekend Bets and Tips:

Las Vegas Raiders (49.5) @ Cincinnati Bengals (-6.5) | Is John Madden pulling an “Angels in the Outfield” for the Raiders?

Sometimes, everything is going your way. With the turbulence the Las Vegas Raiders have dealt with this season, it is literally the eighth wonder of the world that they made the playoffs. While Vegas won one of the most thrilling games you will ever see in Week 18 on SNF (a game that should have ended in a tie), it clearly looked like the refs had a ‘Raiders to make the playoffs’ futures ticket in their pockets. Regardless, the resilient Raiders trudge forward yet again to honor the memory of one of the NFL’s most historic figures in John Madden.

Though it looks like Madden is pulling off an “Angels in the Outfield” story book ending each of the last couple of weeks, LV is finding ways to win games. Currently on a four-game win streak, Vegas gets a rematch with the Bengals in the first game of the NFL playoffs. Back in Week 11, the 32-13 loss to Cincy forced the Raiders to take a long look in the mirror where they yielded a rushing attack stampede from Joe Mixon to the tune of nearly 160 yards. Since then, only one back has eclipsed 100 yards on the ground (Jonathan Taylor) vs. a resurgent Raiders’ run defense that has only allowed 89 rush YPG over their last seven outings. That stat will need to hold up Saturday.

For Vegas to continue their epic march towards destiny, they offensively will absolutely need to knock off the turnovers (seven over their past four games), keep feeding a suddenly rejuvenated Josh Jacobs who has two 100-yard rushing games over his past three contests, and refocus their attention to peppering the two-headed monster of TE Darren Waller and the real-life Van Wilder, Hunter Renfrow. Keeping the offense humming should put points on the board, which should leave Cincy in a bind seeing how they are just 2-4 when down 10 points at any point in games this season.

Look up the most sacked QB in the NFL this season (51 times in 16 games) and you will see a picture of Joe Burrow. The price of drafting rookie standout WR Ja’Marr Chase last April is seeing the Cincy signal caller be pressured the 6th most times in the league (145) this season. However, through a lot of ups and downs in 2021 Joe Burrow BALLED OUT. In a truly remarkable season, Burrow showed why he was the first overall pick in 2020. Finishing as the 7th best scoring offense (27.1 PPG) in the NFL, Cincy has a solid matchup against an exploitable Raiders defense this weekend that has allowed 27 points eight times (Cincy has also scored 27 points eight times).

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Like the Bengals, LV’s protection has not been out-of-this-world this season either as they have seen Derek Carr dropped 40 times (5th most) and pressured on 143 drop backs (7th most and right behind Burrow’s count). If the Bengals want to repeat Week 11, they must run the rock, take advantage of plus matchups in the pass game, stop the run with their 5th best run defense, (102.5 rush YPG) and harass Carr (168 QB pressures-7th most in NFL). It just so happens that was the identical formula for their prior success against the silver and black.

It is unlikely we see this line hit seven points this week. Chances are smart money will be coming in on Vegas, thus shrinking it. Better yet, there is an opportunity for LV to be road dogs of my favorite number, 5/5.5. While Cincy has had a strong season in 2021, they are what Carmine Lupertazzi Jr. would call, “A bit of a poser if you ask me.” Beating a team twice in one season is difficult enough, but blowing them out twice? Fuhgeddaboudit. Raiders have an avalanche of momentum right now, so they should at least keep this close. Oh by the way, they are also 4-2 SU/ATS as road dogs this year having won and covered three of their last four in this spot.

One time for John Madden.

Stat(s) of the game: The Raiders have not beaten in the Bengals in Cincy since 1995.

PREDICTION: Raiders cover the road 6.5.

New England Patriots (42.5) @ Buffalo Bills (-4) | What is going on with the Patriots?

New England, you flat out BLEW IT against the Miami Dolphins. Fortunately, the game did not mean too much for AFC playoff seedings. The Pats, though, find themselves in a precarious situation having lost three of their last four games. What is cooler than being cool? ICE COLD!

The Patriots need to do some real soul searching this week with their season slipping through their delicate fingers. What has worked for them this season? It would be a strong defense that has accumulated 30 takeaways (T-3rd most in NFL) and only allowed 17.8 PPG (2nd best in NFL) alongside a surprisingly dynamic rushing attack (126.5 YPG- 8th best in NFL) between Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson.

What has been the primary culprit of this recent skid? TURNOVERS. Over the past four games, the Pats have committed seven turnovers, something that must be cleaned up for Saturday night’s rubber match against the Buffalo Bills. The rookie that looks like the leader of the young Republican’s club must revert back to his mid-season trend of playing clean football for the Pats to have a chance in this one.

In the most recent contest between these two teams, the Patriots not only gave up 33 points, but they surrendered five scoring drives of nine plays or more (no scoring drive less than seven plays) and five scoring drives of at least five minutes. Getting off the field in a timely fashion will be a pivotal part of this chess match vs. QB Josh Allen and OC Brian Daboll. Let us see what tweaks defensively Bill Belichick has in mind for this game.

One of the toughest remaining playoff teams to read is the Buffalo Bills. They have had a butter schedule and have maybe one/one and a half quality wins in 2021. Regardless, they head into the playoffs on a heater having won four straight via blowout city. On paper they possess defense numero uno in total defense (272.8 YPG), passing (163 YPG), and scoring (17 PPG). Additionally, being tied with the Pats for takeaways, they sit with the 5th most QB pressures in the NFL (176).

Sounds good, right? Yes and no. While they have certainly stat-padded these numbers like vintage Tom Brady in a blowout win, the strength of schedule comes into play. The biggest vulnerability remains their middle-of-the-pack run defense (109.8 YPG), the area where the Patriots plowed ahead like the little engine that could in their first meeting for 222 yards. If Buffalo fans want their team to prevail so they can continue slamming into fold up tables, the key to victory is stopping the run and pressuring Mac Jones to force him into mistakes.

Offensively, it literally only took Daboll almost two full seasons to FINALLY commit to the ground game. Stubborn. During this four-game win streak, Devin Singletary has been reinserted as the primary ball carrier racking up 76 totes and five touchdowns over that stretch.

Adding in some semblance of the ground attack should take some pressure off of Allen’s right arm, as well as keeping defenses a bit more honest. While Allen certainly has the capability of coming down with a bad case of the “yips” like Jon Lester, it is likely he continues the success he had as he did last time out vs. the Pats. Last but not least, maybe the biggest factor of success for this Bills offense is the increased rushing from Allen as he has totaled 47 carries over the past five games. Rumble, young man, rumble.

This line has been a clean cuatro this week, and it is likely not going more than half a point in either direction. I have expressed major reservations about this overrated Buffalo team all season. However, they are the hot team right now and sometimes momentum carries like a tidal wave. With New England, it is tough to fade Belichick even if they are losing steam at the moment. In a game that is expected to be under 20 degrees, keep an eye on the wind. Not sure if the Pats have enough to pull this out in the end, but I think it is a good look to see them keep it inside a field goal.

Stat(s) of the game: The Pats are 2-2 in Wild Card Weekend under Bill Belichick

PREDICTION: Pats cover the road 4.

Saturday WCW NFL Teaser Play (+6):
The two-team teaser look got doused in water last week. Thanks, New England. Back at it again.

Las Vegas Raiders +12.5 (originally +6.5): Another double-digit leg. The Raiders seem like they are on a mission right now. Undecided whether they have enough juice to win outright vs. Cincy, but it is unlikely they lose by double figures twice in the same season to them.

New England Patriots +10 (originally +4): These losers smacked me in the face last week. Blew the teaser and the spread on my Week 18 Weekly Taste. I will give them a shot at redemption. With New England also getting double-digits, I expect them to keep this one close vs. their AFC East rival. Look for them to try and eclipse at least 25 rush attempts against a run D that can be had.

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