Two Heavyweight Clashes Close the NFL Weekend
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A Sunday Spicy Bloody Mary or two is one of those simple joys in life, three has you on cruise control for the afternoon, and four you will be singing the National Anthem in languages you did not know you could speak. Combine that with some extra juicy winners, and you got yourself one hell of a Holy Day.
Who has the edge in Divisional Sunday?
Over the last 10 seasons, home teams in the Divisional Round have seen a 31-9 SU mark.
Best Sunday Divisional Weekend Bets and Tips:
Los Angeles Rams (48.5) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3) | Can the Rams prove Week 3 was no fluke?
I tooted my own horn last week about having the best read in the entire industry on the Arizona Cardinals over the last month or so, and as you can guess, I was right. I mean, I have a crystal ball, so why would I not use it? The same thing goes for the Rams. Aside from the occasional idiotic play or coaching decision, I feel like I have a generally spot on idea what they are going to do. It is a rematch in central west Florida on Sunday, and it is happening on NBC. BOOM!
28. While that was the number for Rams’ Hall of Fame RB Marshall Faulk, it now represents the amount of carries this 13-5 team has averaged over its last seven outings. Stop me if you have heard this over the last month. When highlighting LA, which seems like almost every week, the same thesis keeps smacking me across the face, the run game. Though the Rams will travel to my adopted home of Tampa, FL this week to face the Bucs and their 3rd best run defense (92.5 YPG), there is reason to believe this shut-it-down unit is not exactly the same as we have seen the past few seasons.
Let us not forget, this is the same Bucs’ defense that allowed 150 ground yards to the Jets on 5.8 YPC a few weeks ago. With most of their key players (Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Lavonte David), having just returned from Covid or injury, the defense could struggle against one of the more elite offenses in the NFL that has mixed in exceptional balance lately and just welcomed back a revitalized secret weapon in Cam Akers. Continuing an affective rush attack will not only keep the NFL’s 2nd best scoring offense (30.1 PPG) on the sidelines but it will allow LA to march closer to their magic number of 26 points, a mark that carries with it an 11-1 record when they hit.
Unless you are the New Orleans Saints, beating Tom Brady twice in the same season is difficult. In the last meeting, LA wiped the floor with the Bucs 34-24. In that game, they defensively set up a road’s closed sign in the run game, allowing only 35 yards on 13 carries. Because Tampa Bay was down 31-14 late in the 3rd quarter, Brady made it look like he had a great day in chuck mode with 432 yards, as he has done numerous times this season. With LA’s 6th best run defense (103.2 YPG), facing a more than hobbled backfield and offensive line, it could be a similar script to Week 3.
Aside from the injuries and uncertainties to the Bucs’ backfield, two of their best offensive linemen, C Ryan Jensen and OT Tristan Wirfs, may miss the game due to injury and at least will be hampered. Let us not forget, the Bucs no longer have wideouts Chris Godwin or Antonio Brown. That leaves an ultra-testosterone fiesta between Mike Evans and Jalen Ramsey, who has held Evans to only a 5/54 line in the past two meetings when matched up. As mentioned over the past several weeks, the middle of this defense is easily the weakest part of this unit. In order to hide them, it falls on the front four to generate pressure behind Donald, who has half a sack or more in five of the last six games.
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It is a big couple of weeks coming up down here in Tampa. This week it is a chance to march on to the NFC Championship game and next week is Gasparilla… and possible NFC Championship game. While they have covered seven of their last eight home spreads, this Bucs’ team is not the same as last season, nor do they have the real momentum they possessed in 2020. Offensively, they could be missing a lot, but they still have number 12 under center. Based on the current landscape of the backfield injuries, your guess is as good as mine at the moment on who will be the featured back.
Regardless, the plan should be the same. Commit to at least 20-25 carries, hit the backs and tight ends in the short passing game, and attack between the numbers which is where the Rams are most vulnerable. With a suddenly resurgent Gronk notching either 100 yards or a touchdown in the last three games, he could be the X-Factor for a short-handed Tampa Bay offense that lost him early in the first matchup.
On the defensive side of the rock, the Bucs still have it, but are not the same product we have seen in the past. On paper, they hold the aforementioned 3rd best run defense, as well as the most QB pressures (219) this season. While we discussed their ground D may be exploitable at this point in time, we know their pass defense has been a liability most of the year. Their 21st ranked pass unit (238.9 YPG) has been taken advantage of against some of the better passing attacks in the NFL, including Matthew Stafford earlier this season. Having allowed Big Daddy Stafford to shred them for 343 yards and four scores, it calls into question how prepared they are to ensure that does not happen again.
The LA offense has averaged 27.1 PPG this season scoring 27 points nine times, and for a Bucs D that has yielded that number six times, it could be a long day if they do not plug the run on early downs, force down and distance, and get pressure up the middle on Stafford in order to create sacks (47- 7th most in NFL) and turnovers (29; T-5th in NFL).
This line has seen some serious push/pull action between a razor sharp 2.5/3 points thus far. Yes, it is so difficult to take down TB12 twice, but the health factors and matchups easily favor the Rams at the moment. You know I have been sitting on a Rams’ Super Bowl ticket since August. As long as Stafford stays patient and level-headed like last week, I like the Rams money line how I like my coffee beans on my Espresso Martini’s, with a Salt Bae Sprinkleeee.
Stat(s) of the game: Including the postseason, the Rams are 12-4 SU; 10-6 ATS in the Eastern Time Zone under Sean McVay.
PREDICTION: Rams win and cover the road 2.5/3.
Buffalo Bills (54.5) @ Kansas City Chiefs (-1.5) | Will the Chiefs right a previous wrong?
Dead ducks. Something that would not only make the boys at Duck Dynasty smile, but an accurate depiction of the Buffalo Bills AFC East chances after their Week 14 OT loss in Tampa. Thanks to a big-time butter schedule and the Patriots falling flat on their face, they steamed strong momentum heading into the playoffs, which carried over in last week’s thrashing of New England. The real question is, “Is this Buffalo team for real?”
Having won five straight in pass-the-sticks fashion, the Bills still seem to me as a team that is difficult to get a handle on, like gripping a bar of wet soap. On paper, sure they have the league’s best defense (272.8 YPG), pass (163 YPG), and scoring defense (17 PPG). For good measure they rank 3rd in takeaways (30) and 5th in QB pressures (186). This is the same team that molly-whopped Kansas City on the road 38-20 back in Week 5, but also lost in Jacksonville 9-6. In the first game, Buffalo sacked Mahomes twice, but hit him eight times along with creating four turnovers, one of which went for a touchdown.
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The Chiefs are definitely a different team than they were, as they have won 10 of their last 11 games. With the white-hot KC offense having scored 30 points or more in five of the last six contests, Buffalo should stick to the same defensive formula, get pressure on Mahomes with the front four, play a cover 2 shell to prevent big plays, and limit big plays on the ground.
Josh Allen has played much better of late. Coming off a sublime 308 yard, five touchdown performance in last week’s Wild Card game against a fraudulent New England team, Allen could finally be ready for the next step. While he is an ultra-talent, he still has the tendency to play like an absolute moron. Just look at the game vs. the Falcons as recently as a few weeks ago. The rise and fall of the Bills depends on number 17.
Though the Chiefs defense is much improved in the second half of the year, it is still more than beatable. What worked so well last time was the balance this offense showed, 28 runs and 26 passes. Allen’s 11/59/1 rushing performance clearly kept the KC offense on their toes all evening, something the Bills will likely look to replicate in the rematch. Josh Allen has toted the rock 53 times over his last six outings. If Buffalo wishes to improve to 6-3 SU/ATS on the road this season, that precise balance with Allen will be critical.
“Patty Mahomes ‘bout to fall short a couple hunnid…” Something this Bills’ defense is desperately praying for Sunday night. Contrary to the typical fire Drake verse on “Lemon Pepper Freestyle,” Mahomes has gone nuclear the past six games with a pristine 17 TD/2 INT ratio during this hot streak. While one of the main concerns for the Chiefs over the next decade is Patrick’s insufferable brother, Jackson Mahomes, one of the pressing issues and hinderances on this KC offense early on in the season was the turnovers, something they have managed to tighten (five turnovers in last seven games).
If the Chiefs continue their recent trend of pounding the rock (27 carries per game over last four weeks), they can wear down and extinguish an overrated middle of the pack Bills’ run defense that surrendered a 23/120 line last time out. In addition to the ground attack, Mahomes will have to stay patient and take what they give him underneath against a unit that has kept the big plays in check this season.
Perhaps, the biggest focal point is 15 staying clean in the pocket. As the Bills defense has done all year, they have managed to harass opposing signal callers, even if their 11th most sacks (42) seems a little short. With the KC triggerman being pressured the 3rd most times in the league, it could be a Week 5 repeat if the Chiefs’ offensive line does not show up.
A sight for sore eyes. The Chiefs defense has taken much-improved strides during the second half of the 2021 campaign. Since November 1st, they have only allowed two teams to score more than 24 points: the Bengals and Chargers. While a lot of it was against some of the weaker NFL competition, they have managed to find a groove that has complemented their offense. The main source of their rebirth? Takeaways and pressure. The Chiefs’ defense has taken the ball away 29 times this season (5th most in NFL). With Allen still capable of making head scratching decisions, KC has a shot to steal an extra possession or two. Right behind the Bills’ defense in QB pressures in 2021 is KC with their 6th best 178 QB pressures. Seeing how the true run game threat is from Josh Allen, the repetitive sense of that pressure needs to be brought by stars Chris Jones and Melvin Ingram. Defensively, it all comes down to keeping the heat on 17, forcing him to make bad decisions, and containing him in the ground attack.
There is a ton of sharp action on Buffalo, which is why this line is down to 1.5 points from its close-to-a-field goal opening. I must shoot you straight. I have not been a believer in the Buffalo Bills all season. From day 1, they appeared to be pretenders. While they have the ability to wow at times, they just seem to miss the mark too often. It is so tough seeing them beat the Chiefs in Arrowhead twice in the same season, something no other team has done with Mahomes as the QB.
Stat(s) of the game: Including the playoffs, KC as a home favorite this season is 8-2 SU; 5-5 ATS but covered its last 5 in this spot.
PREDICTION: Chiefs win and cover the home 1.5.
Sunday WCW NFL Teaser Play (+6):
The two-team teaser look has some sneaky value for Sunday. Keep it on the low.
Los Angeles Rams +9 (originally +3): 9 points in this matchup could be a lot! We covered this in the extensive game breakdown, but the bottom line points to the healthier team, which is the Rams, being live for the upset in this one.
Chiefs +4.5 (originally -1.5): This is an odd teaser number. It’s only weird when it doesn’t work though. Just because you get better numbers doesn’t always mean they come home. In a pros vs. joes game, I suppose I’m siding with the joes. The fact is KC this time around should at least keep this to a field goal worst case scenario.
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