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Written Thursday January 7th, 2021 at 10 a.m. Eastern Time (spreads/odds may have changed) First, let’s recap the performance of the NFL picks against the spread (ATS) for the entire 2020 season: 5 STARS: 4-3 record 4 STARS: 9-4-1 record 3 STARS: 10-11-1 record 2 STARS: 4-9-2 record 1 STAR: 9-4 record OVERALL: 36-31-4 record (a 53.7% win rate) If you are betting at -110 odds, you need to win 52.4% of your bets in order to net a profit. When wagering at -105 odds, that figure is 51.2%. In other words, this year’s NFL tips led to a small profit overall (but still a gain nonetheless!). Next week, I’ll show you how my preseason predictions about each team’s win total went. As you’ll see, it did incredibly well and you certainly turned a great profit if you tailed those plays! During the regular season, I did not make a pick on all games. For entertainment purposes, I’ll do it in the playoffs. I will let you know how much confidence I have in each pick. The best part of the NFL season is coming up, so let’s dive right in! WILD CARD GAME #1: INDIANAPOLIS COLTS AT BUFFALO BILLS (-6.5) We are starting strong with my top pick of the weekend: I’m putting my money on the Bills in this matchup. Can you believe Buffalo has beaten the spread in each of their last eight games? That’s unbelievable! Only four teams ended the season by beating the spread on 8+ consecutive games. All of them were winning wagers in their first playoff game. The Colts suffered a big blow in Week 16 when they lost their star left tackle Anthony Castonzo. The team absolutely needs to protect Philip Rivers well because he is a statue in the pocket, and he tends to get bottled up easily. To me, Rivers having no mobility whatsoever is a big factor, as opposed to Josh Allen who can escape the pressure on a regular basis. Also, Indy is great defending the run, but they weren’t nearly as good against the pass where they finished in the middle of the pack in terms of passer rating allowed. Now facing a passing team, that could spell trouble for Indianapolis. The Colts defense overall slowed down as the season progressed. Indeed, they allowed an average of 19.7 points per game through their first nine meetings, while that number increased to 26.4 in the final seven matches. The Bills defense did the exact opposite and seems to be peaking at the right time. They surrendered 28 points per game in the first six contests versus 21 points over the last 10 games. The temperature is expected to be below zero degree Celsius this Saturday. Philip Rivers played his entire career in the warm weather of San Diego and Los Angeles before joining the Colts who play in a stadium covered by a dome. Buffalo wins big and finally gets its first playoff victory since 1995! Official pick: Bills -6.5 WILD CARD GAME #2: LOS ANGELES RAMS AT SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (-3.5) I am not going to bet this game, but if I was forced to do it I’d back the Rams here. The situation at quarterback is unclear for Los Angeles, but the latest reports suggest Jared Goff should be under center. If he is unable to go, John Wolford will take the field. He did better than expected in a must-win game last week. He’s not as good as Goff as a passer, but he was a threat as a runner. I also like the fact that the Rams are expected to get three key players back this weekend: wide receiver Cooper Kupp, left tackle Andrew Whitworth and defensive end Michael Brockers. Seattle’s defense improved a lot late in the season, while L.A.’s defense was strong all season long. This could be a defensive battle, in which case I prefer to go with the underdog. Still, I am not going to pull the trigger on the Rams. Seattle has won 11 consecutive playoff games when favored. They also post a great 6-1 ATS record in wild card games. Lean: Rams +3.5 WILD CARD GAME #3: TAMPA BAY BUCS (-8.5) AT WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM I won’t put money at risk in this game either, but I am leaning towards the Bucs. Alex Smith appeared even more limited than usual last week in Philadelphia, and he really played poorly. Washington’s running game couldn’t get going all night long, and it led to a bad outing by the offense. Now facing the top run defense in the league, how are they going to score points? I simply do not trust Alex Smith to light up the scoreboard, especially with his top two threats, Antonio Gibson and Terry McLaurin, being banged up. So why am I not betting this game then? There are a few numbers and trends that scare me. Since 1970, only three teams were road favorites by 6+ points in the playoffs; all of them lost straight up! Also, the Bucs are 0-4 in primetime games this season. They were really awful in such games. Finally, the only other two squads qualifying for the postseason despite a losing record both covered in their first playoff game. Lean: Bucs -8.5 WILD CARD GAME #4: BALTIMORE RAVENS (-3 OR -3.5) AT TENNESSEE TITANS This time we have a pick that I like enough to put money at risk. In this matchup of the two best running attacks in the league, I am betting the Ravens as 3-point favorites. First, how could I omit mentioning the famous revenge factor, which is largely in favor of Baltimore? Not only did they lose 30-to-24 in overtime back in Week 11, but the Ravens were ousted from the playoffs last year by those same Titans by a 28-to-12 score. Both of these games occurred in Baltimore. The Ravens will be fired up to avenge those losses, and they won’t slow down even if they take the lead this Saturday. The Baltimore train has been picking up some steam recently. John Harbaugh’s team has beaten the spread in each of their final six games. They are also a perfect 6-0 ATS over the past six road playoff games and 8-3 ATS in their last 11 games in January. A piece of information that may be flying under the radar is the fact that Tennessee has three offensive linemen listed as questionable: Rodger Saffold, Ben Jones and Dennis Kelly. Even if they all suit up this Sunday, they are nicked up and could struggle against a tough Baltimore front. If you like betting totals, you may consider grabbing the over for two reasons. All five times that the Titans were underdogs this year, the game went over the total. Secondly, this will be just the third time that a wild card game has a total of 55 points or more. In the previous two instances, the game ended with exactly 73 points scored. Official pick: Ravens -3 Lean: Over 55 WILD CARD GAME #5: CHICAGO BEARS AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (-10) This is the third pick that I like enough to call it an “official” pick: I’m grabbing the Saints as 10-point favorites. The Bears have a fairly weak offensive line, so they are likely to struggle against the ferocious Saints defense. Also, Chicago is likely to miss a key piece of their defense due to injury: linebacker Roquan Smith. He exited the regular season finale against the Packers with an elbow injury. It looks like he dislocated his elbow and probably won’t be available this weekend. Meanwhile, the Saints have a good shot to get both Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas on the field. That should be a big boost to their offense. There are several statistics favoring New Orleans: Since 2011, double-digit favorites are 7-1 ATS in playoff games; The Bears are 0-4 ATS over the last two years as underdogs of 6 points or more; Chicago is 0-6 ATS on the road when facing a team with a winning record; Da Bears have a disappointing 6-18 ATS record after a double-digit home loss; The Saints are 4-0 ATS following a win by at least 14 points. Based on these arguments, I’m taking the Saints but for some reason I remain cautious and won’t go big on this one. I still prefer Buffalo and Baltimore this week. Official pick: Saints -10 WILD CARD GAME #6: CLEVELAND BROWNS AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS (-6) I am clearly avoiding this game. Way too many uncertainties surrounding this game. The Browns had some COVID-19 cases, which will prevent head coach Kevin Stefanski, star left guard Joel Bitonio and defensive end Olivier Vernon from taking the field. Other guys are uncertain to suit up this Sunday, including three offensive linemen (Tretter, Teller, Conklin) and a couple of cornerbacks (Denzel Ward and Kevin Johnson). Who will play and who will miss the game? I prefer to avoid putting money at risk on this great AFC North matchup. The only wager I could consider making is betting the over. Why? The over has gone 9-1 with Big Ben under center in home playoff games. Also, the over is 11-3 when teams meet two weeks in a row. Lean: Over 47.5 This should be a fantastic weekend of football, so enjoy it guys! I’ll be back next week for more betting tips for the Divisional Round. Best of luck with your plays! Professor MJ https://youtu.be/KC2UYTUySLI
Written Thursday December 25th, 2020 at 11 a.m. Eastern Time (spreads/odds may have changed) Last week, we had a couple of 5-star picks, which was highly unusual! Bucs +3.5 vs Chiefs (won the bet, but deserved to lose in my opinion); Giants -5.5 at Bengals (lost the bet, but we got screwed by: a) Daniel Jones’ injury; b) a TD on a kickoff return by Cincy; c) a bogus PI penalty that allowed a garbage TD late in the fourth quarter). Our record on 5-star picks: 3-2 this season 8-4 past three years Overall, last week was a lucrative one: a 4-2 record on official picks and a perfect 2-0 on leans. We have been on fire recently with a 10-5-2 ATS record since Week 10. Let’s keep rolling, folks!!! PICK #1 (4 STARS): CLEVELAND BROWNS +6 AT TENNESSEE TITANS I’ve said it a few times this year, and I’ll say it again. In my opinion, the Titans are a good team to bet as underdogs, but they’re a good team to fade as favorites. As a matter of fact, they have beaten the spread just two times the last seven games they were established as favorites. My main concern about this game is Cleveland’s pass defense. They were already without Greedy Williams, and now their other starting cornerback Denzel Ward seems on the wrong side of questionable for Sunday. That could open up the field for A.J. Brown. Other than that, I like the Browns here. To me, the spread is way too high. Cleveland should be fine running the ball against Tennessee, whose defense has been average. Meanwhile, the Browns are fairly strong defending the run and they are welcoming back stud defensive end Myles Garrett this weekend. The revenge factor comes into play as well. I’m sure Baker Mayfield and company remember last year’s season opener, a game in which Cleveland got hammered 43-to-13 at home against Tennessee. Mayfield threw three interceptions in that game, but that won’t happen this time. For these reasons, I’m backing Cleveland as 6-point underdogs as my top play in Week 13. PICK #2 (3 STARS): SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS +1 VS BUFFALO BILLS San Francisco’s defense is quickly getting back to form. After undergoing a rash of injuries, they have gotten some players back, which has shown on the field. Last week, they bottled up a good Rams offense and allowed just 14 first downs. Buffalo QB Josh Allen usually makes a mix of great and bad plays. I expect him to make a few mistakes that will cost his team this Monday. He is also still missing wide receiver John Brown; the offense is good, but not as great when Brown is out of the lineup. I have spoken a few times this year about how researchers have shown that peak athletic performance occurs during the late afternoon or early evening. For this reason, a West Coast team gets an advantage when playing a night game against a team from the East Coast. Each team’s record on Monday Night Football is at opposite ends: Buffalo is 0-3-1 ATS versus 13-3 for the Niners. San Francisco also holds an impressive 7-3 ATS record at home when facing a team with a winning record. The key to this game will be San Francisco’s running game who should be able to exploit a weak Buffalo run defense, who ranks 27th in the league in terms of yards allowed per carry. With Raheem Mostert back from an injury, I believe he will run wild and cause headaches to the Bills. PICK #3 (3 STARS): LOS ANGELES RAMS -2.5 AT ARIZONA CARDINALS Kyler Murray’s throwing shoulder is hurt. He didn’t look as sharp as usual last week in New England. Coincidence or not, he ran for a season-low five times both of the past two weeks. I suspect he doesn’t want to take more hits to lower the risk of aggravating his injury. After a hot start, the Cards are definitely stumbling. They have won just one of their last four matchups, and the lone win should have been a loss, if not for a miracle Hail Mary pass on the last play of the game against the Bills. Jared Goff tends to struggle when he feels pressure, otherwise he is super efficient. I expect him to have a clean pocket this Sunday, given Arizona’s pass rush who is not that great. I also like the three-headed monster at the running back position for the Rams: Darrell Henderson, Malcolm Brown and rookie Cam Akers. Los Angeles has rebounded with a win after each of their three losses in 2020. Also note that the Rams have beaten the spread the last five times they made a trip to Arizona. Another reason for taking the Rams in this contest is the mismatch on defense. Los Angeles’ defense has been great, both against the run and the pass. As for Arizona, they have a middle of the pack defense. PICK #4 (2 STARS): INDIANAPOLIS COLTS -3 AT HOUSTON TEXANS The Colts are not intimidated from playing in Houston at all: they are 7-0-1 ATS in their last eight meetings there. Indy is also a team that can rebound nicely after poor performances. Indeed, they have posted an incredible 6-0-1 ATS record after double-digit home losses. Last week, they got beaten up 45-26 against the Titans. I am aware that the Texans will benefit from three additional days of rest after playing on Thanksgiving, but the team suffered a HUGE blow when their top wide receiver (Will Fuller V) and their top cornerback (Bradley Roby) got hit with six-game suspensions for violating the league’s PEDs policy. With Randall Cobb already out and Kenny Stills being waived about a week ago, that will put the wide receiver depth to the test. I expect Indy’s defense to respond strongly after such a poor outing last week. With Deshaun Watson having less weapons at his disposal, he’ll need to do a Superman impersonation in order to keep his team afloat. I don’t think it will happen. Houston’s defense has been awful both against the run and the pass, while the Colts should get running back Jonathan Taylor back. I am worried about the Colts possibly being without their star left tackle Anthony Castonzo, but I’m still putting my money on Indy to do everything they can to keep up with the Titans for the AFC South title. PICK #5 (2 STARS): SEATTLE SEAHAWKS -10 VS NEW YORK GIANTS Last Monday, I posted an alert in my Facebook group and to people on my mailing list about a great bargain. The Seahawks were tagged as 7.5-point favorites at Bet365 at the time, while some bookies had a line of 10 points. I put a fairly big bet, then I let everyone know about this nice deal, and the line moved to 9, and then 10 points within an hour. No matter if the bet wins or loses, this was clearly a good value wager. Now that the dust has settled, I still think Seattle -10 points is an enticing play. According to the latest reports, Daniel Jones seems unlikely to play. His backup, Colt McCoy, is simply horrible. He’s been bad throughout his 11-year career, and that’s not about to change. He couldn’t get the offense going last week against a weak Cincinnati defense. I love how Seattle matches up well with the Giants. With McCoy under center, New York will need their running game to get going, but that should prove very difficult considering the Seahawks defense is 3rd in the NFL in terms of yards allowed per carry. That will force McCoy into long third downs, and the result will be catastrophic. On the other side of the ball, New York’s strength on defense is its run defense. Unfortunately for them, Seattle has a guy named Russell Wilson at quarterback who is ready to shred their pass defense. Seattle wins by at least two touchdowns and beats the spread. UNOFFICIAL PICKS For entertainment purposes, here are some leans for you: LEAN #1: Chargers +1 vs Patriots (This is a passing league, and there is a huge gap between New England’s and Los Angeles’ passing offenses. Cam Newton is banged up and his team will be travelling through three time zones to play this game.); LEAN #2: Broncos +14 at Chiefs (The weakness of K.C.’s defense is its run defense, so I think Denver can find a way to run efficiently and run out the clock a little bit. On the other side of the ball, Denver’s pass defense is among the top 10 and could limit the damage against Mahomes and company. The Broncos are 1-9 ATS in the last 10 meetings with the Chiefs, but they are a perfect 7-0 ATS after scoring 14 points or less! Drew Lock will be back under center.); LEAN #3: Dolphins -11 vs Bengals (I hope Ryan Fitzpatrick remains the starter because he is better than Tua right now. Good luck to QB Brandon Allen against a stifling Dolphins pass defense! Miami could welcome back running backs Myles Gaskin and/or Salvon Ahmed); LEAN #4: Washington +8.5 at Steelers (Pittsburgh is not nearly as good as its record indicate. Man, they played badly against the Ravens last Wednesday! Washington is fighting hard every week and they are playing sound football for head coach Ron Rivera. It won’t be an easy task for the Steelers to beat them by 9 points or more). A big thank you for reading this column every week, I hope to help you beat your bookie! Professor MJ https://youtu.be/7RFlJpe3P4E