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Written Thursday January 14th, 2021 at 11 a.m. Eastern Time (spreads/odds may have changed) Last week in the Wildcard Round I made three official picks against the spread: the lone losing bet was the Bills -6.5, while the other two were winners (Ravens -3 and Saints -10). Many people have asked me to recap my preseason win total predictions. Remember that I previewed each of the 32 NFL teams, while making a pick on the over/under for their win total. Those plays were largely based on the simulation of one million seasons using the projected point spreads on all 256 regular season games. It turned out that 20 picks were right versus 12 that were wrong, a nice 62.5% win rate. I ended up racking up more than $8,000 on those bets. I wanted to go to Vegas to place larger bets, but COVID-19 prevented me from making the trip, unfortunately. It’s now time for my Divisional Round picks against the spread. Buckle up, here we go!!! DIVISIONAL ROUND GAME #1: LOS ANGELES RAMS VS GREEN BAY PACKERS (-6.5) When the line opened at 7, I was clearly leaning towards the Rams. Early money agreed with me and went heavily on Los Angeles, so sportsbooks had to drop the line to 6.5. Since then, I have heard that bettors are hammering the Packers. After analyzing the game in-depth, I am now betting Green Bay as 6.5-point favorites. Most of the time, I go against the public, but not this time. The Packers are the number one seed and coming off a bye week. As mentioned several times this season, getting additional time to heal and gameplan has produced a much bigger advantage to great teams, as opposed to weaker squads who do not seem to make good use of this extra time. I believe we all agree Green Bay is a solid team. On top of that, the Packers will be facing a banged up team. Jared Goff, John Wolford, Cooper Kupp and Aaron Donald are all hurt. They will likely suit up Saturday, but won’t be 100% for sure. Also, L.A. is not used to playing in cold weather. We are expecting below-zero temperature, a situation where Aaron Rodgers is 29-7 straight up. The Rams defense has been very impressive this season, but here is a jaw-dropping statistic: they have allowed an average of 13.5 points per game at home versus 23.5 on the road. That’s a huge difference! They haven’t been nearly as stifling as visitors this year. I do believe Rodgers and company will find a way to move the ball, especially if Aaron Donald is slowed down by his injured ribs. Green Bay is a perfect 6-0 ATS in the last six meetings with the Rams. They are 11-6 as home favorites since Matt LaFleur took over as head coach. Rodgers and Goff did face off against each other in 2018, a game in which the Rams won 29-27 in Los Angeles. Rodgers will get the victory by at least 7 points this time around. Official pick: Packers -6.5 DIVISIONAL ROUND GAME #2: BALTIMORE RAVENS VS BUFFALO BILLS (-2.5) Born in Florida, Lamar Jackson said it would be his first time playing in the snow, if the forecast is right about getting close to an inch of snow this Saturday in Orchard Park, NY. That would make the field more slippery, and therefore more difficult for him to shake and bake as a runner. That’s one of the reason why I’m going with Buffalo as 2.5-point favorites. The Bills will also be at home for the third straight week, while Baltimore will be traveling for a third consecutive time. Also, the Ravens lose one day of preparation after playing last Sunday and now playing Saturday. That’s not a huge blow, but still worth mentioning. Some things are scaring me, though. Baltimore is 6-0 ATS as an underdog in the playoffs. They also match up fairly well against Buffalo since they led the league in yards-per-carry, while Buffalo’s run defense finished 25th in that category. Also, the Bills pass the ball often, which happens to be Baltimore’s strength on defense (they were much softer against the run this year). Still, I’ll go with Buffalo, whose offense has been much more convincing. The Ravens were struggling against a bad Titans defense last week, until Lamar scored on a 48-yard scamper that completely changed the game. Despite a recent surge by Baltimore, the Bills seem to be the stronger team and they will be at home on a cold day. They have been one of the hottest teams in the league during the latter portion of the regular season, and they have what it takes to win their first Super Bowl ever. Official pick: Bills -2.5 DIVISIONAL ROUND GAME #3: CLEVELAND BROWNS VS KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (-10) This won’t be an official pick since I don’t have that much confidence, but if I were forced to bet this game I’d bet Cleveland as 10-point dogs. However, I do not like the fact that the Chiefs are coming off a bye. Under such circumstances, Andy Reid is 20-3 in his career, an astounding record! Kansas City will also be at home for the fourth straight week, which means they didn’t have to travel and will be well-rested. Still, I am leaning towards the Browns due to their strong running game facing the Chiefs’ front seven that has been soft at times. Cleveland will be looking to control the clock and leave Patrick Mahomes on the sidelines. After throwing 7 interceptions over the first 7 games of the season, Baker Mayfield has thrown just one in its past 10 matches! He has significantly improved, and he seems to be playing better since Odell Beckham went down to an injury. The Chiefs have beaten the spread in 5 of their past 6 matchups at home against a team with a winning record, but they are just 1-6 ATS as favorites recently. One more thing prevents me from pulling the trigger on this one: was Cleveland’s win in Pittsburgh last week their Super Bowl? Their subconscious might feel like they’ve already accomplished something great, and they may not be as hungry this week in K.C. Lean: Browns +10 DIVISIONAL ROUND GAME #4: TAMPA BAY BUCS VS NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (-3) You know how much I love the revenge factor. Beating the same opponent three times within the same season is very hard. That’s the challenge the Saints will be facing this Sunday. And that’s one of the reasons I’ll put my money on Tampa. Am I super confident the Bucs will advance to the NFC Championship Game? No. The Saints might win a close game. If you back New Orleans, your ticket will be a winner only if New Orleans wins the game by 4 points or more. To me, that’s less likely to occur than Tampa either winning the game or losing by less than a field goal. Sure, the Bucs are 0-5 ATS in their last five meetings with Sean Payton. They were also 1-4 ATS as road underdogs recently. However, since their shameful 38-3 loss to the Saints in Week 9, Tampa has scored an average of 34 points per game. It took them more time to develop chemistry on offense, and they have since added Antonio Brown to the mix. New Orleans has beaten the spread the last four times they were home favorites, but they post a disappointing 1-5 ATS record as playoff favorites over the most recent years. I expect a very tight game that could go either way, in which case I prefer to side with the underdog. Official pick: Bucs +3 Enjoy the games! Professor MJ https://youtu.be/uiKo-YKjgok
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 January 9rd, 2020 at 2 p.m. Eastern Time (spreads/odds may have changed) The picks went 3-1 last week. Let's stay on the winning track! Minnesota Vikings +7 or San Francisco 49ers -7 ? The 49ers got a much-needed bye week, thanks to a goal-line stand in the final moments of last regular season game against the Seahawks. The additional rest will allow San Francisco’s defense to get a boost, with the return of Kwon Alexander, Dee Ford and Jaquiski Tartt. Let’s face the reality: the Niners defense did not dominate nearly as much in the second half of the season. In the first seven games, San Francisco’s defense allowed an average of 11 points per game. That number exploded to 26 points per game during the final nine contests. Part of this steep raise can be attributed to the strength of opposition, but we’re still talking about a huge spike! The weakest link on the Niners defense is when it comes to stopping the run. They finished 17th in the NFL in terms of rushing yards allowed per game. The bad news is Minnesota excels at running the ball. Dalvin Cook looked fast and fresh last week in New Orleans after sitting out the last two regular season games. Both quarterbacks finished with similar passing completion rates, passing yards and TD passes. The one difference lied in the number of interceptions thrown: 13 for Garoppolo versus just 6 for Cousins. I was impressed with Minnesota’s defensive line last week. They pressured Drew Brees all game long, and pretty much shut down the running game (except some unconventional runs by Taysom Hill, which is unlikely to happen against the Niners). Both teams have a well-balanced attack and a stout defense. I expect a hard-fought game, where the Niners will come on top by a close margin. For this reason, I’m taking the Vikings +7 points in San Francisco. Tennessee Titans +9.5 or Baltimore Ravens -9.5 ? The Titans defeated the defending Super Bowl champions last week by beating the Patriots 20-to-13. The line for this game opened at 10, but dropped to 9.5 since then. Let me tell you right away that I’m going with the Ravens laying 9.5 points. It’s easy to get excited over the great win by Tennessee last week, and the amazing performance by running back Derrick Henry. However, don’t forget the Titans got a 9-7 record this year, compared to 14-2 for Baltimore. Tennessee lost games against the Jaguars, the Broncos and the Panthers this season. They can be great at time, and bad at others. I’m betting it will be an off day for the Titans this weekend against a Baltimore team that is riding a 12-game winning streak. Did you know Ryan Tannehill led the league in passer rating? Still, for some reason I don’t trust him too much. Against a stingy pass defense last week, he struggled quite a bit. He completed just 8 passes out of 15 for a total of 72 yards. That’s not reassuring. The Ravens will focus on stopping the run, and dare Tannehill to beat them. I don’t think it’s going to end well for the Titans. These two teams met in Tennessee last season. I know the rosters were fairly different, but the Ravens won 21-0, a game in which Derrick Henry rushed for just 21 yards on seven carries. The Ravens finished the season with more than 200 rushing yards per game on average, a feat that had never been accomplished before. Lamar Jackson showed he can throw too; over his last eight games, he threw 25 touchdown passes versus a single pick. That’s impressive! One final telling statistic for you: the Ravens beat their opponents by at least 10 points in eight of their final 10 games. That included meetings with some very strong teams. I’m betting Baltimore -9.5 points. Houston Texans +9.5 or Kansas City Chiefs -9.5 ? The Chiefs seem to be peaking at the right time. After starting the season with a 6-4 record, they concluded with six straight victories. All of them occurred with a margin of at least 7 points! Meanwhile, it seems difficult to trust this Texans’ team. They are very inconsistent, as shown by their playoff win against Buffalo last week. They started slow by trailing 16-to-0 and rallied to win in overtime. Also, their negative point differential of -7 during the regular season is a shame for a division champion! The revenge factor goes in favor of K.C. since Houston pulled off the upset at Arrowhead back in Week #6. The Chiefs led 17-to-3 after one quarter in this game; they won’t let them off the hook this time around. Both QBs threw for exactly 26 TD passes. However, Watson was the victim of 12 interceptions versus just 5 for Patrick Mahomes. Another key argument is the defensive side of the ball. Houston’s defense was not very good; they finished 28th in terms of total yards allowed per game. As a comparison, the Chiefs defense finished 17th in that category, but they improved dramatically over the second half of the season. Indeed, they allowed just 11.5 points per game during their last six games. Therefore, I’m going with the Chiefs -9.5 points. Seattle Seahawks +4.5 or Green Bay Packers -4.5 ? The final meeting of the weekend involves two fierce competitors at quarterback: Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. Based on the point spread, it should be the closest game of the weekend. The Seahawks have been plagued with injuries at the running back position, and also on the offensive line. However, they might get a couple of guys back: Duane Brown and Mike Iupati. With “Beast Mode” getting accustomed to being back on the field, Seattle will try to mimic what the Lions did to the Packers a couple of weeks ago, a game in which they racked up 171 rushing yards. I’m going to take the Seahawks and the points in this game, even though Seattle is 0-5-1 in their last six meetings at Lambeau Field. To me, the Packers passing offense relies too much on Davante Adams. Seattle seems to have more weapons with Tyler Lockett, Jacob Hollister and the emergence of rookie D.K. Metcalf, who looked like a beast in Philly last week! On Green Bay’s side, Lazard, Valdes-Scantling and Jimmy Graham are too inconsistent. The Packers have the better defense, though, especially with the Smiths (Preston and Za’Darius). Still, we’re talking about evenly matched teams. I can see this game ending on the final drive with either team moving on to the NFC Championship game. Under this setting, I’m taking the underdogs: Seattle +4.5.