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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 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