Inside Slant: Divisional Weekend

A collection of under-the-radar bets for you to consider this week.

I don’t claim to be an expert at betting football games.

After all, gambling is, by definition, a bit of a toss-up. If you manage to come out of a season with anywhere around 55% of your bets earning a profit, you can afford to pat yourself on the back. Getting to that point is the hard part, but my aim is to help you do that across a season with some under the radar wagers.

What gambling on football does allow us to do is have a little bit of fun with games we might not normally be interested in. While wagering on the spread and total points is the norm, your best bet might be to eschew these and go with more unconventional options.

The playoffs have finally arrived! Fewer games translate to more action from gamblers and more efficient lines, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find the weak spots in other bets and take advantage. My goal is to lead you on a long playoff run of your own and to finish in the green when it’s all said and done.

So without further ado, let’s take a look back at Week 17 before dipping into the wildcard round.


WILDCARD ROUND RECAP

MISS: Houston (+3.5) vs. Kansas City @ 5/6

This was a miss of Blair Walsh proportions on my part, but thankfully it was my only incorrect pick of the week. I was surprised trigger-happy Bill O’Brien didn’t make the change at quarterback earlier considering how damaging Brian Hoyer’s performance was. The goal line interception really seemed to take the wind out of the Texans’ sails. The Chiefs have to be given a lot of credit for a total team performance, but I expected more from a Texans team that, while not the most talented, had the ability to keep it close and failed spectacularly to do so.

HIT: Away team total points – Pittsburgh under 24 points at Cincinnati @ 10/11

In an ill-tempered affair played in less-than-ideal weather conditions, the Steelers offense zigged when the Bengals thought they would zag, running the football effectively. The injury to Ben Roethlisberger may have cost the Steelers a handful of points, but this total seemed a bit high anyway. The insane ending to this contest summed up this rivalry in many ways, but the Bengals’ curse of the postseason rolls on.

HIT: Green Bay Packers to beat Washington @ 21/20

The Green Bay Packers’ confidence and swagger seems to have returned – and all it took was a few momentum plays to go their way. Aaron Rodgers got into a rhythm after catching the Redskins substituting and fired a touchdown to Randall Cobb. This was moments after the goal line gaffe by DeSean Jackson that could have padded the Redskins’ lead; instead they had to settle for a field goal. The ground game and the offensive line ruled the day for the Packers, who squeezed the life out of the Redskins front seven. This was a game where it seemed like playoff experience really mattered; even when Green Bay went down early they refused to wither away.

HIT: Home team total points – Minnesota under 17.5 points vs. Seattle @ 5/6

The total points in the entire game was only 19 points, so taking the under on Minnesota alone would have been an easy bet for you to win. The elements played their part to make this contest an edge of the seat slugfest, and in truth it could have even been lower scoring had Russell Wilson not made the miracle play off the botched snap. The heartbreaking finish aside, this is a bet we might be going back to depending on how far Seattle advance; their defense is legitimately scary at times.

SEASON TOTAL YTD: 38-33-1 (.527)


DIVISIONAL ROUND PUNTS

Total points under 44.0 – Seattle at Carolina @ 20/23

The Panthers have been one of the best over teams in the league, going 10-5-1 against the total. The Seahawks, meanwhile, have gone 7-10 and remain a pretty strong under team. Based on the past results between these teams, a low-scoring affair is probable. The match-up in the regular season saw the Panthers win 27-23 behind a furious fourth-quarter rally, but I see more of a 20-17 type of game this week. Both teams will be aware of the strengths of their opponents, so expect a tight opening quarter. Although the vig is sizeable on this bet at 20/23, it may be worth it in the end.

Away team total points – Kansas City Chiefs under 19.5 points at New England @ 10/11

This is more of a nod to the quality of the Patriots’ defense than it is to any ineptitude of the Kansas City offense. Bill Belichick’s team should have a nice game plan for the Chiefs after two weeks off, and I believe it will start with the defense limiting their opportunities downfield and forcing Smith to settle for the short stuff. If Jeremy Maclin can’t play with his high ankle sprain, the Chiefs will have to rely on the duo of Albert Wilson and Chris Conley, along with Travis Kelce, to move the ball. I see a determined Patriots team firing out of the blocks and building an early lead, forcing the Chiefs into comeback mode. If the game script gets away from the visitors, this could be a long night. Take the under for Chiefs points.

Race to 15 points – Green Bay (at Arizona) @ 11/5

Not a bet I would normally invest in, but the odds on this one were just too intriguing for me to pass up. The Packers seem to have found their mojo, and surely they won’t allow this game to get away from them like their last trip to the desert did. I expect to see a lot of short passing early to the backs to offset an aggressive Cardinals defense. If the Packers offensive line can protect Rodgers better – and Rodgers can start hitting some of those tight-window downfield throws – we could see an upset here. Taking the seven points with the spread is an excellent bet, but why not go for gold and say the Packers come out fast and carry forward their momentum? Sometimes bye teams can be a little cold off the break, so this bet looks like it is well worth a punt.

Pittsburgh Steelers (+6.5) at Denver Broncos @ evens

The Steelers are the very definition of walking wounded, with their two key offensive players – Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown – hobbled entering this week’s game. Brown was instrumental in the Steelers’ victory over this week’s opponent only a few weeks ago and would be a huge loss if he didn’t play. Roethlisberger, meanwhile, might be forced to rely on the run-after-catch ability of his receiving corps as his downfield throwing is certain to be limited by his shoulder injury. What gives me encouragement that the Steelers can cover the spread is their defense; that unit played outstanding football against Cincinnati. Denver’s offense is definitely not a juggernaut and I don’t believe they will be able to pull away from Pittsburgh. If this line goes up to seven points, jump all over it. As it is, 6.5 points is plenty for me.

EARLY LOOK AHEAD – PLAYOFF PREVIEW

The field is set, so I am going to use my amateur powers of prediction to predict the lines for the divisional round, championship round and Super Bowl.

Wildcard Round – comments
I correctly predicted the NFC side of the bracket, but went 0-2 on the AFC side. The Carolina Panthers are laying only 2.5 points at home against the Seahawks, a sign of respect for the visiting team and perhaps yet another reminder from Vegas that they don’t respect Carolina. I was a point off on the line, but I think it will go to -3 before kickoff.

As for the Packers, they are getting seven points in Arizona only weeks after they were demolished by the same team in the desert. The gambling public loves to bet on the Packers, and Vegas love to tempt said public with lines like this. I was spot on with the line being seven points.

Divisional Round (predictions made prior to Wildcard Round)
AFC – Houston at New England (-9.5); Cincinnati at Denver (-3.5)
NFC – Seattle at Carolina (-3.5); Green Bay at Arizona (-7)

Championship Round
AFC – New England at Denver (-3)
NFC – Arizona at Carolina (-3.5)

Super Bowl
New England vs Carolina (pick)


I hope everyone enjoys the playoffs and that you make some cash to end your season on a high. You can follow me on Twitter @davlar87.