Off to a nice 6-1-1 start against the spread in the postseason after riding the underdog wave and getting a miraculous push (at +2 in our Bettor’s Guide) and Over with the Seahawks in the wild-card round.
Underdogs have covered the spread in 14 of the past 15 NFL postseason games (using the final lines). The task in this weekend’s divisional round is to figure out whether that will continue — and if so, where.
CHIEFS (-5¹/₂) over Colts; Under 57: Yes, this selection goes against the current trends and public sentiment, the Chiefs’ and Andy Reid’s histories of choking away good seasons with playoff duds, and the Colts’ 4-0 straight up and against-the-spread mark versus the Chiefs in the postseason.
Indeed, the Colts have won 10 of their past 11 games SU, and the Chiefs were on a six-game skid against the spread before they crushed the Raiders in the season finale. But all of that seems to be baked into a sub-touchdown point spread, which is lower than I’d ever figured it would be.
The reason this one will be different for Reid and the Chiefs is Patrick Mahomes. I’m aware of the trend, reported by Jon Campbell of OddsShark, that quarterbacks making their first playoff starts are 4-11 SU and 4-10-1 ATS since 2013. That’s nice, but how many of them have thrown 50 touchdown passes versus just 12 interceptions? For the season, KC scored 51 points once, in the 40s four other times and 35 or more a total of nine times. The Colts topped out at 42, one of just two games in which they scored at lead 35 points.
Another consideration is the conditions. KC isn’t necessarily known as a cold-weather team, but it has more experience playing on grass in the elements than the indoor/turf Colts. Going Under the massive total because of the Colts’ good defense and the potential for Andrew Luck to churn out some time-consuming drives.
Chiefs 34, Colts 20
Cowboys (+7) over RAMS; Over 49¹/₂: Similar to the Chiefs, the Rams broke scoreboards for most of the season, then had a late lull against the spread. Part of that was due to a season-ending injury to Cooper Kupp and nagging pains for Todd Gurley, who is healthier now.
This line that Jared Goff is being asked to cover is larger than the one facing Mahomes a few hours earlier. And the Cowboys have one game on their résumé, their 13-10 victory over the Saints, that suggests they know how to short-circuit a juggernaut offense.
Thinking the Cowboys can do enough damage with Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper against a middling Rams defense to get within a touchdown by the end.
Rams 28, Cowboys 24
Chargers (+4) over PATRIOTS; Under 47: It’s a brutal travel situation for the Chargers, who are playing their third game in a row on the road, the past two requiring cross-country travel. That normally would be a clear bet-against. Then there are Melvin Gordon’s injury status and Philip Rivers’ 0-7 record versus the Patriots to consider.
The feeling here, though, is that the Chargers are in another dimension that transcends these current obstacles and past bugaboos. They are downright amazing on the road (9-1 SU and 8-2 ATS this season). And now they have an angel on their side as they play for Brandon Mebane’s daughter, Makenna, who died on Jan. 3 of a rare genetic heart condition at seven weeks old. Dad is expected to suit up, and that likely will ensure an emotional peak for the team.
Before crushing the Jets in the regular-season finale, the Patriots lost on the miracle play by the Dolphins, made a ton of mistakes in a loss at Pittsburgh and failed to cover a big spread versus the Bills. They haven’t shown the sustained firepower they’ve had for almost two decades — as a string of eight Unders in their past nine games will attest.
It’s always been treacherous betting against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady … particularly at home in the playoffs. But sometimes you have to go with your gut.
Chargers 23, Patriots 21
SAINTS (-8) over Eagles; Under 51: True, the Saints 48-7 rout of the Eagles on Nov. 18 looks to be from another time and place. Nick Foles is now quarterbacking a Philadelphia team that is 6-1 SU and 4-2-1 ATS beginning with a comeback against the Giants the following week.
That Week 11 blowout in New Orleans was the third of a three-game onslaught in which the Saints scored 45, 51 and 48 points. Since then, they have averaged just 21 points and scored 14 or fewer three times.
But the expectation here is for a Drew Brees revival, even if not to those upper 40s heights. It won’t be a fireworks show because of injuries to the offensive line, and good ground options in Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram.
The Eagles will be playing their third road game in a row and fifth in the past six weeks. The defending champs appeared ready to check out last week, but the Bears’ rookie coach, first-time starting quarterback and star-crossed kicker couldn’t finish the job. Brees and Sean Payton will.
Saints 30, Eagles 20
Lock of the week: Chiefs (Locks 12-5-1 in 2018-19).
Last week: 6-1-1 (3-0-1 sides, 3-1 totals).