Welcome back to The Combine Sports and another edition of the Bet of the Week article. We increased our record to (7-2-1) on the season with a Dallas Cowboys moneyline winner over the Seattle Seahawks. While the Cowboys were safe in the closing minutes of the game, many spread bets were decided in the final minute. The Seahawks were without placekicker Sebastian Janikowski, who hurt his thigh at the end of the first half on a long field goal attempt. You never quite realize just how important a kicker is to a team until you see that most units don’t have anyone else that is capable of making a kick on the entire roster.
After the Seahawks scored with 1:18 left in the fourth quarter to get the game to 24-20, they decided to go for two and not kick the extra point to make it a field goal game. Naturally, Chris Carson rushed up the middle for a successful two-point conversion, and the game ended 24-22. At the time I released my article, the Cowboys were down to -1.5 or less at all books, but many Cowboys wagers throughout the week laid -2.0 for a push or even -2.5 for a loss. The number did jump slightly back up right before the game on Saturday, but the moneyline recommendation required only five to 10 cents of extra juice and kept us safe.
The Divisional Round is unusual for a few reasons. There appears to be some recency bias attached to the teams that were able to advance last weekend. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t the right side of the contest, but the public has backed every road dog for the four-game slate. More often than not, that usually is a recipe for disaster, but your average bettor has been successfully hitting underdog wagers for the past few weeks and will look to continue the trend.
The Dallas Cowboys vs. Los Angeles Rams (-7) will give us a stylistic mismatch that both teams will need to exploit to be successful. The Rams will have a chance to overwhelm a slightly overrated Cowboys defense that ranks just 27th in the league in success against the pass. That statistic will surprise some, but they have allowed 49 percent of passes to grade out successfully. On the flip side, the Cowboys will try to defeat the Rams through a ground-and-pound mentality. Los Angeles is 28th against the run, and Ezekiel Elliott will need to come up huge for Dallas to have a chance. I am afraid that if the Cowboys get behind early, Dak Prescott will struggle to keep them in the game against such a high-powered opposition. For that reason, I think we see the Rams win and cover.
And the Los Angeles Chargers vs. New England Patriots (-4) provides one of the more difficult handicaps that we have this week. The math points to the Chargers being the right side, but the personnel advantages, experience and home-field advantage should favor the Patriots. I think these two units are more similar than they are different on the playing field so these edges that the Patriots have could loom a little larger than usual. We are probably looking at around a one-score game for the majority of the contest, but Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn is in way over his head against Bill Belichick and could find his conservative play-calling to be the teams undoing. It is a challenging game to handicap all together and might be one that I avoid entirely. Still, though, I think the Patriots will find a way to win and cover, most likely due to egregious coaching mistakes from Lynn.
Bet of the Week:
If you thought last weekend got weird with a moneyline wager, you are in for a treat during the Divisional Round. I’d consider myself pretty reserved when it comes to unconventional wager types. It’s not that I am unwilling to think outside the box, but I do fit into a particular stereotype of trying to find value more naturally.
However, with the overreaction and recency bias that the industry has experienced this week, I think we have a unique opportunity to attack the slate from a different angle. The Saints, Chiefs and Rams all make a compelling case to be added to a two-team six-point teaser. I could justify any combination, but for the sake of the article, I will be going with the Chiefs and the Saints. By teasing the Chiefs to +1 and the Saints to -2, you should be looking at a -120 wager. If you are unfamiliar with how teasers work, both games will need to win for the bet to be graded a winner. If one of the plays pushes, the wager will be classified as no action.
Indianapolis faces a tall task of being asked to go on the road three weeks in a row to advance to the AFC Championship. Their Week 17 game in Tennessee can be considered a virtual playoff game since it was a win or go home situation for both themselves and the Titans, and it takes a lot of energy, both mentally and physically, to get ramped up for three huge contests.
Most people that are backing the Colts see a team that has won nine of their last 10 regular season games after beginning the year 1-5. And while there is no doubt that the Colts are improved and healthy, there is an underlying story worth mentioning. If you exclude the first six weeks of the season for Indianapolis, they have faced the easiest schedule of opposing offenses and the leagues easiest schedule in passing attacks. In those games, the Colts ranked 19th in success rate against the pass.
Indianapolis plays zone on defense about 75 percent of the time, and there are a few things that can break apart that style. A speedy wide receiver to stretch the field would be one. Tyreek Hill is most likely the fastest player in the NFL, so the Chiefs have that handled easily. The second thing would be a versatile tight end. Athletic tight ends that can cause mismatches are a killer to the zone. Travis Kelce is arguably the most diverse and skillful player at the position. And last, but not least, a quarterback comfortable in play-action situations. Patrick Mahomes operates out of play-action 27 percent of the time, averaging 8.6 yards per play. Both of those two statistics equate to top-five in the league.
As far as the Saints game is concerned, During the last three starts of the regular season, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles transformed the offense away from their run-first mentality and into one of the more efficient passing attacks. They held a 48 percent passing success rate from Weeks 15-17, good for 11th best in the league and increased their explosive passing by over one percent, rising from 21st overall to 10th.
The issue when breaking down statistics from a short duration of time is that some incongruities can start forming. Foles beat a Washington Redskins team in Week 17 that had nothing to play for and a Texans team that was trending towards being the worst passing defense in the NFL between Week’s 14-17. The Rams performance does deserve some credit, but all three scores were from running the football, and as we described earlier, the Rams are ranked just 28th in efficiency against the run.
Aside from all the givens of where Philadelphia could or should struggle, the most significant liability remains their pass defense. Their winning streak has masked the fact that they are grading out 30th in the league from Week’s 11-17 in success rate against the pass, allowing 7.6 yards per attempt. The Superdome is a quick building to play inside, and the already suspect secondary should get lit up by Drew Brees and company. I don’t like pinpointing the game in Week 11 that saw the Saints beat the Eagles 48-7 at home, but I do not see there being some massive difference with Nick Foles under center instead of Carson Wentz. I doubt we are looking at a 41-point encore, but this has the chance to get ugly again.