Contrarian Corner: NFL Divisional Round Best Bets (Hint: Back the Home Favorites)

An impressive showing last week by the Cinderella teams who will be popular underdog picks this weekend, but not by this contrarian.

The unstoppable Christian McCaffrey #23
The unstoppable Christian McCaffrey #23 / Ryan Kang/GettyImages
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The NFL’s Divisional Round Playoff Weekend is arguably its best as it truly separates the contenders from the pretenders.  Wild Card Weekend established some Cinderella stories.  For me, the clock strikes midnight for two such teams this weekend.

Divisional Round Playoff Picks

Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens

Situation: Underdog Team A plays a spectacular game and gets an emotional win in the Wild Card Round. A week later, they have to regroup and replicate that on the road against superior Team B.  Everyone jumps on Team A’s bandwagon.

Of course, Team A in this case is Houston and Team B is Baltimore.  The young Texans played great AND they are getting a whopping nine points.  Sorry, I’m off the bandwagon.  It’s really difficult for the “Team A” teams to put together two consecutive nearly perfect games against the number one seed.  Sure it happens, but the percentages favor the top seed at home. 

The two teams met four months ago opening week when the Ravens beat the Texans 25-9 in rookie Chris Stroud’s first NFL game.  Although the Texans were held without a touchdown, Stroud played admirably going 28 for 44 for 242 yards and no turnovers.

STATS

RAVENS

TEXANS

Points allowed

1st

11th

Total yards allowed

6th

14th

Passing yards allowed

6th

23rd

Rushing yards allowed

14th

6th

Sacks

1st

15th

Turnover margin

1st

t5th

Scoring offense

4th

14th

Offense: total yards

6th

12th

Offense: passing yards

21st

7th

Offense: rushing yards

1st

23rd

Key match-up: Can the number one ranked Ravens defense shut down an improved Texans offense? I think they will, and I also favor John Harbaugh’s experience in these big games.

The Pick: TEASE the RAVENS -7 (-135)

Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers

The game for me is a mirror image of the Ravens/Texans game.  Another upset Wild Card winner whose quarterback played amazingly, has to duplicate that performance, on the road, against the number one seed, and is a huge underdog.

STATS

49ERS

PACKERS

Points allowed

3rd

10th

Total yards allowed

8th

17th

Passing yards allowed

14th

9th

Rushing yards allowed

3rd

28th

Sacks

7th

21st

Turnover margin

5th

t16th

Scoring offense

3rd

12th

Offense: total yards

2nd

11th

Offense: passing yards

4th

12th

Offense: rushing yards

3rd

15th

Key match-up: Again, a similar scenario to the Ravens/Texans.  Can the Packers offense keep up with the 49ers offense?  I think Steve Wilks’ third-ranked 49er defense will shut down the Packers' running game and make them one-dimensional. The Niners will prove why they’ve been the best team in the NFC all year.

The Pick: TEASE THE 49ERS -7 (-150)

Kansas City Chiefs @ Buffalo Bills

This game situation does not really have a contrarian view to it.  Instead, it comes unscientifically from a hunch.  The two teams met in Kansas City in week 14 on December 10th where it appeared the Bills were about 72 seconds away from the brink of playoff elimination.

Ah yes, but history repeated itself for KC.  They were bitten by another senseless offside penalty which ultimately cost them the game.  In January 2019, it was Dee Ford lining up offside that turned a 4th and 10 into a 3rd and 5.  Tom Brady converted, and the Patriots went on to the Super Bowl.

In week 14, the Chiefs’ miraculous Travis Kelce lateral TD to Kadarius Toney was negated because Toney and his toe lined up offside, and the Buffalo Bills grabbed victory from the jaws of defeat.  They haven’t lost since. 

My intangible factors that favor Buffalo:

  • I think the Bills are battle-tested and the Chiefs aren’t.  The Bills have basically been in playoff mode for the past six weeks.  The Chiefs cruised to another easy AFC West division title and drubbed the hapless Miami Dolphins 26-7 in last week’s Wild Card game.  
  • This time, the Bills have KC at home.  It’s Patrick Mahomes first road playoff game.  Bills Mafia will be in full force.
  • I’m a big believe in momentum, and Buffalo is playing its best ball of the year. On the other hand, KC’s offense is not the juggernaut it once was and relies more so on its defense to win games.

STATS

BILLS

CHIEFS

Points allowed

4th

2nd

Total yards allowed

9th

2nd

Total passing yards allowed

7th

4th

Total rushing yards allowed

15th

18th

Sacks

4th

2nd

Turnover margin

12th

28th

Scoring offense

6th

15th

Offense: total yards

4th

9th

Offense: total passing yards

8th

6th

Offense: total rushing yards

7th

19th

Key match-up: I don’t see any surprises.  The teams know each other far too well.  There has been one key stat for both teams all year, and that’s turnover margin.  They each tied for seventh worst with 28 giveaways, but the Bills were third best in takeaways with 30 (net +2), while the Chiefs were 27th with only 17 (net-11). Advantage Bills.

The Pick: BILLS -2.5 (-120)

Bonus Pick

3-way Parlay the above games +432