Here comes a betting bonanza. Mountain State online sports bettors can enjoy a super-sized NFL playoffs menu this weekend.
With one playoff team in each conference added this year, there are three games apiece on Saturday and Sunday. That’s one more than in previous postseasons. Here’s the lineup:
The host Buffalo Bills will kick off the slate as roughly a one-touchdown favorite against the Indianapolis Colts.
The Seattle Seahawks host the Los Angeles Rams as a medium-sized pick in the second contest. Seattle will try to beat the Rams for the second time in three weeks. The Seahawks prevailed 20-9 in Week 16.
The Washington Football Team concludes the Saturday slate in the night game, hosting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a lopsided dog.
The show-stopper of the weekend could be the Baltimore Ravens-Tennessee Titans in the opening tilt.
The New Orleans Saints are the largest favorite on the board in hosting the Chicago Bears in the second leg.
And what a way to wind it down: with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns meeting for the second time in eight days, this time in the playoffs and in Pittsburgh on Sunday night.
DraftKings head hails staggered schedule
Johnny Avello, the director of race and sportsbook operations for DraftKings, told PlayWV that he expects that each day’s games will produce betting volume equal to an entire NFL regular-season menu.
“I absolutely love the way these games are spread out,” Avello said. “It lets bettors watch the end of one game and still have time to wager on the next one, as opposed to one game not being finished and the next one coming up.
“On Saturday, the Bills are going to be bet. They are playing tremendous ball right now. And on the other side of it, Philip Rivers has a lot of accomplishments in the NFL, but he has nothing to show for it. No Super Bowl rings, no trophies. This might be his last chance to make some noise.”
Avello warned about wagering overconfidence in the Washington-Tampa Bay matchup.
With host Washington getting more than a touchdown in a playoff game, it’s been a foregone conclusion that the Bucs will run roughshod. They have 11 wins to Washington’s seven, and Tom Brady has been on a roll of 12 touchdowns thrown versus just one interception over the last four weeks.
But there’s a reason the teams suit up.
“I call this a buyer beware game,” Avello said. “After doing a little bit of research, we realize that of the 11 wins Tampa Bay has, 10 were against teams that did not make the playoffs.
“Washington has a great defense, and this team is building. Washington wasn’t expected to win seven games. It is playing with house money now.”
Like many observers, Avello believes the Ravens-Titans game could be the barnburner of the weekend. Two amazing ground games and exciting skill position players could light up the scoreboard.
Avello said the Browns have a tall order trying to beat the Steelers twice but that this game will be closer than some think.
Cleveland finally in the playoffs
The Browns-Steelers game had some early drama.
We know the value of a missing quarterback. It’s roughly three points for many but up to nine points if that player is Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers or Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs.
What’s the value of a coach? Perhaps 1.5 points.
That was the initial reaction to the line Tuesday when it was revealed that Cleveland Browns coach Kevin Stefanski, who guided the Browns to their first playoff appearance since 2002, has been sidelined with COVID-19.
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer will serve as head coach.
With that news, the line immediately jumped from Pittsburgh -4.5 to -6.
The coach is the communications coordination point, the motivational speaker, the leader and the play caller. One could believe the impact is even greater than 1.5 points. When some members of the Detroit Lions coaching staff had to miss the Week 16 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Lions lost by 40 points.
That’s a far cry from the 7-10 they were getting beforehand at various sportsbooks.
The Browns, like Washington, may also be playing with house money.
They received a gift with the Steelers resting key players like quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the season finale.
Cleveland needed the help and barely notched a 24-22 victory, ensured by Pittsburgh missing a late two-point conversion that would have tied the game.
But the Browns did hold on and saved their season. Despite all the promise surrounding this team, it would have been wasted without a playoff appearance. There were too many positive factors that, to Browns fans and bettors, demanded a cash-in.
That includes the emergence of quarterback Baker Mayfield and the NFL’s best running back duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. It extends to the receiving talent of Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins, along with the stability of tight end Austin Hooper.
The Browns scored 49 points against the Dallas Cowboys. They blitzed to a 38-7 first-half lead and held off the AFC South division-winning Tennessee Titans. They had the Ravens on the ropes before that crazy Monday night finish. Cleveland scored more than 30 points seven times and more than 40 three times.
This team had to find a way to the postseason, and it did. There is weeklong excitement in Cleveland, and it’s long overdue.
Now the Browns are seeking a bonus: their first postseason win since 1994 under Bill Belichick.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Back to normal
The Steelers, meanwhile, are treating Sunday’s loss as a near win.
Quarterback Mason Rudolph looked excellent in delivering two fourth-quarter scoring drives. He came within a two-point conversion of tying the game late.
And now they have Ben Roethlisberger back. In retrospect, resting him and other players was a safe move. Pittsburgh would have needed the Miami Dolphins to defeat the Buffalo Bills to make its game against Cleveland relevant. Buffalo prevailed 56-26.
Roethlisberger and the receiving corps headed by Diontae Johnson led the Steelers back from the brink in Week 16 against the Colts. The Steelers trailed 24-7 and looked anemic until Johnson made a terrific touchdown catch, launching the comeback. The Steelers made it all the way, prevailing 28-24.
In the last two weeks, they have had a confidence-building win and a loss that felt like one.
The Steelers offense has turned the corner, at least to be ready for one game.
Johnson remains the most reliable receiver and could be played heavily in yardage and scoring props.
Ravens-Titans: A ground matchup like no other
This is a must-see game, with the Ravens slightly favored on the road.
It’s the Beast, rushing champion Derrick Henry of the Titans, versus the Lamar Jackson-led Ravens. These teams are expected to march up and down the field.
The Ravens notched an astonishing 404 rushing yards last week against the Cincinnati Bengals, becoming the first NFL team in 20 years to do so.
Henry, meanwhile, eclipsed 2,000 yards for the season and produced a series of exhilarating runs last weekend.
The Ravens are playing better right now, but do the Titans have their number? Tennessee stunned the Ravens, knocking them from the playoffs last year after Baltimore had compiled a 14-2 record. And earlier this season, the Titans beat the Ravens in overtime.
Intangibles: Baltimore has a decent defense; Tennessee does not. Ravens kicker Justin Tucker is the best in the game; the kicking game has been a weakness for the Titans all year.
Saints expected to romp
The biggest spread on the board is New Orleans, up as high as -10 against the Chicago Bears.
The Saints are a well-oiled machine, and their defense figures to make at least one big play against the Bears, who got in with an 8-8 record.
Packers and Chiefs wait
It’s a well-deserved bye week for the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and the Green Bay Packers. Each gained the lone bye for its conference. A bye is a first-round win.
They will each face the lowest-seeded survivor from Week 1 of the NFL playoffs next weekend.