NFL Divisional Playoff Week Best Bets from Steve Makinen

Although I was able to squeeze out an official profit from the moneyline action and the distribution of wagers in the MNF Wild Card game I made last week, my official pick recommendations in last week’s Best Bets writeups went just 4-4.

Thus, for the season, with only seven games remaining, I am standing at 80-58-2 ATS, good for 58% and +16.2 units of profit. As I stated prior to the Wild Card round, I will be offering up at least one pick on every postseason game. I study the history of each round intently, as you may have noticed if you read my NFL Divisional Trends piece. So, let’s get to it, breaking down the four games for this weekend.


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Saturday, January 20, 2024

(301) HOUSTON at (302) BALTIMORE

As I look at the opening game on this weekend’s four-game NFL Divisional Playoff slate, I feel like too many bettors are grouping the Texans’ and Packers’ chances as identical. In fact, as witnessed on the DK Betting Splits page, bettors feel like the Texans are way underpriced.

I think Houston is in a much tougher spot than Green Bay for a few reasons. First, we’re still looking at a rookie QB/rookie head coach combination hitting the road and taking on what was the league’s best team at the conclusion of the season.

In their last 15 playoff games, rookie quarterbacks are just 5-10 SU and ATS (33.3%). Take away Joe Flacco’s 2009 run, and the record drops to 3-9 SU and ATS, including 2-8 in their last 10. Plus, since 2004, rookie starting QBs facing underdog lines of seven points or more have won just 29 games, going 29-169 SU and 81-108-9 ATS (42.9%).

Second, Houston won at home last week, not on the road. The environment in Baltimore is going to be way different. The Texans scored a TD less per game on the road than they did at home this season.

Third, head coach John Harbaugh’s team has done some of its best work recently against decent passing teams averaging 6.8 pards per attempt or more, going 10-0 ATS in their last 10, including 5-0 ATS this season.

On Saturdays in the divisional round, home teams have gone 23-5 SU and 19-9 ATS (67.9%) over the last 14 seasons, and Houston has never gotten past this round, losing its last four while going 1-3 ATS. I can see it happening soon, just not in this game. My projections call for Houston to get around 16/17 points, and those don’t even factor in the road offensive drop-off. I could easily see a 27-14 type of game here.

Let’s go with Baltimore laying the 9.5-points (+/-1)


As I indicated in the game just above, I see a lot of differences between the Texans-Ravens and Packers-49ers games in terms of the road team being competitive. Unlike Stroud/Ryans, Jordan Love and Matt Lafleur have been together for four years. It’s only this season that Love has gotten a chance and is shining.

This game is also a much more familiar environment to the Packers as they have squared off with the 49ers a lot in recent seasons, including several playoff contests. In fact, if anything, this is a massive revenge spot for Green Bay, which was eliminated by the 49ers a couple of years ago as the top seed in the divisional round.

The other thing I see as different is that unlike Baltimore, which has my current highest “recent” rating in the NFL, head coach Kyle Shanahan’s team is just 14th, while Green Bay is #4.

If you take any body of work stats, the Packers could even be considered the better team right now. I know you can’t do that and that the 49ers may have been saving themselves for the postseason, but that doesn’t discount Green Bay’s recent success. Lafleur’s team absolutely dominated Dallas last week, and if you’re looking for any recent similar postseason performances, consider Cleveland’s walloping of Pittsburgh on the road three years ago. They burst out to a 28-0 lead en route to a 48-37 win. The Browns then went on and lost to top-seeded KC 22-17 in a very competitive game.

Does the 48 points the Packers put up last week mean anything? Well, seven of the last nine teams that scored 31 points or more in their wild card wins covered their divisional point spreads. Also, of the last 35 teams that pulled off road wins in the wild card round to advance to this weekend, 20 of them have covered the point spread (58.8% with one push) and 12 have won a second straight road game outright.

I don’t see either team lighting up the other defense however, especially with the 49ers offense having cooled down the stretch, scoring just 22 PPG in their last three games. Green Bay’s defense also been solid the last few weeks, despite the high yardage total by the Cowboys.

Regarding the total, in the last 28 matchups between a #1 seed and a wild card team, or a road winner from the prior weekend, Under the total is 20-8-1 (71.4%). I could see this being a 23-20 type of game.

I’ll go both GREEN BAY (+9.5) and UNDER 50.5 for this contest

Sunday, January 21, 2024

(315) TAMPA BAY at (316) DETROIT

The one thing I worried about last week in backing Detroit came to fruition, and it cost me a point spread win. That being once the early hype wore off against the Rams, there could be a letdown in getting separation. Well, the Lions survived, and now they face a Tampa Bay team that was nowhere near as good down the stretch as the Rams were.

Meanwhile, the Bucs will find out what it means to face a team with a playoff pulse this week. Now, if you are doing any type of game simulations, you have to figure that the team most likely to score the fewest points would be Tampa. They scored the least in the regular season and tend to struggle when made to be one-dimensional: Tampa Bay is 1-13-1 ATS in the last 15 games against solid rushing defenses, allowing 3.75 or fewer yards per attempt (1-4 ATS this season). The Lions had the league’s #2 run defense and figure to put this game squarely on QB Baker Mayfield, who will be under constant pressure.

In my opinion, it’s tough to see head coach Todd Bowles’ team getting to 21 points here after struggling horribly in its final two games. If so, when scoring 20 points or less, the chance of a road team winning in this round drops dramatically to 6-40 SU and 17-27-2 ATS (38.6%).

Since the line opened at Detroit -6, it has since moved to -6.5 at DraftKings. Such line moves towards either team have gone 25-13 ATS (65.8%) in the divisional round since 2009. I like the Lions’ energy, I like the fact that they got another home game after failing to cover last week, and I like their chances to get to the NFC title game.

I’ll be laying the 6.5 points (+/-0.5) with Detroit on Sunday

(317) KANSAS CITY at (318) BUFFALO

To be perfectly honest, this was the game I struggled the most with in picking a side, as both of these teams are playoff experienced, both are very familiar with one another and to be frank, I feel like both have played better football in the past. I don’t trust either one of them entirely right now.

Kansas City is having trouble getting the ball in the end zone and is settling for a lot of field goals. The Bills are struggling with turnovers, and their best offensive weapon right now seems to be QB Josh Allen’s legs. That said, with a point spread of Buffalo -2.5, it is leaving little room for the winner not to cover, so let’s find the winner, and we’ll find the ATS money as well.

There is one NFL Streaks Betting System in play here, and it states that NFL teams that have won their last four games outright (Buffalo) while outscoring opponents by fewer than 30 total points in that span have gone 56-13 SU and 46-21-2 ATS (68.7%) in the next game when favored. That’s a pretty good outright win rate.

The Bills have also been a very good rematch team at home, going 16-4 SU and 12-8 ATS in the last 20 home rematches, scoring 30.0 PPG. I don’t think head coach Sean McDermott’s team will get to 30 points because of KC’s great pass defense, but Buffalo is 6-0-1 ATS in the last seven at home against shutdown passing defenses allowing 5.75 or fewer yards per attempt (2-0 ATS this season). Thus, I have a slight lean to the Bills.

However, I may be more interested in the total as Kansas City is 13-2 to the Under in last 15 games with an OU line of 45 or more (10-1 to Under this season), and Buffalo is 11-4 to the Under in last 15 games as a favorite of seven or less points (5-1 to Under this season). I think this is an intense matchup where points are going to be harder to come by than usual for these teams in playoff action.

Let’s go UNDER 45.5 in KC-BUF with a lesser lean to Buffalo -2.5