Tuley’s Takes: Best Bets for the NFL Playoff Divisional Round

We hope everyone had a super Wild Card Weekend like we did in the Tuley’s Takes home office and running around the sportsbooks here in Las Vegas.

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Hopefully, our “dog-or-pass” disciples had a winning first round of the NFL playoffs as underdogs went 4-2 ATS with three outright upsets by the Texans (closed as 2-point home dogs and +115 on the moneyline in their 45-15 rout vs. the Browns), Packers (+7, +300 ML in 48-32 win at Cowboys) and Buccaneers (+9, +136 ML in 32-9 rout vs. Eagles). The Rams (+3) also covered in their 24-23 loss at the Lions.

The Chiefs (-5 in a 26-7 win vs. Dolphins) and Bills (-10 in a 31-17 win vs. Steelers that was moved from Sunday to Monday) were the only two favorites to cover. For those interested, home teams led 5-1 SU and 4-2 ATS, bolstered by the home dogs going 2-0 SU and ATS as the home chalk went 3-1 SU but only 2-2 ATS. In totals wagering, Over/Unders split 3-3.

As for our Best Bets in this weekly column, we went only 1-2 ATS with our point-spread plays with a win on the Texans +2.5 (also gave Best Bet on the Texans on the moneyline at +125 and as the first leg in our 2-team, 6-point teasers at Texans +8.5, though those not included in that record). The losses were on the Dolphins +4.5 (not even close) and the Steelers +10 (close but no cigar).

We also nailed our lone Over/Under play with the Rams-Lions Under 51.5 in the Lions’ 24-23 victory. We split our teasers led off by the Texans as the Cowboys -1.5 let us down, but the Buccaneers +9 ended the weekend nicely even though we didn’t even need the added points in their easy 32-9 win vs. the Eagles.

Let’s get to this weekend’s divisional playoffs. As we wrote last week, the stakes are higher. Even though I know I’m supposed to say that we should treat these games just like we would a regular-season game and not just bet them all because they’re standalone games, I know most of us won’t be able to resist. So I’ll post a Best Bet on each playoff game through the Super Bowl. If I don’t like an underdog with my “dog-or-pass approach,” I’ll see if I like the game as a teaser leg or if the Over/Under looks like a better play.

Houston at Baltimore (-9.5, 43.5)

It’s been a rough NFL season overall for yours truly, especially down the stretch. Favorites dominated the last two months, with live underdogs fewer and farther between. In addition to cutting out losses with some of our teaser portfolios, the other good move we made early in the season was recognizing the Texans as live underdogs. We actually lost with them at +9.5 in the season opener as they lost 25-9 to these same Ravens. But then, just like Madonna in 1990, they justified our love throughout the season.

Houston rookie QB CJ Stroud has been the star (and I know no one wants to hear about my fantasy team, but I drafted him for $10 at auction in a keeper league, so I’ve been following his progress all season). The Ravens (13-4) rightfully earned the AFC’s No. 1 seed, first-round bye and home-field advantage, so they deserved to be favored. But I still believe the Texans are being undervalued by the market and shouldn’t be getting more than a touchdown. Gimme the generous points, as the Texans are much better than the Ravens saw in Week 1.

Best Bet: Texans +9.5.

Green Bay at San Francisco  (-9.5, 50.5)

I was disappointed in myself that I didn’t recognize the Packers as live underdogs. Their 48-32 upset of the Cowboys was no fluke. But while many people see them as live again, I’m going to pass again as the 49ers (No. 2 in total offense and No. 7 in total defense as arguably the best team in the league when healthy) should be well-rested after their first-round bye and roll to victory. Besides, the 49ers have dominated this season with four straight wins, so I’m certainly not confident with the Packers pulling the outright upset. The points aren’t appealing enough.

Instead, I’m going to go with the Under. We expect the 49ers’ defense to bring Green Bay QB Jordan Love back down to Earth. San Francisco should be able to run the clock in the second half to grind out the victory and move on to the NFC Championship Game. Regular readers know I’m not going to recommend the 49ers laying the points. Even if I feel it’s the right side, as that’s still a lot of points, and – as we mentioned – the 49ers won’t be motivated to win by margin and content to advance.

Best Bet: Packers-49ers Under 50.5

Tampa Bay at Detroit (-6.5, 48.5)

The Lions were expected to be here in the playoffs, while the Buccaneers have exceeded expectations. Detroit obviously has the better offense (ranked No. 3 in the league at 391.4 yards per game) compared to the Bucs (ranked No. 22 at just 319.3 yards per game). The defenses are pretty even (Tampa Bay at No. 19 and Lions right behind at No. 20).

We’ve been burned plenty of times this season when trying to fade the Lions, so I believe the best play here is to tease them down to -0.5 in 2-team, 6-point teasers. They just need to win the game outright and not worry about if they cover the spread (as they didn’t do in their 24-23 win vs. the Rams). This looks like a natural Sunday teaser, as we can take the Chiefs from +2.5 up through the key numbers of 3 and 7 to +8.5.

Best Bet: 2-team, 6-point teaser on Lions -0.5/Chiefs +8.5.

Kansas City at Buffalo (-2.5, O/U 45.5)

We love that the best matchup on paper will be played in the Sunday nightcap to wrap up divisional playoff weekend. These teams know each other very well and are 3-3 vs. each other in the 2020s. The Bills have won the last two meetings (including a 20-17 victory in Week 14 that had the Chiefs seeing red with the infamous offside penalty by WR Kadarius Toney on a play that saw TE Travis Kelce throw a brilliant lateral after catching a pass, but all for naught).

However, the Chiefs have had the Bills’ number in the postseason with a 38-24 win in the 2020 AFC Championship Game and a 42-36 OT win in the 2021 Divisional Playoffs. Both those games were at Arrowhead Stadium in K.C., so that’s why we want a little more wiggle room by teasing the Chiefs up to +8.5 and hopefully being alive with our Best Bet if the Lions beat the Bucs straight-up. If we lose that leg, we’ll probably just go ahead with the Chiefs plus the points and/or the moneyline shortly before the scheduled 6:30 p.m. ET.

Best Bet: Chiefs +8.5 if live in teaser and/or +2.5 on the spread if not live.