Wild Card Weekend is always a fun series of playoff games, but the Divisional Round is when we find out which NFL teams are true Super Bowl contenders. With a pair of thrilling offensive showdowns set in the AFC, handicapping expert Chase Kiddy offers an inside look at NFL odds and how to bet on the Baltimore Ravens vs. Buffalo Buffalo and the Cleveland Browns vs. Kansas City Chiefs.
And while you're here, don't forget to check out our odds and predictions for the NFC Divisional round.
Ravens at Bills
Spread: Bills (-2.5)
Lamar Jackson is quickly becoming one of the most polarizing players in the NFL, with fans and analysts alike staking out ridiculous positions along a wide continuum of takes. For many, your opinion on the man playing quarterback in Baltimore likely shades your belief in the Ravens as a 2020 playoff team.
Let’s start by acknowledging that Lamar Jackson is an insanely gifted football player. The reigning NFL MVP can do things that absolutely no one else in the sport can do. Period. That makes him a very valuable asset indeed for the Ravens.
But any serious football analyst must also note that Lamar flashes shortcomings in his passing game that other quarterbacks do not. He is not particularly accurate, missing more often than he should on short, easy throws. His 2020 completion percentage of 64.4% ranks 27th in the league, behind guys like Mitch Trubisky, Gardner Minshew, and Nick Mullens. His yards per pass attempt (7.3, 16th in the NFL) and total passing yards for the year (2,757, 22nd in the NFL) further demonstrate this – though to be fair, it’s also a reflection of Baltimore’s identity as a team centered around a dynamic run game. More on that in a minute.
Regardless of how much Lamar stock you’re holding on to, a clear, objective view of his singular talents is crucial if you want a good playoff handicap.
Last week, on the Wild Card Weekend episode of High Motor by BetMGM, I broke down how I had concerns about Lamar’s game but ultimately felt very confident in rolling with the Ravens because of how I read the point spread. In a separate Wild Card game, I also relished the opportunity to bet against the Bills, whose stock as a public team was sky-high.
We’ll get no such advantages this week, as sportsbooks have pegged No. 2 Buffalo as a very neutral three-point favorite. Early action has moved the number down to -2.5 here at BetMGM.
From a pure numbers perspective, the movement creates value on Buffalo since you can now get them south of a key number. But I’m seeing the same angles that likely pushed sharps to back Baltimore in the first place, which is why I’m betting Baltimore to both cover the spread and pull the outright upset.
Baltimore runs the ball down people’s throats, then hits hard play action to Mark Andrews & Co. to keep defenses honest. Sprinkle in some timely runs from Lamar – both improvised and designed – and you have the No. 1 run game in the league.
That’s not my opinion – those are the stats. More rushes than anyone. More yards than anyone. More first downs on the ground than anyone. Higher rush yards as a percentage of their offense than anyone. Better YPC than anyone. And these margins? They’re pretty high. It’s very, very noticeable. Even Tennessee, which is second in nearly all of these categories, is a pretty distant second.
Given that Buffalo has a bottom-10 run defense in the league, this is perhaps the worst matchup Buffalo could draw. Yes, even worse than Kansas City. At least Buffalo would have a real chance to win a track meet against Mahomes. Here, Baltimore can control the game’s pace, keep Josh Allen off the field, and force Buffalo to play heavy in the box. That can create opportunities for Lamar in not only the pass game but the quarterback run game, too. A few well-timed zone-read plays could absolutely kill Buffalo here.
The Ravens have taken a lot of heat for not translating their regular-season success into playoff magic, so it’s a little ironic that it was the Buffalo offensive machine that looked suddenly mortal last week in a one-possession home win over the creaky Colts. If the Colts can find success running the ball right at the Bills, I expect the Ravens to take it to a whole other level this week.
I believe Baltimore is the right side here and expect them to win outright. I’ve already bet the Ravens at +2.5, and I might even consider a follow-up where I sell some points and target something like Baltimore -5.5 +170.
Prediction: Ravens (+2.5)
Browns at Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs huddles his teammates during the second quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Arrowhead Stadium on December 27, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Spread: Chiefs (-10)
Congratulations, Cleveland Browns! You earned your first postseason win since January 1, 1995, when head coach Bill Belichick scored a gritty 20-13 win over – you guessed it – the New England Patriots.
Your prize? You get to go on the road and play the Kansas City Death Machine.
From a handicapping perspective, Kansas City must contend with an inflated point spread here; most models peg the chiefs as more of an 8-point favorite, in terms of raw math, meaning the Chiefs have been inflated to a larger number thanks to their profile as one of the most public teams in the history of the NFL. If you’ve been tracking the NFL all year, this is no surprise to you. Think of it as a Kansas City betting tax. The Chiefs have been consistently hung as high favorites all year, which is one of the reasons their ATS record is a middling 7-9.
Another reason, of course, is that the clutch in the Kansas City Corvette has been stuck in low gear for months now. Pundits have debated if something is wrong or if perhaps the offense is just bored. Regardless, KC has covered just one of its last eight games. Heck, the Chiefs haven’t even won a game by more than six points since a blowout of the New York Jets on November 1!
Does a win and cover over the Jets even count?
Judge’s ruling: No.
If Cleveland plays like it did last Sunday, the Browns absolutely have a shot to take down the reigning champs. Traditional football savvy suggests that the formula to beat Kansas City is to dominate time of possession, grind out long scoring drives, and prevent Patrick Mahomes from finding a rhythm and getting molten lava hot. And if you look at how Cleveland has played this year, that’s exactly the sort of thing they’re capable of doing. Cleveland ranks 7th in the NFL with 4.8 yards per rush; among remaining playoff teams, only Baltimore and Green Bay are better.
Conversely, KC ranks 18th in opponent yards per rush attempt, giving up 4.5 per pop.
Still, don’t outthink the room. Do you really want to bet against the Chiefs here? You’re going to have to seek professional help from a trained physician to unclench your gluteal muscles after you spend all of Sunday afternoon praying to the football gods that Baker throws a couple of garbage-time TDs, just so you can slip in a narrow cover.
For one thing, I’m not counting on Cleveland’s 25th ranked pass defense to score four more interceptions this week. Talk about regression to the mean! This isn’t the unit I want to draft if I’m trying to dethrone Mahomes.
More importantly, I went back and looked at historical trends involving double-digit spreads just to see how teams do in the postseason when they’re getting a massive bucket of points. And you know what? It’s not that great. Favorites of 10 points or more are 8-2 ATS over the last 10 years. That includes New Orleans’ win over the Bears last week.
And that Cleveland offensive line? A lot has changed since Week 7.
So yes, the Browns are an intriguing upset pick this week but don’t be the idiot that picks against Mahomes. Of course, any cover is possible, but this weekend, ask yourself this simple question: Do you want to bet on Patrick Mahomes? Or do you want to bet against him?
Prediction: Chiefs (-10)
Place NFL Wagers at BetMGM
Chase Kiddy is a writer for BetMGM and co-host of High Motor by BetMGM, an NFL and college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else. He has also written for a number of print and online outlets, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Washington Post, Daily News-Record, and HERO Sports. His first novel, Cave Paintings, is in development. Follow him on Twitter: @chaseakiddy.