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January 16, 2019

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NFL Playoffs by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of the divisional round

Chris Carson

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson (32) takes the hand off from quarterback Russell Wilson (3) during an NFC wild-card NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas, Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019.

In the category of inflicting the worst NFL beat of the season, Todd Gurley now has company.

Enter Chris Carson for his crippling two-point conversion with a minute to go in the Seahawks’ 24-22 wild-card round loss to the Cowboys as 2.5-point underdogs Saturday night. The fate of millions of dollars flipped on Carson clinching an extra point due to  an injury to kicker Sebastian Janikowski.

Given that it was a playoff game, it was probably more impactful from a side-betting perspective than Gurley’s week 8 surrender. But Gurley not scoring a touchdown that late-game touchdown against the Packers also caused the game to stay under the total, while Seahawks vs. Cowboys game had already gone over 43 points with the preceding touchdown.   

It’s another example of how hard it can be to beat the sports book on the NFL Playoffs. Lines that are already tight throughout the regular season are cranked to an extra notch with the increased diligence of the postseason.

Talking Points won’t stop trying to pick all the winners, though. The blog went 1-2-1 on the wild-card round to bring the season record picking every game to 129-119-12. Check below for picks on every divisional round game this weekend. They’re separated into three categories with lines the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side.

Plays (25-31-1)

Los Angeles Chargers plus-4.5 at New England Patriots Bill Belichick vs. Anthony Lynn; 8,000 miles of air travel vs. rest. Those are the only two (admittedly significant) factors keeping this from being a slam-dunk play on the Chargers. Los Angeles will have to overcome some major disadvantages. Good thing the Chargers have shown the talent and played with the efficiency throughout the season to do so. They’re better than the Patriots, even though this line doesn’t imply so. The Chargers won one more game and posted a near-identical point differential — plus-99 to the Patriots’ plus-101 — despite playing a schedule that dwarfed the Patriots’ in terms of toughness by every metric. There’s such an aura around Belichick and Tom Brady in the playoffs that it’s easy to forget that their success isn’t a given. This is the weakest New England team since 2013, when it lost to Denver in the AFC Championship Game. The Chargers are unlikely to win on the road forever — maybe next week is when it catches up to them — but they’re strong enough to snag one more victory. This number shouldn’t be higher than a field goal.

Los Angeles Rams minus-7 vs. Dallas Cowboys Great offense vs. great defense. Each team has a distinct advantage in this matchup. It wasn’t supposed to be this way for the Rams, which have the personnel to be the most well-rounded team in the league. Their defense underachieved in the regular season, however, to rank 28th in the NFL in giving up 6 yards per play. Dallas sits ninth in surrendering only 5.4 yards per play. The difference may seem major, but Los Angeles’ edge is more significant on offense — it’s gaining 6.4 yards per play to the Cowboys’ 5.4 yards per play. And there’s reason to believe Los Angeles could be in the midst of a turnaround on defense, given that it’s gotten healthier and some of the midseason drop-off can be attributed to perilously-thin depth. Dallas’ offense, on the other hand, is reliably mediocre. And despite worn clichés that may indicate otherwise, offense is slightly more important — and predictable on a game-to-game basis — than defense. All signs point towards the Rams.    

Leans (40-27-4)

New Orleans Saints minus-8 vs. Philadelphia Eagles Perception vs. reality. There’s been a lot of talk this week that the Eagles are an unstoppable force under Nick Foles, the one team no one should want to play against right now. The numbers and results don’t match the superlatives and narratives. Yes, surely the Eagles have gotten a boost behind the quarterback that led them to last year’s Super Bowl but three of their four wins since he’s taken over have come by a touchdown or less. The exception came in a must-win week 17 game against a Redskins team down to their third string at many positions, including quarterback, that the Eagles won 24-0. The Foles-led offense was anemic until late in the wild-card game against the Bears last week, and the Eagles still only escaped by virtue of Cody Parkey’s, “double doink.” Don’t misinterpret coincidence as destiny. The Saints pounded the Eagles 48-7 less than two months ago as 7-point favorites, a result that deserves to shift the line more than a single point in their direction. The feeling seems to be that the Eagles have some magic mojo on their side; the truth is that the way they’re winning isn’t sustainable long-term.  

Guesses (63-61-7)

Kansas City Chiefs minus-5.5 vs. Indianapolis Colts Recent performance vs. full-season performance. How a bettor weighs those factors is likely to determine which side he or she lands on the first divisional-round playoff game. Put an emphasis on the last couple months and there’s no way 5.5 points divide these two teams. The Colts have been just as strong as the Chiefs over the second half of the season, going 8-1 straight-up, 6-3 against the spread to the host’s 5-3 straight-up, 5-3 against the spread records. But the Chiefs had been far ahead of the Colts before that, to the point where this line would have been higher if the two met at any other point of the season. There have been plenty of instances of a team peaking at the right time to wreak havoc in the playoffs but siding with a larger sample size should still be the default reaction.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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