8 Best Bets to Make the 2014 NFL Playoffs
The Wild Card Round is in the books, and if you listened to me, you've still got some money in your wallet to play with.
So why not let it ride this week?
Of course, all of the picks against the spread for the divisional round will be included, but the lines aren't your only source of gambling fun. There are other team prop bets to consider and a bonus money-line wager that could rake in the big bucks if it pays off.
Unfortunately, most team prop bets and all player props aren't released until later in the week week. Check back later to see if any player prop bets make the list once they are released.
Last Week's Record: 2-1-1
Playoff Record: 2-1-1
All game lines and odds provided by FootballLOCKS.com and all futures sourced from Bovada.lv. All advanced metrics and rankings provided by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
New Orleans Saints +8 vs. Seattle Seahawks
One game doesn't make a trend, but that doesn't mean it can't offer hope.
And hope is good thing, maybe the best of things, especially when combined with Drew Brees, eight points and a disrespected New Orleans Saints team.
The Saints had heard for weeks how they couldn't win on the road, and their 3-5 record away from the Superdome only backed that up. The bad loss to the Rams and the close call against the woeful Buccaneers confirmed it.
But something changed last week. The Saints marched into Philadelphia and stole a last-second win with a huge team effort. The most incredible part is Brees recorded only a 75.7 quarterback rating thanks to two interceptions.
I can't believe I'm saying it, but New Orleans won behind a punishing ground game (185 yards) and tough defense. Linebacker Curtis Lofton was everywhere, inspiring an effort that limited the league's leading rusher to 3.7 yards a carry. In fact, the Saints defense missed only two tackles against the devastating open-field runner LeSean McCoy.
That's why I can't lay that many points. Not with the Seattle Seahawks, who might have peaked in their last matchup with the Saints. Incredibly, the Seahawks are only 4-3 against teams with winning records and failed in their two attempts since that 34-7 beatdown.
We know Seattle's defense is rock solid, but there are too many questions surrounding the 'Hawks to give up eight points.
Pick: Saints +8
New Orleans to Win the NFC: 7-1
Last week, I highlighted four teams that had nice enough odds to win the Super Bowl to give them serious value. I didn't include the Saints, and I'm not going back on that, but making it to the big game is a much nicer proposition.
For the record, New Orleans impressed this past week outside in the cold, but I don't see a win in locked-into-winter New York in February. That's just a step too far.
However, just getting to the game isn't out of reach. The winning combination of Brees and Sean Payton loves all the doubt aimed at the team and none of the remaining offenses have a comparable array of weapons.
Gamblers are always looking for small edges and hidden value. In picking a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and coach getting the same odds as the Colts and Chargers, I'd say we've found it.
Indianapolis Colts +7.5 vs. New England Patriots
The dogs are barking this week, folks.
For the second straight game, I can't talk to myself into laying a large number of points. Not with Captain Comeback manning the controls for the Indianapolis Colts.
Andrew Luck isn't going to be special, he already is. After throwing his third interception, Luck shook off the memory and threw three touchdowns along with one incredible rushing score.
The New England Patriots have Tom Brady, a bevy of viable running backs and Julian Edelman. What they won't have is starting linebacker Brandon Spikes.
The injured linebacker joins Jared Mayo and Vince Wilfork on the injured reserve, likely sidelining any hope the defense had of stopping the run. As fellow B/R writer Gary Davenport pointed out, Spikes is ranked as the sixth-best inside linebacker against the run.
The disabling ailments that have befallen the Patriots were bound to catch up at some point. It's difficult at best to win without three of your top-five or top-10 players, much less cover such a large spread.
Pick: Colts +7.5
Indianapolis Colts to Win the AFC: 7-1
At this point, why not?
I've already outlined how the Patriots are vulnerable, and the Colts have already beaten the Denver Broncos in a tightly contested game this past October.
Sure, Indy lost to the Chargers, but this isn't about picking a lock. This pick is about locking up a nice payout if the talented and resilient long shot can string together a couple wins.
With every team in the AFC seriously flawed in one way or another, why not jump on the 7-1 odds?
San Francisco 49ers -1.5 vs. Carolina Panthers
"So you pick nothing but dogs, make a lame joke about barking and then go against the only home dog on the slate?"
Yup. And I won't apologize for it.
The San Francisco 49ers were my favorite team heading into the playoffs. Their quarterback was starting to find his way, the running game was stout and the defense was still tough. And with head coach Jim Harbaugh's foresight to keep effective-but-aging Justin Smith fresh for the postseason, they looked as if they were banging on all cylinders.
So what happened last week? The 49ers looked much like the team I thought they would be.
No, they didn't steamroll the Packers. Most teams don't do that in Lambeau Field, especially when the temperature gave Packer fans such pause that Green Bay needed an extra day to sell out.
Colin Kaepernick made plays with his legs and arm that kept the chains moving. That ability to extend drives that should be dead and his unflappable performance with the game on the line will be a huge advantage against the stout Carolina Panthers defense.
Cam Newton and his offense will face a similar challenge but will do so with a possibly gimpy Steve Smith. Then there's the little matter of Newton's playoff debut. He's always had a flair for the moment, but the 49ers aren't giving enough points to trust Newton in unchartered territory.
Pick: 49ers -1.5
Super Bowl: AFC vs. NFC -2.5
As mentioned earlier, the AFC is wide open. You could make a case for every team based solely on the fact that all the remaining contenders have a glaring weakness (defense).
The NFC race is unpredictable as well, but not for the same reason, it's because every team left is so strong.
If you look at every possible matchup, would you feel comfortable laying just 2.5 points with the NFC team? That line is so low, it's not worth buying the points from a security standpoint.
The only team that can throw this off is Denver because that offense can be so scary good and efficient. However, three of the four NFC teams have top-flight defenses, and the Saints have proven capable of locking up a top offense (Philadelphia).
So take the small spread now, instead of finding yourself giving at least three when the matchup is determined.
San Diego Chargers +10 vs. Denver Broncos
Before everybody gets all uppity, I didn't just take every team that won last week. I took three of them with a large number of points.
This is the playoffs in the parity-crazed NFL. Weird things happen. Remember last year's improbable Ravens win in Denver?
The biggest thing that Baltimore team had going for it? A hot quarterback. That's a recipe head coach Mike McCoy can understand.
Philip Rivers threw only 16 passes against the Bengals in the Wild Card Round, completing 12 of them for a mere 128 yards. Shockingly poor numbers, right?
Maybe at first glance, but if you look deeper, he was the efficient killer the Chargers needed. He converted long third downs. He threw a beautiful fade to a backup tight end.
He ran the offense with ruthless precision, consistently making the right play. Sound familiar?
The Denver Broncos, for all of their impressive statistics, bested the Chargers by only one point in the season series. The defense is missing its best player, the offense might not have a fully functioning Wes Welker and Peyton Manning is 9-11 in the playoffs.
So why in the world would you lay 10 points with all of those detriments?
Pick: Chargers +10
San Diego Chargers +400 vs. Denver Broncos
It's called gambling. You can't play it close to the vest with every wager.
You'll never have fun. You'll never get that awesome story.
And, more importantly, you'll never get that big payday.
All of the reasons for not trusting the Broncos were laid out in the last slide. So was some praise for Philip Rivers, the 2013 Comeback Player of the Year (at least in my book).
(What? I can too have a book!)
What we didn't discuss was the play of Donald Butler and that defense. He not only racked up 12 total tackles, but he was solid in coverage, earning a respectable 1.6 grade from PFF.
It's not likely that the Chargers will win in Denver. But they have that rare mixture of being completely counted out already and playing with house money thanks to their improbable Wild Card Round victory.
And a $100 wager would get you $400 in return. I'm not saying throw a serious amount of money at it, but cut loose, have some fun and maybe win some extra snow-day cash.