The Professor’s NFL Divisional Round Game Previews

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The Professor's NFL Divisional Round Game Previews

The NFL is down to its final eight teams, and DraftKings and FanDuel have loaded up the betting slate to add to the weekend’s fun. This article in The Professor’s Games of the Week will break down each Divisional Matchup and highlight The Professor’s favorite “Divisional Specials” bet for each game on either FanDuel or DraftKings; for bettors looking to play more of those specials, The Professor will have an extra article highlighting such bets in addition to his usual Friday Props article. Spreads and totals are provided by DraftKings; Divisional Specials bets come from both DraftKings and FanDuel.

Cincinnati Bengals at Tennessee Titans (TEN -3.5, Total 47)

FanDuel: Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins To Combine for 175+ Yards Receiving (+175)

Titans running back Derrick Henry is on track to return the field in at least a limited capacity, but King Henry’s presence aside, the Divisional Round has some of the NFL’s best receivers at center stage, and the Bengals-Titans matchup is no exception. DraftKings and FanDuel have put together some cross-team props, including one DraftKings prop that includes Tennessee’s A.J. Brown and Julio Jones along with Cincinnati’s Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, but the one that immediately stuck out to The Professor was FanDuel’s prop that combines Chase and Higgins’ receiving yards.

Cincinnati’s receiver-specific production can be difficult to project on a week-to-week basis, but one thing that has been easy to predict over the past month and a half is that as the moment gets bigger, quarterback Joe Burrow gets better. Some say players don’t rise to the moment, but fall to the level of their training, but regardless of exactly how that works, Burrow is a baller in the biggest moments, and either one of his stud pass-catchers is capable of breaking the 175-yard mark on their own. The Professor’s model has Chase at a mean projection of 81.9 receiving yards (4th in the NFL for the weekend) and Higgins at a mean projection of 63.0 (9th in the NFL); with their combined mean receiving projection at 144.9, The Professor is happy to sign up for this prop.

Tennessee’s road to the one seed hasn’t been pretty; NFL fans could argue that their road to the playoffs has been as ugly as any, but while Green Bay is getting more attention for the players they are getting back, the Titans have rebuilt themselves into the “Monstar”-laden offense NFL fans expected before the season over the last month. Backup running back D’Onta Foreman gives Tennessee a solid alternative if Henry isn’t ready to handle his usual workload, and receivers A.J. Brown and Julio Jones were able to get back on the field down the stretch and should be at full speed for this game.

It is a welcome sight for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who posted four touchdown passes in the season finale to finish with 21 passing touchdowns, seven rushing touchdowns, and 14 interceptions despite some ugly stat lines in games where his supporting cast was absent. It is critical that Tannehill is in rhythm for this game; Henry will get the attention, but the NFL is a quarterback’s league, and with Burrow on the other sideline, Tannehill will likely need to produce some big-time plays for his team to advance to the AFC Championship.


San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers (GB -6, Total 47)

FanDuel: Aaron Rodgers To Have 300+ Passing Yards & Throw 3+ Passing TDs (+500)

There is a lot of talk that the 49ers are the team nobody in the NFL wants to play because of their physical style up front on both sides of the ball, but while San Francisco certainly has a strong defensive front and one of the NFL’s better rushing attacks, the Rams, Buccanneers, and Packers have standout units of their own, and given that the 49ers paid a King’s Ransom for the right to move on from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo after this season, even GM John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shannahan would seem to agree that they have a disadvantage at the game’s most important position.

In Garoppolo’s defense, every team in the NFL would have a disadvantage at quarterback against Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, who got off to a rough start in the NFL season opener with two interceptions before throwing 37 touchdowns to two picks in the final sixteen games, an absurd stretch that brought back memories of Nick Foles in Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia offense, albeit without all the dropped interceptions that boosted Foles’ numbers during the 2013 NFL season.

The one area of Rodgers’ game that has been nitpicked are his numbers under pressure vs. not under pressure, but while there is a stark dropoff in his production under pressure, NFL fans should understand that “under pressure” and “against the blitz” are defined differently in these numbers, a subtlety that seems to get missed, at least based on some of The Professor’s conversations with knowledgable NFL fans. Rodgers’ elite processing and the quick-strike nature of this Matt LaFleur-coached offense have meant that Rodgers is rarely under pressure, regardless of how many rushers the defense sends or how many backup linemen he is playing behind.

Rodgers has not consistently thrown for big volume in LaFleur’s offense, so the 300 yards may be the tougher number to hit, but The Professor’s model has Rodgers at a mean projection of 273.1 passing yards and 2.3 passing touchdowns, so he will sign up for the 300+ passing yards and 3+ passing TDs at +500. Unfortunately, FanDuel does not allow you to parlay this with a Packers moneyline, because Green Bay is damn near a lock to win if Rodgers hits these numbers, but +500 still makes for a healthy return. There are no easy outs at this point, and San Francisco’s top receiver/running back, Deebo Samuel, should put on a show, but Green Bay has Davante Adams to do the same on the other side in the sub-zero temperatures forecast for this game.


Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneeers (TB -3, Total 48.5)

FanDuel: Tom Brady To Throw 3+ TDs & Rob Gronkowski To Have 70+ Yards Receiving (+450)

Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris isn’t going to tip his hand, but how he deploys star cornerback Jalen Ramsey in this rematch with Tampa Bay will have a significant impact on where Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady goes with the ball this weekend. It is a different Bucs offense this time around; Tampa Bay had receiver Chris Godwin available for the first game but did not have tight end, Rob Gronkowski, for a significant portion of that contest, as Gronkowski exited with a rib injury after posting four catches for 55 yards. The Professor’s initial thought was that Ramsey will be tasked with handling Bucs receiver Mike Evans on the outside, particularly after Evans posted nine catches on ten targets for 117 yards and a touchdown against the Eagles, but with some of the injuries the Rams have recently suffered in the middle of their defense, Ramsey could spend more of his time checking Gronkowski as a slot defender.

Regardless of where Ramsey lines up, this game is on Brady’s shoulders; Brady led the Bucs in rushing the first time these teams played, racking up 14 yards while running backs Ronald Jones (5 carries for 11 yards) and Leonard Fournette (4 carries for 8 yards) struggled to gain traction. The Bucs are now down to Gio Bernard and Ke’Shawn Vaughn at running back, and the unit paving the way for the backs is in rough shape, as center Ryan Jensen and right tackle Tristan Wirfs are both dealing with injuries that could make them game-time decisions.

That could be particularly problematic against a Rams defense that features Aaron Donald, Von Miller, and Leonard Floyd up front; Miller, in particular, has experience taking down Brady behind a depleted offensive line, like Miller, Demarcus Ware, Malik Jackson, and Derek Wolfe led the Broncos over the Patriots in the AFC Championship game back when Peyton Manning was still playing quarterback. Fortunately for Tampa, quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Rams offense face an equally difficult matchup, as edge rushers Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul returned last week along with sideline-to-sideline linebacker Lavonte David to restore the Tampa Bay front to its elite standard.

There is also plenty of offensive star power on both sides, with Evans and Gronkowski on the Bucs’ side and receivers Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. on the Rams’ side, which means that this game could be anything from a defensive struggle to an offensive shootout, but The Professor’s take is that Brady is the surest bet to perform at a championship standard in this game. The Professor’s model has Brady at a mean projection of 2.1 passing touchdowns, a number that would be boosted if the training set were cut to the Fournette-less version of the Tampa Bay offense (which isn’t done because of a problematically small sample size), and Gronkowski at a mean projection of 55.1 receiving yards, so +450 seems like a reasonable price for Brady to hit three touchdown passes and Gronk to top 70 receiving yards.


Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs (KC -2.5, Total 54)

Travis Kelce Headshot

DraftKings: Travis Kelce & Stefon Diggs to combine for 200+ Receiving Yards & 2+ TDs (+650)

The final game of the NFL’s Divisional Round slate is primed for fireworks, as quarterbacks Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes are both coming off five-touchdown games in the Wild Card Round. Their respective performances have sparked some lofty goals for Divisional Round Prop Bets, such as DraftKings’ +2000 prop for the two quarterbacks to combine for 10 passing touchdowns in a game that opened with the total at 55. The Professor will get into that Mahomes/Allen prop in the “Just for Fun” portion of his Divisional Round Special Bets article; for this breakdown, The Professor will focus on the more reasonable prop of Kansas City’s Travis Kelce and Buffalo’s Stefon Diggs combining for over 200 receiving yards and two-plus touchdowns.

The Professor’s model has Kelce at a mean projection of 73.3 receiving yards and 0.6 receiving touchdowns, while Diggs comes in at 76.2 receiving yards and 0.5 receiving touchdowns, but as Kelce showed last week, superstar pass-catchers often get more opportunities in the biggest moments, which sets both Kelce and Diggs up to play to the high side of their projections. Buffalo has spread the ball around more this season, but Diggs is still their most dangerous threat, and against a balanced Kansas City secondary, Allen’s best matchup is likely to be wherever Diggs is lined up on a given play.

Kelce is likely to see a lot of Buffalo’s safety tandem of Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, who made First and Second-Team All-Pro, respectively, but as good as that pair is, Kelce is one of the best players in NFL history, and he enters this game on fire. The total of 55 initially struck The Professor as a bit high, as totals of 55 and over are often associated with one or two bad defenses, which is not the case in this matchup, but as Allen and Mahomes showed last week, there is explosive potential in this game.

The Kelce/Diggs prop is The Professor’s least favorite bet of the four highlighted in this article, but at +650, this only needs to hit 13.3% of the time to be a break-even bet. Allen has more pressure on him, as Mahomes already has the championship pedigree to justify his 40+ million per season contract, but Buffalo’s signal-caller has all the tools to lead his team to Los Angeles this season. Tennessee and Cincinnati should not be dismissed, but barring an overwhelming performance from the Titans this weekend, the winner of the Buffalo-Kansas City game will likely be favored in the AFC Championship game regardless of which team advances, and with the way Allen and Mahomes played last week, it is easy to understand why.

Conclusion

This article previewed four prominent NFL matchups for the coming week and talked about how to bet them. For more content from The Professor, including the rest of his game previews and his fantasy content, check out The Professor on BeerLife Sports!

About the author:

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Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.