Las Vegas Raiders @ Cincinnati Bengals (-6.5, 49) | 4:35pm ET
The first game of the 2021-2022 NFL Playoffs will feature two fairly surprising participants in Cincinatti and Las Vegas. Many people picked Cincy to finish last in the AFC North, and many left the Raiders for dead when the Jon Gruden debacle went down (not to mention the subsequent debacles involving Henry Ruggs III and Damon Arnette).
These two teams met in a week 11 showdown in Vegas. The Bengals dominated, winning 32-13.
Cincinnati won its last three meaningful games (not counting the Week 18 loss to Cleveland in which the Bengals rested many starters), including an impressive win against a streaking Chiefs team. Las Vegas has won its last four, all of which have been decided by three or fewer points.
Especially of late, Cincinnati has been the more impressive team. Second-year QB Joe Burrow is playing the best football of his young career leading up to this matchup. He leads all qualifying QBs in passing yards per attempt and completion percentage and is second behind only MVP frontrunner Aaron Rodgers in passer rating.
Raiders QB Derek Carr also sports some very good numbers, including being top-5 in passing yards and completion percentage.
Even with the meaningless Week 18 game, Cincy is 4-0 against the spread (ATS) in its last four. Vegas is also 3-0 ATS in its last three games. The over has hit in seven of the last 10 meaningful Bengals games, but only in four of the last 10 Raiders games.
Currently, Burrow is listed as questionable for this game, but will in all likelihood be under center for the Bengals.
It should be noted that the temperature is expected to be in the 20s for game time, and that Vegas plays its home games indoors. The ability to run the ball should be important. However, both teams are in the bottom 10 in yards per carry.
Despite Joe Burrow’s stellar play of late, playoff football in January is a different monster. I expect him to play well, but the level of play he showcased in the wins over KC and Baltimore is probably unsustainable. The cold weather, along with the inability of either team to efficiently run the ball leads me to believe that this will be a close, relatively low scoring game.
I like the Bengals to cover, but I do like the under.
Prop Bet: Vegas receiver Hunter Renfrow has scored in each of his last three games. He is +175 to score in this game.
New England Patriots @ Buffalo Bills (-4.5, 43.5) | 8:15pm ET
The Bills and Pats are set to escalate what looks like one of the NFL’s budding rivalries when they meet on Saturday night. New England seems to have found someone to fill the shoes of Tom Brady, and is back to playing elite defense. Buffalo had some confounding struggles earlier in the year, but has quietly reasserted itself as one of the league’s most talented rosters from top to bottom.
These teams met in Foxborough in Week 16 in a game that effectively decided the AFC East. Buffalo won 33-21.
New England has cooled off since their 7 game win streak, losing 3 of its last 4 (the 1 win was against Jacksonville). In their last 4 games, they’re 1-3 ATS. On the flip side, Buffalo is 4-0 in its last 4 (3-0-1 ATS).
Last year’s Bills team was about the emergence of a superstar QB in Josh Allen. This year’s Bills are much more well rounded. Buffalo ranks 5th in yards per carry. Their defense ranks 1st in nearly every pass defense statistic (completion percentage, passer rating, yards, yards per attempt, and touchdowns allowed). They are above average against the run as well, allowing 4.2 yards per attempt.
The Patriots defense is nearly as good. They are second behind Buffalo in opponent’s completion percentage, yards, yards per attempt, and passer rating, and are second behind Dallas in most interceptions. They are below average against the run, allowing 4.5 yards per carry.
All indicators suggest a Buffalo win, as both teams are trending in an opposite direction. Buffalo has a more complete roster and is at home. However, picking against the Hoodie has often proven to be a fool’s errand.
The over has hit in the Patriots’ last three games, and the under has hit in the Bills’ last two. The O/U of 43.5 is indicative of two great defensive teams squaring off in frigid western New York. The temperature is expected to be in the single digits.
Despite Buffalo’s team success, Josh Allen has been inconsistent lately. He has completed less than half of his throws over the final two weeks. One can imagine that Bill Belichick has something up his sleeve to make this inconsistent play continue.
Patriots rookie QB Mac Jones has played well the past two weeks after struggling against this Bills defense in Week 16.
I think that Buffalo will win and cover the 4.5, as they are just too talented on both sides of the ball. I also lean toward the under, but I don’t believe I will bet on it.
Prop bet: Patriots running back Damien Harris has been a touchdown machine of late. He scored 4 TDs in the two games against Buffalo, while also going over 100 yards in both games. +125 for Harris to score once seems like a safe bet and could be a nice parlay sweetener.