This is my favorite weekend in sports, much less the NFL. Six teams that have survived and advanced look to take the next step, including the two teams that earned a bye week by virtue of their strong start.
A case can be made for all the underdogs on the spread and none of the home teams are seen as locks to win and advance. Before laying down their starters in Week 18, the Cincinnati Bengals were 5-2 on the road. The San Francisco 49ers have blown out Green Bay in two of their last three games. Despite losing in Week 3 this season, San Francisco overcame a 17-0 deficit to take a lead with 37 seconds to go – only to have the Packers drive 42 yards in 34 seconds to kick a game-winning field goal as time expired.
The Sunday games hold just as much drama. The Los Angeles Rams have beaten Tom Brady in both of their meetings since he joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, including a 34-24 win in Week 3. The same goes for the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo went into Kansas City in Week 5 and throttled the Chiefs 38-20. They return to the scene of the crime Sunday looking to do the same.
Typically, the Divisional Round of the playoffs sees the cream rise to the top. The home teams held serve in five of six games in the Wild Card Round, but that will be a much tougher road than usual in the Divisional Round this season given the success of the road teams in recent matchups.
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NFL Betting Odds and Lines: Divisional Round
Cincinnati Bengals (+155) at Tennessee Titans (-190)
It isn’t that often that a team that gets a bye week has more question marks than the Titans have coming out of their bye week. The anticipation is that Derrick Henry will be back and doing what he does best – pound the ball and control the clock. The Bengals are one of the most balanced teams in the league, but, when things are going their way, they also like to run the ball 25 times or more. This sets up to make the Over/Under a little ambitious (47.5 points at -105 Over, -115 Under) if the game goes as scripted. Both offenses have the horses to put up points, but this could be an old-school game typified by 12-play drives and as many field goals scored as touchdowns. Take the Under (-115).
San Francisco 49ers (+205) at Green Bay Packers (-260)
There are some teams that match up well with an opponent, and the 49ers are one of those teams when it comes to playing the Packers. Jimmy Garoppolo is 2-1 against Aaron Rodgers. The teams played twice in the 2019 season and both were blowout wins for the Niners – 37-8 in the regular season and 37-20 in the playoffs. However, all three of his career meetings came in California, not in Green Bay, where wind-chill temperatures are expected to be at or below zero. You can’t replicate frigid cold in practice. The Packers are solid favorites (5.5 points at -103 49ers, -117 Packers). San Francisco has the personnel to take out the No. 1 seed, but this has all the earmarks of a classic January game at Lambeau for the Packers – their quarterback makes the big plays that open up a lead and the defense seals the deal late in the game. Take the Packers and lay the 5.5 points (-117).
Los Angeles Rams (+120) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-145)
This is another game where a strong case can be made that the road team is the better team. For the second time in four years, the Rams have mortgaged their future (in terms of elite draft picks) to make a Super Bowl run. The first time they did, they made it to the Super Bowl – only to lose to Tom Brady and the Patriots. The point spread clearly indicates that the Rams are the better team despite being an underdog to the Buccaneers (2.5 points at +102 Rams, -125 Buccaneers). While I don’t believe the Bucs will make it to the Super Bowl because of a depleted elite receiver corps for Brady, I don’t believe it will be just yet. Nobody blitzes more than Todd Bowles and Bucs defense, and Matthew Stafford struggles when he has heat in his face. Bet against Brady at your own peril in this one. Take the Buccaneers and lay the 2.5 points (-125).
Buffalo Bills (+100) at Kansas City Chiefs (-120)
The final game of the week has two teams with a rich recent history that featured one team dominating the other early and managing the lead from there. Last year in the AFC Championship Game (in Kansas City), the Chiefs erased a 9-0 first quarter deficit to outscore the Bills 31-6 over the next two quarters. In Week 5 this season (at Kansas City), the Chiefs led 10-7 with 10 minutes to play in the second quarter, but entered the fourth quarter trailing 31-13. The Bills have the No. 1 ranked overall defense and the No. 1 scoring defense in the league. While not consistently dominant, when you combine the defensive ability with the offensive explosiveness – Josh Allen completed just 15 passing in the Week 5 meeting but averaged 21 yards per completion (315 yards). The Chiefs have represented the AFC in the Super Bowl the last two seasons, but the Bills will make sure the third time is not a charm. Take the Bills on the Money Line (+100).
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