NFL Betting Preview: Which Divisional Round Bets Should You Make on Sunday?
Sunday's Divisional Round action gives us the odds-on Super Bowl favorite, Kansas City Chiefs, against the underdog Cleveland Browns, who are fresh off their first playoff win since 1994. The late game brings us a classic matchup of all-time great quarterbacks as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers look to knock off the New Orleans Saints for the first time this season.
This sets up as an excellent day of football, so let's check out our numbers for some betting angles to wrap up the weekend on a high note.
Coming off of a Wild Card win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in which they jumped out to a 28-0 first-quarter lead, the Browns now must travel to Arrowhead Stadium to pull off an even bigger upset against the Chiefs. Kansas City was off last week due to securing a first-round bye, and head coach Andy Reid has a long track record of success in games following a week off. Reid has led his teams to a 19-3 record in the regular season and 5-2 record in the playoffs following a bye week.
The Chiefs are currently 10.0-point favorites, a large enough line to draw 59% of the bets and 58% of the money to the Browns side of the spread, per oddsFire. With a moneyline of -500 for Kansas City to win outright, 76% of the bets and 88% of the money on the moneyline is picking the heavy favorite. The point total opened at 55.5 and has been bet up to 57.0 points, with 70% of the bets and 73% of the money siding with the over.
With a 1.07 pass-to-rush ratio, the Browns have been the fourth-most run-heavy team in the NFL. Their offense ranks ninth in the league with 0.15 Adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) per play -- with their efficient passing offense ranking 7th overall and their volume-heavy running game ranking 11th.
They will match up against a Chiefs defense that ranks 21st overall, allowing 0.12 Adjusted NEP per play, though their run D is the main culprit for their defensive struggles. KC has held their own against the pass, ranking 15th in the NFL, but their run defense is the 4th-worst in the league, surrendering 0.14 Adjusted Defensive NEP per carry. The trick for opponents, of course, is staying close enough to be able stick with the run, as the Chiefs have faced a middle-of-the-pack pass-to-rush ratio despite their struggles stopping the run. Kansas City will be without linebacker Willie Gay Jr., while tight end David Njoku and right tackle Jack Conklin are questionable for the Browns.
Baker Mayfield has begun to focus on the trio of Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, and Austin Hooper in the passing game over the past several weeks, and each will be needed to pull off an upset in Kansas City. Landry is the volume option at wide receiver, catching five or more passes across each of the past six games and scoring a touchdown in five of six. Landry has only topped 100 yards once this season, however, and topped out at 92 yards last week even with a 40-yard reception.
Higgins' 1.08 Reception NEP per target is the best of the trio by far, and while he was able to turn only 7 targets into 28 yards last week against the Steelers, he is seeing consistent opportunity in the passing game. Higgins has averaged nearly seven targets per game over his past five games. Hooper may have the best matchup of the three against a Chiefs defense that has allowed above-average production to opposing tight ends. He has topped 60 receiving yards just once all season but has scored 4 touchdowns in the past six weeks and had 7 catches on 11 targets against Pittsburgh.
Patrick Mahomes leads the NFL's third-ranked total offense, which is carried by a second-ranked passing attack, one that produces 0.33 Adjusted Passing NEP per drop back. The Chiefs' 1.62 pass-to-rush ratio is the 10th highest in the NFL, and they face a Browns defense that ranks 27th overall, 29th against the pass, and has faced the fifth-highest pass-to-rush ratio. KC will be without wide receiver Sammy Watkins while running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire is listed as questionable and looks like a true game-time decision. Other than linebacker B.J. Goodson, who is listed as questionable, the Browns appear to be healthy on defense.
We all know that the Chiefs' offense is led by Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, but with Watkins out, this may open up opportunities down the Chiefs' depth chart. Watkins missed Weeks 6 through 12 earlier this season, and both Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson saw more snaps as a result. Over that stretch, Hardman averaged 3.4 targets per game while Robinson averaged 4.6 targets, and Hardman reached the end zone once while Robinson scored twice. Robinson consistently out-snapped Hardman over that stretch, so while Hardman is the player with more explosive play-making ability, we should expect Robinson to continue to take snaps from Hardman with Watkins out of action.
Our algorithm gives the Chiefs a 72% chance of winning, which means that we see the Browns +380 moneyline being a nice value. We project a 33.8% return on investment (ROI) on the underdog to pull off the upset, and we also project a 13.5% ROI on the Browns +10 against the spread. On the point total, we project a 16% ROI on under 57 points scored. On FanDuel Sportsbook, Austin Hooper is +210 to score a touchdown, and he feels undervalued in a nice matchup. I also like the over on 19.5 rushing yards for Patrick Mahomes, as he topped that in all three playoff games last season.
The Buccaneers and Saints face off for the third time this campaign, with the Bucs looking to avenge their previous two defeats. The Saints beat Tampa Bay, 34-23, back in Week 1 and finished off the regular season sweep with a 38-3 beatdown in Week 9. Tampa Bay has been on a roll lately, but they will have their hands full in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday night.
The Saints opened as 3.5-point favorites, but that has been bet down to 3.0, as 56% of the bets and 54% of the money are taking the Bucs' side of the spread. Tampa Bay's side of the moneyline is more popular, as well, with 69% of the bets and 68% of the money taking the Buccaneers at +130. The point total opened at 49.5 and has been bet all the way up to 52.0, with 78% of the bets and 80% of the money on the over.
Tom Brady leads the NFL's fifth-best offense, as the Bucs have produced 0.20 Adjusted NEP per play on the season. They are the third-most pass-happy offense in the league with a 1.74 pass-to-rush ratio. They will match up against a Saints pass defense that ranks third in the league, allowing -0.01 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back. Overall, the Saints' D ranks as the sixth-best in the league, and other than cornerback Patrick Robinson missing the game due to a hamstring injury, the Saints' defense looks to be at full strength. Tampa Bay will be without guard Alex Cappa, but both Mike Evans and Chris Godwin look set to play through their injuries on Sunday.
Tampa Bay is getting efficient play from all of Evans, Godwin, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski in the passing game, so it really just comes down to volume for betting purposes. Brown still plays as the third option most weeks and saw just 46% of the snaps and 3 targets in last week's playoff game against the Washington Football Team. He still managed to turn those looks into 49 yards and a touchdown and added a 22-yard rush for good measure. Brown has now scored five touchdowns over the past four weeks.
This whole passing game has been on fire down the stretch, but it is worth noting their poor numbers from the two games against the Saints. Brady failed to reach 240 yards in either contest, threw a combined 2 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, and was sacked 6 times. This will be a true test of just how far this passing game has come.
Drew Brees and the Saints' offense ranks at the seventh-best in the league, boasting the third-ranked rushing attack, one that has produced 0.15 Adjusted Rushing NEP per play this season. New Orleans ranks as the fifth-most pass-happy team with a 1.12 pass-to-rush ratio, but they face a Bucs' defense that ranks fifth in the NFL overall and second in the league against the run, allowing -0.04 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per carry. The Bucs are relatively healthy on defense, while the Saints' Taysom Hill could miss the game with a knee injury.
With Hill potentially limited or out and a matchup against tough run defense in Tampa Bay, the Saints may have to air it out early and often. Michael Thomas returned last week to produce a solid 5 catches for 73 yards and a touchdown against a tough Chicago Bears defense. When healthy this year, Thomas has received nearly eight targets per game. Outside of a few spike weeks, Emmanuel Sanders has generally topped out around five targets per game, so it's only Thomas and Alvin Kamara who are likely to see a heavy workload in the passing game. Both have huge upside if this game turns into a shootout.
Our model gives the Saints a 60% chance of winning this game, making the moneyline a stay-away for us on both sides. Same goes for the spread, as we see little advantage on either side of the 3.0-point line. As the point total has been bet up to 52.0, we like the under in this matchup of top-six defenses, and we project an 11% ROI on the it. As for prop bets, I like the over on Michael Thomas' receiving yards (76.5) as he should be healthy and ready for a big workload. I also like the under on Rob Gronkowski's receiving yards (29.5). He failed to reach that number in both games against the Saints this year and could be called on to block more often than not against this fearsome Saints D.