Bettor’s Playbook: Early NFL Playoff Odds Set Stage For Competitive Divisional Games

Written By Dave Bontempo on January 18, 2022Last Updated on January 24, 2022
NFL Playoffs 2022

Gone are the lopsided NFL betting spreads. In their place come point spreads reflecting parity for the divisional round of the NFL Playoffs.

New Jersey online sports gamblers observe no double-digit point spreads for the NFC and AFC conference semifinal games this weekend. In fact, none are above a touchdown and three are in the three-point range at DraftKings Sportsbook.

The Green Bay Packers had the largest bulge at -5.5 against the visiting San Francisco 49ers on Tuesday morning.

But the other three games all sit in the vicinity of a field goal.

Talk about parity

This will not only produce interest on either betting side but encourage moneyline wagers.

Weather does not appear to be a factor in any of the games. As of early Tuesday, the forecast was calling for some light snow in Green Bay on game day.

TV schedule for NFL Divisional Playoffs

Saturday, Jan. 22

  • AFC: Cincinnati Bengals at Tennessee Titans (CBS, Paramount+), 4:30 p.m. (ET)
  • NFC: San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers (Fox, Fox Deportes), 8:15 p.m. (ET)

Sunday, Jan. 23

  • NFC: Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NBC, Peacock, Universo), 3 p.m. (ET)
  • AFC: Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs (CBS, Paramount+), 6:30 p.m. (ET)

Let’s break down the games and observe a few themes.

Eagles not among elite NFL Playoff teams, yet

The Philadelphia Eagles were good enough to reach the playoffs, gaining acclaim for reversing a 2-5 start into a 9-8 finish. However, they don’t seem able to reach the top-shelf tier. Forget the window dressing of two late scores in the 31-15 season-ending setback against the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Three major themes emerged:

  1. The Eagles could not win with the passing game once Tampa Bay stacked up to thwart Philadelphia’s vaunted ground attack.
  2. Quarterback Jalen Hurts did not target DeVonta Smith when the game still mattered. He missed reads all afternoon.
  3. They can’t make the big play. A pair of errors that cost points when the Eagles trailed 17-0 sealed the deal. Hurts threw a late endz0ne pick in the first half when the Eagles looked capable of at least getting a field goal.

And Jalen Reagor’s third-quarter fumbled punt, coupled with the ensuing Tampa Bay touchdown, put the game out of reach.

Tampa Bay hopes to be healthy against fired-up Rams.

The GOAT remains the GOAT. Tom Brady utilized his abilities to read defenses and picked the Eagles apart with audibles called at the line of scrimmage. Tampa’s defense then zeroed in on the Eagles’ run game and contained it.

But Brady had to use the ground game to eat up the clock and halt a bigger rout because of injuries.

LA Rams up next for Tom Brady and Co.

For Tampa, there is concern about offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs, who left the game with an injury. His departure coincided with the Eagles notching three second-quarter sacks and four overall.

Brady’s lack of protection once Wirfs left was masked by the outcome of the game but could be a major factor against the Rams.

Tampa Bay also hopes to get Leonard Fournette back. If so, that becomes a crowded backfield for prop players. Mike Evans’ 117-yard day rewarded New Jersey bettors who backed him as the game’s leading receiver.

For Los Angeles, Odell Beckham Jr. is gathering steam and providing an added dimension for the playoff run.

He scored the first TD in the Rams’ 34-11 rout of the Arizona Cardinals Monday night and set up the next one with a big catch. Kyler Murray of the Cardinals then threw a Pick 6 and the rout was on.

Beckham and Cooper Kupp will be prime anytime scoring threats for the Rams, while Evans and Rob Gronkowski will be Tampa Bay targets. Brady passing yardage and Stafford interceptions will gain bettors’ respect too.

Dallas Cowboys make another early NFL Playoff exit

How about Dem Dallas Cowboys?

Dallas was on the back end of the NFC East playoff broom. The Eagles were not expected to defeat the Bucs.

But the Cowboys were expected to advance against the San Francisco 49ers. They killed that with a whopping 89 yards on 14 penalties (an NFL Playoff record) and an overall lack of awareness in the 23-17 loss.

The setback, which revealed a lack of fire, showed that this team’s midseason slump was real.

No wonder the Cowboys have gone 11 straight playoff appearances without reaching the conference title game. It’s the longest streak of all time.

Dallas believers thought this is the year the team would finally advance.

The Cowboys had the most points in football, 530 for the regular season. They were one of only two teams to clear 500, with the other being Tampa Bay, 511.

What happened? The Niners played tight coverage on receivers, sacked Dak Prescott five times and delivered a pick that became the game-winning touchdown.

They will try to play the same type of game against the Packers that they did against the Cowboys: a ball control, run-0riented offense and a harassing defense.

San Francisco is a dangerous team.  The Niners have beaten the Los Angeles Rams and the Cowboys on the road in successive weeks. The Niners are playing sound fundamentally and will need to continue that against the Packers.

This was the most lopsided line of the early going. It opened at Green Bay -4.5 and quickly slid to 5, then 5.5.

Keep an eye on prop considerations for Aaron Rodgers TD and yardage totals, Davante  Adams first score and yardage totals. Allen  Lazard could be a sleeper.

For San Francisco, Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel are a good combination. Mitchell gets more carries, Samuel is a playmaker.  George Kittle was quiet in the Dallas game, maybe that changes.

The Bills-Chiefs game might be incredible

The Bills versus Chiefs is the must-see TV playoff game, regardless of the NJ sports betting implications.

Expect the theme to be defense, optional. Fifty-five points at DraftKings looks like an enticing “over” after what both teams accomplished in the opening round.

They each hit the 40s in their opening-round games.

The Bills were absolute perfection, notching touchdowns on every one of their drives, excluding the game-ending kneel down. Seven possessions, seven TDs. It was never done before.

Beating the New England Patriots 47-17 after the Pats had defeated them one month earlier, the Bills are clicking on all cylinders. They had that championship look.

Watch for high prop-yardage totals on quarterback Josh Allen, receiver Stefon Diggs and running back Devin Singletary.

The Chiefs looked just as formidable against the Pittsburgh Steelers in their 42-21 playoff-opening triumph. They scored 42 points after being shut out in the first quarter.

Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and whoever starts in the backfield are prop considerations for Kansas City.

The spread appeals to bettors on both sides.

The Bills backers may seek the moneyline payout on the belief that Buffalo can win outright.

Kansas City bettors reason that a spread less than a field goal is attractive in this home game.

For Kansas City bettors, getting -2.5 is a good snatch compared to what happens if the line goes to -3. Buying the half-point back could cost about 20 basis points, taking -110 to roughly -130,

It’s a shame that this dream matchup happens early in the NFL Playoffs.

This is a rematch from the AFC conference final, won by Kansas City 38-24.

Did Cincinnati Bengals hit their peak?

The Bengals played ultra-conservative and nearly gave away a game they controlled. But they did beat the Las Vegas Raiders 26-19 and made a class move to have players distribute game balls to the community.

Now they face a talented defense in the Tennessee Titans. They need to step up.

The Bengals did some things top teams manage to accomplish against the Raiders.  They had no turnovers.  That’s crucial in the postseason.

Quarterback Joe Burrow was efficient, targeting Ja’Marr Chase for 116 yards and making a beautiful touchdown pass just before he landed out of bounds. That gave the Bengals a 20-6 lead.

But they did look vulnerable. The Bengals allowed the Raiders to march down the field to score a touchdown just before the half and could not make definitive plays in the fourth quarter. It took a last-second pick on its own one-yard line to seal the victory.

The Bengals did little offensively in the second half. They will need to improve against the Titans, who have an excellent defense.

The Titans enjoyed their bye week coming with the No. 1 seed. The big story is whether The Beast returns.

Derrick Henry has practiced with the Titans. He has been out several weeks with a Jones fracture, a break in the part of the foot connected to the smallest toe. Henry’s status may simply be a measure of how much pain he can endure.

A healthy Henry would make this team look unstoppable.

Both offenses like to play ball control. One may have to shift out of its comfort zone. The spread says bettors don’t know which team that will be.

AP Photo/Colin E. Braley



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Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo, a multiple national award-winning boxing commentator and writer, authors NFL betting columns for the Press of Atlantic City and others. He writes about all major sports in the booming legal New Jersey sports betting industry. Dave also hosts the Why Eagles Why podcast. Dave is a member of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame and the Atlantic City International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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