HOT on the heels of the epic Wild Card round which saw two overtime victories and just one of four favourites progress, we have four more intriguing match-ups to savour as the NFL play-offs hit the Divisional Round stage.
In 2019, all favourites progressed from the Divisional Round which bodes well, both for NFL betting enthusiasts and the 49ers, Chiefs, Ravens and Packers who all return from a bye with home-field advantage. But where's the value? Here to help you unpack is NFL broadcaster and journalist Nat Coombs.
All 53 of the Chiefs starting roster participated in practice this week, which is highly unusual at this stage of proceedings, and is news that was undoubtedly met with a collective groan in Houston who, in contrast, have some key injuries including Will Fuller. The speedster receiver missed the win against Buffalo and may not factor against Kansas City. If he doesn’t, it’ll add significantly to the task ahead for the Texans.
The brilliant Deshawn Watson spun his way, and his team, out of danger and to a OT win over Buffalo last week, having pulled his team out of a 16 point hole, with help from a returning JJ Watt, but in many ways the Bills threw the game away, with wasted opportunities. Watson took plenty of hits again too – sacked seven times – and it was a gruelling win that will have taken its toll on the Texans.
Kansas City had a rest week, a dangerous thing for any defense about to face an Andy Reid offense led by Patrick Mahomes. They’re more balanced than last season too, with a fast improving defense that since Week 11 has allowed just 11.5 PPG as the Chiefs remain unbeaten in that time. Arrowhead is a formidable place to go at the best of times, not least when the team is two wins away from the Super Bowl. I’m tempted by the spread (KC -9.5) but my lock is the Kansas City total (Over 30 points)
Since week 6:
— Arrowhead Live (@ArrowheadLive) January 8, 2020
In the Wild Card round Seattle were gifted a huge advantage when Philly suffered yet another injury – this time to one of their most influential players, Carson Wentz – and the gallant efforts of Josh McCown fell short for an already banged-up Philly. Nevertheless, Seattle were composed and clutch – Russell Wilson in particular, with DK Metcalf emerging as an A-list threat. Marshawn Lynch has had another week of hits and acclimatisation back in the big league, and the ground game will improve once again, particularly if Duane Brown returns on the line.
Green Bay come off the bye as the team that no-one is really talking up and that’s dangerous territory when you consider this an Aaron Rodgers led offense with some serious weapons on show when in motion. Head Coach Matt LaFleur loves to script things, so the first 15-20 plays will be crucial, not least as Lambeau will be leaping. If Seattle can hold firm during this phase – as they tend to do, staying close in virtually every game this season, win or loss – then they’ll have a real shot. I think they do, and because this one comes down to the wire, I like the points here, taking the number not necessarily the team.
The Vikings were so impressive against New Orleans in the Wild Card, pulling off the upset of the round with stifling defense, and a strong ground game (in the first half anyway) with Dalvin Cook leading the charge, and clutch plays from Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph. Kirk Cousins shut up his detractors with the win, and Minnesota will be confident, and to some degree fearless, going into this game once again as heavy underdogs. With Cook seemingly back to optimum fitness, the only major injury doubt the Vikings have is Thielen and they’re confident will suit up for this one despite hurting his ankle in training.
The 49ers, like the Chiefs, are rested and re-up their defence with the probable return of Dee Ford and Kwon Alexander, the Vikings will face a challenge to establish the run to the degree they need too, with so much of their game depending on the productive here and establishing the play action. San Fran have had much success with the pass rush and a very solid secondary and much will depend on the Vikings O-Line holding up in pass protection to enable varied play calling.
A fast lead from San Francisco will force Cousins to air it out, and so it’s key for the Minnesota to hold firm early. I think the 49ers win the game, but I think both teams put up points and the line at 44 looks low to me.