Welcome to NFL Playoffs Week 1.
Football Five, make it six, goes one step further this week. There are six playoff games and six key questions that will be answered, deciding who advances.
For the NJ sports betting crowd, action has been brisk enough to move a couple of the lines.
Here’s a look at the playoff picture.
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Can the Buffalo Bills handle the NFL playoff stage?
The Bills haven’t hosted a playoff game in 25 years. However, they were immediately installed as a one-touchdown favorite against the Indianapolis Colts for Saturday’s opening Wild Card game.
But William Hill still had the line at -6.5 on Tuesday. That’s a difference maker for bettors.
The Buffalo optimism is justified.
Josh Allen has turned into that special quarterback this year, adding a nice passing touch to his well-established running credentials. Stefon Diggs gives him a great target as the league’s leading pass catcher, 127 of them. Isaiah McKenzie had a second-quarter hat trick in the team’s 56-26 season-ending triumph over the Miami Dolphins.
What further helps the implied coronation is local officials allowing roughly 7,000 people to attend the game.
The question is what happens if Buffalo finds itself in a tight game late? The Bills have been playing from ahead, way ahead, in recent games, and have been able to remain loose.
Indy will try to keep this tight with a ball-controlled game, hoping Buffalo makes a key mistake.
How does Indianapolis counter?
Jonathan Taylor has become the power back this team has long needed. He brought stability to the Colts, helping minimize mistakes from quarterback Phillip Rivers. Taylor rushed for an insane 253 yards last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He is the key to Indy’s chances.
The Colts also have Frank Reich, one of the top coaches in the game and a mastermind behind the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl winning season three years ago. Reich was a Bills quarterback in the 1990’s.
Reich will try to steal a couple of possessions from Buffalo via long, sustained drives.
The line says Buffalo’s weapons are younger and a bit faster.
Did John Wolford become a veteran for the Rams?
It was John Wolford’s first game as a quarterback. He didn’t find the end zone, and threw some interceptions. But Wolford settled down and his rushing total of 56 yards helped the Rams do just enough to capture a must-win victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17.
Can he step it up one more notch against a better Seattle Seahawks team in Saturday’s middle game?
The teams split games on their own fields in the regular season. This is ground-and-pound, methodical football. The Rams will try to stay close enough to take this away from Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson with a big defensive play.
The spread says bettors favor Wilson’s credentials over Wolford. Unless Wolford’s running presents problems.
The teams scored 29 total points against each other two weeks ago. Seatle won the game, 20-9. The over-under for this one opened at 43.
Does Washington have any chance against Tampa Bay?
The line says no.
A home playoff team getting more than a touchdown is unusual. And the initial line of the Tampa Bay Bucs -7.5 did not attract Washington money. The line surged to -8.5 early in the week.
The Washington Football Team has epic problems scoring and the Bucs figure to flush injured quarterback Alex Smith him out of the pocket, where he has trouble moving. Especially to his right. Tampa does not have a strong defense, but how good does it have to be here?
Washington limped to the wire but captured the NFC East with seven wins. Tampa Bay won 11, including the last four, and Tom Brady has never been better as a Buc than over the last four games. He’s got Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, and Mike Evans, along with a premier offensive line. The Tampa Bay mantra is winning shootouts.
The Washington defense is excellent and will make Brady battle for everything, but Brady is playing with renewed purpose now. This team has come together.
For Tampa bettors, the line is getting dicey and many will tease it down, pay the premium and link this game into another one.
Note that the last two teams to win their divisions with sub .500 records, the 2010 Seahawks and 2014 Carolina Panthers, won their opening-round games. Hard to see a three-peat, though.
Who wins Ravens-Titans ground show?
The Ravens opened as slight favorites, the closest game of the first playoff week.
Don’t miss this one, opening Sunday’s schedule, especially if you love running games.
The over-under of 55 is the highest on the board this weekend. Titans running back Derrick Henry will be the subject of a prop-betting frenzy, from total yards to total touchdowns, anytime scoring and being the first touchdown scorer.
Henry surpassed 2,000 yards for the season in this past Sunday’s nail-biter over the Houston Texans. The Ravens stormed for 404 rushing yards, the first time in 20 years an NFL team did that, in crushing the Cincinnati Bengals, 38-3.
This is a Bengals team that had just beaten the Houston Texans, and then the Texans nearly defeated the Titans. That means the Ravens are scaling upward. Does that translate to an edge here?
Offensively, the teams have parity. Ryan Tannehill is an excellent, intelligent quarterback for the Titans. Henry is called “The Beast” for a reason. He has led the league in rushing the last two years. A.J. Brown is a bonafide deep threat for the Titans
One intangible. The Ravens have been playing good defense, in part because its offense chews up a lot of time. Tennessee has one of the worst playoff defenses.
Defensive edge goes to the Ravens.
The second intangible, however, is the past.
The Titans stunned the Ravens, knocking them from the playoffs last year after Baltimore had compiled a 14-2 record. And earlier this season, the Titans beat the Ravens in overtime.
Do the Titans have the Ravens’ number or is this Baltimore’s bounce back?
Great game coming.
Is there any NFL Playoff love for Da Bears?
According to the odds, no.
The New Orleans Saints are the NFC’s No. 2 seed, which is represented by the opening week’s most lopsided line against the Chicago Bears, the last team to reach the playoffs.
Before bowing to the Green Bay Packers 35-16 last week, the Bears had scored 30 points or more in four straight weeks, a feat it had not accomplished since the 1960s. This is an overmatched Bears team, but not a bad one, and the spread is huge.
The Saints should win, but it will be tempting for bettors to tease the line down.
Why is Browns-Steelers line moving again?
Last week, the Cleveland Browns were -9 when they faced the Pittsburgh Steelers in a must-win situation. They did.
On Tuesday, they were +6 for the rematch, a swing of a whopping 15 points in two days.
Pittsburgh had been an underdog for what became Sunday’s 24-22 loss to the Browns because it rested key players like quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Even with that, the Steelers nearly pulled it out and opened for the rematch at -4.5.
But that line moved Tuesday once news broke that head coach Kevin Stefanski won’t coach on Sunday. He tested positive for COVID-19 and won’t be available to lead the team. That’s bound to have some effect, especially regarding communication on the field during the game. Some players also tested positive, but none, as of Tuesday afternoon, were overly significant.
Steelers bettors who jumped on the 4.5 relish that early decision.
Historically, the Steelers have owned the Browns at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh crushed Cleveland there 38-7 midway through the year.
How’s this matchup overall?
The Browns have a better running game, the Steelers own a better passing game and defense. And they have been here before, often. This is Cleveland’s first postseason appearance since 2002.
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar