It’s NFL playoffs time. With no Canadian football to watch in 2020 my eyeballs crossed over the border to the American game, which had its most unique regular season in history. Of course, I laid down a couple loonies and toonies and at the end of the day I profited 3.47 units in the regular season and I’m down 0.02 units in the playoffs. Onto Sunday’s games!
Cleveland @ Kansas City (-10)
The Cleveland Browns are coming off their first playoff win since 1995, and it’s not getting any easier for Baker Mayfield’s squad as the make the trek to Kansas City. The 14-2 Chiefs covered just once in the last two months, and this matchup is more even than a double-digit spread indicates. For instance, did you know the Chiefs have the worst red zone defence in the NFL?
Cleveland’s run game with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt should cause harms for the Chiefs. The one major concern for the Browns is one that arose in last year’s AFC Championship. If Kansas City can score sevens and get ahead, it may force Cleveland to abandon the run. And if so, can Mayfield keep up? Ryan Tannehill sure couldn’t.
The red zone issue for Kansas City is real. In a weird way, the Chiefs are almost better on offence when they have more space to let their speedy pass-catchers get open. Cleveland and their fourth-best red zone offence can finish off drives too. The Browns also do a fine job at staying afloat early (see last week in Pittsburgh). If Cleveland can find a way to win the turnover battle, one they dominated 5 to 0 last week, they have a serious chance at winning. Easier said than done against Patrick Mahomes, but he has thrown four picks in his last three starts.
Why Kansas City:
Cleveland loves their two-high and cover-3 looks, coverages Mahomes dissects with ease. Mahomes had a TD-INT ratio of 10-2 and a 112.6 IQR against two-high coverages, and 23 touchdown passes against zone looks overall — the most in the NFL. On a team perspective, Kansas City ranked in the top 10 in early down success rate, first-half point differential, passes completed plus rushes, and field goal percentage. If the Chiefs have those categories in their favour Sunday, and Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill get theirs early, KC is unbeatable at home.
Cleveland 28 Kansas City 34
Tampa Bay @ New Orleans (-3)
It’s 43-year-old Tom Brady visiting 42-year-old Drew Brees in the oldest quarterback matchup in NFL history. Aside from the two gunslingers with 159,562 combined passing yards, the big storyline is New Orleans going for a 3-0 sweep against Tampa Bay this season. Seventeen times has a team that went 2-0 over an opponent in the regular season got a third meeting in the playoffs. The undefeated team is 13-4 all-time and 5-1 after Wild-Card weekend (straight up).
Sometimes an organization, in this case Sean Payton’s club, has an opponent’s number. Then again, is it ever wise to count out Brady in a playoff game?
Why Tampa Bay:
Brady’s the primary reason, especially with his weapons on offence. Antonio Brown’s got five scores in his last four outings, while Mike Evans has over 100 receiving yards in the last three games he’s stayed healthy throughout. The Bucs have to make the Saints pay while in scoring range — New Orleans’ red zone defence ranks 29th in the NFL. Tampa Bay’s offence finished 11th in the NFL, so it’s advantage Brady and the Bucs. New Orleans’ plays a fair amount of man, and by the far most 2-man in the NFL, so it’ll boil down to Tampa’s WRs vs the Saints’ CBs.
Why New Orleans:
The Saints have a probable chance to get ahead early, which could be enough of a cushion to win even barring a Brady comeback. New Orleans ranked sixth in early down success rate and fourth in first-half point differential, two areas Tamps Bay wasn’t that strong in. The Saints also do a much better job holding the football than the Bucs. Parlay all these factors with Tampa Bay’s 25th ranked ground game and the Saints should have little issues winning. Lastly, remember the above statistic about divisional clubs meeting in the playoffs after one team went 2-0?
Tampa Bay 21 New Orleans 30
Bet of the day
KC, NO ML -101
KC, NO ML -101 1.5u
Nick Chubb over 12.5 receiving yards -120 1u
Rob Gronkowski under 30.5 receiving yards -114 1u
Leonard Fournette under 19.5 receiving yards -120 1u
Antonio Brown over 53.5 receiving yards -120 1u
Alvin Kamara over 4.5 catches -167 1u