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Against The Spread: Sheasby’s NFL Playoff Divisional Round Picks

Playoff football is simply the best. Good teams battling good teams. Anything can happen – truly. Are 10 points too much for the Chiefs? Can the #1 ranked Rams defense stop the #1 ranked Packers offense? Will Tom Brady crumble under pressure? I have some thoughts.

1. Green Bay Packers -6.5 vs. Los Angeles Rams, Lean UNDER 45.5
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Team stats:

DVOA, Team:

  • Packers: #4
  • Rams: #8

Y/P

  • Packers Offense: 6.3
  • Rams Offense: 5.5
  • Packers Defense: 5.5
  • Rams Defense: 4.6

Points per play:

  • Packers Offense: .514
  • Rams Offense: .347
  • Packers Defense: .302
  • Rams Defense: .379

Right off the bat: we have an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. Who wins?

The Rams defense is FIERCE. We know this.

The Packers offense is FIERCE. We know this.

Aaron Donald & Jalen Ramsey have shut down just about everyone they’ve seen this year. 

Aaron Rodgers is WINLESS in his last 4 starts against the team with the #1 ranked Total Defense (hint: It is the Rams).

Aaron Rodgers & Davante Adams are 1-6 in their career against 1st-team all-pro cornerbacks – enter Jalen Ramsey.

So how…why… am I on the Packers -6.5?

I don’t think the Rams offense will be able to hang. The Rams offense on paper and even looking at Yards/Play is certainly above average. They’re ranked 10th in overall DVOA, but that POINTS PER PLAY stat is alarming. 

Sub .350 is mediocre at best in the NFL: it ranks them at #23 just in front of the Patriots, the Broncos.. and just behind the Bears, the Cowboys… yikes!

The Rams also have major issues in the red zone, scoring only 57.38% of the time (#19 in the league). Green Bay? 80%, #1 in the league. Meanwhile, the Packers’ defense is surprisingly BETTER at holding opponents out of the end zone than the Rams, ranking #8 to the Rams #12.

These numbers above tell me that the Rams offense is what won’t cover the game for them. I expect an ugly game, one in which the Packers slowly grind out to a win and cover.

How’s 28-13 work? Ship it.

2. Buffalo Bills -2.5 vs. Baltimore Ravens
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Circle the wagons I am on the BUFFALO BILLS!

Facts: these are two of the hottest teams in the league. Lamar has finally logged a playoff victory, and he’s having fun out there, which is a dangerous Lamar Jackson. Alas, let’s hit the data:

Team stats:

DVOA, Team:

  • Bills: #1
  • Ravens: #7

Y/P

  • Bills Offense: 6.2
  • Ravens Offense: 5.9
  • Bills Defense: 5.5
  • Ravens Defense: 5.1

Points per play:

  • Bills Offense: .484
  • Ravens Offense: .462
  • Bills Defense: .362
  • Ravens Defense: .296

Good golly – we have some VERY close statistics here as well. Looking at yards/play and points/play, we 100% give a slight lean to the Bills on offense and a stronger lean towards the Ravens.

The X-Factor here for me lies in the art, rather than the science, of the analysis. 

Looking at both of these teams, the Bills simply have more ways that they can win. Through the air or on the ground, Josh Allen has gotten it done no matter what.

An interesting game that I reviewed was the Bills vs. Titans. The Titans, of course, are a run dominant team with an above average QB, not dissimilar to the Ravens.

The result of that game? 42-16 Titans win. However, the scoreboard doesn’t truly tell the story.
The Bills sold out to stop the run, limiting Derrick Henry to only 57 yards (3.0 YPC). I expect a similar game plan this weekend. 
The difference, to me, is that Tannehill was incredibly efficient, completing 75% of his passes, throwing 3 TDs, and rushing for another. 

THIS is where I see the difference: I don’t trust Lamar Jackson to be able to put up those type of numbers through the air.

The Bills committed 4 turnovers in that game and had 10 penalties – one of their worst outings in both categories all season. The Bills and the Ravens are tied 10 in terms of turnover margin (+4), and as such, I am not baking in a similar lopsided turnover result. 
With Weighted DVOA stats (looking at more recent efficiency), the Bills rank #1 in the league compared to the Ravens #7. 
Both are great teams. Both are hot at the right time.

With more ways to win a game, especially come back if behind, I’m taking the Buffalo Bills -2.5

3. Kansas City Chiefs -10 vs. Cleveland Browns, Lean OVER 57.5
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The fun is OVER for the Browns.

Team stats:

DVOA, Team:

  • Chiefs: #6
  • Browns: #18

Y/P

  • Chiefs Offense: 6.3
  • Browns Offense: 5.8
  • Chiefs Defense: 5.6
  • Browns Defense: 5.6

Points per play:

  • Chiefs Offense: .447
  • Browns Offense: .420
  • Chiefs Defense: .354
  • Browns Defense: .408


Looking at yards per play and points per play without the context of overall efficiency points us to the BROWNS getting 10 points.

HOWEVER, combining those stats with the 12 ranking delta in overall team efficiency? 

Now we’re talking Chiefs territory. 

  • Far more efficient
    • Chiefs Off, Def DVOA: #2, #22
    • Browns Off, Def DVOA: #9, #25

These are BIG discrepancies!

Yes, the Browns blew out their divisional rival, who now seems like the most overrated team in the league (11-0 start, 1-4 finish).

The Chiefs won’t gift the Browns 7 to start the game. Mahomes won’t throw 4 INTs. The Browns feasted off mistakes that the Chiefs don’t make.

Chiefs are also DUE to cover, not covering their last 7 games.

  • Historical trends:
    • Home double digit favorite off a bye: 9-2 ATS, 7-0 last 7
    • Double digit faves 16-7 ATS including 10-0 run since 2010
    • S/O to Captain Covers on Twitter
  • Andy “Too Hot” Reid trends:
    • 18-3 SU after a bye (regular season)
    • 5-2 SU after a bye (post season)

The Chiefs are due; the line is strong; the historical trends all point to KC; we get to fade the public; the line is moving against the public; Chiefs -10.

4. Tampa Bay Bucs +3 at New Orleans Saints
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Tom Brady in his third matchup against the Saints after getting blasted in their first two? I’m BUYING. 

Line Strength:

  • Looking at their first two matchups, (34-23 loss opening game; 38-3 loss on 11/8), if we were going to see the same thing, I would have expected the Bucs line to be far larger than 3

Team stats:

DVOA, Team:

  • Saints: #2
  • Bucs: #3

Y/P

  • Saints Offense: 5.7
  • Bucs Offense: 6.1
  • Saints Defense: 5.0
  • Bucs Defense: 5.1

Points per play:

  • Saints Offense: .449
  • Bucs Offense: .480
  • Saints Defense: .332
  • Bucs Defense: .346

We see a LOT of close stats here. That’s the key point to this exercise. Slight lean towards the Bucs on offense, slight lean towards the Saints on defense.

When we think about recency bias, I think it is a merge both ways: The Bucs offense had been their weakness, mainly around inconsistency, but since they got blasted by the Saints, they’ve found some rhythm.

Brady under pressure is a big concern. 

Tom Brady ranked 20th in quarterback rating under pressure (54.5) this season, with a 4/5 TD/INT ratio and finished 23rd in completion rate (43.8%) under duress.

Brady has been sacked at least 3 times in only 5 games this season: 2 of those were against the Saints, where he threw for less than 240 yards both times. Yikes.

HOWEVER, he’s been sacked 3 times since those two matchups: against the Falcons where he threw for 390 yards (more than 250 of those in the 2H, to talk about the inconsistent offense), and 3 times against WFT, who has one of the strongest D-Lines in the league, where he threw for 381 yards. Has Brady perhaps found peace in the pressure?

Other merge is the return of Michael Thomas. He looked great last week. This of course increases the offensive rankings for the Saints.

Nonetheless: the stats are just about even. The line I am perceiving as weak. Therefore, I am taking the points. Bucs +3.

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