Bears, Ravens favorites on NFL wild card Sunday

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The playoffs are a different game, and so too are the Chicago Bears’ recent home trend vis-à-vis the team’s historic playoff trend.

The Bears are 6-point betting favorites on the NFL odds against the Philadelphia Eagles with a 41-point total in their NFC wild-card matchup on Sunday at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The Bears, who won the NFC North under rookie head coach Matt Nagy, are 5-0 straight-up and against the spread in their last five home games, but only 2-6 ATS in their last eight playoff contests, according to the OddsShark NFL Database. The Eagles, the defending Super Bowl champions, are 7-3 ATS in their last 10 games in January.

The Eagles, 9-7 SU and 6-9-1 ATS this season, seem to be finding their groove behind quarterback Nick Foles and they did defeat a top-ranked defense during their 2017 Super Bowl run, handling the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. That was at home, though, and these 2018 Eagles aren’t as balanced offensively, with the ground game having the third-worst yards per carry (3.9) in the NFL after finishing fourth in 2017.

Back in the present, Chicago allowed the fourth-lowest rushing average (3.8) and led the league in fewest yards per pass (6.3) and interceptions (27).

The Bears, 12-4 SU and ATS, are more of a blank slate on offense since Trubisky, drafted to be a franchise quarterback, is making his playoff debut against a Super Bowl-seasoned team. But the second-year passer, whose supporting cast includes a diverse ground game with Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard, should be able to pick his spots to really attack an Eagles defense that was 14th in yards per pass (7.4) allowed.

The total has gone UNDER at betting sites in the Bears’ last four games, with an average combined score of 29.75 points.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Ravens are 3-point betting favorites against the Los Angeles Chargers with a 42-point total in an AFC wild-card matchup on Sunday. Since the 2011 season, the Ravens are 7-1 ATS in the playoffs.

The Chargers, who are 12-4 SU and 9-7 ATS, face a 10 a.m. Pacific time kickoff against a Ravens team that held them to 10 points in their home environment two weeks ago. Quarterback Philip Rivers has led them to a 6-0 SU record in their last six road games, but he and running back Melvin Gordon are facing a Baltimore defense that was third in both fewest yards per carry (3.7) and yards per pass (6.3).

The AFC North-winning Ravens are 10-6 SU and 8-8 ATS, finding their form in the second half of the season after rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson became the starter. Jackson faces a Chargers defense that is 12th in yards per rush (4.3) and ninth in yards per pass (7.1).

Trends-wise, the Ravens are just 1-5 ATS in their last six home games, with outright losses against the only two teams (New Orleans and Pittsburgh) that they faced who had winning records. Bettors face a choice between putting stock in the 7-1 ATS record Baltimore compiled under coach John Harbaugh from 2011 to 2014, or opting to fade the Ravens due to a 4-14 SU record in their last 18 games after consecutive wins.

The total has gone UNDER in the Ravens’ last six playoff games at home.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

Saturday NFL Division Round odds: Rams, Chiefs both betting favorites

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On top of concerns about how Jared Goff will fare against a true defensive test, the Los Angeles Rams have been less than convincing as a big home favorite in the last 12 months.

The host Rams, with Goff behind center, are 7-point favorites on the NFL odds against the Dak Prescott-led Dallas Cowboys with a 49.5-point total at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com in a Divisional Round matchup at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Saturday.

The Rams’ loss at this stage of last season’s playoffs was the start of a stretch where they have gone 6-2 straight-up and 3-4-1 against the spread as a home favorite of 5.5 or more points. The OddsShark NFL Database also notes that the Cowboys are 6-1 ATS in their last seven games as the underdog.

The Cowboys, 11-6 SU and 9-7-1 ATS, seem well-constructed for traditional playoff football, and the fact that the total has gone UNDER in 10 of their last 12 road games, with an average combined score of 36.0 points, might augur well for their chances of hanging around if Goff struggles for the Rams.

Prescott will have to avoid turnovers, and he could have a depleted receiving corps with wide receiver Allen Hurns (leg/ankle) done for the year and slot receiver Cole Beasley (ankle) hurt, but running back Ezekiel Elliott is facing a defense that allowed an NFL-worst 5.1 yards per rush.

The Rams are 13-3 SU and 7-7-2 ATS, and had a tailspin late in the regular season. Between Goff having a regression and leading rusher Todd Gurley (knee) being limited in practice this week, there are concerns with their pivotal performer in each offensive phase, which could pile on to the uneasiness about the Rams being 0-5 ATS in their last five Saturday games.

Gurley and other Rams’ runners will contend with a Dallas run defense that was the league’s fifth-most proficient (3.8 yards per rush). The Rams are much healthier in Dallas in the receiving corps, with Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks and tight end Gerald Everett facing a team that allowed a pedestrian 7.4 yards per pass.

Also on Saturday, the Kansas City Chiefs are 5.5-point betting favorites against the Indianapolis Colts with a 57-point total in the early Divisional Round matchup.

The Colts are 11-6 SU and 9-7-1 ATS, which includes being 10-1 SU and 7-3-1 ATS over an 11-game run that has been distinguished by a proficient pass-run balance between quarterback Andrew Luck and running back Marlon Mack. Luck’s offensive line has allowed the fewest sacks in the league while the Chiefs, for all their defensive woes, tied for the league lead in the regular season, so someone will have to give.

Luck’s favorite receiver T.Y. Hilton has been nursing a sore ankle but is expected to play on Saturday. Mack is facing a team whose 5.0 yards per rush allowed was second-worst in the NFL.

The Chiefs are 12-4 SU and 9-6-1 ATS, and prolific young quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his supporting cast might be asked to win a scorefest. The narrative of the Chiefs being 1-11 SU and ATS in their last 12 games in the playoffs will be there until it isn’t, but what will be more relevant is that they also thrived at avoiding disruptions (26 sacks allowed) and the Colts lack a strong pass rush.

On the back end of the pass defense, the Colts could have their hands full with speedy wide receiver Tyreek Hill and Kansas City’s ability to use tight end Travis Kelce. Spencer Ware (hamstring) is Kansas City’s likely starter at running back.

Five of the Chiefs’ last six games have gone OVER at sports betting sites, with an average total of 65.6 points.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

Baker Mayfield has secret weapon during Browns’ offensive surge

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There is a reason, if you live in Ohio, to thank the heavens that Cleveland GM John Dorsey fell in love with Baker Mayfield last fall. There is also a reason to be thankful that Freddie Kitchens was handed the reins of the Browns offense seven weeks ago today.

On Oct. 29, Gregg Williams took over as coach for the fired Hue Jackson, and Kitchens took over as offensive coordinator for the fired Todd Haley. The Browns are 4-2 since. Four wins. Four Mayfield fist-pumping, howling-at-the-moon wins. Last six weeks for Cleveland: four wins. Previous 164 weeks on the calendar for Cleveland: four wins.

Mayfield/Kitchens. Rarely does an NFL shotgun marriage work, never mind flourish. “Why has it worked so well?” I asked Kitchens on Friday.

“Because Baker is starved for knowledge,” Kitchens said in his Alabama twang, the accent Mayfield imitates almost daily. “He loves learning. I’ve told him, ‘Your work in progress is never gonna be complete, ever. There’s always gonna be things you can work on, new things.’ Why limit what he can become? He loves that. You see that every week, how much he loves it.”

We saw it in real time Saturday night in Denver, with the game clock and play clock running, 12 minutes left in the game, Cleveland down 13-10, first-and-goal at the Denver 2-yard line.

The Browns didn’t huddle at first, preferring to keep the Broncos in their sub defense with two defensive linemen and five defensive backs; Cleveland had run the ball well against that Denver defense, so Mayfield didn’t want them to be able to substitute. This was going to be a run by Duke Johnson, with a tight end next to the right tackle. But with 26 seconds left on the play clock, Kitchens called for him to huddle to call the play, to ensure everyone was on the same page. Quick; don’t let Denver have time to substitute, he told Mayfield. The QB hustled his 10 mates in and out of a quick huddle, looking at the Denver defense while he called the play. The Broncos had a sub—from TV, it looked like corner Bradley Roby—ready to come in, but … “Get to the line!” Kitchens yelled into Mayfield’s helmet before the sideline-to-quarterback communication shut off at 15 seconds. No defensive changes.

At the line, Mayfield got a hint the Broncos could be playing man coverage with four safeties and one corner (due to injury and an ejection). With 10, nine, eight seconds left on the play clock, Mayfield changed the play to a pass, turned around, and moved Johnson from his right to his left—physically moved him, with his hand on Johnson’s shoulder. Denver linebacker Todd Davis inched across the formation, trying not to give away what Mayfield saw: man coverage. To Mayfield’s left was a pure safety, Justin Simmons, with two games of some experience playing slot corner in his three-year career. Not outside corner, where the fleet fly. Simmons has average speed, and his man, Antonio Callaway, is a 4.4 wideout. Big edge, Browns. Mayfield knew.

Play clock at :02. Snap. Calloway got inside Simmons, easily, and broke inside on a quick slant to the middle of the field. No safety help. Easy. Pitch-and-catch, Mayfield and Callaway. Winning touchdown. Cleveland 17, Denver 16.

“What happened on that play was far beyond elementary thinking,” backup Browns quarterback Drew Stanton told me.

This single play represented huge next-level growth for Mayfield, and seven weeks of chemistry between Kitchens and Mayfield. Now, at the line, Mayfield has been given the freedom to change plays even very late on the play clock. That’s because he’s a sponge, and has worked to learn all pre-snap contingencies, and Kitchens trusts his judgment.

In about 28 seconds, Mayfield went from run to huddle to run to moving the back physically to spying indicators of man coverage to changing the play to a pass to the winning touchdown pass to celebrating like a uniformed Tarzan, pounding his chest.

You know what I saw in that moment of intense celebration, almost over-the-top celebration, by Mayfield? Not I just put a dagger in the Broncos on the road with a huge play. To me, it was more Mayfield thinking, I am learning some serious s— right now, and I am executing it at the highest level of my profession. And I just got here.

The Browns are factors in December. Baker is starved for knowledge.

Those two things are related.

Read the rest of the story at Football Morning in America by clicking here