For the playoffs, I will make picks on all the sides and totals, but will also recap at the end of the post all the bets where I think an edge actually exists. As I often say, the advantage of the player is that while the bookmakers have to handicap all the games, the player can pick and choose his/her bets.
First, something I found interesting from week 17. Five AFC teams needed to win (and maybe have something good happen as well) to make the playoffs. Of those five, only one team won, the Titans, and they didn't make the playoffs.
Bill Belichick often talks about preparing for only the upcoming opponent. Well, most coaches aren't as good as Belichick. During the regular season, most coaches have enough trouble worrying about general execution and keeping their jobs, let alone executing for a specific opponent. Now that they're in the playoffs, though, they can really focus. My main point is that with all else being equal, the coaches matter much more in the playoffs than in a regular season game.
Line: HOU-4, o/u 38
For all the talk about the first playoff game for Cincinnati's rookie QB and young receiving corps, at least Marvin Lewis has playoff experience. This will be the first playoff game for Gary Kubiak as a head coach, and I think it matters. Houston has limped into the playoffs after suffering a rash of injuries. While it is possible that those who could heal have healed for them, they are certainly not the team that we saw earlier in the season. The return of Andre Johnson will be big even if he's not at full health. The question will be whether he can stretch the defense, and I think the Bengals need to test him early. If they figure out they can single cover him for the most part, they can focus on the run game and the tight end and the Texans will have a tough go of it. On the other side of the ball, of the last 10 weeks of the season, Houston has given up its most points on defense in the last 3 weeks. It's unclear whether they are indeed tiring and getting worse or whether they have been playing possum the last three weeks and have been in fact trying to rest and heal. With so many unknowns, it's hard to pick a side, so if I had to choose, I would just take the points. On the totals side, I think the line is set correctly given both defenses (very good, would've been great if Houston didn't have the injuries). However, both teams have lots of playmakers and aren't very ball-control based offenses. In fact, I see both sides aggressively going for the big play on both offense and defense, and the result will be an easy over.
CIN+4, Over 38
Line: NO-10.5, o/u 59.5
Yes, that totals line of 59.5 is the highest that's ever been sent out for an NFL game (I remember a 58 once between the Colts-Chiefs of the early/mid 2000's), and everyone expects a shootout with two high powered offenses playing at night in a dome. But here's what I'm thinking. Sean Payton probably thinks his team will win in a shootout. But Sean Payton knows his team will win if the game is slower. They know they'll be able to score. But if they take away the big play and make Detroit put together drives to score, that puts a lot less pressure on their team. I think Sean Payton is both good enough and aggressive enough as a coach to shift gears in this manner. If New Orleans does use this strategy, I don't see how Detroit can stay close. And I certainly don't think it will go over if the Saints are focused on the win and not on helping Brees set records. Another point of interest is that the first 15 plays for the Saints are scripted, so we will know early if this is indeed what they do.
NO-10.5, Under 59.5
Recap of bets that I really like:
I do like the over in the CIN@HOU game, but think that there's too much randomness to pick a side. I really like the under in the DET@NO, especially as more and more public money will come in on the over, but what I would really want is to take a 1Q under as those first 15 plays are scripted, and any gameplan is most likely to stay intact in the first quarter. Also, Detroit has been known this season for making big comebacks. So if the first half total is low, I would easily hedge at halftime in the hopes of middling both bets.
CIN@HOU Over 38
DET@NO Under 59.5, to be hedged at the half
DET@NO 1Q Under, don't know line yet