Divisional Round picks: Pining for a return to 1982

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Robert Perea and Jim Vallet, The Fernley Reporter

Robert’s picks

When the Pittsburgh Steelers cut a 28-0 deficit to 35-23 late in the third quarter last Sunday night, I was hoping they would complete the comeback and take the lead.

It wasn’t because I had a bet on the Steelers (I didn’t) or because I have a rooting interest in either team (I don’t). It’s because I’ve been waiting for a repeat of something that happened in 1982 since, well, 1982.

On Jan. 2, 1982, the San Diego Chargers and the Miami Dolphins played what I still consider the best game I’ve ever watched. Even if you don’t remember the game, chances are you’ve seen the iconic photo or video of Chargers’ tight end Kellen Winslow being helped off the field after San Diego won the game 41-38 in overtime. Winslow kept getting injured in the game, several times going to the locker room to be treated for dehydration, but kept coming back in the game.

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That game was an AFC Divisional Round playoff game, and a week after winning, the Chargers had to go to Cincinnati to face the Bengals in a game where the temperature was -9 degrees.

Even at 14 years old, I knew there was no way the Chargers were going to win that game in Cincinnati. In any other situation they might have had a chance, but it was obvious they had left everything on that field in Miami and would have nothing left to give the next week in Cincinnati.

I started betting football when I turned 21 in 1988, and I have waited to no avail since then to be that sure about a game.

Sunday night, I was hoping that the Browns and Steelers would play such a war of attrition, and give me the gift of such a situation. Alas, the Steelers comeback attempt peaked at that 35-23 score, and while I do think getting over that win may be a mental hurdle for the Browns, it was not the kind of physically draining game the Chargers and Dolphins played in 1982.

Although I admit I am biased, that 1982 postseason may have been the best of all time.

There was the interception at the Buffalo 1-yard line by Bills defensive back Bill Simpson with two seconds left in a Wild Card game that preserved a 31–27 victory over the Jets and gave Buffalo their first playoff win since 1965. There was Joe Montana winning his first postseason game, 38-24 over the New York Giants on Jan. 3, then there was the 49ers beating the Cowboys on “The Catch” by Dwight Clark on a pass from Montana. (I wonder if the house I lived in at that time still has the Pepsi stain on the ceiling, from where my glass splashed when I jumped up in jubilation when Clark caught that ball.)

In the Super Bowl, the 49ers beat the Bengals on a goal line stand despite having only 10 men on the field.

I understand that I’ll never again experience the excitement I felt as a 14-year old when my favorite team won the Super Bowl, but I do hope that someday the sports betting gods will give me the gift of a situation like that 1982 Chargers-Bengals game.

Instead, we have this week, where I’m again not sure I will even have a bet on any games.

The picks (lines as of Wednesday at William Hill):

Green Bay (– 6 ½) over L.A. Rams: I respect the Rams running game and defense, and that might be enough to win the game. In fact, it’s the exact same recipe the 49ers used to blow out the Packers in the playoffs last year. But that game was in San Francisco, and this one is in Green Bay, and chances are the Rams are going to need Jared Goff to make a play or two. Now that the line that has dropped below 7, I’ll trust Aaron Rodgers to pull it out.

Baltimore (+2 ½) over Buffalo: When the Bills took a 14-point lead over the Colts last Saturday, I thought we were seeing the coming of age of a Super Bowl contender. Instead, they allowed the Colts to score on consecutive drives that took barely four minutes combined. I like the toughness Baltimore showed against the Titans, and I might bet this if the line gets to 3.

Kansas City (-10) over Cleveland: The Chiefs haven’t covered the spread in their last eight games, and they haven’t been delivering the knockout blow when they have teams down. But the bright lights go on now, and Pat Mahomes isn’t going to gift the Browns the turnovers Big Ben did Sunday night, although he might match the 500 yards passing Ben got.

New Orleans (-3) over Tampa Bay: Tom Brady and Drew Brees will get the headlines here, but Alvin Kamara and the Saints defense are going to win this game. It won’t be as easy as the 38-3 win in Tampa Bay in November, but the Buccs aren’t on the same level as the Saints, even with Brady.

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Jim’s picks

If I would have finished my picks article last week, I was going to to talk about two things:

1. How underdogs have historically done very well during the NFL Wild Card Weekend;

2. How Doug Pederson did not deserve to be coach of the Eagles.

According to bettingpros.com, favorites win 66 percent of the time in the Divisional Round, but cover only 46 percent of the time. Is there anything worse in betting than having your team giving 3 ½ and kneeling down when they are up by 3? It happens a lot in the playoffs and bettors must realize that coaches don’t  keep their jobs because of covering the point spreads, they keep their jobs because of wins. Buffalo won last week, but did not cover, and I have not heard that fact mentioned once this week. Remember that.

Doug Pederson made several coaching gaffes (at least to me) this season. Pulling a healthy Jalen Hurts  in favor of Nate Sudfeld was, to me, just the latest. After the game, Pederson said Sudfeld, “…deserved the chance…” to play. 

Really? Sudfeld has been with the Eagles since 2017. That’s four seasons, although Sudfeld did miss one complete season with an injury. Still, three complete seasons of games and practices, and preseason games. You didn’t know what Sudfeld could and could not do? If you want to know what a player can do, you evaluate that player during practices and preseason games. How did he face the rest of the team after that game? If you’re going to play it like a preseason game, don’t the veterans get to put on their baseball caps and eat hotdogs instead of busting butt and risking injury? Is it possible some players went to owner Jeffrie Lurie with complaints? I don’t know about those things, but I do know that I would not have been happy knowing we were not putting the best team possible on the field. Pederson, unlike many fired NFL coaches, deserved to go.

Betting in the regular season is much different than betting in the playoffs. During the regular season, you must use the schedule as a betting tool. You have to be on the lookout for “sandwich” games, pay attention to travel, consider time zones, remember division games, as well as rivalries and histories. Most of these are irrelevant during the playoffs-the better team usually wins, and that’s not always the favorite.

This week, I want to remind readers that usually teams cannot hide weaknesses during playoff games. I say usually because there are exceptions. Last week, one would have thought that the Pittsburgh Steelers could have easily exploited the Cleveland Browns’ depleted defensive backfield. Although the Steelers had over 500 yards passing against Cleveland, they lost by 11 after being favored by 5 ½ at home. In four of the other five games, known weaknesses did come back to bite teams at the worst possible times.

If you didn’t know that Seattle had trouble protecting Russell Wilson, that the Colts’ and Titans’ defenses were not very good, and that Chicago’s offense struggled most of the year, you were not paying attention this year. I am making the argument that even though the underdogs went 4-1-1 against the spread, what happened in four of the six Wild Card games was foreseeable, maybe even expected.

This week offers similar weaknesses that SEEM to offer possible betting insights in three of the four games.  When Green Bay loses, it is to teams that run the ball well and pressure Aaron Rogers. This week they play the Rams, who can do both those things, and have arguably the two best defensive players in the NFL. The Browns this week play the Chiefs, who can absolutely shred average defensive backs, and the Browns are playing subpar defensive backs. New Orleans plays Tampa Bay, and the Saints have manhandled the Bucs twice this season. One could make a counterargument to all these things, but…

Now that I’m far out on a limb, with the NFL trying to saw it off behind me, here are my picks for this weekend. Predictions are against the point spread as listed on vegasinsider.com/nfl.

Los Angeles Rams (+7) at Green Bay Packers There are lots of problems with this pick, I agree. Aaron Rogers and Davante Adams are great. Aaron Jones is good, and the Packers’ defense has been good and is improving. Does it matter who plays QB for the Rams? I think that if the Rams take reasonably good care of the ball, mostly at QB, they will win because of their defense.

Buffalo Bills (-2) vs. Baltimore Ravens. This line means that if this game were in Baltimore, the Ravens would be a 4 point favorite. The Ravens are better than the Bills? I don’t think so.

Kansas City Chiefs (-10) vs. Cleveland Browns The Browns are a cool story, and I like Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, and the Browns’ offensive line. But I’m afraid the magic ends Sunday when KC unleashes its imaginative and talented passing offense on the Browns minor league defensive backfield. There should be a lot of scoring in this one and I worry about giving 10 points.

New Orleans Saints (-3) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers New Orleans has played Tampa Bay twice this season and thumped ‘em both times. When that happens, at any level, it’s because the thumper is much better than the thumpee. True again, here.  

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