NFL nut Kyle Robins (@AhhYeahKyleYeah) oversees Sunday night's action from Wild Card play-offs.
Baltimore Ravens @ Tennessee Titans | Sunday 10th January 2021, 18:05 | Sky Sports
Super wild card weekend continues Sunday, beginning in Tennessee with a repeat of last year’s AFC divisional round matchup, all be it with a change in the scenery.
After last year’s humbling as the number 1 seed at the hands of the Titans, Lamar will take his Ravens into Tennessee looking to right the wrongs of last year. Baltimore comes into this game off the back of a 5-game win streak to finish off the season, all be It against pretty shoddy opposition, but one of their few defeats this year came at the hands of Derrick Henry back in November.
The NFL’s leading rusher took 28 carries for 133 yards, topping it off with a 28-yard game winning touchdown in overtime, meaning Lamar is yet to topple Ryan Tannehill and the Titans. Although he did throw for 365 yards as well as adding 143 on the ground in last year’s playoff defeat, he faces the pressure of the playoffs once again in his third year as a starter.
Most of the pressure however will be surrounding the Ravens defensive front and their inability to contain Derrick Henry in recent matchups. As well as the 133 yards he took them for back in November, Henry absolutely dominated this matchup last year as well, to the tune of 195 yards. Meaning he’s amassed over 300 yards rushing in the past two matchups combined.
Considering the Ravens have one of the better run defences in the league, ranking 8th against the run, it appears to be more of a scheme fit when they face up against this Tennessee team. The problem for the Ravens however is that even if they do manage to contain Henry and limit his impact on proceedings, Tannehill has the ability to sling the ball downfield, and has two genuine threats on the outside in A.J Brown and Corey Davis.
Now whilst I have picked the Ravens as victors for this wild card matchup, it certainly is one of the closer games of the weekend, and bet wise there are a few different angles you could attack this one from. Easy lines obviously include Henry & Jackson’s rushing yards, which for the record, I like the over on both, but I’m looking more to exploit what will be done through the air in this one.
Lamar has 26 total touchdown passes on the year, and with 8 of those coming in the final three games of the season, he certainly looks to be finding his rhythm with his receiving corps heading into the more crucial part of the season. After being derailed by Covid and all that goes with it, no one has excelled more so than Marquis Brown in the second half of the season.
The second year wideout had a huge slump between weeks 6-11, with his worst showing coming against Tennessee back in week 11, when he went for 0 catches on 3 targets. Since that matchup however, he has taken huge leaps forward in his game, hauling in 6 touchdown passes in the last six games of the season, compared to just the 2 he caught through the first 11 weeks.
Lamar really seems to have built chemistry and trust between the two, so I for one am certainly anticipating a big game for Marquis in this matchup, despite his matchup with Titans corner Adoree Jackson. He did explode for 126 yards on 7 receptions in last years playoff matchup.
For note, Mark Andrews is also in line for a big game in this matchup. The Titans rank 17th against opposing tight ends, and Andrews has gone for 60+ yards in 5 of his last 6 games, including a 96 yard, one touchdown performance against the Titans back in week 11.
Flipping the book over to Tennessee’s receiving unit, and they certainly face a much tougher matchup than the receivers on the Ravens side-line. Baltimore, according to many, have the best trio of cornerbacks in the league in Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Petters.
Now whilst Smith is questionable for this game after missing weeks 15-17, many expect him to play and line-up opposite A.J Brown, in what should be an intriguing matchup. Smith has allowed just 4.8 yards per target since last season, whilst since that same time Brown is no.1 in the NFL, averaging 11 yards per target. Something has got to give, and I give the slight edge as always to the wide out.
Off the back of and 1,075-yard, 11 touchdown season, A.J Brown holds the keys to the Titans receiving game. He went off to the tune of 4 receptions off 7 targets for 62 yards and a touchdown back in week 11, so given it’s the playoffs, look for the Titans to make more use of the weapons they have, outside of Derrick Henry.
Corey Davis should garner the interest of Marcus Peters, but of course all these matchups are relative and the game could pan out totally different depending on calls and schemes in place. But even so, I expect this game to be one of the higher scoring of the weekend, and touchdowns a plenty. Take both of the Brown boys to get into the endzone at 10/3 with SkyBet.
Chicago Bears @ New Orleans Saints | Sunday 10th January 2021, 21:40 | Sky Sports
Sundays second game somehow sees the 8-8 Chicago Bears head into New Orleans to face the 12-4 Saints. You might be questioning my reasoning behind the term ‘somehow’, and yes worse teams have made the playoffs and have lived to tell the tale, but for a team that didn’t win a game from week 7 to 13, there isn’t much optimism about what they can do in the playoffs, if at all any.
They recovered enough to finish the season with 3 wins out of their last 4, and just about doing enough to make the playoffs, despite a blowout loss on the final day at home to Green Bay. They now head into New Orleans as 10-point underdogs.
The Saints come into this as the no2 seed in the NFC after finishing with a 12-4 record atop the NFC South. Given they’ve spent what is the best part of half of the season without one of their best offensive players in Michael Thomas, as well as losing drew Brees for a 4-game stretch. Finishing as well as they did is a credit to Sean Payton and what he’s built.
This is certainly a hard one to analyse, given the uncertainty surrounding a number of key players for both teams. Michael Thomas has just been activated off IR after a 3-week absence, but should certainly come back in and demand a heavy workload as usual with Brees at quarterback.
Alvin Kamara has hinted through an Instagram post that he should be able to return from the COVID exemption list in time for this matchup, whilst Bears star wideout Allen Robinson has been questionable, but looks to be full go and ready for Sunday after a couple of limited practises.
A quick note on Thomas returning. There’s no hiding the fact he’s had a turbulent season with injuries, but when he’s on the field, he’s still one of the best there is. In weeks 11-14 before his injures, he saw 37 targets and went above 80+ yards on 3/4 occasions.
Now add in the fact those matchups were with Taysom Hill running things at quarterback, the long await return of him with Drew Brees should ignite things for this Saints offense. His line is currently set at 5.5 receptions, which to me seems way too low, given what we know this man can do. Take the over at 1/1 with SkyBet and watch his target share skyrocket now is win or go home.
Of course, nothing in this world is a sure thing, and after their surprising loss at the hands of Minnesota last year, the Saints should certainly be focused at avoiding another upset this weekend. New Orleans have had their fair share of heartbreak over the past three years in the playoffs.
The Steffon Diggs Minnesota miracle back in 2018 followed by the pass interference call that never was against the Rams just a year later, nobody knows playoff heartbreak quite like the Saints fans.
New Orleans have lost twice at home this season, ironically to both the number 1 seeds in the Packers and the Chiefs. Outside of those two defeats, they have certainly been in some high scoring affairs despite racking up the wins, and none more recent than the 52-33 obliteration of the Vikings.
In a game the Saints dominated, the Vikings were still able to put up points and even managed to win the 3rd quarter 13-7, with the Saints getting a little sloppy with their lead.
Now you might be wondering why I’m mentioning such an obscure, random statistic, but as with everything I mention, it of course has some substance. In their five wins at home this season against teams without a winning record, just like the Bears, New Orleans has lost just 4 of the 20 quarters played.
Amazingly they didn’t lose more than one quarter in any one of those 5 games, with the four they did lose spread out evenly across four games.
Flip the same side over to the Bears, and it’s almost a complete parallel, but just on the negative side. In three games on the road against teams with winning record, Chicago has won just 3 quarters in those losses, again, spread evenly over the 3 games. It’s a rather surreal fact. Now, all those quarters the Bears have won in those 3 games have all come in the fourth quarter when the game was well beyond their reach.
Given all of that, and whilst I tried to talk myself into the Bears to win 0 quarters at 29/10, I had to go with the facts on this one. And the facts say the Saints often give up 1 quarter, whilst the Bears also find a way to win just one in a loss. Take Chicago to win 1 quarter at 21/20 with William Hill.
Baltimore Ravens @ Tennessee Titans – AJ Brown and Marquise Brown both to score a TD (10/3 SkyBet)
Chicago Bears @ New Orleans Saints – Michael Thomas Over 5.5 Receptions (1/1 SkyBet)
Chicago Bears @ New Orleans Saints – Chicago Bears to win exactly 1 Quarter (21/20 William Hill)