So, it’s Friday, and you’ve made it through the first week of 2021. I have to ask: does it feel any different than 2020 so far? I know it feels different in this newsletter. After limping to the finish line of 2020, we’ve been on fire with our picks this week. Let’s hope that carries through the weekend.
As we usually do around here on Fridays, I’ve got a couple of picks for tonight’s action, but that’s not all. I mean, the NFL playoffs begin Saturday, and thanks to postseason expansion, there are more games than ever before. One day we’ll all look back at the caveman days of the NFL playoffs when the Wild Card round only had two games per day.
“Can you imagine?” we’ll ask ourselves. “What in the world did people do for those extra four hours each day that there wasn’t a football game to watch? It’s amazing we’ve survived as a species being as dumb as we were!”
Of course, with more games comes worse teams in the playoffs. I mean, in the NFC, we have a 7-9 team that won its division, and an 8-8 team just snuck in. That 8-8 team happens to be the team I’m going to be rooting for. Because there’s nothing I want more than for the Bears to beat the Saints and then get to play the Packers for the third time. Playing the Packers always works out so well for the Bears.
Anyway, on to today’s reading.
Now let’s keep this hot streak rolling.
All times Eastern, and all odds via William Hill Sportsbook
🔥 The Hot Ticket
Suns at Pistons, 7 p.m. | TV: League Pass
The Pick: Suns Over 111.5 (-110): Our total is too low for this matchup. The Suns are the better team, as is evidenced by the seven-point spread, but do you know why the Suns are favored by so much on the road? Because they’re third in the league in offensive efficiency and ninth on the defensive end. When you’re in the top 10 of both categories, you’re going to win a lot of games! The same cannot be said of the Pistons, who rank 20th in the league in offensive efficiency and are 29th in defensive efficiency.
So while the Suns are probably the right play when it comes to the spread, I’m not ready to trust them as road favorites of this size. Instead, I’m going to trust that they’ll find plenty of points against this Pistons defense. Team overs have been working well for us so far in the NBA, and I see no reason to change course tonight. I don’t hate a play on the Over 216, either, but the Suns team total is the smarter play.
Key Trend: The Pistons are allowing 119.1 points per game.
Here’s what SportsLine is saying about the game: What’s the Advanced Computer Model projecting for tonight? It’s got a few strong leans.
💰 The Picks
🏀 College Basketball
Air Force at Boise State, 8 p.m. | TV: Stadium
The Pick: Air Force +18 (-110) — This is another one of my somewhat experimental gut feels. This year in college basketball, we’re seeing a lot of conferences doing two-game series between teams. Some are played on back-to-back days, others with a day between. The Mountain West is doing the latter.
Boise State beat Air Force on Wednesday 78-59. Tonight they meet again. Well, I’ve noticed a bit of a trend in these games. The team that loses the first game tends to improve in the second contest. In particular, with Air Force, it lost to Nevada by 17, and two days later, it beat the Wolf Pack 68-66. Then Air Force lost to Utah State by 35, and in the second game, it still lost but cut the deficit to 19. They’ve improved in the second leg of their first two series by an average of 17.5 points. If that trend continues tonight, the Falcons shouldn’t have any problem covering.
Key Trend: Air Force has improved by an average of 17.5 points per game in the second leg of its first two series, which isn’t really a trend, but I told you this was more of a gut feel!
Rams at Seahawks, Saturday, 4:40 p.m. | TV: Fox
The Pick: Under 42 (-110) — We don’t know the status of Jared Goff yet. Obviously, if he plays, it increases Los Angeles’ chances of winning the game. Still, whether its Goff or John Wolford, I’m not anticipating this being a high-scoring affair. The Rams have the fourth-ranked defense in the NFL based on DVOA, and while Seattle is only 16th overall, weighted DVOA, which rates recent performance, has them 11th. They’ve improved as the year goes along.
Plus, we can’t ignore that this is the third time these teams have met this year. The first meeting was a 23-16 Rams win, and the second was a few weeks ago when Seattle won at home 20-9. The total for that first meeting was 55. The second meeting saw the total come down to 47.5, and the final score was even further below than the first meeting. Well, they’ve dropped the total yet again, and while it’s likely to finish a lot closer to the number this time around, I don’t see it getting there often enough.
Key Trend: The under is 15-7 in the last 22 meetings, and 2-0 this season.
Ravens at Titans, Sunday, 1:05 p.m. | TV: ABC
The Pick: Ravens -3 (-125) — The Titans are a bit of an anomaly. If we look at the 14 teams in the playoffs this year, 11 of them rank in the top half of the league in defensive DVOA. Green Bay finished the regular season just outside the top half at 17th. That’s significantly better than Cleveland, which is 25th. Then there are the Titans, who are ranked 29th. Tennessee’s defense has been its Achilles heel all season long and now they’re facing a Ravens offense that has torn bad defenses apart lately.
The good news for the Titans in this matchup is that they’re better against the run (16th in DVOA) than they are the pass (30th). The bad news is I don’t think it’s going to matter. The Ravens are playing their best football of the season at the right time, and are good enough defensively to at least limit the Tennessee offense. The same cannot be said about the Titans. The only way I see Tennessee winning this game is if Baltimore turns the ball over repeatedly, or Lamar Jackson gets hurt. Or maybe Derrick Henry rushes for 250 yards. All of which are legit possibilities, but not the kind that happen often enough to be scared away from the Ravens.
Key Trend: The Ravens are 5-0 ATS in their last five as favorites.
Bears at Saints, Sunday, 4:40 p.m. | TV: CBS
The Pick: Under 47 (-110) — There are only two ways I see this game playing out. The first is that the Saints blow out a Bears team that backdoored its way into the postseason. After all, the Saints have one of the best defenses in the league, and it looks like they’re likely to have both Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas back. That wasn’t the case in the first meeting at Soldier Field, when the Saints needed overtime to get past Chicago 26-23. Then there’s the Bears defense, which is likely to be without linebacker Roquan Smith, who is a major piece for what they do. In this scenario, I can see the Saints winning by a score of 35-10.
The other scenario is the Bears do that thing they do and make a game miserable. They muddy things up and figure out a way to keep it close by not allowing the Saints to put together any big plays, and lean on David Montgomery in the run game on offense. Also, while it feels strange to type it, Mitch Trubisky did not start in the first meeting, and he’s an upgrade over Nick Foles. So the Bears offense could be slightly more effective at holding onto the ball. In this scenario, the Bears keep it close, and possibly pull off an upset, but it’s a low-scoring slopfest. Both scenarios stay under the total.
Key Trend: The under is 5-2 in New Orleans last seven as a favorite.
🔒 SportsLine Pick of the Day: SportsLine’s all-time No. 1 NFL expert Mike Tierney has a 24-9 record on spread picks involving Tampa Bay or Washington. He just released another for their postseason meeting Saturday.
💸 The DFS Rundown
PG: Stephen Curry, Warriors
SG: Paul George, Clippers
SF: Jayson Tatum, Celtics
PF: Anthony Davis, Lakers
C: Nikola Vucevic, Magic
PG: Marcus Smart, Celtics
SG: Caris LeVert, Nets
SF: Joe Harris, Nets
PF: Draymond Green, Warriors
C: Daniel Theis, Celtics
Full lineup advice
Get winning NBA DFS picks from SportsLine pros Mike McClure and Jacob Gibbs. McClure has won almost $2 million in daily Fantasy, while Gibbs crushed the NBA last season, cashing around 65 percent of the time in cash games and nearly 45 percent of the time in tournaments. See their DraftKings advice and FanDuel lineups here.
🏀 NBA Player Props
- Brook Lopez Over 0.5 assists (-130)
- Paul George Over 5.5 rebounds (-150)
- Russell Westbrook Triple-Double (+210)