Ness Notes: Saturday, Jan 16

by Larry Ness

This column will be available Monday through Friday (posted no later than 1:00 ET), EXCLUSIVELY at BigAl.com. I like to call it my daily 'random thoughts' on the sports betting world, although I'll pass along that my therapist refers to it as "thoughtful commentary." This is a special Saturday NFL-only Ness Notes edition.

Last Saturday and Sunday was called the NFL's Super Wild Card weekend, as there were SIX games as opposed to the usual four. Home teams went 2-4 SU and 2-4 ATS and until last Sunday night's 'explosion' in which the Browns beat the Steelers 47-38, the first five wild card games averaged a very modest 43.6 PPG. Three of the first five went over (counting Ind/Buf as an over, with that total closing 50 1/2 and ending 51). Obviously, Cle/Pit went over, making four overs and two unders for the weekend, as games averaged 50.5 points. Before getting to each of this weekend's games (NFL's Division Round), let me note something about the eight starting QBs. Baker Mayfield is 25, a few months older than Patrick Mahomes, making him the 'graybeard' among the four starting QBs in the AFC 25. Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen are both still only 24 years old. This is in HUGE contrast to the NFC, where the youngest QB Jared Goff (at 26), is older than all four AFC starting QBs. However, he's 11 years younger than Rodgers (37), 16 year younger than Brees (42) and 17 years younger than Brady (43). Not sure what that is worth but I found it interesting. Let's get to the games. The LA Rams (No. 6 seed) will take on Green Bay (No. 1 seed) at Lambeau Field at 4:35 ET on FOX. Over in the AFC, it's a 'Battle of the Bs," as the Ravens (No. 5 seed) travel to Bills Stadium in Orchard Park to face the Bills (No. 2 seed) at 8:15 ET on NBC.

The Rams started undrafted rookie QB John Wolford at Seattle last week due to Jared Goff's thumb injury but they beat the NFC West champion Seahawks by battering Russell Wilson and avoiding mistakes. The Rams allowed the fewest points (18.5 PPG) and total yards (281.9 YPG) during the regular season and allowed Seattle just 278 total yards and 11 FDs, while holding them to 20 points. Russell Wilson completed only 11 of 27 (40.7%) for 174 yards with two TDS, while throwing a "pick-6" and getting sacked FIVE times (QB rating of 72.1)! Wilson finished the regular season having completed 68.8% for almost 300 YPG with 40 TDs and just 13 INTs with a QB rating of 105.1.The Rams come to Lambeau to face Aaron Rodgers and a Green Bay offense that led the NFL in scoring at 31.8 PPG and also committed the fewest TOs (11). Rodgers was consistently GREAT in 2020, leading the NFL with 48 TDs, a 70.7 percent completion rate, a 121.5 passer rating, a league-tying-low five INTs. He's the overwhelming favorite to win the MVP award. WR Davante Adams is the first player in NFL history to have at least 100 receptions with 18 receiving TDs in a season, as he finished with 115 receptions and 18 TDs in just 14 games. Goff will start at QB for LA plus both DT Aaron Donald (ribs) and leading WR Cooper Kupp (knee) will play. Will offense prevail over defense? The Packers are favored by 6 1/2-points (over/under is 45 1/2).

The Baltimore Ravens ended last season on a 12-game winning streak and entered the 2019 postseason 14-2 as the AFC's No. 1 seed. However, the Ravens lost 28-12 at home to the Titans as 10-point favorites. The Ravens drew the Titans again last weekend and fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter but dominated the rest of the way in winning 20-13. Lamar Jackson finally got his first postseason victory (0-2), running for 136 yards and a 48-yard TD while throwing for 179 yards. The Baltimore D held Tennessee to its fewest points all season and smothered 2,000-yard rusher Derrick Henry. Henry had run all over the Ravens with 328 yards rushing combined in the last two meetings but had his worst performance of the season, gaining only 40 yards on 18 carries. The Bills won the AFC East for the first time since 1995 (Josh Allen set franchise records of 4,544 passing yards and 37 TDs) but entered their game with the Colts having lost their last SIX playoff contests since last winning a postseason game following the 1995 season. The Bills' 27-24 win over the Colts snapped that 0-6 postseason skid, winning their first playoff game since a 37-22 win over Miami on Dec 30, 1995. Allen passed for 324 yards with two TDs and zero INTs (121.6 QB rating), while leading the team in rushing with 54 yards and a TD. He's in just this third season but in two playoff games, has become only the FIFTH player since at least 1940 to score a touchdown rushing, passing and receiving in his playoff career (he scored on a 16-yard catch from John Brown in a 22-19 OT loss at Houston a year ago). Which is the 'hotter team? Buffalo enters on a SEVEN-game winning streak and has won 10 of 11, losing only at Arizona when Murray and Hopkins connected on that improbable "Hail Mary." That said, Baltimore has been playing with a win-or-done urgency since early December, following a 1-4 skid that dropped it to 6-5. The Ravens were depleted by a COVID-19 outbreak in a 19-14 loss at Pittsburgh (but covered), before reeling off six consecutive wins and seven straight ATS wins. Buffalo is favored by 2 1/2-points and the over/under is 49 1/2.

The Browns scored 14 seconds into their game at Pittsburgh last Sunday and led 28-0 at the end of the second quarter! Cleveland was without head coach Kevin Stefanski, who tested positive for COVID-19, and assorted other coaches and players because of protocol related to the pandemic. The Browns had limited practice time NONE of that mattered. The Browns were playing their first playoff game since 2002 and walked away with the team's first playoff victory since beating the Pats on New Year's Day 1995 (1994 season), 48-37. However, as a reward Cleveland (No. 6 seed) will travel to Arrowhead Stadium (3:05 DET on CBS) to take on the defending champion KC Chiefs, who earned the AFC's No. 1 seed by going 14-2.

Baker Mayfield matured this season and threw for 263 yards with three TDs and no interceptions last week in Pittsburgh. He has not thrown an interception in his last FIVE games. Cleveland averaged 148.4 YPG on the ground, the most for the franchise since 1978. Browns RB Kareem Hunt (841 yards) will face the Chiefs for the first time since they released him but the star RB is Nick Chubb, who is the first player since Miami's Mercury Morris in 1972 to rush for at least 1,000 yards (1,067) and score 12 TDs (he had 12) on 190 or fewer attempts. However, when one talks about offensive stars, Patrick Mahomes shines as bright as any. He was second in the NFL with 4,740 yards passing and fourth with 38 TD passes despite sitting out Week 17. Mahomes has 13 TDs and no interceptions in four postseason starts at Arrowhead Stadium. Chiefs RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire was fourth among rookies with 1,100 yards from scrimmage despite missing three games to injuries. Tyreek Hill was second among WRs with 17 total TDs this season and unanimous All-Pro TE Travis Kelce had 1,416 yards receiving in 15 games (catches), the most in a season by a TE in NFL history. KC is favored by 10 points (over/under is 57) and while the Chiefs were just 7-9 ATS this season, the Browns were only 6-10.

The marquee matchup of the weekend will be a showdown between Tom Brady and Drew Brees, the two most productive passers in NFL history. The Tampa Bucs (No. 5 seed) visit the Superdome to take on the New Orleans Saints (No. 2 seed), the only team to have beaten Tom Brady twice in the same season. Drew Brees and the Saints ruined Brady's debut with the Buccaneers after 20 seasons in New England when they prevailed 34-23 in the season opener in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and they handed Brady the worst loss of his career when they completed the season-series sweep with a 38-3 rout in Tampa on Nov 8. Brady is 43 years old and Brees turned 42 on Friday. This will be the first time the two have met in the playoffs.

Brady threw for 381 yards and two TDs in the Bucs' 31-23 win at Washington. It was his 42nd postseason start (31st win). However, it was his first not in a New England Patriots uniform and he led the Bucs to their first playoff victory since the 2002 season! Brees three for 265 yards (2 TDs / 0 INTs / 107.3 QB rating), RB Kamara returned to rush for 99 yards and WR Thomas caught five passes with a TD in the Saints' 21-9 win over the Bears. However, the defense was the star, holding Chicago to 11 FDs and 239 yards, 99 of which came on the game's final TD drive.

The combined ages on game day of Brady and Brees will be 85, the highest in NFL history. The Bucs averaged 30.8 PPG (3rd) and New Orleans 30.1 PPG (5th) during the regular season but as noted above, the Saints dominated the Bucs in both regular season meetings. The stakes are much higher in this THIRD meeting, as the winner will earn a trip to the NFC Championship on Jan 24. The Saints are favored by three points (over/under is 52).

Good luck...Larry

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