Week 1 of Year 1 of expanded NFL playoffs is in the books, and old-timers who hate change are on the defensive a bit this week. Indianapolis and Chicago, who in any other season would have had the month of January off, became the first 7-seeds in league history to “earn” a playoff berth – and neither completely embarrassed itself.
The AFC Colts went into their game against 2-seed Buffalo as solid 7-point dogs, and came within one possession of taking out the Bills. If this was Philip Rivers’s last game in the NFL, he left with his head high (309 yards passing, two TDs) and can tell his grandkids that in his 256th and final game as a pro he at least covered the spread (final 27-24).
In the NFC, the 7-seed Bears were a little less tidy. Chicago failed to reach the end zone, was never in the game and failed to cover an 11-point line in losing 21-9 to No. 2 seed New Orleans. Little was expected from Chicago, and little was given.
The Big Story, though, took place in Cleveland where the Browns appear to have awoken from a decades-long nap and actually outplayed and out-toughed the Steelers. Outside of the AFC East, where until this year the Patriots have crushed everyone for the last 20 years, no one has owned a team like the Steelers have owned the Browns.
All that, though, was tossed out the car window in the first period as the 5.5-point underdog Browns bended, folded and mutilated a tired and depressed Steelers team that only a few months ago was talking about an undefeated season. COVID-ravaged Cleveland led 28-0 before the Steelers coaches even got their virus masks on, and from there it was just filler.
Cleveland, seeded 6th, now heads into the Divisional Round against top-seeded Kansas City, and bettors who believe the Browns’ surge has legs can get 10 points in just about any book they want. KC backers can scour books and buy the Chiefs at -9.5, but there has been very little line movement since this went on the board last Sunday night. Bargain-hunters may have to wait until later in the week before they see any line alterations.