Divisional Round Trends & Angles: Expect at Least 1 Pick from Big Ben

Jay Pryce

Tuesday, January 9, 2018 2:19 PM UTC

Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018 2:19 PM UTC

Our NFL divisional round trends and angles predict Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan will struggle against a stout Eagles run defense, fireworks at Heinz Field with Ben Roethlisberger a turnover machine, and why you should avoid this weekend’s underdogs in Super Bowl betting futures.

Falcons, Ryan Flutter vs. Strong Rushing Defenses

The NFL betting market has not seen a No. 1 seed in the divisional round an underdog since the 1970s. The Eagles, minus injured starting quarterback Carson Wentz, are catching 2.5 points hosting the Falcons, the first top seed in more than 30 years on the wrong side of the fence. Question marks rightfully surround Philly’s offense headed into this matchup, but expect the defense to make Matt Ryan and the Falcons work extra hard for points.

Here’s the skinny: Ryan thrives on play-action passes. He accumulated almost 500 more yards than any of his peers on the play during Atlanta’s run to the Super Bowl last season. In order to execute properly, the Falcons must establish the run. The issue is the Eagles stop it better than any team in the NFL, yielding a league-low 79.2 yards per game on 21.1 rushes. Efficiency-wise, that’s 3.8 yards per carry (sixth). In his career, Ryan averages 19.3 points per game on the road against proven units allowing less than 4.0 rushing yards per carry after the halfway point of the NFL season. The ‘under’ is 12-3 overall. Versus those allowing more, the number jumps to 25.6 points per game. The Falcons might win, but don’t expect a high-scoring contest.

Big Ben Pick Machine, Heinz Field Fireworks?

The ‘over’ is 8-1 all-time with Ben Roethlisberger under center at Heinz Field during the playoffs. A 49.8 combined score soars past a 39.0 average total in this situation. The Steelers put up 26.2 points per game, going over market projections by 4.6 a contest. The defense is the bigger surprise, allowing opponents to exceed their team total in all but one game by an average 6.2 points.

Big Ben doesn’t necessarily shine in this spot, tossing for 1.3 TDs, 1.6 INTs and 230.0 yards on 29.9 passes. If you can find a prop bet on interceptions thrown by Roethlisberger, pick the ‘over.’ He’s tossed at least a pair in all four games against defenses averaging .75 or more a game in this spot. The Jaguars led the NFL in INT rate, picking off 4.2 percent of passes thrown against the defense. That’s the highest the Steelers quarterback has faced at home in the postseason in his career. Oh, and Jacksonville picked Roethlisberger five times in their last meeting.

Don’t Bet These Divisional Underdogs In Super Bowl Futures

The Eagles (+2.5), Titans (+13.5), Jaguars (+7.5), and Saints (+4) are all underdogs in their respective divisional round playoff matchups this weekend. If you’re betting updated Super Bowl futures, its best to stay away, no matter the odds.

Since 2001, only two teams have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy after posting a negative scoring differential the previous season: the Patriots in 2002 (with the emergence of Tom Brady under center), and the Giants in 2008 (miracle catch anyone?). In fact, only six teams have made it to the Super Bowl following a year with a negative margin during this span, including the 2016 Falcons (-0.38 in 2015). If you combine point differentials over the course of two prior seasons, believing it takes even greater time to craft a champion, the Patriots and Giants are the only two victors to total less than a 3.5-point margin. This is a significant number, roughly equaling the average margin of victory in an NFL contest.

Using the following logic, in any given year, there are typically 10 or so teams with a legitimate shot to win the Super Bowl. This year’s divisional dogs do not hold up. Check out their cumulative scoring differentials over the last two previous seasons: Eagles (-1.1), Saints (-3.3), Titans (-7.6), and Jaguars (-9.6). One might shock and make it to Minneapolis, but don’t wager on any running the table.

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