Saturday will see a rare occurrence in the NFL. That infrequent event is a Patriots wild card game. It’s been 10 years since New England played in the first round of the NFL playoffs.
This is the first time ever that New Hampshire residents and visitors will be able to legally bet on the game, however. The state’s lone legal sportsbook operator, DraftKings, offers some interesting action on the contest.
DraftKings’ lines on the Patriots wild card game
As of 1 p.m. ET on Thursday, New England was a modest favorite to advance to the AFC divisional round to face the Kansas City Chiefs. The traditional lines were:
|Tennessee +5 -110
New England -5 -110
|Over 44 -114
Under 44 -107
New England -225
There are some alternative bets available as well. For example, taking the Patriots -6 would pay out +105 if the Pats win by more than six.
As far as alternate point totals go, the real action starts at over 45.5 or under 43.5. The lines get better as you go up on the over and slide down on the under, of course.
What’s perhaps even more important is how likely any of those bets are to pay off. There are a few bets that are more tantalizing than others given the available information.
Bottling Henry and staying balanced on defense key
The factor that will perhaps decide this contest is how well New England’s stellar defense performs. Tennessee comes into this game on a roll offensively.
Running back Derrick Henry and the Titans’ offensive line had another impressive season, producing over 1,500 yards on the ground. The switch to Ryan Tannehill at quarterback has been a superb move to balance the offense, making it dangerous for opposing teams to simply load the box to slow Henry down.
If any team is capable of containing Tennessee’s offense — which has won five of its last seven games — it’s the Patriots. New England had arguably the AFC’s, if not the whole NFL’s, best defense during the regular season.
The Titans’ proficiency for defying defenses is marked, however, as they are 5-1-1 against the spread in their last seven contests against other AFC teams. There is another factor in Tennessee’s favor.
In four of the last nine Patriots losses, the opposing head coach was a former Bill Belichick assistant. Titans’ head coach Mike Vrabel was both that and a former player under Belichick. Couple that with Tennessee’s success on the road and New England’s recent struggles, and an upset appears to be brewing.
Why the under is a good bet but the spread may be less so
The Patriots have failed to cover in four of their last six games, and those struggles were amplified against other AFC playoffs teams. The Titans, on the other hand, have gone 3-3 ATS as an underdog this season.
Tennessee also went 5-3 straight up on the road during the regular season. And as far as injuries go, there is some concern for New England.
One of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s favorite targets, Julian Edelman, has been dealing with knee and shoulder injuries. If Edelman is limited, it will restrict the New England attack’s ability to put up enough points to cover as well.
New England’s strong track record at home (19-2 over the last 21 and undefeated in the last nine home playoff games) is reason enough to not expect an upset. It might be similarly unwise to expect the Patriots to cover, although the under looks tempting.