Monday, January 24, 2022

Can Grizzlies make it 12 straight wins? Plus, best NFL bets for the first playoff weekend

Welcome to one of the most exciting Fridays of the year. What makes this Friday so exciting? Well, it’s extremely convenient that you ask because it makes the transition to my point so much easier.

It’s because the NFL playoffs begin tomorrow! And we cannot have an NFL playoff weekend without a special Football Friday edition of the newsletter, so that’s exactly what I have for you today. Of course, the college football season ended earlier this week, so I’ve replaced those picks with a couple of NBA plays for tonight. I’ve also got a couple of NFL picks for the weekend, as well as NFL playoff future bets at the end of today’s letter. To round it all out, I’ve also included three soccer picks.

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So that means you’ve got 11 picks in one newsletter. I haven’t kept track of this, so I can’t say it with 100% certainty, but that’s got to be a newsletter record. Congratulations, by reading today’s newsletter, you’re officially a part of history. Speaking of reading things, here’s more stuff to read. Remember, knowledge is power.

To the bets!

All times Eastern, and all odds via Caesars Sportsbook


🔥 The Hot Ticket

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🏀Mavericks at Grizzlies, 10 p.m. | TV: ESPN

Latest Odds: Over 217.5

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The Pick: Over 214.5 (-110): The Grizzlies will lose again someday, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the moment. They’ve won 11 straight coming into tonight, and the win streak has catapulted them into third place in the West behind Phoenix and Golden State. They are one of the most entertaining teams in the NBA, and if you haven’t seen them yet, I give my strongest recommendation to tune in tonight. And why not bet on the game while you’re at it?

When you do bet it, take the over. The total is a little low, according to my calculations. I understand why, as Dallas ranks seventh in the NBA in defensive rating while Memphis is ninth. Also, while the Grizzlies rank fourth in offensive rating, Dallas has not been nearly as potent and ranks 17th. That inefficient offense combined with the absence of Kristaps Porzingis (COVID protocols) is dropping this number a little too low.

While the Grizzlies play solid defense, there have been 222.82 points scored per game during this 11-game win streak. Memphis has held only two teams below 104 points in this stretch, so while the Mavs aren’t great offensively, I expect they’ll do enough to push us over this total.

Key Trend: The over is 4-1 in the last five meetings in Memphis.

Here’s what SportsLine is saying about the game: SportsLine’s Ameer Tyree is 19-10 in his last 29 NBA picks and he has a play on the spread in tonight’s game.


💰 The Picks

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USATSI

🏀 NBA

Cavaliers at Spurs, 8:30 p.m. | TV: NBA League Pass

Latest Odds: Over 220

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The Pick: Over 220.5 (-110) — Two NBA overs in one night? Madness! Sheer madness! But it’s so crazy it just might work. Neither of these teams is explosive offensively, and it is keeping this total lower than it should be. The Cavs have been one of the biggest surprises of the season in the NBA, as they sit in sixth place in the East, and the world was operating under the assumption that the Cavs can only be good when LeBron James plays for them. Still, while they’re a pleasant surprise, they’ve also come back down to Earth a bit lately.

Since a stretch of games from late November into December saw them win 10 of 12, Cleveland is 5-6.

The reason for this slight slump has been a drop in the team’s defensive performance. Cleveland ranks third in the NBA on the season with a defensive rating of 104.8. Over the last 11 games, that number has risen to 109.2. That’s a significant shift and one that is likely to lead to a higher-scoring affair against a San Antonio team that doesn’t play a lot of defense itself.

Key Trend: The over is 21-7 in San Antonio’s last 28 home games.

🏈 NFL

Patriots at Bills, Saturday, 8:15 p.m. | TV: CBS

Latest Odds: New England Patriots +4.5

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The Pick: Patriots +4 (-110) — This is one of two divisional matchups this weekend, which means we’ve got plenty of intel at our disposal. Unfortunately, one of the two games between these two was played in the Arctic Circle and can’t be relied upon. At least, not unless the weather forecast for Buffalo changes drastically between now and Saturday (it’s going to be freezing, but not nearly as windy).

What I come back to time and time again is Bill Belichick getting points against a team he’s already gone against twice. Now, the Patriots are not The Patriots anymore. Mac Jones is not Tom Brady, and this defense isn’t nearly as good as past Patriots defenses, but it is good enough to limit the Bills and keep them within range. Even in Buffalo’s 33-21 victory in New England, Josh Allen might’ve thrown for 314 yards, but he needed 47 pass attempts to get there. I expect a similar defensive game plan from New England to keep things in front, eliminate big plays, and put themselves in a position to possibly win the game late. I don’t know how successful they’ll be when it comes to the win part, but the rest is more than feasible.

Key Trend: The Patriots are 10-4 ATS in their last 14 playoff games.

Eagles at Buccaneers, Sunday, 1 p.m. | TV: FOX

Latest Odds: Under 45.5

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The Pick: Under 46 (-110) — This is a fun matchup from the perspective of offensive approaches. Philadelphia runs the ball more often than any team in the league (51.2%), while Tampa runs it the least often (33.8%). What isn’t as fun, at least not for Philadelphia, is that Tampa is a team you’d prefer to be able to throw the ball against because that’s its defensive weakness. The Bucs are solid against the run, which should be a problem for the Eagles. This isn’t to say that Philly won’t have any success; it’s more that it’ll be hard for Jalen Hurts and Co. to find consistent success.

If the Eagles struggle and fall behind, that’ll put them in a position where they’re forced to throw the ball, and they aren’t good at it. Of the 14 teams to reach the postseason, only Pittsburgh has a lower passer rating than the Eagles. Still, while I don’t have the highest of hopes for the Philadelphia offense, I’m not ready to lay 8.5 points with Tampa, either, so instead the under seems like a smarter play.

Key Trend: The under is 5-1 in Tampa’s last six conference games.

⚽ Soccer

Manchester City vs. Chelsea, Saturday, 7:30 a.m. | TV: Peacock

The Pick: Manchester City (-145) — 
For all intents and purposes, the race for the Premier League title is over. Manchester City enters the weekend with a 10-point lead on Chelsea and an 11-point lead on Liverpool (though Liverpool has a match in hand). Saturday morning gives City a chance to drive the stake deeper into Chelsea’s heart, and I fully expect that to be what happens.

The two driving factors behind that expectation are how Chelsea has performed against other elite clubs and how they’ve performed away from Stamford Bridge. On the first part, Chelsea has played six matches this season against Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United and Juventus (I realize I’m stretching the definition of elite with United and Juve). It’s won only once, a 4-0 stomping of Juventus in London. It lost to Juventus in Turin and has managed three draws with Liverpool and United. It lost to Man City 1-0, but the expected goals (xG) in that match tell a much different tale, as Chelsea was “outscored” 1.7-0.3. And while on the subject of xG, Chelsea averages 2.01 xG per match at home in the Premier League this season compared to only 1.65 on the road. Thomas Tuchel plays a much more defensive style away from home, where Chelsea will be this weekend. Trying to absorb pressure against Manchester City typically doesn’t work well for anybody.

Key Trend: Chelsea averages only 1.65 xG on the road compared to 2.01 at home.

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Arsenal, Sunday, 11:30 a.m. | TV: Peacock

The Pick: Arsenal or Draw (-167) — 
Who does one fade when they want to fade them both? That is the question at the core of this choice, and the answer right now is Tottenham. Even if the team has improved under Antonio Conte, this Spurs team still strikes me as a group of bumslayers that cannot be wholly relied upon even to slay the bums. Tottenham opened the season with a surprise win over Manchester City. Since then, it has won 15 more matches across all competitions, but the most impressive has been a 2-1 Carabao Cup victory against West Ham. In the Premier League, Tottenham hasn’t beaten a team higher than eighth in the table when it beat Wolverhampton…in its second Premier League match. Five of its other eight wins have come against teams currently in the league’s bottom five.

Arsenal is not in the bottom five. That said, betting Arsenal here is scary too. It’s been horrible on the road compared to at home, but it is coming off a scoreless draw at Liverpool in which it was down to 10 men for 65 minutes of the match. And while there’s the loss to Nottingham Forest earlier this week in the FA Cup, Arsenal didn’t send out a lineup that seemed intent on crushing the competition. I almost wonder if Mikel Arteta’s focus is on battling West Ham and Tottenham for that final Champions League spot, not the FA Cup. Before that match, Arsenal had won two straight away matches against Leeds and Norwich. And while it’s only Leeds and Norwich, the combined 9-1 score is encouraging. So I’m backing the Gunners to get a result this weekend.

Key Trend: Tottenham hasn’t beaten a Premier League team in the top half of the table since the second match of the season.

Atalanta vs. Inter Milan, Sunday, 2:45 p.m. | TV: Paramount+

The Pick: Over 2.5 (-155) — 
These are two of the most potent attacks in Serie A. Inter looks poised to win its second consecutive Scudetto and leads the league with 42.8 xG on the campaign. Atalanta is third at 35.5 xG, but it has played one fewer match than AC Milan (35.8), so on a per-match basis, it’s second. So let’s just bet on two teams who score a lot of goals and create a lot of chances to continue doing that. It doesn’t hurt that while neither are bad defensively, they aren’t elite, either. Inter went on a run where it posted seven clean sheets in eight matches, but context is key. The one match it allowed goals was a 2-0 loss to Real Madrid. The seven shutouts were against lower-tier Serie A clubs except for a 3-0 win over Roma. It allowed at least a goal in its last two matches against Lazio and Juventus.

As for Atalanta, nobody watches it to see the defense. The average Atalanta match this season — across all competitions — has seen 3.41 goals scored. Atalanta is constantly looking to score, and as a result, it leaves itself vulnerable at the back. Most of the time, it works to their advantage, but it also leads to some terrible defensive performances, particularly against teams as good as Inter.

Key Trend: The average Atalanta match this season has seen 3.41 goals scored.

🔒 SportsLine Pick of the Day: SportsLine’s R.J. White is 38-27-2 in his last 67 ATS picks involving the Cincinnati Bengals, and he has a pick in for their Wild Card meeting with the Las Vegas Raiders this weekend.


🏈 NFL Playoff Futures!

This is pretty chalky, but these are the four best values on the board right now.

  • Chiefs to win Super Bowl (+475)
  • Buccaneers to win Super Bowl (+800)
  • Packers to win NFC (+170)
  • Titans to win AFC (+330)

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