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The first Week 18 delivered as one of the wildest weeks of the season. Sunday night's thrilling 35-32 overtime playoff eliminator between the Raiders and Chargers kept the suspense cranked up until the final second. That wasn't the case for every game. Multiple teams around the league used the final week of the season to rest their players in preparation for the postseason. The differing philosophies skewed the competitive balance as team scoring soared to a season-high of 26 points per game. For only the fourth time this season, the majority of games went over the closing total. Overs went 11-5, marking the highest amount of games hitting the over in a single week this season.
Now it's the playoffs and everything is about to change. As the intensity cranks up and the competitiveness of each team hits peak levels, it's unlikely these over bets continue to win at a high rate. Per Dave Bearman via ESPN Stats and Info, unders are 9-5 over the past three seasons in the wild-card round and have yielded a 60% win rate since 2002. We have been very successful in targeting under bets early in the week before the market shapes the closing number. Here are the two for this week's wild-card round that provides good value, considering how offenses functioned the last few weeks of the season.
Pittsburgh at Kansas City (Under 46.5)
These two teams battled in Kansas City just three weeks ago. Patrick Mahomes led the Chiefs to a convincing 36-10 win without All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce. The Chiefs ran the ball 35 times into the Steelers' defense and chewed up the clock after securing a 23-0 halftime lead. With both teams featuring pass defenses ranked sixth and eighth in success rate over the second half of the season, we should see a heavier rushing output from both teams. Kansas City opened its postseason last year with a 22-17 win over the Browns. A game that fell well under the closing total of 55. I wouldn't be shocked if we saw the Chiefs get dragged into a similar type of game by another AFC North opponent.
The Steelers' offensive struggles are a major factor in why I am taking the under. They are 3-1 to the under in the last four while ranking 30th of 32 teams in offensive success rate. In Week 16, the Chiefs defense held Pittsburgh to three points until the Steelers punched in a garbage-time touchdown in the final few minutes. In a playoff game with the season on the line, a huge workload for Najee Harris is their only path to remain competitive. It's unlikely to work for four quarters, but it will slow down the tempo enough to keep the game under the total.
Arizona at L.A. Rams (Under 50)
These teams split their head-to-head matchups this year and scored over 50 total points in each. However, the postseason is a different animal. Positional matchups are magnified as defensive coordinators look to take away what an offense does best. Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury makes his playoff debut with an offense that hasn't been the same without DeAndre Hopkins. Zach Ertz has led the team in receptions in each of the past three games. The Rams' defense ranks fourth in covering tight ends and should force Kyler Murray to count on his secondary options to make plays. Are you comfortable that Murray and Kingsbury can make the adjustments in their first playoff game? I have my doubts.
After allowing 7.6 yards per play and over 200 yards rushing to Seattle, the Cardinals defense doesn't necessarily scream "bet the under," but it should lure the Rams into a slower-paced game. Arizona being vulnerable to the run is like sweet music to the ears of Sean McVay. Rams QB Matt Stafford has thrown at least two interceptions in each of the past three games — seven in total. Turnover margin is a very significant stat in determining the outcome in playoff games, so Stafford's recent struggles will certainly encourage McVay to adopt a conservative offensive game plan on Monday night. Enticing L.A.'s offense to sustain longer drives as opposed to explosive pass plays should play into the under. The Rams' offense ranks in the bottom half of the league in EPA/Play over the second half of the season. With each team's offense being tapered back, I am betting this one goes under the total.
Stats provided by teamrankings.com, football outsiders, Ben Baldwin (based on 10/90 WP).