The regular season has concluded and the NFL playoffs have arrived. Opportunities in the futures market have dried up fast so that means it’s time to plant a flag in the teams we truly believe in. I’ve got one team from each conference that I like going into Super Wild Card Weekend.
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Cincinnati Bengals to win the AFC (+900)
While I don’t think Cincinnati is actually going to win the conference, these odds are too low. The implied odds of this bet are just 10% while I give the Bengals a 13.1% chance to represent the AFC in Los Angeles. Cincinnati has been one of the most surprising teams in the NFL this season. Their preseason wins total was just 6.5, but they won 10 games, made the playoffs, and took home the AFC North division title for the first time in six years. There is a lot to like about Joe Burrow and the Bengals. They are coming into the playoffs as one of the hottest teams and got Week 18 off to get some players fully healthy.
Joe Burrow has been incredible down the stretch, rising to second in the league in EPA+CPOE, second in PFF grade, first in yards per attempt, and second in passer rating. He also ranks third in PFF’s big-time throw rate while having the fifth-lowest turnover-worthy play rate. His arsenal of weapons, including Ja’Marr Chase, has also been on fire over the last month. Chase has broken out of his mid-season slump to form a trio with Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd that is one of the league’s best. Since their Week 11 bye, the Bengals rank 5th in EPA/play with incredible success through the air as they rank 3rd in EPA/dropback.
Their defense obviously isn’t anything to write home about, but they’ve been really solid. The unit ranks 11th in EPA/play allowed and 15th in PFF defense grade which will support their offense enough to win games. Another point in the Bengals’ favor is they got a great draw. Las Vegas’ win on Sunday night gives Cincinnati a chance to start the playoff with games against the Raiders and Titans. Those two teams are just 12th (Tennessee), and 20th (Las Vegas) in my team ratings. The market agrees with me on this as Tennessee and Las Vegas have both been fairly low in market-implied power rankings throughout this season.
Playing two of the weakest teams in the entire field of playoffs teams sets the Bengals up nicely. This team has shown they can compete with and beat elite teams. They have a win over Kansas City and overtime losses to Green Bay and San Francisco. They also blew out Las Vegas and Pittsburgh this season, two of the other teams on the AFC side of the bracket. They are a young team with an inexperienced coach, quarterback, and key players, but Joe Burrow has shined on the big stage before and can lead this team to a deep playoff run.
Green Bay Packers to win the NFC (+170)
If you’ve been reading my futures article throughout the season, you know I’ve liked the Packers for a while now and may already have a Green Bay Super Bowl ticket at +750 which I wrote about in Week 14. The Packers are now in the +350-380 range to win the Super Bowl and I think that’s a good bet as well. Green Bay locked up the bye, took half a game off, and now will get two games at Lambeau to punch their ticket to the Super Bowl. My thesis for why this Packers team has been a good bet throughout the season is that they are an elite team with great coaching, quarterback play, a solid defense, and they are only going to get healthier and theoretically better.
Well, that has come to fruition as the Packers rank 2nd in EPA/play, 3rd in success rate, and first in EPA/dropback which includes a game and a half of Jordan Love. The MVP favorite, Aaron Rodgers, is another reason to love this bet. He started a bit slow this season, but has been incredible down the stretch. He ranks 4th in PFF grade, 1st in passer rating, 1st in EPA/play, and 2nd in CPOE. Green Bay is also getting some key players back. David Bakhtiari returned in Week 18 and Za’Darius Smith, Jaire Alexander, and Randall Cobb returned to practice with a week and a half to prepare for their return. They are a big favorite, but it is rightfully so as Green Bay is in prime position to take care of business at Lambeau and give Rodgers a shot at his second Super Bowl ring this February.
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Jack O’Brien is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Jack, check out his archive and follow him @JackOBrienNFL.