AFC Divisional Round – Best Bets

01 / 19 / 2022 By Ally Mielnicki

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Last week, I was a 2 for 3 in my AFC Wild Card picks. All 3 favorites (Bengals, Bills, and Chiefs) covered on their home turf. 

Now, in the second weekend of playoff football, we are gifted with 2 compelling matchups: Bengals vs. Titans and Bills vs. Chiefs.

Which teams do we like to cover the spread and win outright to advance to the anticipated AFC Championship game? 

Here are our best bets:

Bengals +3.5 over Titans

The Bengals controlled nearly the entire game against the Raiders on Saturday. However, in the final minutes of play, Las Vegas came within a TD to almost force OT. Had it not been for the spectacular defensive effort from Cincinnati on the game-ending drive, the Raiders would have been given another chance in OT to secure the win. Fortunately, the Bengals covered and won outright 26-19 even though they left multiple points on the board, settling for 4 field goals in the contest.

They will have a more difficult matchup this weekend when they take on the No. 1 seed Tennessee on the road Saturday. Coming off a much-needed bye, the Titans will welcome back arguably the best running back in the league in Derrick Henry. Sidelined after playing only 8 games this season with an injury, Henry is expected to turn in a full week of practice and be activated off the IR in time for kickoff. Although the running duo of D’Onta Foreman and Dontrell Hilliard contributed effectively in his absence, the Titans are a better team, with Henry manning the backfield. 

Though both of these teams are mediocre defensively, Cincinnati particularly struggles against the rush, which bodes well for the Titans and Henry’s return. Still, Henry has not played a snap since October and could be rusty after a long absence. If the Bengals have any shot on the defensive front, they must step up and neutralize Henry. He is Tennessee’s X-factor in this competition, and if the Bengals find a way to limit his yardage, they will put themselves in a position to win. With no disrespect to QB Ryan Tannehill or WR A.J. Brown, the Titans often rely on the run game to jumpstart their offense. If they are forced to turn to their passing attack, they are much more vulnerable.

Conversely, the Bengals thrive in the passing game. QB Joe Burrow will be a perennial MVP candidate if he continues to play as he has in his first two seasons in the NFL. Unlike Tannehill, Burrow elevates his teammates surrounding him. We all know what WR Ja’Marr Chase can do every time his hands touch the ball, but Burrow has dramatically contributed to the emergence of WRs Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and TE. C.J. Uzomah. Factor in the potent running threat behind RB Joe Mixon, and the Bengals are a tough team to limit on offense. 

I may be in the minority on this one, but I’m taking the Bengals to cover and secure the upset against the Titans on Saturday. For me, the unknown status of how healthy Henry truly is and the dangerous Bengals’ offense both factor into my decision. With the spread currently at 3.5, this game is essentially a pick ‘em since the home team benefits from a 3-point home-field advantage. In that case, I’ll go with the hot team riding off momentum from last weekend. We often see teams play flat coming off a bye, which could be the case in this matchup. What we do know is that Burrow approaches every challenge with ice in his veins and thrives in underdog situations. On their resume, Tennessee is a great team and has compiled some nice wins against top playoff teams (Bills, Chiefs, 49ers, Rams). However, if they fall behind early, they will be forced to win through the air, which could be their downfall. Take the points and the upset if you are bullish like me. Bengals 27, Titans 20.

Bills +2 over Chiefs

I picked the Bills to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl this year in all of my playoff pools. Now that Buffalo has to beat the defending AFC Champions to advance to the AFC Championship next week, I’m doubling down on that. This past weekend, the Bills torched the Patriots, winning 47-17 in a highly-uncompetitive matchup. Buffalo came out blazing when QB Josh Allen hooked up with TE Dawson Knox in the endzone on the opening drive. After that, the Bills never looked back and rattled Patriots rookie QB Mac Jones the entire contest. Expect Buffalo’s defense to keep the momentum against Kansas City this weekend.

On the other hand, the Chiefs started out sluggish against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night, even falling behind 7-0 on a T.J. Watt pick-six off a tipped ball from Patrick Mahomes. Still, the deficit didn’t last long as the Chiefs turned it up on offense, ultimately winning the game 42-21. 

It would be a vast understatement to say they will face a more formidable opponent this weekend when the Bills visit Arrowhead Stadium in a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game. In that game, the Chiefs exposed the inexperience of the young Bills’ roster, comfortably sealing a 38-24 victory to send them into their second consecutive Super Bowl appearance. However, the Bills responded in Week 5, thrashing the Chiefs by a similar 38-10 score on a rainy Sunday night football game.

In last year’s Championship game, the Chiefs’ aerial attack overpowered the Bills’ defense. WR Tyreek Hill caught 9 passes for 172 yards

 while TE Travis Kelce logged 13 catches for 118 yards and 2 TDs. Mahomes was near perfect as he completed 29-of-38 passes for 325 yards and 3 TDs. The Bills’ defense is much improved this season, ranking No. 1 entering the playoffs. That designation was evident against the Patriots last week and should continue against the Chiefs this weekend. Add to the fact that Buffalo will benefit from an extra day rest since they played Saturday night instead of Sunday.

I love the fact that I get to bet on both underdogs in the AFC this weekend. This upset is my top play in the divisional round. Like earlier in the season, the Bills’ defense should keep Kansas City at bay and allow Allen and company to take over the game on the offensive front. With another year of playoff experience under their belt, the Bills are in prime position for another deep playoff run. Take the points and the upset. Bills 33, Chiefs 26.

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