November 12, 2021

Handicapping the 2021 NFL Playoff Picture: Week 10

The midway point of the 2021 NFL season is in the rearview mirror and there's a big discrepancy between the leaders and the middling teams across the league. Most divisional leaders are sitting with six or more wins. That means the playoff race at the top won't be as interesting but the wild card dash will be full.

It's a good time to revisit preseason wagers made on who will make the playoffs. Hedging isn't a bad idea if you thought teams such as the Miami Dolphins, Washington Football Team and San Francisco 49ers would make the postseason. Breaking even is surely better than losing money.

We're handicapping the NFL playoff race as we enter Week 10. There are four main categories for these pools, so choose wisely and mix your money between them. All odds are courtesy of DraftKings.

The Absolutes

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Green Bay Packers, and the Arizona Cardinals are viewed as virtual locks to be playoff contenders with a -10000 line attached to them. There's no value at all with these teams in the category of whether they make the playoffs, but you can explore other props such as which team wins their division or their conference. The Buccaneers have the smallest divisional lead of all these teams but are considered the best overall roster in the league.

There's slightly more value with the Dallas Cowboys (-3500) and Los Angeles Rams (-2500). Both will make the playoffs barring a major injury to their quarterbacks. Even then, I could see the Cowboys still exploiting their three-game lead over the Eagles and Giants to win the NFC East. That division is terrible once again.

The Rams are a more interesting team. Now with Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr. on the roster, no one can deny their starpower. The NFC West is tough as nails, but at 7-2 and adding impact veterans for next to nothing, I consider them a lock to at least get a Wild Card spot if not overtake the Cardinals.

The Favorites

With the NFC having every division all but decided, we're light on uncertain races in the conference. The AFC isn't quite the same thanks to their immense depth. The two divisional leaders in the driver's seat are Baltimore Ravens (-800) and Buffalo Bills (-1000), but each must keep winning.

The 5-3 Bills have stumbled of late as their offense has shown some weaknesses whenever Josh Allen isn't at his best. They rank extremely well across the board but they don't pass the eye test as an elite team. Nevertheless, they should beat out the 5-4 Patriots to win the division with relative ease thanks to the quality of the roster. 

Baltimore is a more appetizing bet. Sure, their division is loaded with legitimate contenders waiting to pounce if the Ravens fall. But it's been safe to assume Lamar Jackson and John Harbaugh will get this team through the mud whenever they need to

Wild Card Hopefuls

The entire AFC West can be justifiably bet on for good value. The Chiefs are the headlining talent because of Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid, but the Chargers would be my top pick. No team in the division has the mixture of coaching, quarterback upside, and defensive talent as the Chargers. 

The Wild Card race will likely come down to the New England Patriots (-125) and Cleveland Browns (-105). Both are well-coached, boast impactful defenses, and enough of an offensive to endure rough patches or dry spells. The Patriots, of course, benefit from a weaker division than the Browns thanks to the Dolphins and Jets.

My NFC Wild Card favorite is the New Orleans Saints (-225). Everything about their roster is good except the quarterback and wide receiver position. This is a big deal, but the Saints are 5-3 in a conference filled with three-win teams and lesser defensive units and coaching staffs. Their biggest competition is from within the division.

Best Longshots

The Carolina Panthers (+800) made a notable signing with Cam Newton for more than the headlining reunion that warms hearts. The Panthers' biggest weakness has been Sam Darnold and it's not close. Their asinine decision to swap Teddy Bridgewater for Darnold has completely blown up in their face.

Newton doesn't solve everything but he looked quite good in the preseason for the first time in years. He can swing a wild card race when the margin is only one game. This is a great return for a longshot.

The Minnesota Vikings (+300) are a more sensical option for most because of the NFC North's lack of depth. It's hard to envision the Bears, with a -74 point differential, competing with the Saints, who hold a two-game lead over the Monsters of the Midway. 

The AFC has both Pittsburgh Steelers (+150) and Indianapolis Colts (+150) lurking just one game back as well. This is a good return, and I like the Steelers more than the Bengals if we're taking a third AFC North team. 

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