The gift games are over in the NFL playoffs, and that was clear from the beginning of the Titans’ loss to the Bengals when Ryan Tannehill started the game with an interception. No longer can we count on talent being enough to make the difference, as we could when the Buccaneers and Chiefs overwhelmed the Eagles and Steelers respectively. We can still count on coaching matchups a little, but not to the extent that we could when Sean McVay squared off with Kliff Kingsbury. (Side note: I’m going to have a hell of a time if I ever have to interview Kingsbury, but let’s be honest: the only way that would happen is if he ended up in the MAC, and if that happens, he’s got bigger problems than me.)
With the gimmes gone, we’ve got to pick our spots here, which means research is more important than ever. We have 18 weeks of information or more on these teams; now’s the time to use it well. Besides that, we have college basketball plays on the docket as well, so it’s time to keep the momentum going. Here are my best plays for January 23.
PROVIDENCE -9, -110
I stayed away from the early Big East game yesterday because Villanova is inconsistent and Georgetown is actually showing signs of life. Butler, by contrast, appears done. The Bulldogs have played seven Big East games and have been soundly beaten in five of them, with all five defeats coming by 15 points or more.
They don’t shoot the ball well, and Providence plays very good defense most times. I am a bit concerned about the Friars letting teams hang around, but I’m banking on Butler’s inability to score. As a side note, Butler TTU 58.5 holds some promise.
ILLINOIS STATE -4, -110
I’m taking a big risk with the Redbirds, who have been a home court hero all season and are very dependent on their jump shots. Neither of those are things you want when you back a team on the road, but I’m willing to do it here because the opponent is Evansville. The Purple Aces are terrible: they haven’t come within 29 points of any of their past three opponents, and one of those foes was Illinois State in a 94-56 Redbird win on Friday.
I’ve made the drive down I-74 and I-57 myself, guys. It’s not that bad. There’s no reason the Redbirds should have trouble covering four points 48 hours after beating the same team by 38.
RAMS +3.5, -120
They say you’re never supposed to bet against Tom Brady in the postseason. Well, I’m going to do it, and I’m going to do it because Sean McVay has the Buccaneers’ number and the Rams have a strong defensive line. Tom Brady’s one weakness is mobility, and I don’t think the Bucs have enough to protect No. 12 from the Los Angeles pass rush. I am very worried about the Rams’ ability to protect Matthew Stafford without Andrew Whitworth, but this is one where I’ll take the hook and bite the bullet.
BILLS ML 1Q, +100
These are Sunday spreads, but the half-point with the Bills at -150 just isn’t worth it in this case. Kansas City is a slow starter under Patrick Mahomes in the playoffs, and Buffalo doesn’t like to wait around to get rolling. The Bills should score early, and the Chiefs will likely take 15 minutes to get warmed up. I have no clue who to take for the game itself, so I’m going to follow Erin Dolan’s lead and take the first quarter play and get out.
UTSA +7.5, -110
The Roadrunners can stay in this game for one reason: they rebound. These teams just faced off in West Texas, and the Roadrunners got the cover despite a great rebounding effort from the Miners compared to how they usually are on the glass. This time, I expect UTSA to win the battle on the boards more convincingly and come out with another cover.