12 Rules for NFL Playoff Gambling: Part I

In the generational war, there’s a compulsion for witty, slightly pejorative, nicknames to be thrown around, you know, because “Millennials” and “Boomers” isn’t witty enough apparently. The “Boomerang” generation. (Because adult Millennials bounce back to their Boomer parents’ houses). The “Internet” generation. (Because we never knew life without it). “Generation Now”. (Clever shot at the relative impatience of the younger generations). A more appropriate, and much nicer, nickname would be the “DIY” generation. With the internet increasing home learning, the Millennials and Generation Z have become the ultimate self-help generation, which naturally has spawned a boom of self-help books, guides, blogs, etc. The pinnacle of these is Jordan Peterson’s “12 Rules for Life”. It’s not just a guide to pruning your own Banzai tree or crafting the perfect charcuterie board, it’s a broadly applicable life self-help book. It also spawned myriad spin-offs of “12 Rules for…” Well, here’s mine. Over the next few weeks, we’ll use each of the matchups building up to the Super Bowl to outline the “12 Rules for NFL Playoff Gambling.”

Photo Courtesy of Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

Rule #1: The Law of Natural Habitats

Bengals -4.5 over Raiders

This law is borrowed from Bill Simmons’s Playoff Manifesto, which this whole concept was loosely based on anyway. I always strive for originality and the majority of these rules and this concept are of my own doing, but some things are just too practical not to apply. After all, there have been nearly twice as many Super Bowls as years of my life, so it would reek of both arrogance and imprudence not to borrow from the wisdom of my elders.

This rule is simple: when teams that normally play indoors have to go play a road game in the cold, be wary of betting on them. The Raiders play their home games indoors at Allegiant Stadium. Paul Brown Stadium, on the other hand, is an outdoor stadium and the projected temperature at game time is 28° F. Now, the Raiders have defied our wildest expectations through lots of trying circumstances this season, so much so that they could aptly be nicknamed the “Zombie Raiders”, and zombies are impervious to cold. However, the Bengals are playing with swagger right now and most of their key players rested in a meaningless game last week. The Bengals are also just the better team at this point in the season.

Dec 26, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots free safety Devin McCourty (32) tackles Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Rule #2: No rookie quarterbacks on the road

Bills -4.5 over Patriots

Betting on rookie quarterbacks in the playoffs is a risky proposition. Betting on rookie quarterbacks on the road in the playoffs is a dumb proposition. Did John Wolford technically win a start as a rookie quarterback last year? Yes, but he also was 3/6 for 29 yards before being replaced by Jared Goff due to an injury, so he functionally had no part in the Rams win and it’s a technicality, at best, to call him the winning quarterback. Before him, you have to go back to 2012 when Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III played against each other in a playoff game, guaranteeing a rookie quarterback would win. Russell Wilson came out on top.

Now, the Patriots are constructed exactly how a team wanting to win with a rookie quarterback in the playoffs would construct a team. Credit to Bill Belichick for putting the right team around Mac Jones. They have an excellent defense and a strong running game, and both were on full display the last time they went to Buffalo. You may remember that they beat the Bills with an arcane offensive gameplan involving Mac Jones attempting only three passes in the game. They won’t be able to pull that off again, and the Bills are exactly the kind of team you don’t want a rookie quarterback going up against in the playoffs. Buffalo’s defense is the best in the NFL by DVOA and will give Mac headaches all night on Saturday. Josh Allen also has the Bills playing better on offense despite not having a reliable running game.

Photo Courtesy of Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Rule #3: The LILO rule OR the Show-Me Mandate

Eagles +8.5 over Bucs

That’s right: we’re going to have a play-in game to decide which of these two rules makes it into Sam’s 12 Rules for NFL Gambling. What’s life without a little competition? Also, I’m legitimately conflicted about this game. On the one hand, the Buccaneers are limping into the playoffs. Chris Godwin is out for the year. Antonio Brown, although he didn’t exactly limp so much as strip, is no longer a part of the team. Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski have various ailments. Leonard Fournette and Gio Bernard have returned to practice but are coming off injury. Ke’Shawn Vaughn is still dealing with a rib injury. Cyril Grayson, week 17 hero, and Ronald Jones are both doubtful for Sunday. This brings us to the LILO rule, which states that the team that limps into the playoffs promptly limps out of the playoffs.

Here’s the flip side of the coin: Are we sure the Eagles are a playoff football team? Strictly speaking, yes, they will be playing in a playoff game this weekend. Do you know how many playoff teams the Eagles have beaten this year? The same number that you and I have. Do you know how many teams with a winning record the Eagles beat this year? One more than you and me. Philadelphia still needs to show me they are a good team before I’m ready to pick them to win a playoff game, but this line is high. Philadelphia does have a good running game and Tampa Bay has defensive injuries they are dealing with too. Let’s split the difference here and take the Eagles to cover. I think they will be able to run the ball on this Buccaneers defense and keep things close.

Photo Courtesy of Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Rule #4: Chalk is for Losers

49ers +3 over Cowboys

Sure, if you’re gambling on football, or things in general, you probably want to make a little money, but there are more important things than money. Dignity. Pride. Self-respect. Just to name a few. If you want to come in here and bet straight favorites then go right ahead, but just know that betting chalk makes you a loser. The 49ers have been an enigma over the last several weeks and Jimmy G is coming into the playoffs battling a major injury, but all of that was true last week when they stormed back from a 17-0 deficit to beat the Rams in overtime and clinch a wild card spot. Dallas also nearly qualifies as a “show me” team. They have three wins this season over playoff teams. Two of these came before Halloween. The third was last Saturday, against a team that was resting its starting quarterback and other players. Dallas may win this game. And if they do, they may have earned my faith to bet on them next week. But this week? Chalk is for losers and Dallas still needs to prove it.

Photo Courtesy of Associated Press

Rule #5: The Glass Slipper Theorem

Chiefs -12.5 over Steelers

Cinderella stories are part of what we love about sports. We love seeing the March Madness upsets. We love seeing a team we didn’t expect make a championship run. We love seeing Carl Spackler’s Cinderella speech for the Masters while whacking flowers with an 8 iron. Cinderella stories don’t have much place in the NFL playoffs though. Three-fourths of all Super Bowl champions is came into the playoffs is a first or second seed. Six seeds (previously the lowest seed before last year’s playoff expansion) have only made the conference championship six times since the playoffs expanded in 1990. Two of those six went on to win the conference title game (and both eventually won the Super Bowl), but if you’re playing the math then don’t bet on a Cinderella run in the NFL playoffs.

That was a lot of rambling just to say that if you’re betting on Big Ben’s last ride to include a deep playoff run, think again. It’s interesting to me that Big Ben has become a borderline beloved figure on his way out the door, especially when you think about how unpopular he was while helping Pittsburgh win Super Bowls earlier in his career. He was unpopular for good reasons with plenty of questionable off-the-field issues and an abrasive demeanor that now seem like ancient history. I guess some people live long enough to see themselves become the hero.

Photo Courtesy of Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Rule #6: The Rafiki Principle

Rams -3.5 over Cardinals

When division opponents meet in the playoffs, we have this natural proclivity to gravitate towards one of two schools of thought depending on what we want to happen. We either go for the “it’s difficult to beat a team multiple times in a season” trope or the “well team ‘x’ won the meeting in October so they already have the formula” trope. Here’s my advice, or Rafiki’s rather, to you: “It doesn’t matter it’s in the past.” Will coaches use the game film, game plans and play calls from prior meetings to inform how they prepare for this meeting? Absolutely. Do the results of those prior meetings inform what will happen in the playoffs? Not at all. Looking back through the last ten years of division matchups in the playoffs, there’s no identifiable pattern for what happened in the regular season informing what happens in the playoffs. Leave that at the door and look at the matchup itself.

The Cardinals seem like their best football is behind them. Sean McVay is a better coach than Kliff Kingsbury. Kyler Murray is electrifying and the kind of quarterback that can give the Rams pass rush an issue, or at least force them to play contain instead of pinning their ears back. But, the Rams are the better team in all phases of the game and get to play at home in Sofi Stadium. The Rams are the right horse to back on Monday night, but that has nothing to do with them winning on December 13th or losing on October 3rd.

Regular season record: 53-38

Playoff record: 0-0

Cover Photo Courtesy of the Associated Press

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