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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Thursday, January 1, 2015 at 4:00 PM

The NFL Playoffs begin Saturday as the bottom eight qualifiers square off to see who advances to face the four bye teams in the Divisional Round next week. Classic handicapping tends to work best in the Wildcards because there’s no difference in THE MOTIVATION FACTOR. Everybody is fighting to extend their seasons.  

I don’t want to suggest that no intangibles come into play. Occasionally you’ll see a team come in overconfident and play flat. We may have some examples of teams this year who played so hard last week that they don’t have enough in the tank this week to play at full potential. But, generally speaking, it’s X’s and O’s plus home field advantage determining the result.

With that in mind…here are keys you should keep in mind this weekend that have proven the test of time over my many years as a Las Vegas handicapper.

*PLAYMAKERS and GAMEBREAKERS will determine who wins! I always talk about this. I’m not going to go into any more depth here because you regulars here in my College of Advanced Sports Betting and Handicapping should already have your ducks in a row in this category.

*BAD DEFENSES GET EXPOSED in the postseason, you want to FADE teams who had trouble keeping opponents out of the end zone. Pay particular attention to how teams defended against playoff caliber opposition during the regular season…and how often they allowed TD’s when opponents reached the red zone. A lot of “picking winners” in the playoffs is really “picking against losers.” Mediocre or worse defenses burn money in the playoffs, and that’s going to begin this week.

*COACHING really matters in the playoffs! Be sure you evaluate the coaching histories (straight up and ATS) of all eight men on the sidelines this weekend. There’s a very interesting mix on the card Saturday and Sunday in terms of of styles, experience, and big-game preparedness. I’m not going to go too much in depth because I need to protect my service plays for my clients. I will suggest that you ask yourself this question. How is (fill in coach) likely to perform as a (fill in “favorite” or “underdog”)? Break it down THAT way, and I believe you’ll find some value. All of this week’s winners will be road underdogs next week. You should definitely do some preliminary work to evaluate how all eight coaches have performed as road underdogs in big games.

*COMFORT ZONES come into play during Wildcard Weekend in terms of game conditions and style. Again, I don’t want to tip my hand here. You need to think about…

*How is this team suited to play in this stadium?

*How is this team suited to play on this type of surface?

*How is this team suited to play in these weather conditions (or indoors)?

*Can this team perform if the pace speeds up?

*Can this team perform if the pace slows down?

*Can this team perform if they fall behind by 10 or more?

*Can this team protect a lead of 7 or more if they get it?

If you review your personal history as a playoff bettor, I think you’ll realize that many of your worst results came when you were bucking too many of these. You backed a team ill-suited to the conditions, or one that couldn’t play from behind if the game got away from them. Historically, many of my best BLOWOUT winners came when I saw that a team was likely to implode if taken out of their comfort zone…in a situation where they were very likely to get taken out of their comfort zone.

I’m very much looking forward to this week’s games. I had my opinions locked in soon after the lines went up because I had done so much early legwork. All that was left was to get late news on injuries, suspensions (Suh won his appeal and will play for Detroit, for example), and monitor line moves. Nothing’s changed how I plan to play the weekend. I’m expecting a board sweep!

You can purchase my weekend BEST BETS right here at this very website with your major credit card. Questions about extended service can be answered personally by one of my representatives in the Vegas-Sports-Masters office at 1-888-777-4155. Call during normal business hours Friday or before the first kickoff Saturday. Be sure to check on value rates for extended packages that include the rest of football and January basketball.

Our next class get-together will be on Monday. I’m currently planning a college basketball report because it’s time to get focused on conference action in hoops. That could change if there are dramatic developments to read and react to immediately in the Wildcard games. I’ll definitely talk about handicapping the NFL Divisional round games next Thursday.

The Dean of Sports Handicapping hopes you brought in the New Year responsibly and safely. You need a clear head for all the handicapping challenges that are coming up! We have the full 11-game NFL playoff slate ahead of us, as well as college football’s National Championship that will be played on Monday night January 12. I greatly appreciate all the hard work you’ve been putting in. I know you’re ready!


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Kelso Sturgeon on twitter @vsm_sturgeon

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