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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Friday, January 11, 2019 at 1:00 PM

A week ago at this time here in my College of Advanced Sports Betting and Handicapping, I emphasized to you the importance of studying defense in advance of Wildcard weekend. All the teams involved had defenses ranging from good to great in the categories that matter most. Once the final scores were in the books, you could see how defense controlled the quartet of playoff openers.

*Indianapolis held Houston to just seven points, forcing DeShaun Watson to throw 20 incomplete passes even though he was mostly throwing short. Houston was just 3 of 13 on third down conversion attempts (and 2 of 5 on fourth downs). The media wanted to hype Andrew Luck. But, he was only 19-32-1-222 in the air. This was a defensive victory for the Colts. They have been better defensively than the market has realized for weeks.

*Dallas held Seattle to 299 total yards and 2 of 13 on third down tries. They did allow some big plays here and there. But, Seattle is a “run-first” team that only totaled 73 yards on the ground. I won’t say this was exclusively a “defensive” win for Dallas because they rushed for 164 yards. Certainly defense MATTERED because the Cowboys forced so many punts.

*The Los Angeles Chargers shut Baltimore down until garbage time, then had to sweat the ending because they relaxed too soon. Even with those late touchdowns allowed, the Chargers held the Ravens to 229 yards, 3.9 yards-per-play, and 5 of 15 on third downs. Lamar Jackson only passed for 139 yards! This was a stranglehold for three quarters, and a defensive win overall. As with the Colts, the market has underestimated this LA defense.

*Philadelphia held Chicago to 15 points and 5 of 16 on third down tries. Like Dallas, it allowed some passes in the middle of the field that didn’t prove fatal. Only 65 rushing yards for the Bears, who were supposed to advance with smash mouth football. You’ll recall that Philadelphia’s defense was having injury issues a few weeks ago. They became a potential playoff force once those were no longer a factor.

That’s 61 points allowed total over four games, just a shade over 15 points per game. You do that in the modern NFL, and you’re going to win games. (I could also throw in the performance of Clemson’s defense vs. Alabama this past Monday night…takeaways, stops on third down or fourth down…and a tendency to really toughen on their side of the field. Alabama has real NFL talent at several offensive positions, and only scored 16 points with a national championship on the line.)

What’s different in the Divisional Round this weekend is that we have bye teams who aren’t as good defensively as last week’s winners! That really complicates handicapping for bettors. Will the Kansas City Chiefs get stops now that they’ve had some extra rest? Which version of the New Orleans Saints will show up? The one that looked helpless for several weeks, or the one that shut down everyone for half a season? Can the Rams get the Cowboys off the field in the second half?

New England is always tricky anyway. The Patriots tend to have mediocre defensive yardage stats because they let teams drive between the 20’s…but good points allowed stats because they get stops in the red zone or create turnovers from opponents playing from behind. The question now is whether the Patriots offense is too old and worn down to build a lead that creates pressure for quality opponents.

Because you should be well-versed in last week’s winners, your homework today is to focus on the defensive performances through the regular season of the four bye teams. Look at how they performed vs. other playoff caliber teams (include Pittsburgh who didn’t reach the postseason but was good enough to play in January). Focus on impact plays like sacks and takeaways, third down conversions, and average points allowed. You have time to log each performance game by game. An important exercise that will help you visualize what’s likely to happen this weekend.

It’s not a sure thing that defense will rule for a second week in a row. Extra rest matters, and could be the deciding factor that sends favorites through to the conference championships. I will say this. If there are upsets…the LACK of defense at critical junctures from favorites is likely to be the determining factor. 

I’m not going to get any more specific than that because I have to protect my side and total plays for paying customers. If you’d like additional help pinning down a smart approach to this weekend’s challenge, KELSO STURGEON’S top plays can always be purchased at this website by credit card. Questions about extended service and combination packages can be answered in the Vegas Sports Masters office by calling my office at 1-888-777-4155 during normal business hours.

The Dean of Sports Handicapping will be back again on Monday. We’ll either review this weekend’s action, or talk more about college basketball. I’ll determine that late Sunday night. Conference action is really heating up in hoops. I don’t want to let too much more of the season go by before we dig in aggressively here in the coursework. But, I live in Las Vegas, I understand that “football is king” to many of you. Let’s see how this weekend plays out.

Thanks for your attention and hard work. It’s an honor and a pleasure to be your instructor. Best of luck to you do-it-yourselfers this weekend.

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