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Chargers

vs.

Bengals

NFC

Wild Card

Playoffs Pick

1/5/14

The first Wild Card game on Sunday features the San Diego Chargers heading East to take on the Cincinnati Bengals with the Bengals entering the game as the largest favorite of the weekend at -6.5 with a total of 47 at 5 dimes sportsbook. Looking at the betting trends at sportsbook.com, the action on this one is fairly balanced with 53% of the wagers coming in on the Chargers but bettors are favoring the over in a big way, with 79% of the wagers coming in on over 47.

The Chargers needed the stars to align in just the right way to make it to this game. They needed losses by the Ravens (thanks to Cinci) and the Dolphins and then they needed to beat the Chiefs last week to make it official. As it turned out, they trailed the Chiefs by 10 and also had KC kicker Ryan Succop miss a 41 yard field goal that would have won it for the Chiefs with 8 seconds on the clock. The next day the NFL admitted that the refs blew a call on the field during that attempt as the Chargers lined up with 7 guys on one side of the ball and should have been penalized which would have given Succop another chance.

Despite backing into the playoffs with a set of unlikely events, the Chargers would still have to be considered a legitimate playoff team. They have a big time QB in Philip Rivers who has playoff experience and they beat the Eagles, Chiefs, Colts and Broncos this year, all playoff teams and 3 of those wins, including the Broncos, came on the road.

The Bengals on the other hand, didn't need any help. They did what they needed to do and took care of their own business. They had a successful 11-5 year which also included wins against playoff teams. They earned their way in without needing the stars to align and now look to win their first playoff game in 23 years. Incidentally, one of those wins came at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots with the Bengals holding the super star QB and his offense to 7 points in a 13-7 win.

Home field advantage in the NFL is big. It may only be worth 2 or 3 points during the regular season, but come playoff time, that edge, in certain circumstances, can be magnified and I think this is one of those times where this is so. You play a tough 16 game NFL schedule with the 1st goal of making the playoffs and the 2nd goal of grabbing a HOME playoff game. The Bengals held serve at home going 8-0 and winning by an average score of 34-17. To me, that's the deciding factor in this game.

A look at the Chargers yards per point numbers on the road compared to the Bengals numbers at home solidifies this thinking. The Chargers road ypp numbers were 16.8 on offense and 16.5 on defense. Not bad defensively but that 16.8 offensive number won't cut it on the road in the playoffs. To compare, the Bengals home numbers are 10.6 and 17.3. Also note that the Chargers pass defense ranks 29th in the NFL while the Andy Dalton led Bengals offense was 8th.

The fact that the Chargers backed into the playoffs and essentially needed a miracle, coupled with the Chargers basically losing to the Chiefs back ups when all the needed was a win to get in, puts this play over the top. I'm never crazy about laying more than a field goal in an NFL game, especially in a spot like this where our model predicts a close game and even a Chargers upset in one scenario. But the feeling here is that the Bengals continue to take care of business at home and they do so in decisive fashion. I think they extend this margin as the 2nd half moves along and when the smoke clears, the Chargers are on top by at least two TD's.

Lastly, for teaser players. Playing teasers blindly is a suckers bet. The only time you should be playing NFL teasers is when you can pick up a couple of Key numbers along the way, specifically the 3 and the 7. For example, bringing the Saints up from +2.5 to +8.5 picks up the 3 and the 7. I don't play many, if any, regular season teasers but I will consider them come playoff time. Using the Bengals in one leg of a teaser wouldn't be the worst idea in the world, bringing them down to - 1/2, which is essentially pick em for a playoff game.

Teasers aside, I think the Bengals are the right side here and I think the final margin may surprise some folks. Bengals -6.5

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