SharpClarke's Best NFL Divisional Round Bet: NYG @ PHI Matchup Spotlight
With only four games on this week's slate and all eyes on those games, the betting markets are as tight as they come. It's unlikely that an individual bettor will have a strong enough opinion on the quality of the teams to justify a spread bet. However, pure numbers can miss how game states, matchups, and situations can lean towards a certain side. That can create value. I think we have a situation on Saturday between the Giants and Eagles where the spread does not capture the true median outcome of the game. Let's dive in.
This matchup features a streaking New York football Giants team playing its best football of the year and a Philadelphia Eagles team that essentially had the conference locked up weeks ago, then stumbled to the finish line while dealing with injuries. Momentum is a real factor in handicapping sports and the Giants have it. We have also seen the Giants perform at a high level more recently than the Eagles. When these two teams faced off at full health a little over a month ago, the Eagles were 7-point favorites on the road and covered in an easy 48-22 win. But the recent performances have tightened the perceived gap between these teams, as the Eagles are now only 7.5-point favorites at home.
It's possible Jalen Hurts is not 100%. He has made comments indicating the extra week off was important. Even though he has been a full participant at practice and is not on the injury report, we might see a quarterback less willing to run for those key first downs, which would impact the offense. That could also be keeping this line down. But bettors have largely agreed that 7.5 points are fair here. I disagree.
My personal metrics grade the Eagles as much better than the Giants. Even factoring in recent trends, by pure numbers this spread should arguably be in the double digits. But as noted above, differing from the market on the quality of teams at this point in the season is rarely enough to justify a big bet. In addition to that difference in quality, the edge here comes from how these teams perform relative to their baseline in different game scripts and against different defenses. Let me explain.
In short, teams that run the ball a lot and run the ball well compared to teams in the same weight class tend to outperform when they have the lead and underperform when they are playing from behind. Teams that run the ball successfully can leverage a lead (or tight game) by playing with big personnel, forcing defenses to stack the box, and then capitalizing on single coverage on the outside. Teams that run well also run more when they have the lead, essentially leaning into their strengths. A perceived (relative) weakness in the passing game hurts a team with the lead less because they don't need to pass the ball. Conversely, when run-heavy and successfully-run teams are playing from behind, they are forced to become one-dimensional in a way that takes them out of their strengths. So, playing from behind leads to more losses and bigger losses.
I expect the Eagles to be ahead in this game. They have the advantage on the offensive line with Lane Johnson the Vikings lacked last week. Jalen Hurts does not turn the ball over and has several elite options in the passing game, all of whom should be able to win their single-coverage matchups against the Giants' cornerbacks. The last time these teams faced off at full health, the Eagles averaged over eight yards per carry on their way to a rout. With Dexter Lawrence back, it may not be that easy. But it should be a good showing for the Eagles. Meanwhile, the Giants will be facing off against a defensive front that can stop the run (with Jordan Davis back), get pressure on the quarterback from several angles, and win in coverage against overmatched wide receivers.
If the Eagles play with the lead, that will lean into their strengths. They should be able to control the clock, churn out first downs, and convert red-zone opportunities into touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Giants have been at their worst when forced into obvious passing situations. For all Daniel Jones has done well, he still has not performed at a high level passing the ball into the teeth of a defense expecting it. The Giants have not been a great come-from-behind team, and when they have been, it has not been because of a dominant passing game. Against the Titans, their final game-winning drive involved nine runs and only three passes. Prior to that, their drives ended in two punts and an interception. Against the Ravens, they needed a key interception. In recent weeks, when they have played their best football, they have largely been playing with the lead. I would expect the Giants, if they fall behind, to underperform relative to their recent form.
The Eagles get out to a quick lead on the back of a strong run game and some explosive plays to both A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. The Giants are unable to convert on a couple of key third downs early, and they find themselves in a hole at half time. In the second half, the Eagles are able to bleed the clock and score a few more times, which shortens the game. The Giants rely too much on running the ball and short passes in comeback mode, leading to a score or two but not enough to truly threaten the Eagles. The Eagles roll, 31-13.
Final Score Prediction: PHI 31-13
PHI -7.5 (-110) (Widely available)
PHI -13.5 (+164) (DraftKings)
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