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Craven's Corner: Betting on Alabama, first round of the NFL playoffs

Alabama wide receivers John Metchie III, left, and DeVonta Smith celebrate Metchie's touchdown catch against Georgia in October.

A hot December ended in a dud. In our defense, betting on Week 17 of the NFL is fool’s gold. The Corner did go 1-1 in the College Football Playoff semifinals, nailing the Ohio State win and losing the Alabama game because the Crimson Tide couldn’t cover. Our December record was 23-8. Overall, we were 69-47-3 in 2020.

We start 2021 by wagering on the national championship game and each of the six playoff games on the NFL schedule.

College football

Alabama -7 vs. Ohio State: The Crimson Tide are a semi-pro squad masquerading as a college football team. Alabama is leaps and bounds better than the other programs in the nation. That doesn’t mean Ohio State can’t compete, or even win, but the odds are long and we’re going to back the favorite. The line is hovering around 7.5 points, but we’ll buy the half-point to bring the spread down to a touchdown. New Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian is the offensive coordinator for Alabama. A win for the Crimson Tide should result in some recruiting momentum for the Longhorns, at least with offensive prospects in the 2022 class.

NFL

Bills -6.5 vs. Colts: Loyal readers know the drill: We bet against Philip Rivers in important games. We’ve also backed the Bills for most of the season. The two scenarios collide into a perfect storm in the first playoff game of the weekend. Buffalo's Josh Allen has emerged as one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL, throwing for 37 touchdown passes and 4,544 yards. His QBR of 81.7 is the third-best in the league. 

Seahawks -3 vs. Rams: We took Seattle to win the NFC West before the start of the season and we cashed on that future bet with the Seahawks claiming the division. Quarterback Russell Wilson and his teammates get a familiar foe in the first round of the playoffs when the Rams come to town. Seattle beat the Rams 20-9 in the last meeting, which happened in December. Rams quarterback Jared Goff hasn’t looked like a Pro Bowl player without an elite rushing attack to provide balance. 

Buccaneers -8 vs. Washington Football Team: Tom Brady in January. That’s the reasoning. Washington will be happy to reach the playoffs. Tampa Bay is hunting for a title.  

Titans +3.5 vs. Ravens: Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson has struggled in his previous playoff appearances. The former regular-season MVP hasn’t won a playoff game yet. He did pass for 2,757 yards and rush for 1,005 this season. Tennessee made a run in the playoffs last year, and the Titans offense sets up perfectly for the playoffs. Running back Derrick Henry has eclipsed 2,000 yards rushing on the year. 

Bears +10 vs. Saints: New Orleans is a clear favorite, but 10 points is a lot in a playoff game. The Saints overcame a midseason injury to Drew Brees. The Westlake product passed for 2,942 yards and 24 touchdowns to just six interceptions during the regular season. Mitch Trubisky is quietly playing well for Chicago, but he’ll be overmatched against Brees and the Saints. We’re not betting on Chicago to win. We simply need the Bears to lose by single digits.  

Browns +6 vs. Steelers: Baker Mayfield is the better quarterback in this matchup against Ben Roethlisberger. Mayfield has elevated his play over the last six weeks, leading Cleveland into the playoffs for the first time in a long time. The Steelers started the season 11-0. They lost four of their final five regular season games. Mayfield plus a fantastic running attack gives me enough reason to take the Browns and the points.

How to bet

A quick refresher: Betting looks difficult, but it’s easy to grasp. A negative number denotes the favorite. The number after the negative represents how much money you’d need to bet to win $100. So, a -265 favorite would require a $265 bet to win you $100. Conversely, a positive number is the underdog. The number following the positive represents how much money you’d make on a $100 bet. So, a +265 bet means $100 earns you $265.

As for point spreads, the team with the negative number is a favorite. For example, Oklahoma was a -2.5 point favorite over Texas in October. The Sooners needed to win by at least 3 points to cash. Texas needed to lose by 2.5 points or fewer.

We’re using BetMGM.com as our general sports book. Remember that lines fluctuate based on bets and are subject to change before kickoff.