On the eve of the postseason last year, “Line It Up” unveiled the Team of Destiny Power Ratings, and it was such a smash hit (don’t fact-check that) that we’re bringing it back.
After all, NFL games aren’t won on the field. They’re decided via pre-game narratives and sentimentality. (Don’t fact-check that either.)
For any of you George McFlys out there, we need to be clear: These are not the Team of Density Power Ratings. That ranking, featuring the 18 teams that didn’t make the playoffs, is compelling too, as there are debates over whether to rank any team led by “critical thinker” Aaron Rodgers No. 1 or perhaps go with the Texans for letting Lovie Smith blow up their draft position on his way out the door.
But we’ll save those rankings for another time. The playoffs start Saturday, so let’s count down, from 14 to 1, the remaining contenders (with their highest available Super Bowl odds in parentheses) based on team-of-destiny-itude:
14. Los Angeles Chargers (+2500): Coach Brandon Staley insisted on playing chicken with destiny by leaving most of his key starters, including several with rocky injury histories, in Sunday’s utterly meaningless Week 18 game against the Broncos until nearly the very end. Mike Williams and Joey Bosa both got banged up in the process. If Staley isn’t at least going to give destiny a chance to do its thing, cross this team off.
13. Miami Dolphins (+6000): They’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t with their quarterback health issues. If they run Tua Tagovailoa out there after a three-concussion season, karma will not look favorably upon that. But if they don’t, it’s either Teddy Bridgewater with a bum pinkie or Skylar Thompson, who would arguably be the worst starting QB in a playoff game since the Raiders had to roll out Connor Cook.
12. Dallas Cowboys (+1400): This team has Super Bowl potential, on paper. But the defense is trending in the wrong direction, Dak Prescott is trending in the wrong direction, they just got smoked by Washington in a game in which they were seemingly trying to win, and Mike McCarthy’s playoff destiny has almost always been to exit one round earlier than his team’s talent projects. McCarthy got to the promised land once, 12 years ago. That kind of lightning doesn’t strike twice.
11. Baltimore Ravens (+4000): On the one hand, the Ravens have been as QB-cursed as the Dolphins. On the other hand, Lamar Jackson appears in line to return Sunday, and what would smell more like destiny than a star quarterback who has struggled in previous postseasons lighting it up after taking heat all year for playing without a long-term contract?
10. Kansas City Chiefs (+350): Does proving they can do it without Tyreek Hill make the Chiefs a team of destiny? Nah, not quite, even though they, and Patrick Mahomes, overcame some doubters this season en route to winning 14 games. It’s hard to believe Mahomes has only won one Super Bowl, as it has long felt preordained from the football gods that he would finish his career with a ring on every finger. This is a different form of destiny, as we ask the question: Could he really be denied for a third year in a row?
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+3000): Destiny and luck are partially overlapping concepts, and the 8-9 Bucs ride into the playoffs on the sheer luck of playing in the abysmal NFC South. Tampa had a lousy season, frankly. But a 45-year-old quarterback going on a run would surely conjure up team-of-destiny talk, and sportsbooks having to sweat out those possibly-inside-info-fueled Bucs bets would become a popular offbeat plotline.
8. Philadelphia Eagles (+550): It feels like destiny has swung against Philly, with a 13-1 start giving way to a 1-2 finish and injuries piling up after this team ducked and dodged them most of the season. But they eked out the bye and home-field advantage, so if Jalen Hurts is close to full health and Lane Johnson is able to play in two weeks, the narrative could quickly shift back to “this NFL season belonged to the Eagles all along.”
7. Jacksonville Jaguars (+5000): Coach Doug Pederson clung to destiny effectively once before. Now he has a young and talented team that won six of its last seven games after starting 3-7 to sneak into the playoffs, gets to play a home game against the ultimate non-team-of-destiny — and they happen to be a perennial doormat franchise that has never been to a Super Bowl.
6. New York Giants (+6600): The G-Men have overcome injuries and low expectations all season long. Daniel Jones was throwing to guys who would have a hard time making XFL rosters, and yet here they are, with a playoff spot and a winnable first-round matchup, thanks in large part to Brian Daboll doing a masterful job in his first year as an NFL head coach. As long as Saquon Barkley’s muscles and ligaments are all working, there’s destiny in the air in North Jersey. But you’ll want to take us at our word on that, as inhaling the factory fumes anywhere near I-95 is a dangerous game.
5. Minnesota Vikings (+3500): The Vikes are a big-time team of destiny on two fronts: (1) They’re the most historically snake-bitten franchise in the NFC, if not the entire NFL (Bills fans will put up a fight, I suppose); (2) All they did all year long was win games they had no business winning, with some higher power clearly watching over them. They finished 13-4 with a negative-3 point differential! It’s almost mathematically impossible what they’ve done, and math is the mortal enemy of destiny.
4. Seattle Seahawks (+7000): In retrospect, yes, they won huge in the Russell Wilson trade. But at the time, it seemed like the ‘Hawks were headed for a three- or four-win tanking/rebuilding season. Then Geno Smith rose from the ashes, they overcame a late-season swoon, and the Detroit Friggin’ Lions, playing for pride, pushed Seattle into the playoffs in the last game of Week 18. Major destiny vibes out of Seattle.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (+850): Karma is part of destiny, and the Bengals have all sorts of positive karma for the way they handled the Damar Hamlin situation. They also haven’t lost a game since Halloween and feel like a juggernaut. Oh, and they’ve been around for 55 years and have never won a championship. And they reside in Ohio, a state that recently launched sports betting, which doesn’t particularly play into destiny but is worth mentioning.
2. San Francisco 49ers (+550): Have you ever seen a team lose its starting quarterback for the season, regroup, lose its second-string quarterback for the season, regroup again, and go undefeated the rest of the way with a seventh-round rookie? Now, it may turn out their destiny is to implode in the playoffs because some defense is going to remind Brock Purdy he’s a rook. But until that happens, the Niners have destiny at their backs.
1. Buffalo Bills (+420): Has there ever been a stronger triumph-of-the-human-spirit narrative than doing it for Damar? Not to mention, you may have heard this franchise once lost four Super Bowls in a row, and they’re owed one after the way they got eliminated from the playoffs last year. The Bills, and Josh Allen, were frankly a bit disappointing on the field this year. They could use destiny’s help. If, by chance, destiny exists, they’ll have it.
With that, let’s take a look at the opening lines and other assorted betting odds and ends for wild card weekend.
The consensus lines
Most lines vary by half a point in either direction, with slightly different vigs from book to book, so it’s always advisable to price-shop at all the available mobile sportsbooks in your state. But here are the consensus (most commonly found) spreads for each of the six games in the wild card round:
Seahawks at 49ers (-10)
Chargers (-1.5) at Jaguars
Dolphins at Bills (-11)
Giants at Vikings (-3)
Ravens at Bengals (-6.5)
Cowboys (-3) at Buccaneers
Line move to watch
With the Dolphins’ and Ravens’ starting quarterback plans not entirely clear, those are the two games with obvious potential to nudge a couple of points. But the other one to watch, owing nothing to QB uncertainty, is Dallas at Tampa. The line won’t move much. But chances are the “gotta bet on Brady” crowd will make its voice heard at the books and muscle that down to 2.5.
Intriguing moneyline underdog to consider
Before I get into this week’s underdog selection, it’s time for a proper accounting of the season.
There were 15 “Line It Up” columns with moneyline underdog picks (I missed Weeks 1 and 17 and turned in an abbreviated column last week), three picks each week, so 45 picks in all. And if you bet $100 on each of those picks at the best possible prices as outlined in the column … you would have finished the season $410 ahead. So, plus 4.1 units. Ride with “Red Hot Rasky,” everyone!
With only six games on the menu, RHR is making just one ML ‘dog pick this week:
Giants +140 (FanDuel) at Vikings: New York’s B-team hung tough with the Eagles last week in a must-win game for Philly, and, uh, did we mention that Vikings point differential? Yeah, the Giants lost in Minnesota on Christmas Eve. But that was on a 61-yard field goal as time expired. This game could go either way. A return of 1.4-to-1 on your money ain’t bad.
Textbook teaser candidates
Fans of the three-team (or more) teaser know what to look for: favorites of 6 or more who become very safe bets if you reduce the spread by about a touchdown. Here are this week’s options that fit the bill:
49ers: Can tease down to -4 or -3 hosting NFC West rival Seahawks.
Bills: Can tease down to -5 or -4 at home against AFC East rival Dolphins.
Bengals: Can tease down to -0.5 or -+0.5 in a rematch of Week 18 against AFC North rival Ravens.
Pick three (or more), pick 6 points or 7 (or 6.5), and let the sweating of a +140 or so return begin. This is pretty much the perfect teasing situation, as the three big home favorites are all big favorites for a reason. Sure, “any given Sunday” and all, but … as much as it’s possible to feel confident in a three-team playoff teaser, this one inspires confidence.
Highest wild card weekend point total: 48.5, Vikings-Giants; lowest: 42.5, Seahawks-49ers.
With the regular season complete, here are your 2022 NFL biggest winners and losers relative to their preseason sportsbook-issued win totals: The Eagles were the top team compared to expectation, going 4.5 wins over their opening line of 9.5, while the Colts were the biggest dud — yes, bigger than the Broncos, Rams, or Cardinals — finishing 6.5 wins under their hefty 10.5-win line.
The sportsbooks appear, as of midday Monday, to have removed their year-end awards markets. We’ll see if any of them reemerge between now and the reveals of the winners, as has been the case in years past. If they do go back up, the Offensive Rookie of the Year market will be highly intriguing. Seattle’s Kenneth Walker III entered Week 18 the slight favorite (-110 at DraftKings), followed by Jets receiver Garrett Wilson (+150) and Niners QB Brock Purdy (+500). Walker had a big final game to help push the Seahawks into the playoffs, and he finished with 1,050 rushing yards — a tremendous number, though only 15 yards ahead of fellow rookie Tyler Allgeier of Atlanta. Wilson finished with 83 catches for 1,103 yards — impressive, but a mere 61 yards ahead of fellow rookie Chris Olave of New Orleans. And Purdy doesn’t have the counting stats after basically playing six games, but his efficiency stats were exceptional (107.3 rating, best in the NFL) and the Niners never lost under his stewardship. I could see any of these three winning the award.
Photo: Jamie Germano/USA TODAY