Divisional foes square off Sunday afternoon in a game that will have a massive impact on the NFL playoff picture. If the postseason began today, the NFC East would have four teams in the playoffs. In a tightly contested race, divisional games matter even more, so the pressure is on as the Washington Commanders travel to face the New York Giants.
To illustrate just how important this game is for both teams, we truly need to consider only this one piece of information: The playoff chances for both teams will swing more than 40 percent depending on if they win or lose.
If the Commanders come away with a victory their odds of making the playoffs shoot up to 87 percent, but if they lose it falls to just 46 percent. The Giants can boost their playoff odds up to 78 percent with a victory, but those odds fall to just 36 percent with a loss.
As we sit today, most sportsbooks have the visiting Commanders as a 2 or 2.5 point favorite over the Giants, with an over/under total of 40.5 points. Let's take a deep dive into this matchup and see if we can decipher a betting edge in Sunday's contest.
How Much Stock Should We Put Into the Idea That These Teams Are Trending in Opposite Directions?
The Giants and Commanders have taken a much different route to 7 wins. The Giants began the season 6-1 before losing 3 of their last 4. Meanwhile the Commanders might be the hottest team in the NFL, with a record of 6-1 in their last 7 contests. What's the biggest reason for this performance swing for the Commanders? You might think it's the play of their new starting quarterback Taylor Heinicke, but the real reason is the improved play of the Washington defense.
The Commanders haven't allowed more than 21 points in any of their last 7 games. In contrast, during their first 5 games they never held an opponent under 21 points. That defense could get even another bump if star defensive end Chase Young is able to make his season debut this week.
The opposite trend is happening for the Giants defense, which has allowed at least 27 points in their last three losses after opening the year playing well.
While the Commanders are on a winning streak, four of those wins (Bears, Packers, Colts, and Falcons) all required critical plays in the last minute to secure the victory. The Commanders were fortunate to be on the right side of goal line stops twice, while another win was entirely dependent on Terry McLaurin's insane catch of this nearly 50-yard Heinicke bomb with under a minute remaining.
While we shouldn't discredit the Commanders for making critical plays down the stretch of games, it does mean we need to be careful about how much weight we place on their recent winning streak.
Are There Any Positional or Situational Matchups That Could Dictate the Outcome of This Game?
A deep dive in the stats will tell you these teams are very evenly matched. The biggest matchup of this game will be a showcase of both teams' strengths. The Giants' sixth-ranked rushing offense, led by the resurgence of Saquon Barkley, is facing off against the Commanders' eighth-ranked rushing defense.
Barkley has rushed for less than 53 yards in 3 of the teams last 4 games, all of them losses, so it is easy to say that how he goes, the Giants go. The Commanders have done a good job of corralling premiere rushing attacks from the Eagles, Falcons, and Vikings of late, so it's not unfathomable they roll out a similar game plan to try and stop the Giants on the ground.
The red zone is the biggest situational matchup advantage for New York. The Giants score touchdowns about 6 percent more often in the red area than the Commanders do, while holding opponents to a field goal or less about 5 percent more often than Washington. In a game with a spread this tight, one successful red zone trip or stop can easily be the difference in the game.
One thing that counters red zone efficiency is big plays. The Commanders, especially when Taylor Heinicke is under center, have become a big play offense. They rank eighth in pass plays of more than 25 yards, while the Giants are dead last.
While I believe these teams are very even, the Commanders have a slight edge in the matchup department because their defense could force the Giants into a pass-first attack, which limits the ceiling on their offensive productivity.
Any Betting Trends To Be Aware of for This Game?
Yes, there are a host of them but unfortunately they don't provide a ton of clarity.
Home dogs are covering at 58% so far this season, and the Giants are already 2-0 at home against the spread when they are a dog. On the other hand, Taylor Heinicke is a perfect 6-0 against the spread this season. When both teams have exceeded expectations, we often see they have positive betting trends, so then it's best to dig into what the "sharp money" is doing surrounding this game.
So far in early betting, two-thirds of the bets against the spread are on the Giants to cover, yet 60% of the money wagered has been placed on the Commanders. Knowing that home divisional dogs are one of the most profitable spots in NFL gambling, it should raise alarm bells that the Commanders are receiving big bets from professional gamblers against that profitable trend.
Both the public and the pros seem to think this game will go under the total of 40.5 points, as nearly all of the money wagered on the total is on the under. This is more than likely why the total dropped from 42 points, where it opened this week.
How Should We Bet on This Game?
This divisional game is one of the most interesting of the weekend because of its impact on the playoff race. As a passionate NFL gambler, when you want to watch a game, it's even more fun with a little juice on the outcome.
I'm going to have a couple dollars on Taylor Heinicke and the Commanders this weekend, as long as the line stays under 3 points. I hate betting against a divisional home dog, but I think the Giants lack of a big play passing game is coming back to bite them, and the Commanders have the type of rush defense that can keep Saquon in check. I'm siding with the sharp money over the public in this matchup.
I will stay away from betting the total in this game--even though the whole world is on the under, I personally don't see a distinct edge there.
The Commanders cover and put themselves in great position to make the postseason with a 24-16 win.
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