Baltimore Ravens Jadeveon Clowney linebacker (24) pressures Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) in the second quarter at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

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AFC Divisional Playoffs: C.J. Stroud, Patrick Mahomes and inspired road dogs

OK, OK, C.J. Stroud, we get it. You’re not a rookie anymore.

Leading the Houston Texans to a rout of the Cleveland Browns, Stroud bucked all the rookie-QB-in-the-playoffs trends, and did so convincingly.

And this showing came the NFL’s league-leading defense in the regular season. Cleveland allowed a league-best 270 yards per game — almost 20 yards fewer than the next-best team.

Is that enough to forge a winning play in this matchup with the AFC No. 1 seed in Baltimore?

Read on for our main AFC play and a bonus bet along with a player prop.

THE HEADLINER

Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens
When: Saturday.
Time, TV: 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC.
Odds: Ravens -9.5, total 43.5.

Reasons to bet the Texans against the AFC No. 1 seed Baltimore Ravens must include more than just the eye test.

The odds-on NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year favorite, Stroud leads the Texans into this divisional round matchup as 9.5-point underdogs.

The Ravens are led by odds-on NFL MVP favorite Lamar Jackson, who is not infallible.

Over the past three seasons as a favorite of 3.5 points or more, he’s 6-16 ATS. It’s even worse when applying Saturday’s line.

Jackson is 1-8 ATS when leading a favorite of 7.5 points or more. Maybe he just enjoys a close game.

His playoff history is checkered, to put it kindly:

2018, lost to Chargers, 78.8 rating
2019, lost to Titans, 63.2 rating
2021, beat the Titans, 74.8 rating (Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill posted an 83 rating)
2021, Lost to Bills, 61.5 rating
2022, Did not play, injured.

Jackson is a true talent — the league MVP again very likely — and his legs might prove the difference Saturday.

But his playoff stats are what they are: a 1-3 record with three touchdown passes, five interceptions and a 55.9 completion percentage.

So if you’re talking perceived pressure, it’s all on Jackson and the Ravens; Stroud and the Texans come in waving wads of house money.

Here come the supporting (if selective) statistics to back our position:

Home favorites are just 42 percent against the spread (ATS) during the divisional round according to Action Network numbers over the past 20 years.

The No. 1 seeds are 35% ATS, and, fitting our narrative, if narrowly, are 10-25-1 ATS (29 percent) when they are favored by 10 points or fewer.

The most comfortable fit among the trends favoring Houston, however, is the “we don’t know any better” angle.

The Texans missed last season’s playoffs.

The Texans are the road team.

The Texans are rolling.

Per Action Network: Road teams that missed last year’s playoffs are 27-13 ATS (68 percent) in the past 40 divisional round games.

The bet: Texans +9.5.

BONUS PLAY

Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills, Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET, CBS
(Consensus line: Bills -2.5)

Quarterback Josh Allen and the Bills have fought through must-win games for weeks. The mentality suits them well, as you can see by Buffalo hosting a division-round game.

Counterpart Patrick Mahomes has led a flawed offense most of the season and plays his first ever true road playoff game (no, Super Bowls don’t count).

This is not likely to be the aerial show of past iterations. We’re expecting more running plays and a tight contest. Mahomes has the stats to back up the oddsmakers’ number.

Mahomes is a guy who rarely needs extra fuel, but when his team is an underdog, watch out. He’s 7-3 when the Chiefs are the underdog, and 8-1-1 in those games against the spread.

He’s not likely to be on the short end of a blowout.

In their meeting earlier this season in Kansas City, the teams combined for 37 points.

Buffalo’s defense, dented by injury as a team can be, has actually performed better in recent weeks. We’ll allow that holding down the Steelers offense is no great accomplishment.

The Chiefs have been under the posted game totals in five of their past six games.

The bet: Tease two-leg parlay, Chiefs +7.5 with the under 51.5 (-125 a DraftKings).

PLAYER PROP

There’s no questioning the competitiveness of these QBs. They will exhaust every option Sunday, and will eagerly tuck it and run. Let’s exploit that fearlessness.

The bet: Two-leg parlay, Josh Allen 30 or more rushing yards with Patrick Mahomes 25 or more rushing yards (-110 at BetMGM).

–Field Level Media

Field Level Media
Sport Writer & Editor
FLM has a North American focus while tying into regional and hyper-local resources – providing the ability to distribute compelling content through the writing of professional journalists. As the U.S. sports content provider to dozens of digital and print media publishers through strategic partnerships with the likes of Reuters and Nielsen Sports, FLM covers the nuts and bolts with a breaking news desk and game event coverage.

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