We made it through the NFL regular season and now it’s time for the real fun to start.
For the first time, we have six games on Wild Card Weekend. Of course, from a betting perspective, this is where things start to get more difficult. After all, most of the 14 teams in the playoffs have legitimate hopes of reaching the Super Bowl, so we should be expecting competitive playoff games that could go either way. Plus, there's always a surprise or two to take place during Wild Card Weekend.
In a season like this, it’d be a surprise if this weekend didn’t live up to its name. With that in mind, here are our betting selections for every game during Wild Card Weekend.
Buffalo Bills -6.5 vs Indianapolis Colts
There’s bound to be a couple of lopsided games in the first round of the playoffs, and this could be one of them. There’s no team in the NFL right now that’s hotter than the Bills. If not for Kyler Murray’s incredible “Hail Murray,” they would have finished the season on a 10-game winning streak.
The Bills have scored over 30 points in four of their last five games, including the 56 points they dropped on one of the best defensive teams in the NFL last week. Josh Allen has played close to an MVP level over the last month and the Buffalo offense is even more dangerous with John Brown back from injury.
In fairness, the Colts are no pushover, winning four of their last five games. The way rookie running back Jonathan Taylor has come on strong during that stretch makes them a threat to control the ball and keep Allen off the field. However, Indy was just 2-4 this season against teams that made the playoffs. Plus, Philip Rivers has never had much playoff success while playing in a cold and windy location that suits Allen a lot better than the aging Rivers.
We expect the Bills to pull away late and cover the spread.
Los Angeles Rams vs Seattle Seahawks, Under 42.5 points
With the status of Jared Goff unclear, we’re not sure what to think about this matchup. However, it seems likely that points will be at a premium. Even if Goff plays, he’s not going to be anywhere close to 100%. The Rams' rushing game has also been a little hit and miss this season. More importantly, when the Rams visited Seattle in Week 16, they managed just three field goals. They also failed to score an offensive touchdown in Week 17. Whether it’s Goff or John Wolford, the Rams will have a limited passing attack, so don’t expect them to score a lot of points.
On the other side of the ball, the Rams allowed the fewest points in the NFL this season. With Aaron Donald leading the way, the LA defense could do a lot of damage against a leaky Seattle offensive line. In fairness, Russell Wilson is always a threat to hit on the deep ball to either DK Metcalf or Tyler Lockett. However, we don’t see the Seahawks being able to sustain a lot of long drives, so it could be feast or famine for the Seattle offense.
After all, the Seahawks scored just 36 points against the Rams in two games this season, which has us leaning toward the under.
Washington Football Team +7.5 vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This game could end up being the biggest surprise of Wild Card Weekend. Forget about Washington’s pitiful 7-9 overall record. Just keep in mind that Ron Rivera’s team was 5-0 from Week 11 on when Alex Smith started at quarterback. To be fair, he’s not completely healthy and his numbers weren’t exactly eye-popping. But he’s a veteran who can handle the moment and manage the game. Plus, Washington could add a wrinkle by also giving backup Taylor Heinicke some playing time.
Meanwhile, we still find it difficult to trust the Buccaneers. Admittedly, they’ve won four in a row to close out the season. But we’ve also seen wild inconsistency from them at various points of the season. Perhaps more importantly, the Tampa Bay defense isn’t exactly a playoff-caliber defense. The Bucs rely a lot on blitzing, which can be a risky game to play against a veteran quarterback like Smith.
On the other side, the Washington defensive line is loaded with talent that could throw Tom Brady off his rhythm. Brady has looked good against some atrocious defensive teams down the stretch, but the Washington defense is poised to give him trouble and at least prevent the Buccaneers from covering the eight-point spread.
Baltimore Ravens -3.5 at Tennessee Titans
Siding with road favorites in the playoffs is always a tricky proposition. But the Ravens couldn’t have been more impressive over the last five games. They have rediscovered their identity as a run-heavy team that just happens to have the most athletic quarterback in the league. Baltimore is averaging 37 points per game over the last five weeks, and they’ve done so with Lamar Jackson posting rather modest passing stats. That spells trouble for a Tennessee defense that has struggled all season and given up 78 points over the last two weeks.
To be fair, Derrick Henry is the great equalizer after rushing for over 2,000 yards in 2020. The Ravens are well aware of what he can do after Henry led Tennessee’s upset of Baltimore in the playoffs last year. He also ran for 133 yards on 28 carries when the Titans beat the Ravens during the regular season. But the Ravens are a different team than they were when that game was played. They’re capable of beating the Titans at their own game and have a better defense than Tennessee, which is why we think Baltimore will win comfortably.
New Orleans Saints -10 vs Chicago Bears
The Bears deserve a fair amount of credit for turning things around after a six-game losing streak to make the playoffs. But last week’s 35-16 loss to the Packers is evidence that Chicago can’t compete with legitimate playoff teams. Keep in mind the Bears beat the Texans, Vikings and Jaguars down the stretch to reach eight wins while a 20-19 win over Tampa Bay early in the season is Chicago’s only win over a playoff team this season.
The Saints have averaged 38 points per game in the three games since Drew Brees returned from injury. While he’s been far from perfect, Brees is starting to round into form at the right time. Last week, New Orleans proved it can run the ball effectively even without Alvin Kamara available. They also have Taysom Hill to keep defenses on their toes.
The bottom line is that this isn’t the dominant Chicago defense from two years ago and Mitchell Trubisky can’t keep up with the NFL’s top-tier quarterbacks. This game is a mismatch and the Saints should turn it into a blowout in the second half.
Cleveland Browns +4 at Pittsburgh Steelers
Cleveland’s COVID crisis continues with head coach Kevin Stefanski being among the absentees for this week’s game. As a result, a lot of the betting action early in the week has sided with the Steelers. We like the Browns to at least beat the spread and make this a close game. After all, the Browns didn’t wait 18 years to get back to the playoffs just so they could lay an egg and get blown out by their biggest rival.
More importantly, the Browns don’t need Stefanski on the sidelines to understand their formula for winning. Cleveland’s backfield duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt holds the key to success against a Pittsburgh defense that has struggled to stop the run at various points during the season. Meanwhile, the Steelers finished the regular season with the fewest rushing yards in the NFL. Granted, the Cleveland defense isn’t particularly good. But the cat is out of the bag on Pittsburgh’s offensive strategy, which consists of Ben Roethlisberger throwing the ball 40-plus times, typically on short routes. In other words, the Browns can run the ball and the Steelers aren’t fooling anybody. If nothing else, that should lead to a close, low-scoring game, which is why we like the Browns to beat the spread, even if they lose.
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