We’re finally here! In just about an hour (at the time of writing), the NFL postseason kicks off in Cincinnati when the Bengals host the Raiders. And as fun as regular season sports betting is, the postseason is a completely different rush.
A fun season of Monday Night Football Best Bets has come to an end, but it’s only paved the way for some more expansive postseason betting pieces. As Super Wild Card Weekend gets underway, here’s our picks for the first slate of games.
Raiders at Bengals (-5.5)
Maybe it’s unwarranted hype or maybe it’s the backlash from Las Vegas’ last-second win against the Chargers last Sunday, but the Bengals are quickly gaining traction as a Super Bowl sleeper. And while it’s easy to succumb to that pressure and underwhelm, there’s plenty of reasons to believe why that won’t be the case for Cincinnati.
For starters, they’re rested. Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon, Tee Higgins and a number of defensive starters didn’t play in the regular season finale. Ja’Marr Chase saw limited snaps. The Bengals are essentially coming off a bye week.
And even when they were playing, remember how white-hot Burrow was? In his finally two games of the season, he threw for over 900 yards and led his team to 75 points over two weeks.
On the other side of the ball, the Raiders boast the worst defense out of anyone still remaining. Of the fourteen playoff teams, they concede the most yards and points per game on defense, and they don’t do particularly well at keeping running backs out of the end zone. That’s good news for Mixon, who’s scored sixteen touchdowns this season and can be dynamic in both the run game and the pass game.
The pick: Bengals -5.5
Patriots at Bills (-4.5)
If this were a Best Bets article, I’d be saying to grab the UNDER without even thinking about it. The league’s two best defenses will both be in Buffalo this weekend doing business against each other. What’s interesting, though, is how they got here. We always knew the Bills defense was elite. It had been. When they soared to the top of the yards and points allowed charts, nobody was surprised. But the Patriots, who many expected to hypothetically punt on the season with a rookie quarterback and few weapons around him, were led by their defensive unit for much of the season, best exemplified by a 13-10 win in Buffalo on Monday Night Football.
But alas, this is not a Best Bets article. It’s a line-picking article, and when it’s a game between two elite defenses, I’ll use two things to make my prediction: the home team and the better quarterback. Both favor Buffalo.
The pick: Bills -4.5
Eagles at Buccaneers (-7.5)
These teams met earlier in the season (Tampa Bay won 28-22), but both the Eagles and the Buccaneers enter this game with some pretty significant injury concerns. Tampa Bay’s are well-documented – Antonio Brown’s captivating departure against the Jets quickly made the rounds on social media, but the Bucs are also missing Chris Godwin and Cyril Grayson, whose role has increased in the latter weeks of the season.
The Eagles, though, will also be without Miles Sanders, who has been crucial to the team’s league-best rushing attack. He complements Jalen Hurts’ legs well, and he can also make plays out of the backfield, meaning his loss will be felt in more ways than one. That said, with both teams weakened and with bad weather in the forecast, points could be hard to come by. I’m comfortable with taking the Eagles as the dog.
The pick: Eagles +7.5
49ers at Cowboys (-3.5)
This is the game that I’ve been flaking on since I started writing this article. On paper, the Cowboys should run away with this game. The league’s best offense at home against a wild card team? Cowboys, sharpie.
But it’s not that easy. Putting the low-hanging narrative surrounding Dallas’ postseason woes to the side, Dallas’ numbers are a bit misleading when you remove their games against the NFC East. Against divisional opponents, they were 6-0 and averaged 40 points a game. But in games outside of the division, they went 6-5 and only won one game by more than ten points. I’m not backing down on the Cowboys – I said they were thickly in the Super Bowl discussion just yesterday – but they could be in for a tricky test against a team that’s quietly emerged as one of the most balanced in the league.
The pick: 49ers +3.5
Steelers at Chiefs (-12)
Folks, spreads this big simply do not belong in the NFL postseason. A 12-point underdog should never be playing extra football unless their team bus stalls out on their way to the stadium and the local high school needs to take its place.
But this – this is completely deserved.
The Steelers have done well to come alive late and snatch a postseason spot on the final week of the season, but let’s not forget what Pittsburgh is. They are the worst team in the playoff field with the worst quarterback in the playoff field and the second-worst defense in the playoff field. They’re taking on the hottest team in the league since Week 8. Don’t overthink it.
The pick: Chiefs -12
Cardinals at Rams (-3.5)
The Cardinals and Rams enter the playoffs on completely different notes. Arizona, once the cream of the crop in the NFC West (and for some time, the NFC as a whole) limp into the postseason having lost four of their last five games, including humiliating defeats to the Lions and Seahawks. The Rams, on the other hand, went 5-1 from Week 13 and beyond, snatching the divisional crown and earning home-field advantage.
The Rams aren’t a perfect football team, but the Cardinals have been barely competent since losing DeAndre Hopkins to a season-ending injury. They clearly haven’t been able to figure out how to cope without one of the best receivers in the league, and while it may be tempting to take Kyler over Stafford, I’ll take the Rams to cover the modest line at home.
The pick: Rams -3.5