The NFL postseason is upon us as eight teams take center stage this weekend in attempt to move one step closer to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in Miami next month, and there are plenty of intriguing questions to consider for football fans and bettors alike. In our NFL Wild Card predictions and picks, we will dig through the trends and other numbers in search of answers to some key questions ahead of the slate.
Questions such as can Tom Brady and the suddenly vulnerable Patriots stave off Ryan Tannehill and the upstart Titans?
Will the Bills hand Bill O’Brien’s squad yet another early playoff exit?
Can the Saints exorcise the demons of their recent excruciating postseason setbacks?
And will the Eagles’ unexpected late-season run led by Carson Wentz and a slew of practice squad players continue in a home upset of the Seahawks?
Really, all of these questions lead to one overarching inquiry–where should the money go this weekend? Without further ado, let’s get into it.
Bills vs. Texans
- Spread: Bills (+3), Texans (-3)
- Moneyline: Bills (+130), Texans (-148)
- Total: 44
- Date: Saturday, 4:35 pm, ESPN/ABC
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The first game of the weekend takes us to Houston where the Texans will look avoid an opening round exit for the second straight year. Following last season’s disappointing 21-7 loss to the Colts at NRG Stadium on Wild Card Weekend, there’s a considerable amount of pressure on Bill O’Brien’s team to avoid a repeat performance.
Houston will get back the services of defensive end J.J. Watt who leads the team in quarterback pressures despite missing eight games. That’s both a testament to Watt’s abilities and an indictment of a Texans defense ranked 26th by Football Outsiders DVOA measure.
They’ll desperately need Watt to turn up the heat on Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who is looking to end Buffalo’s 24-year playoff win drought in his first career postseason start. Speaking of which, recent history shows that quarterbacks making their first postseason starts have been bad bets. They were 1-3 last postseason and are 9-15 since the 2010 playoffs (this excludes games in which two playoff virgin quarterbacks faced one another).
While that’s not a promising trend, the Bills have excelled as an underdog with Allen at quarterback. Buffalo is 10-5-2 ATS as an underdog in his starts, including 7-2-2 ATS as road underdogs. Moreover, underdogs of three points or less are 31-22-3 ATS overall and 22-11-1 ATS on the road. Such teams are particularly good on the road in this situation during the wild card round with a 12-5-1 ATS mark. Keep an eye on the line as all wild card underdogs of 2.5 points or less (where the spread was earlier in the week) are 12-2-2 ATS.
Texans vs. Bills Pick
It feels like these late Saturday afternoon wild card games are always a dud, but I expect a compelling contest this time around. Ultimately, I love the trends on the short underdog, and I don’t particularly trust the Texans in this spot. My lean is on the Bills to pull the upset, but my action on the total.
Since the 2003 postseason, plays on the over are 26-10 in indoor non-Super Bowl playoff games, including 11-6 in the wild card round. Give me over 43.5 points.
Titans vs. Patriots
- Spread: Titans (+5), Patriots (-5)
- Moneyline: Titans (+190), Patriots (-220)
- Total: 45
- Date: Saturday, 8:15 pm, CBS
[sportsbook filters=”teams:Tennessee Titans,books:DraftKings”]
The last time the Patriots played in the wild card round was nearly 10 years ago. They will be looking for a much different outcome this time around from the 33-14 pasting applied by the Baltimore Ravens. New England fell behind 24-0 in the first quarter of that one, and some believe they are primed to be run over in similar fashion by the surging Titans.
Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill came out of nowhere this season to become the NFL’s highest rated passer (117.5), while Derrick Henry (1,540 yards, 5.1 ypc) heads the league’s third-best rushing attack (138.9 yards per game). The Titans present a daunting task for a New England squad that faltered down the stretch, including in last week’s shocking 27-24 home loss to the Dolphins—a loss that cost the Patriots a first-round bye.
Perhaps of equal concern for the Patriots is that they looked overmatched in losses to other AFC playoff teams such as the Chiefs, Texans, and Ravens (though they did hold off the Bills in Week 16), so I completely understand the love for the Titans in this game. Tom Brady looks washed leading a fledgling offense that lacks dynamic playmakers, while New England’s defense which played at a historically efficient level earlier this season has regressed down the stretch.
But still, this is the Patriots. At home. In the postseason. Are we really ready to take Ryan Tannehill, making his first postseason start, to hand the Patriots a second straight home defeat?
It’s true that postseason underdogs of 4.5 to 5.5 points are 10-4 ATS since ‘03 and that the Titans are 7-3 ATS in Tannehill’s 10 starts (7-2 ATS when Henry and Tannehill both play), but the Patriots have won 19 of 21 home games, including nine straight in the postseason. They’re also 15-4 ATS following a home loss over the last 17 seasons.
As for the total, the over is 9-1 in Tannehill’s starts and 6-3 in New England’s postseason home games with a closing total of less than 45 points since ‘03. That being said, the under is 40-24 in all wild card games since that time as well as 34-13 in non-dome games.
Titans vs. Patriots Pick
Look, I can absolutely see a scenario in which the Titans are an active dog, go into Gillette Stadium, and pull off an upset (or at least cover a fairly sizable spread), but I’m not going against Belichick, Brady, and what remains a well above average defense at home—especially early in the playoffs—especially after the embarrassment they suffered last week.
To me, this spread feels like a trap. If Tannehill can lead the Titans to an win, I’ll tip my cap—but I can’t put my money behind him. I’ll take the Patriots (-5) over the Titans.
Vikings vs. Saints
- Spread: Vikings (+7.5), Saints (-7.5)
- Moneyline: Vikings (+310), Saints (-375)
- Total: 50
- Date: Sunday, 1 pm, FOX
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The Saints will try to atone for their shocking 2017 playoff loss at Minnesota when they host the Vikings early Sunday afternoon. The betting public not only seems to think they will do so but do so with ease. As of early Friday morning, 65% of spread bets and 70% of the spread handle backs New Orleans over Minnesota. I’ll explain why that’s important in just a bit.
Anyway, it’s not all that hard to see why the public is backing the Saints. The Saints are 6-1 at home in the postseason with Drew Brees under center, and Kirk Cousins isn’t exactly known as a good big-game, high-stakes quarterback. Moreover, Cousins has been brutal against good teams throughout his career, posting a 10-24-1 record against opponents with a .600 record or better and a 7-18-1 mark against opponents with a .700 record or better. That said, Cousins is a more respectable 15-20 ATS against opponents with a .600+ record and 12-14 ATS against opponents with a .700+ record, so it’s not exactly as if he’s incapable of covering against good teams.
An argument can be made that the Saints are the NFC’s best overall team, and they were impressive in three straight wins to close out the regular season. On the other hand, the Vikings stumbled in a concerning home primetime loss to the Packers in Week 16 before a meaningless loss in their regular season finale. It’s hard to envision a scenario in which the heavily-favored Saints don’t advance to the NFC’s Divisional Round, particularly given that home favorites of at least 7.5 points are 9-2 ATS in the Wild Card Round and 3-0 ATS when favored between exactly 7.5 to 8 points. A cover, however, may prove more challenging. Consider the following:
- Despite a 6-1 SU postseason home record in Brees’ starts, the Saints are only 2-5 ATS.
- Postseason underdogs of 7-10 points are 31-16-1 ATS.
- Postseason underdogs of 7-9 points are 22-11-1 ATS.
I mentioned above that the public is all over New Orleans, and that’s important. Here’s why.
Betting against the public when it’s backing a big postseason favorite is an extraordinarily profitable strategy. When the spread is at least seven points and the public is on the favorite, underdogs of 7-10 points are a remarkable 23-6-1 ATS.
I don’t feel particularly strong about the game total, but as I noted earlier, plays on the over are 26-10 in non-Super Bowl indoor playoff games dating back to the 2003 postseason. Such plays are also 9-5 in all indoor postseason games with a total of at least 49.5 points.
Vikings vs. Saints Pick
I like the Saints to win the game, but I’m not in love with the idea of laying this many points against a respectable defense that can get after the passer and an offense that can run the football with a talented back like Dalvin Cook. Plus, there’s no way I can ignore the overall success of betting against the public when it backs a big postseason favorite. I’ll take the Vikings to cover (+7.5) against the Saints.
Seahawks vs. Eagles
- Spread: Seahawks (-1.5), Eagles (+1.5)
- Moneyline: Seahawks (-121), Eagles (+106)
- Total: 45
- Date: Sunday, 4:40 pm, NBC
[sportsbook filters=”teams:Philadelphia Eagles,books:DraftKings”]
The Eagles will be in a familiar spot Sunday when they host the Seahawks as underdogs. For the sixth time in six postseason games under head coach Doug Pederson, Philadelphia will be the underdog—and that’s good news. The Eagles are 4-1 SU and 5-0 ATS under Pederson as a postseason underdog, a role this team has seemingly fed off of in recent seasons.
The Eagles are in the playoffs thanks to a late-season surge led by Carson Wentz and a cast of relative unknowns that were able to outlast weak division opponents down the stretch, while the Seahawks were a win away last week from an NFC West title and a first-round bye. I mention all of this to say that I understand why Seattle is favored but also to say that they shouldn’t be.
With a +7 point-differential, Seattle has been the beneficiary of some extraordinarily good luck this season. That’s further evidenced by the fact that the Seahawks have been outgained by nearly seven yards per game. The reality is that Seattle performed much more like an 8 or 9-win team than an 11-win team. The Eagles, meanwhile, sport a +31 point-differential and outgained opponents by nearly 28 yards per game.
Credit goes to Russell Wilson, Pete Carroll and the rest of the Seahawks for finding ways to win close games late, but this is a mediocre team propped up by an outstanding quarterback. The injuries to Seattle’s backfield are real and substantial, and while the story of Marshawn Lynch’s return makes for a good narrative, an Eagles defense that is allowing only 90.1 yards per game (3rd best in the NFL) should be able to keep the duo of Lynch and Travis Homer in check.
On the other side of the football, the Eagles should be able to exploit a below average Seattle defense that ranks 26th in yards allowed per game (381.6).
In terms of trends, home teams that enter the playoffs on a four-game winning streak like the Eagles are on are only 6-9 ATS overall, including 2-7 ATS at home, but road teams entering the playoffs off of a loss are 6-13-1 ATS, including 0-3 ATS as a favorite.
What sticks out most is that underdogs of 2.5 points or less are an outstanding 17-4-2 ATS in the first two rounds of the playoffs, including 12-2-2 ATS in the wild card round.
As mentioned above, the under is 34-13 in outdoor wild card games, and it’s also 24-10 in games coached by Pederson at Lincoln Financial Field. In fact, Pederson has been the most profitable home coach on under plays over the past 17 seasons.
Finally, the under is 14-9 in non-Super Bowl postseason games when the total closes between 44-45.5 points and 7-2 in the opening round.
Seahawks vs. Eagles Pick
Not only do the Eagles have momentum, they’re at home, and I think they’re the better overall team. History suggests small underdogs are extremely active in the early rounds of the postseason, and I expect that trend to hold up here. I also love that the public is all over Seattle, so I’m going with Eagles (+1.5) over the Seahawks.