NFL Analysis and Picks (Wild Card Playoff Games)
In this report, my objectives are to provide the following:
(1) Some general concepts and helpful trends that apply to betting on Wild Card playoff games.
(2) An analysis of all six games this weekend.
(3) Picks on each game.
(4) Hopefully, more winners than losers — and a profitable weekend.
Oh, and first and foremost — let’s give massive props to Daman Hamlin, the Buffalo Bills’ star defensive player who continues to make a miraculous recovery.
NFL WAGERING RECORD (2022-23)
Starting Bankroll: $10,000.
Current Bankroll: $14,168.
Net Gain/Loss: + $4,168.
ANALYSIS OF ALL SIX GAMES:
MON: 8:15 ET / 5:15 PT
DALLAS (-2.5) at TAMPA BAY
The Cowboys have never beaten Tom Brady. Dallas is 0-7 all-time against the Bucs’ QB, including a Week 1 loss, when Tampa Bay topped Dallas 19-3. Even though the Bucs have been an awful team against the spread this season (4-12-1), they are now healthy for the first time since September. Meanwhile, Dallas is notorious for playoff meltdowns–will their misery continue?
Betting on the Bucs is problematic. Tampa Bay was the worst team in the NFL against the spread this regular season. They went 4-12-1 vs. the number. Takeaway the Weeks 1 and 2, and Bucs are even worse; just 2-12-1 ATS in their last 15 games.
Dallas is a horrific playoff team historically speaking, dating all the way back to their last Super Bowl win way back in 1995. They’re just 1-6 ATS in their last 7 playoff games. Dallas is also a bad late-season team, going just 2-13 ATS in their last 15 games played in January. Yet, the Cowboys have been a surprisingly solid bet as a road team, going 12-5 ATS in their last 17 games as the visitor.
This series has produced an unusually high number of UNDERs, going 12-3 UNDER in the past 15 meetings. Not sure if this matters, but 75 percent UNDERs in any series is worth mentioning.
THE PICK: The Bucs staged comebacks in a few late-season games that inspired team confidence. Tampa Bay may have been one of the worst bets of the season to cover as a favorite, but now that they’re underdogs (at home!), the betting markets may have overadjusted. It’s exceedingly rare to find value in anything associated with Tom Brady, and this is such an example. It’s also been reported the Bucs are much healthier now than in mid-season. Tampa Bay’s defense was solid, but faded around midseason. If they play anywhere near the way they dominated the Cowboys in the season opener, the Bucs should win in an upset. Dallas can never be relied upon to win in the playoffs, and laying points here makes no sense at all. I’d take +3 with the Bucs, but since that number isn’t available, instead I’ll go with the Wong teaser on the underdog.
Teaser: Tampa Bay +8.5 / Cincinnati -3.5 (-120) — Risking $240 to win $200………PENDING
COMPLETED EARLIER: (4 wins, 3 losses, net–plus $140)
SAT: 4:30 ET / 1:30 PT
SEATTLE at SAN FRANCISCO (-9.5)
This is the third meeting between these two NFC West rivals this season. San Francisco won the first two games by a combined score of 49-20, and neither games were that close. The real star for the 49ers was their #1-ranked defense, which shut down Seattle in both games. Way back in Week 2, the 49ers beat the Seahawks 27-7. San Francisco won again in Week 15 by a 21-13 score.
One angle that might be working in Seattle’s favor is that rookie NFL quarterbacks tend to struggle in playoff games, going 9-18 ATS since 1983. Rookie Brock Purdy will start this week for San Francisco. However, Seattle is a borderline double-digit underdog (some sportsbooks have this at -10). The Seahawks are just 2-8 ATS as double-digit underdogs dating back to 2010 under Pete Carroll. There’s also major concern about Seattle’s recent form. After starting the season as one of the NFL’s biggest surprises at 7-4, the Seahawks are just 1-7 ATS in their last 8 games (and 7-10 ATS overall this season)
San Francisco is the NFL’s hottest team and has actually improved with a third-string rookie quarterback. No one foresaw this happening, not even 49ers fans. The Niners have won 10 straight games SU and have gone 8-2 ATS in those games (11-6 ATS overall this season). San Francisco Dating back to last season, the 49ers are 16-6 ATS in their last 22 games. And, San Francisco isn’t just on a roll this season. The 49ers are 12-1 SU and 11-2 ATS in their last 13 home games. The 49ers are also 18-4-1 ATS in their previous 23 games played in January.
One data point, which may/may not be relevant: Even though San Francisco swept the regular season divisional series, the Seahawks previously dominated the 49ers in this intense rivalry, going 15-4 SU in their last 19 games against San Francisco.
As for betting the total, the UNDER is 8-1 in the previous nine San Francisco playoff games.
THE PICK: I like the UNDER 43. I posted strong UNDER trends on playoff games, including recent SFO playoff games. We have an average total here that doesn’t account for the strength of the 49ers’ defense, which is the best in the league. This unit also held SEA to 20 points in two games. So, if the OVER cashes the points likely have to come from SFO’s offense. Credit rookie QB Purdy for a stellar performance, 5-0 as a starter, and multiple touchdown passes in each game. But that streak might stop here. Given that rookies often fare poorly in their first playoff starts, coach Kyle Shanahan will probably draw up a run-heavy gameplan, taking advantage of duel-threat RB Christian McCaffrey. SEA’s run defense ranks #30, so SFO should run the ball more than normal, and let the defense suffocate the Seahawks. The 49ers run the ball on 48 percent of snaps, which is the seventh-highest rate in the league — that number will be higher this week, which should keep the clock moving. Even though SEA fields a bad defense, 4 of their last 5 games have fallen UNDER the total.
UNDER 43 (Game Total) — Risking $220 to win $200……….LOST
UPDATE——(courtesy of Russ Fox) Another reason to like the under for SEA-SFO is the weather forecast: “Rain. High near 58. South southeast wind around 11 mph becoming southwest in the afternoon. Winds could gust as high as 29 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New precipitation amounts between a half and three-quarters of an inch possible.”
SAT: 8:15 ET / 5:15 PT
LA CHARGERS (-1) at JACKSONVILLE
Both teams are riding hot streaks coming into the playoffs: The Jags have rolled off 5 straight wins; The Chargers had 4 straight wins before losing a meaningless season finale. This is a rematch of one of the most shocking games of the year. Back in Week 3, Jacksonville destroyed the Chargers 38-10 in Los Angeles.
Even though LA Chargers have the better season W-L record, Jacksonville hosts the playoff game since they won their division, whereas the Chargers were a Wild Card team. The Chargers went through a season of ups and down, including some key injuries that wiped out any chance to catch Kansas City in the AFC West. So, the Chargers have to be pleased with this spot. They are 7-2-1 ATS in their last 10 games. The Chargers were 11-5-1 ATS overall this season, one of the best betting results in the league. The Chargers are 7-2 ATS in their last 9 games on the road. Finally, the Chargers are 9-2 SU in their last 11 games as the favorite. They’re laying a point (-1) in this game.
As for the Jaguars, they are 2-10 ATS in their last 12 games against the LA Chargers. But we can probably dismiss this stat since this is not the same old bad Jaguars we’ve been used to seeing. The Jaguars were only 8-9 ATS overall this season. However, under first-year head coach (and a previous Super Bowl winner, with the Eagles) Doug Peterson, the Jags made a major turnaround and went 6-3 ATS in their final nine games.
This is the first playoff game for both QBs. Justin Herbert enjoyed the more consistent season. However, the Jaguars field the superior rushing attack. Let’s give the edge to Peterson over Staley in coaching. Some reports have surfaced that (often criticized) Staley is out if he doesn’t win this game. Not sure what impact that will have if it’s true.
THE PICK: The Chargers are the more talented team. For this reason, I’ll take them and lay -1. What we saw from the Jaguars last week in that must-win game against the Titans was alarming. It took a late defensive touchdown to win the game. The Jags had the benefit of playing some really bad offenses in their final three games — HOU, NYJ, and TEN. When they face strong passing attacks, it’s a different story. Justin Herbert has been waiting for this game for a couple of years after being anointed as the franchise savior, so the pressure is on to win and advance. I’m not sure that same urgency exists with Jacksonville, which is likely happy just to be here in the playoffs. Of course, these premonitions don’t matter once the ball is kicked off, but there’s enough confidence here to take the Chargers.
LA Chargers -1 (-110) — Risking $220 to win $200……….LOST
SUN: 1:00 ET / 10 am PT
MIAMI at BUFFALO (-10.5) (-13)
Miami and Buffalo split their season series. Each team won at home. But don’t forget that Miami’s home win was ludicrous, especially if you look at the stats from that game (the Bills dominated). That aside, let’s acknowledge that both divisional games were decided by three points or less and one never ever knows what might happen when rivals meet in the playoffs. The biggest pregame issue coming into Sunday is the starting quarterback for the Dolphins. Both Tua Tagovailoa and Teddy Bridgewater were questionable early in the week (update–on Wednesday night, Taglovailoa is said to be out). Given so many questions about the Dolphins and the Bills being the home team, Buffalo is clearly the right betting side, especially in a cold-weather environment. But will they cover double digits in a game against a feisty team that played them tough in both previous games? Note: Based on the breaking MIA QB injury news, the line moved from +10.5 to +13
Buffalo has dominated this series at home, of late. The Bills are 10-1 SU in their last 11 games when hosting Miami. The Bills are also 11-1 SU in their last 12 games at home. But, they are just 8-8 ATS overall this season. So, Buffalo wins, but their reliability as a team that covers is questionable. Buffalo is often favored by these kinds of (high) numbers, which the Bills have struggled doing this season.
The problem with betting on the underdog is, the Dolphins are spoiled fish. Miami stumbled badly into the playoffs, losing 5 of their final 6 games. The Dolphins’ only win during the downward stretch was an ugly 11-6 victory in Week 18 vs. the NY Jets. This doesn’t appear to be the same team we saw in October, and the offense loses confidence without Taglivailoa.
We also must consider the impact of Hamlin’s injury and his emotional impact on the team. The Bills got two thrilling KO returns for touchdowns last week. Otherwise, that was a much closer game. The Hamlin situation had to be a distraction to Buffalo last Sunday, which won’t be nearly as much the case this weekend. Hamlin back home in Buffalo also makes this a positive for the Bills. We can’t accurately predict what all this means. We can probably agree there the reasons to bet Buffalo is voluminous.
THE PICK: I bet Buffalo early in the week at -10.5 but for the purposes of grading, I’ll also pick them at -13. The Bills have been here before, and are one of the most balanced teams in the NFL, ranking second in offense, fourth in defense, and the NFL’s best in average scoring margin (+10.6 points per game). Meanwhile, the Dolphins’ defense collapsed down the stretch, allowing five of its final six opponents to score 23+ points. Let’s also note that QB Josh Allen has dominated the Dolphins at Orchard Park. The average scoring margin of the five games in which Allen has faced Miami at home is +16 — with a 27/5 TD/INT ratio. Finally, Buffalo has posted 32+ points in each of its last three games, while Miami has scored 22 points or fewer in five of its last six games. Lay the heavy number.
Buffalo -13 (Game Line) — Risking $220 to win $200
SUN: 4:30 ET / 1:30 PT
NY GIANTS at MINNESOTA (-3)
These two teams played a nail-biter on Christmas Eve that was decided on a last-second 61-yard field goal. The Giants outgained the Vikings 445-353, however, they lost the turnover battle (-2). Minnesota remains a mystery, going 13-4, but also getting outscored by its opposition over the course of the season. So, many consider them a fraud (I agree). But let’s also give the Vikings their due for making the big plays when they’re most needed and running away with the NFC North title by midseason. Somehow, this team just wins. The Giants are just as much a surprise. No one expected this team to make the playoffs. Incredibly, the Giants are the NFL’s best team against the spread this season.
Let me repeat: The Giants went 13-4 ATS overall this season, which was the best record in the NFL. Who would have thought the Giants would be a gambler’s best friend? The Giants are also 10-2 ATS in their last 12 games as an underdog, so they exceed expectations against superior teams. Moreover, the Giants are 7-1 ATS in their last 8 road games on the road (and 28-12 ATS in their past 40 games on road dating back the last five seasons). I’m not sure how much of this remains valid, but a team that hits 70 percent on the road is a statistical anomaly.
But for those who think taking the Giants plus the points is an automatic decision, incredibly, the Vikings have won 15 straight games (SU) as a betting favorite. Yes, they win. They don’t cover nearly as often. Again, not sure how much weight, if any we should give this, but the Giants have lost 5 in a row SU at Minnesota.
For those interested in the total, the Vikings have been a great OVER bet. The OVER is 11-4 in Minnesota’s last 15 games.
THE PICKS: With so many variables, I’m taking the NY Giants plus the points. I’m also teasing the Giants. I can’t ignore betting markets constantly underestimating the Giants. We also have to be concerned that when Minnesota wins, they do so by small margins. It’s very possible the Vikings win this game, but do not cover. So, I’ll grab the points.
NY Giants +3 (Game Line) — Risking $220 to win $200……….WON
Teaser: NY Giants +9 / Cincinnati -3 (-120) — Risking $240 to win $200……….WON
SUN: 8:15 ET / 5:15 PT
BALTIMORE at CINCINNATI (-6.5) (-9.5)
Will QB Lamar Jackson (injured knee) play on Sunday, and even if he does, will it matter? Midweek reports say no–he’s out. When the line moved from -6.5 to -9.5, that looks like solid confirmation. However, I don’t always trust the early injury reports and coaching pronouncements (recall some midseason shenanigans on this point that cost us money based on bad info).
The Bengals (12-4) beat the Ravens (10-7) easily by 11 points last week and are on an 8-1-1 ATS roll. Contrast this with the Ravens, which are stumbling into the playoffs with a woeful 2-5-1 ATS mark in their last 8 games. Everyone knows the Baltimore offense is terrible with Tyler Huntley in the backup QB role. This likely means for the Ravens to win, the defense will need to come up with a huge game. Yes, that could happen. But it puts too much pressure on one unit to bet with confidence.
These two division rivals split their series. Jackson led the Ravens to a 19-17 win over the Bengals way back in Week 5. However, the Bengals got their revenge with a 27-16 win in Week 18 with Jackson on the bench with an injury. Now, here they are again just a week later.
No team has been a better bet the last season and a half than Cincinnati. The Bengals are 20-4 ATS in their last 24 games, which is the hottest streak of any NFL team in that span.
Even with the Ravens’ recent troubles, they are 18-4-1 ATS in their last 23 games as an underdog.
Both of these teams have been great UNDER bets all season long. Baltimore was the NFL’s best UNDER team, going 12-5 to the UNDER, while Cincinnati was 9-6-1 to the UNDER this season.
THE PICK: Everyone will be on Cincy in this game, which is a testament to their hot streak. They’ve shaken off the “Super Bowl loser” stigma, which for many years has been a reliable fade wager. The Bengals appear to be improving each week, whereas the Ravens — especially on offense — don’t look like they belong in the playoffs. The Bengals were worth a wager at -6.5 and should have been hit then based on reports. Now that the line is up to -9.5, we’ve lost all the value and this is a pass. So, instead, I’ll tease this down to -3.5.
I’m also playing OVER on two WR Chase props. The Cincy receiver is Joe Burrow’s favorite target, and he’s likely to continue his success this week. The O/U on catches is 6.5 and we see Chase has exceeded that number in 8 straight starts — 8, 8, 7 10, 7, 8, 7, and 7, respectively. Yardage-wise, he’s listed at 75.5 and has exceeded that number in 6 of his last 8 starts, including three 100-yard games. Supposedly, the Baltimore defense is better than average, but last week vs. Ravens, Chase caught 8 balls for 86 yards. So, with more on the line here in the playoffs, we can probably expect similar game planning and numbers. Weather should be above freezing with wind no factor.
Teaser: Cincinnati -3.5 / NY Giants +9 (-120) — Risking $240 to win $200……….WON
Teaser: Cincinnati -3.5 / Tampa Bay +8.5 (-120) — Risking $240 to win $200
Player Prop: Ja’Marr Chase Total Receptions OVER 6.5 (EVEN) — Risking $200 to win $200……….WON
Player Prop: Ja’Marr Chase Total Receiving Yards OVER 75.5 (-115) — Risking $230 to win $200……….WON
GENERAL BETTING CONCEPTS:
Wild Card weekend includes six playoff games. Two games are played this coming Saturday. Three more will kick off on Sunday. And, there’s a Monday night game, as well.
All six playoff games in the opening round will feature re-matches from the regular season. That’s the first time this happened since 2009.
Until last season’s playoffs, underdogs had been on a great run in Wild Card games. First-round playoff pups were 15-3 ATS over the previous 18 games, up until January 2022. Then, the favorites collared the dogs and went 5-1 ATS. That’s still a very persuasive 16-8 run for underdogs in the last four seasons.
Last season in this round, all six home teams were favorites. However, this year both Jacksonville (+1) and Tampa Bay (+2.5) opened as home underdogs to the Chargers and Cowboys, respectively.
Since 2017, the UNDER has gone 30-14 in NFL playoff action. That’s an impossible data point to ignore.