NFL Wild Card Games: Analysis and Picks
This marks the 30th anniversary of the Fog Bowl. Fittingly, Philadelphia travels again to Chicago for the next generation’s rematch. However, there’s nothing foggy about what appears to be the optimal wagering strategy for the opening round of the NFL playoffs. The picture is clear.
[I know, that opening was really cheesy]
This weekend’s Wild Card games are tailor-made for basic strategy teasers, a.k.a. Wong Teasers. All four games provide the opportunity to cross key betting numbers — 3, 4, 6, and 7 by using the standard 6-point, 2-team teaser.
This strategy will weigh heavily into my wagers this week, with one significant deviation. All four games are handicapped below.
2018 NFL REGULAR SEASON RESULTS
STARTING BANKROLL: $10,000.
CURRENT BALANCE: $12,744. [+ $2,744.]
OVERALL W-L RECORD: 64 wins / 55 loses / 4 pushes
LAST WEEK’S RESULTS: 3 — 3 — 0 (- $410)
THIS WEEK’S PICKS: 7 plays — 2 teasers; 4 first-half bets; 1 game bet
Teaser: Indianapolis +7.5 / Seattle +8.5 — Risking $1,300 to win $1,000
I’m taking both underdogs in the Saturday games, teasing both teams over a touchdown to +7.5 and +8.5. Both games should be close, so the added points could be the deciding factor.
Colts: Indy and Houston split their divisional series this season. Both games were close and could have gone either way based on one-possession. Accordingly, taking +7.5 looks to have added value. Both teams know each other well, which I expect will produce another similar type game to the 3-point margins played earlier. Both teams closed the year strongly, but I was slightly more impressed with the Colts winning 9/10 down the stretch, the NFL’s best record within that span. Indy’s defense, considered by many to be the worst in the league when the season began, is improving steadily. QB Luck has proven himself to be an elite performer, capable of carrying a team. His playoff record isn’t good, but he’s now healthy and far more experienced in contrast to the younger Texans, led by a coach and starting QB involved in their first playoff game. The Colts played a slightly tougher schedule (7/16 games were against winning teams as opposed to just 5/16 by the Texans, who lost 3 of those contests). While Houston enjoyed a breakout season and won the division, oddsmakers apparently believe the Colts are the better team by virtue of the line — Houston minus 1.5 (which would be Indy -1.5 on a neutral field, given the 3-points given for home field advantage). In summation: The Colts beat the Texans four weeks ago; Luck is the more experienced, playoff-tested QB capable of being the game changer; Colts are slightly “hotter” at the moment winners of 9/10; and we teaser our live underdog up over a touchdown. All the stars line up here for an ideal teaser opportunity.
Seahawks: Seattle is another surprise team very few believed would make the playoffs (I had them going 6-10 this season). Credit a remarkable job by the coaching staff and QB Wilson, who I’ve stated means more to his team than any other player. Seahawks are way more playoff-tested, accustomed to these big games. Jason Garrett’s tenure in Dallas has been marked with nothing but mediocrity and playoff disappointment — just 1 playoff win in 9 full seasons. QB Prescott, already considered somewhat shakey, lost the only previous playoff game he started. Credit the Cowboys with an excellent rushing attack and solid defense, and we understand why they’re favored, especially at home. But playoff games often come down to coaching and quarterbacking and which players execute. Seattle was a tough team week-to-week, even in games they lost, which were close. In fact, Seattle didn’t lose any game this season by more than 8 points, and we’re getting +8.5 on the teaser. Keep in mind the Seahawks played against some high-octane offenses (Rams twice, Chiefs, Chargers) and were never blown out. Meanwhile, the Cowboys rarely win games by wide margins. They won 10 games this season and just 1 was by 8+ points, and that was 11 weeks ago. Seattle should be able to stay with the Cowboys every step of the way and are certainly capable of pulling off an outright upset.
Teaser: LA Chargers +8.5 / Philadelphia +12.5 — Risking $650 to win $500
I’m taking both underdogs in the Sunday games, teasing the teams over key numbers to +7.5 and +12.5, respectively. Note that the Philadelphia pick deviates from the standard Wong teaser strategy which calls for taking the Bears from -6.5 down to -.5. In this case, I believe the optimal play is with the playoff-tested, experienced defending Super Bowl champions getting double digits.
Chargers: This is the pick I’m most nervous about, one reason why I’m not betting this as heavily as the other teaser. Chargers have a reputation as a soft team, perhaps not up to the challenge of going on the road and beating Baltimore, historically known for playing tough defense. Then, there’s the humiliation the Chargers suffered just three weeks ago, being punked on their home field where the Ravens looked like the superior, better-coached team. However, we might be overreacting here to that game and the historical imagery associated with these two teams. We shouldn’t let this cloud our judgment. Chargers rank high in virtually every category that matters. They play well on the road having gone 7-1 on the highway, the lone loss at the Rams. Their road wins included outright victories as underdogs at Pittsburgh and Kansas City, known as tough environments for visitors. In my opinion, this game will come down to how QB Rivers performs. He’s entering the twilight of his career and has to look at this game and season as the make-or-break opportunity to reach the Super Bowl. I have to favor Rivers in this spot over an inexperienced, far less proven passer, Ravens QB Jackson who is making his first playoff start. Credit Jackson for his gifts as a runner and strong leadership skills. But this Ravens offense isn’t built on big plays. If Baltimore wins, the game should be close. So, I’m taking the +8.5 with the live dog.
Eagles: Standard teaser strategy suggests that we should take the favored Bears and bet on them to simply win the game (line shifts from -6.5 down to -.5). I understand the formula and am quite familiar with the historical results, which show positive +EV when betting this indiscriminately across the board. However, we’re talking here about two teams with very notable differences in playoff experience and perhaps even levels of confidence. The Eagles have been here before, with the coaching staff and starting QB coming off a dream season. Chicago meanwhile, with a rookie head coach and QB who’s looked shaky at times, remains unproven at this level. Bears looked sluggish down the stretch, especially on offense. So, I’m not convinced they’re worthy of expectations to cover -6.5, let along the teased addition up to double digits. So far, QB Trubisky is shaping up to be yet another in a long line of mediocre Bears’ QBs who looks better than he really is due to lots of help from the defense (giving Chicago advantages in field position and time of possession). He’s missing too many easy throws, which shouldn’t be happening nearly two seasons into his career. On the other hand, it’s clear QB Foles lit a spark with the Eagles, considered left for dead a month ago. Wentz’ injury may have been the best thing for this team, which now believes it can win and will certainly be inspired by nearly identical events last season. Eagles have shown they can beat anyone (winning against Texans, Rams, and should have beat Cowboys except for horrible officiating). I don’t see how Chicago blows out a team with this pedigree and confidence, so I’m teasing the underdog up to +12.5. Eagles also played a considerably tougher schedule, facing twice as many playoff teams (Bears only played three opponents that made the playoffs). Addressing the query of which side to tease, I simply believe it’s more likely the Eagles put up a tough fight and this is a close game than any certainty the Bears win the game teased at -.5. I don’t think anyone would be shocked to see Philadelphia win this game outright.
Five more wagers:
First Half: Indianapolis +.5 — Risking $220 to win $200
First Half: Seattle +.5 — Risking $220 to win $200
First Half: LA Chargers +1.5 — Risking $220 to win $200
First Half: Philadelphia +3.5 — Risking $22o to win $200
Game: Philadelphia +6.5 — Risking $330 to win $300
MY WAGERS ON NFL SEASON WIN TOTALS [FINAL RESULTS UPDATED – $3,475]:
Arizona Cardinals OVER 5.5 wins -180 — LOST $450
Buffalo Bills OVER 6 wins EVEN — PUSH
Cincinnati Bengals OVER 6.5 wins -170 — LOST $400
Dallas Cowboys UNDER 8.5 wins +110 — LOST $500
Detroit Lions UNDER 7.5 wins EVEN — WON $400
Houston Texans UNDER 8.5 wins +120 — LOST $400
Jacksonville Jaguars OVER 9 wins -145 — LOST $725
Indianapolis Colts UNDER 6.5 wins +170 — LOST $400
New Orleans Saints OVER 9.5 wins -145 — WON $500
Seattle Seahawks UNDER 8 wins -150 — LOST $1,500