Expert NFL Picks for Every Game on Super Wild Card Weekend
This is NFL Best Bets, a recurring series in which professional sports handicappers lend us their insights and picks for the most intriguing matchups for each week of the football season.
For this edition of Best Bets, Thomas Gable, the director of race and sportsbook at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City and sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum of VSiN share their opinions for all six Super Wild Card Weekend games, some of which could be affected by the seemingly endless stream of positive COVID-19 tests in the NFL.
You’ve got places to go, people to see and possibly some wagers to make, so let’s get to it.
Las Vegas Raiders (+5.5, O/U 49) at Cincinnati Bengals
A compelling matchup because … when these teams met in November in Las Vegas, the Bengals trounced the Raiders by nearly 20 points as Joe Mixon ran wild and Cincy’s defense shut down the home team. This time around, the Raiders will have to travel across the country for a Saturday afternoon game after playing into overtime on Sunday night in a victory over the Chargers. It will be the first playoff game for starting quarterbacks Joe Burrow (Bengals) and Derek Carr (Raiders). Both teams finished with the same 10-7 record, but the Bengals are +84 in point differential on the season while the Raiders are -65, substantially worse than many non-playoff teams.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Raiders (10-7 SU, 8-9 ATS) were left for dead but won four straight down the stretch to sneak in as the No. 5 seed. The Raiders just upset the Chargers 35-32, winning outright as 3-point home dogs. Meanwhile, the Bengals (10-7 SU, 10-7 ATS) are the No. 4 seed after winning the AFC North. Cincinnati rested their starters in Week 18, losing to the Browns 21-16 but covering as 6.5-point road dogs. This line opened with the Bengals listed as a 6.5-point home favorite. Respected money jumped on the Raiders plus the points, dropping the line from 6.5 to 5.5. Playoff dogs are 61-50 ATS (55%) over the past decade. Playoff dogs against teams who missed the playoffs the previous season are 20-10 ATS (67%). Playoff dogs with a line move in their favor are 28-8 ATS (78%). I’ll sweat the Raiders +5.5.
Gable’s Guess: The Bengals got to rest everyone on Sunday in Week 18 while the Raiders had to play an overtime game. I think the rest aspect certainly will play into this Saturday game. The Bengals’ offensive line is the weak link on this team and they still have health issues. More than likely, there are going to be backups playing on an offensive line that already isn’t very good. The Raiders do have a decent pass rush and Las Vegas has gotten the job done when it was needed the most. I know the Bengals have a high-powered offense. The question is whether the Raiders can keep up with them. The Raiders do not score a lot of points. So I’m actually going to look at the under here.
Our Pick: The Raiders have defied expectations all year. That’s gotta stop. Lay the points with Cincy.
New England Patriots (+4.5, O/U 44) at Buffalo Bills
A compelling matchup because … in a rare “threematch,” the Patriots and Bills will play for the third time this season. After each team won on the road in the earlier matchups, the rubber match will take place in Orchard Park outside Buffalo in weather conditions that are going to be frigid and possibly feature snow and strong winds. Having won three of the last four games between the two teams and the AFC East for a second consecutive season, the Bills have substantially more to lose than the Patriots, who will see how rookie QB Mac Jones handles the first playoff start of his NFL career. The last full-time rookie starting quarterback to win a postseason game was Russell Wilson in 2012.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: These AFC East rivals trended in opposite directions down the stretch. The Patriots (10-7 SU, 10-7 ATS) lost three of their last four and just fell to the Dolphins 33-24, losing outright as 6-point road favorites. On the flip side, the Bills (11-6 SU, 9-6-2 ATS) ended the regular season with four straight wins, including a 27-10 win over the Jets in their season finale, covering as 16-point home favorites. This line opened with Buffalo listed as a 4.5-point home favorite. The recency-biased public is happy to lay the short number with the Bills at home, yet we’ve seen this line fall from 4.5 to 4. This signals some sharp reverse-line movement buying low on New England. Divisional dogs in the playoffs are 9-4 ATS (69%) over the past decade. The Pats also have value as a divisional dog in a low total game. I’ll take New England +4.5.
Gable’s Guess: Patriots have lost three of their last four games. Prior to that stretch, the Patriots had a seven-game winning streak going. During that streak, Jones was playing great, with nine touchdown passes and only two interceptions. In the last four games, he has six touchdown passes, but five interceptions and a lost fumble. A rookie quarterback on the road in his first playoff game will certainly be feeling the pressure. When the Bills beat the Patriots a few weeks ago, Josh Allen had a big game with 314 yards, three TDs and 64 additional yards on the ground. So much of Buffalo’s offense is predicated on what Allen does passing and also rushing. He’s a tough player to tackle with his size and his strength. I think with this being the third time these two teams are meeting the number is a little high. I’m going to take the points here with the Patriots.
Our Pick: The winner of this game may hinge on a turnover. If the Pats get one, they should cover. Taking the points.
Philadelphia Eagles (+8.5, O/U 46) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A compelling matchup because … the last time Tom Brady faced the Philadelphia Eagles in the postseason, he threw for more than 500 yards and lost the Super Bowl. The last time he faced off against the Eagles in the regular season, it was earlier this year and the Bucs won by six on the road in Philly. On Sunday, the Eagles will be playing in Tampa against a depleted Buccaneers team that is attempting to repeat as champions despite losing many key pieces in recent weeks. The Eagles didn’t play many of their starters in a loss Sunday and should be fresh, but the gap in talent and postseason experience between the two teams is quite large, hence the large spread.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Eagles (9-8 SU, 8-8-1 ATS) have been playing pretty well, going 6-2 over their last eight games to secure a Wild Card berth. Meanwhile, the Bucs (13-4 SU, 9-8 ATS) tied the Packers for the best record in the NFL and Brady is +850 to repeat as a Super Bowl champion. This line opened with Tampa Bay listed as an 8.5-point home favorite. The public is rushing to the window to lay the points but the line really hasn’t budged. That signals some liability on the road dog Eagles. Tampa Bay will be a popular teaser play (-8.5 to -2.5), which goes through multiple key numbers. I like the under in this game. The total opened at 49 and has fallen to 46. Why? The forecast calls for rain and 20 MPH winds.
Gable’s Guess: This game is a tough proposition for the Eagles. They’ve found so much success this year running the football, but the strength of this Tampa defense is how they defend the run. That means Eagles fans and bettors will have to place their trust in Jalen Hurts’s ability to throw the football. The Eagles are a tough team to figure out. They’re here because of the second half the season. They beat everyone they needed to to get into the playoffs, but there was only one team who finished with a winning record that they beat. They are optimistic they’ll get running back Miles Sanders back as he’s been out with a broken hand. When these two teams met earlier, the Eagles got a backdoor cover but were never really a threat to win that game. The strength of this Eagles team is their offensive line and Hurts should have decent protection in this game. Look for them to try to exploit Tampa over the middle and for tight end Dallas Goedert to have a big game for the Eagles. If they can do that, I think the Eagles can stay within the spread. I’m going to take the points here with Philly.
Our Pick: The number is a tricky one and strong winds usually equal low totals. We’ll side with the under.
San Francisco 49ers (+3, O/U 51) at Dallas Cowboys
A compelling matchup because … in a showdown between two classic NFC powerhouses that are back in the playoffs after injuries last season had them near the bottom of the league, James Garoppolo will lead the 49ers into the House That Jerry Built for a game against Dak Prescott and the Cowboys. Garoppolo’s only postseason starts (2-1) came two years ago when the 49ers made a Super Bowl run that ended with a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Prescott also only has three playoff starts under his belt and has a record of 1-2, with the second loss coming all the way back in 2018.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: The 49ers (10-7 SU, 9-8 ATS) went 7-2 down the stretch to earn the No. 6 seed. San Francisco just upset the Rams 27-24, winning outright as 3.5-point road dogs. Similarly, the Cowboys (12-5 SU, 13-4 ATS) went 5-1 in their last six to win the AFC East and earn the No. 3 seed. Dallas crushed Philadelphia 51-26, easily covering as 6.5-point road dogs. This line opened with Dallas listed as a 3-point home favorite. The public is all over the Cowboys as a short home favorite. However, this line has remained frozen at 3, signaling some liability on the road dog. Sharps may be waiting for a hook to pop on the 49ers (+3.5). Kyle Shanahan is 25-18 ATS (58%) as a dog in his career. Playoff dogs against teams who missed the postseason the previous year are 20-10 ATS (67%) over the past decade. Give me San Francisco plus the points.
Gable’s Guess: The Niners finished the season as the No. 3 defense in the league. The Cowboys were one of the top offenses in the league and I think the most important person on the sidelines will be Dallas offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. We know Dallas has the weapons, but they were stymied by Arizona two weeks ago. I’m sure Moore would love to get Ezekiel Elliot going early, but he’s shown me nothing to think he’ll be able to have any success against San Francisco’s front seven. I also worry about the Dallas kicking game as well. When you look at San Francisco’s offense, it’s not exactly a lot of firepower. Garoppolo is certainly capable of making plays, but he’s inconsistent. They run the ball really well, but they’re also prone to turnovers, which Dallas has feasted on at times this season. San Francisco’s too inconsistent. I think they’re certainly capable of beating Dallas, but I’m just not sure which Niners team is going to show up. I’ll hold out for the 2.5 if I can get it. If not, I’ll lay the three with Dallas.
Our Pick: It’s another square play, but it feels like the Cowboys are on another level if they play well. Lay the points.
Pittsburgh Steelers (+12.5, O/U 46.5) at Kansas City Chiefs
A compelling matchup because … the Steelers have been playing must-win games for what feels like an eternity and have a record of 3-1 over the last month. The lone defeat during that span came at the hands of the Chiefs, who spanked the Steelers 36-10 a few weeks back in Kansas City. The Steelers will have to play at Arrowhead Stadium once again on Sunday night in what could very well be soon-to-retire Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger’s final game. Of course, Pittsburgh’s Week 18 game with the Ravens also could have been Roethlisberger’s finale, but the Steelers found a way to win and extend their season. Doing that once again versus a healthy Patrick Mahomes will not be an easy task.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Steelers (9-7-1 SU, 8-9 ATS) needed a Week 18 miracle to sneak into the playoffs as the last seed in the AFC. Pittsburgh just upset Baltimore 16-13, winning outright as 3-point road dogs. On the flip side, the Chiefs (12-5 SU, 8-9 ATS) are the second seed and won the AFC West. Kansas City just edged the Broncos 28-24, failing to cover as 11.5-point road favorites. This line opened with the Chiefs listed as a 13-point home favorite. The line has fallen from 13 to 12.5, signaling some respected money grabbing the points. Playoff dogs with a line move in their favor are 28-8 ATS (78%) over the past decade. Sharps have also hit this under, dropping the total from 48.5 to 46.5. If the total drops at least a point, the under is 24-18 (57%) over the past decade. The forecast calls for mid-30s with 10 MPH winds at Arrowhead. These teams met three weeks ago and the Chiefs won 36-10. I’ll take the under.
Gable’s Guess: The only concern I really have for the Chiefs over the last two weeks has been their defense. It was a really bright spot in the latter half of the season for Kansas City, but not the last two weeks. They gave up 58 points in those two games with poor tackling and weren’t generating much of a pass rush. Especially in the Bengals game, they made no adjustments defensively as the game went on. It’s a little concerning. They’re fortunate that they have the Steelers to start the playoffs. if they can stop the run, I doubt the Steelers have the capacity to beat them through the air. Roethlisberger’s arm is pretty much shot and we all know what he is at this point. Pittsburgh is going to have to minimize the Chiefs’ possessions and keep the ball on the ground. That being said, we know the Chiefs can score and score quickly if they need to. These are all issues for the Chiefs I think can be sewn up here. This is a really big number, but I do expect Kansas City to be able to cover.
Our Pick: The Steelers may not have a shot to win, but they have a shot to cover. Steelers and the double-digit points.
Arizona Cardinals (+4, O/U 49.5) at Los Angeles Rams
A compelling matchup because … road warriors this season with an 8-1 record outside of the desert, the Cardinals come into this game having lost four of their last five, with the lone victory coming in Dallas against the Cowboys. The Rams, who beat the Cardinals five weeks ago to start their slide, had won five in a row before losing their season finale in a divisional matchup with the 49ers. When these teams met a little more than a month ago in Arizona, LA QB Matthew Stafford had one of his best games of the season while Cardinals QB Kyler Murray had one of his worst. Murray will be making the first start in the playoffs and Stafford will be making his fourth after losing the previous three.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Cardinals (11-6 SU, 10-7 ATS) were once the darlings of the NFL but stumbled down the stretch. Arizona just fell to Seattle 38-30, losing outright as 5.5-point home favorites. Meanwhile, the Rams (12-5 SU, 8-9 ATS) went 5-1 in their last six but lost outright to the 49ers in their regular-season finale as 3.5-point home favorites. This line opened with Los Angeles listed as a 4-point home favorite. Some books touched 4.5 and immediately got hit with Arizona money, dropping the line back to 4. The public is all over the Rams, yet we’re looking at a virtual line freeze with Arizona plus the points. Divisional dogs in the playoffs are 9-4 ATS (69%) over the past decade. Give me the Cardinals plus the points.
Gable’s Guess: The Cardinals won’t have DeAndre Hopkins back, but I know they hope to have both their top running backs, James Conner and Chase Edmonds, healthy and ready to go. Conner suffered a rib injury in the second half on Sunday and Edmonds missed the game due to a rib injury as well. At least they get an extra day of rest with this game being held on Monday night. Neither of these teams is coming into the playoffs on fire. Arizona’s been good on the road this season and the Rams have struggled at home. The trends are setting up nicely for Arizona in this spot, but they finished 4-6 in their last 10 games after a 7-0, start. In their past five, they’ve struggled against the pass as opponents have completed 62.3% of passes of 15 yards or longer. Look for Stafford to take some shots downfield with those dangerous Rams receivers. I think Arizona will be able to score on LA and keep it within a field goal or less. I’m going to take the points with the Cardinals.
Our Pick: The Cardinals are young and can afford to lose. That’s not the case for LA. We’re laying the points with the Rams.
Last Week: 4-1; Season: 39-47-2 … (We blame COVID-19!)
Editor’s note: Betting lines fluctuate throughout the week based on injuries, weather reports and other factors such as COVID-19. Make sure to double-check odds before betting.
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