NFL Wild Card Week Betting Plays and Predictions

January 7, 2021

We have made it to the NFL playoffs and it feels great, as no other professional sports league can remotely rival the joy the NFL playoffs bring. This is also our first “super” Wild Card Weekend since the expansion to 14 playoff teams from the previous 12. This means only the top seed in each conference gets a bye this week and we have six total games instead of the previous four. After this weekend the structure is identical to previous years.

Before diving into the NFL picks, and we will have a play on five of the six games this weekend, a little results housekeeping from the regular season.

Our divisional winner plays went 3-3 but we did profit 0.8 units on the plays. We cashed the Titans +160, the Bills +120 and the Saints -130. We bricked with dart throws on the Browns +500 and Bears +380, but there is consolation in the process that these teams are in the playoffs. The Eagles +140 were the team who simply fell apart and were not necessarily close to winning the division.

We finished the regular season an abysmal 33-39-4 on straight plays, and my apologies for not fully recovering from the worst possible outcome start of the season. We were however buoyed by our prop plays, as those finished the regular season at 44-35 for a total of 77-74-4.

Back to the playoffs. Not many teams are dealing with significant missing pieces going into this week, but the Rams are likely to be without quarterback Jared Goff, and the Browns are in rough shape on the COVID front. More on these later but the absences will be too much for these teams to overcome.

On to the plays!

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NFL Wild Card Weekend Preview

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Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills

Betting Play: Bills -6.5

105PM EST Saturday
Opening Line: Bills -6.5 and 52.5
Current Line: Bills -6.5 and 51

It was quite an unfortunate turn of events for the Colts last week when the Texans were unable to secure the upset of the Titans. Despite handily winning their game against the lowly Jaguars, the Colts were left on the outside looking in in terms of the AFC South title, and that means this trip to Buffalo to face the league’s hottest team.

The Colts offense has found its stride on the back of beast rookie running back Jonathan Taylor. He has simply been exceptional as a runner and helped to create favorable game scripts where he could keep on running. They have won six of their last seven, but lost the game against the Steelers when that favorable game script was not present. Not coincidentally, this was Taylor’s worst game down the stretch as Philip Rivers and the passing game is simply not one built to truly compete in shootouts. That raises huge red flags in this matchup.

The Bills are scorching hot right now, and it is a nightmare matchup to draw them in the first round, particularly in Buffalo. The Bills are 6-0 since their bye in Week 11 and have won every single one of those games by at least 10 points. The offense has been humming, averaging 37.8 points per game over their last eight, but has fully hit its stride over the last three games. They are averaging 47.3 (!!!) points per game in the last three with an average scoring differential of 29.7 points (!!!). The defense has showed up to the party of late as they are allowing just 17 points per game in that span.

While the Colts defense is no pushover, this Buffalo offense is hitting on all cylinders and they will continue to score at a phenomenal rate. That scoring will create a scenario where Philip Rivers will have to be the great equalizer for the Colts, and that is a very low percentage outcome, particularly in a cold weather game with his advance age and throwing motion. I foresee the Bills running away with this one, and laying less than a full touchdown feels like a gift.

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Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks

Betting Play: Seahawks -3.5

4:40PM EST Saturday
Opening Line: Seahawks -5 and 42
Current Line: Seahawks -3.5 and 42

This will likely be the ugliest game of the weekend, and that, in large part, will be due to the Rams anemic offense. They have been ineffective even with Jared Goff under center, but now we will de John Wolford make his second career start in relief of the injured Goff. The Rams have lost two of their last three games, including one in Seattle and are likely in for more losing. They have scored just 15.7 points per game in that span, which it should be noted includes a home loss to the Jets. Not a typo. Even more alarming is the defense accounted for one of the touchdowns last week, and that means the offense is scoring fewer than 14 points per game.

The Seahawks are a team that have morphed over the course of the season. They began the year engaging in shootouts and seeing their secondary fail, but everything has changed. Sure, they have become far less dynamic on offense, but their defense has become effective and the real holes in the secondary have been plugged. They have not allowed more than 23 points in any game since Week 9 in Buffalo, and have been superb at home. Their last three home games, one of which against this Rams team, have seen them allow a total of 29 points, or 9.7 per game and the team currently rides a four game win streak.

While the Rams defense is certainly a balanced and strong unit, the team will simply not get enough out of the offense to remain competitive in this game. It will be another ugly game like the one two weeks ago, so the under may be a sound play, but the Seahawks will be our dedicated play in this spot. Even if the Seahawks offense struggles a bit, they won’t be blanked and they won’t have to do a whole lot for an easy cover here.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Washington Football Team

Betting Play: WFT +9

815PM EST Saturday
Opening Line: Bucs -6.5 and 46.5
Current Line: Bucs -9 and 44.5

Everyone is writing the Football Team off in this one, and I understand the concerns about the offense, but not so fast my friends, there are things working in their favor as well. The first is the home game. Despite the subpar record, they won their division so they get to host this game. It is notable because they are a cold weather city and are welcoming a warm weather team. Of course Tom Brady, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown are no strangers to cold weather, but this will be the first cold weather game of the Bucs season. While it will be a clear and calm night, temperatures are expected to be just above freezing for the game.

The ability of WFT to win this game will come down to their defense. This unit has been playing at an elite level and is absolutely the life blood of the team. They have not allowed more than 20 points in any of their last six games and this allows them to be competitive in essentially every game they play. They have not lost by more than a single score in any game since early October. This is a massive not to make as we the nine point line probably being a difficult one to cover for the Bucs.

The Bucs have had mixed results on the road this season, but when isolating matchups with other playoff teams on the road, the results are poor. They lost outright in trips to both Chicago and New Orleans and had two of their three lowest scoring totals of the year in those games.

While the Bucs offense is likely able to produce enough to walk away with the victory, the huge value lies with the WFT and the points. If this line were under seven points there would be some required thought to put into it, but as it sits we will attack the value without hesitation.

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Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans

Betting Play: Titans +3.5

105PM EST Sunday
Opening Line: Ravens -4 and 54.5
Current Line: Ravens -3.5 and 55

While it is quite apparent the Titans secondary has continued to struggle and it will likely be their ultimate undoing in this postseason, it is difficult for me to envision this being the matchup that bounces them. The Titans have had serious problems on the defensive side of the ball, but their offense remains elite with Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill leading the way. While they have a propensity for shootouts, they come out on top more often than not and shootouts are not necessarily a Ravens specialty, at least not against the Titans.

The Ravens being favored in this spot is something of a head scratcher, and I will attempt to piece together why they are favored, and then why they shouldn’t be. The Ravens are currently riding a five game winning streak, but the level of competition was absolutely lacking. The close win was the instant classic in Cleveland on a Monday night, and was a solid win, but the other three were simply pushover level opponents. The Bengals, Giants, Jaguars and Cowboys are some of the easiest parts of a schedule a team can see. Leading up to those games? A three game losing streak that included road losses in New England and Pittsburgh, and you guessed it, a home loss to the Titans. The Titans seem to have the number of Lamar Jackson, and it is not just anecdotal. On the entirety of the season, there is just one quarterback who played a full game against the Titans that failed to reach 200 yards passing, and that was Lamar. This is also not isolated to this year. The Titans bounced the Ravens from the playoffs last season in a 28-12 game that was not as close as the score suggests. The Ravens were 10 point favorites in that home matchup, and it would appear oddsmakers and bettors are repeating the same mistake again. Since repeating mistakes was a theme of 2020 across the board, why not bleed it into the sports world as well? The Titans getting points here is extremely attractive, and they will kick off our Sunday plays as a home dog.

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Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers

Betting Play: Steelers -6

815PM EST Sunday
Opening Line: Steelers -3.5 and 47
Current Line: Steelers -6 and 47.5

The Browns, after finally regaining a postseason berth for the first time since 2002, are unfortunately playing against a stacked deck in this matchup. They have been hit hard by positive COVID tests and will be without key players and head coach Kevin Stefanski. Of the players out, the most notable will be high end left guard Joel Bitonio, which puts a big hit on both the passing and rushing games.

With the Browns at less than full strength, they have additionally been quite unimpressive to close out the season. They narrowly beat this Steelers team at home just last week, despite the Steelers holding out key players, including Ben Roethlisberger. Of course that was on the heels of a loss to the Jets, and the Browns offense is simply not quite what it was a bit earlier in the season. They have too much gone away from the run game Nick Chubb spearheaded so well and have become too pass happy. It is probably too late to adjust now as the secondary won’t have an answer for the Steeler wide receivers. A game script in which a run heavy game plan could work, even with Bitonio is unlikely and we are going to see this game progressively slip away from the Browns. The Steeler defense remains elite and they will win the battle of attrition on both sides of the ball.

The line movement on this game has absolutely been correct, only it has not moved enough. This Cleveland fan, along with all the others, will have to wait another year for that playoff win, but alas, just being in is big progress, and we cannot be upset with the season. That said, the Steelers will roll in this one, and they will be our final play of Wild Card Weekend.

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TJ
TJ Calkins
TJ Calkins was raised in a gambling loving household. He knew how to handicap horse races and follow line movements well before his tenth birthday. While sports betting remained a passion into adulthood, poker and Daily Fantasy Sports also became passions and remain as such today.