The 2021 NFL regular season gave bettors a parting shot on the way out when the Jaguars managed to pull off their second upset as a double-digit underdog of the season. They beat the Colts 26-11 and knocked Indy out of the playoffs. Only 14 teams remain standing and with the top two seeds on bye, gamblers will have to choose their bets carefully from a three-game slate.
There will be a lot of action on all six of these games. There always is when the market condenses and the bad-to-unpredictable teams are eliminated. Now, it’s just the best-of-the-best, so there won’t be any more double-digit underdogs, right?
Well, not exactly. There is still one on the slate. The Chiefs opened as 12.5-point favorites over the Steelers, who snuck into the postseason thanks to the Raiders’ win over the Chargers on “Sunday Night Football.” The Chiefs beat Pittsburgh by 26 points just a couple of weeks ago, so it’s understandable that they would be heavily favored in this matchup.
That said, savvy bettors will keep an eye on the latest betting lines, trends, odds and injuries to see how much the spread can move throughout the week. There aren’t a lot of major injuries impacting these teams, but there are lingering ones for Matthew Stafford (back), Jimmy Garoppolo (thumb) and even Joe Burrow (knee) that should be monitored. They will almost certainly play through them barring major setbacks, but if they aren’t fully healthy, that can impact the line movement.
For more expert NFL predictions, check out Sporting News’ picks straight up and against the spread for the NFL’s Super Wild Card Weekend.
WEEK 18 PICKS: Against the spread | Straight up
NFL odds for wild-card round
Below are the latest NFL odds for wild-card weekend, including point spreads, money lines and over-under totals for every game, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
Last updated: Wednesday, Jan. 12.
NFL point spreads wild-card round
NFL money lines wild-card round
NFL over-unders wild-card round
NFL best bets for wild-card round
49ers (+3) at Cowboys
This is going to be a popular upset pick, and there’s a good reason for that. The 49ers have been playing well of late and as three-point underdogs, it’s worth taking a chance on them.
Dallas certainly looks good on paper. They are No. 1 overall in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, which “breaks down the entire season play-by-play, comparing success on each play to the league average based on a number of variables including down, distance, location on field, current score gap, quarter, and opponent quality.”
However, despite their high ranking, the Cowboys haven’t fared well against other top-10 DVOA teams. They have played four opponents that rank in the top 10 this season. They have just a 1-3 record against them, and their only win came in overtime against the Patriots.
Why does this matter? San Francisco ranks sixth in the NFL in DVOA, so they should be able to give the Cowboys some trouble, much like these other teams did. Even if they don’t win, the 49ers will be able to keep it close, just like the Patriots did.
Some may balk at this DVOA theory because the 49ers are just 2-5 against teams with top-10 DVOA marks themselves. That said, the 49ers don’t have to win this game; they just have to cover the spread, which is something that they have done well this year.
Amazingly, the 49ers have only been an underdog in three games and have posted a 2-1 ATS record. Their one non-cover was a seven-point loss to the Cardinals as six-point underdogs. If you’ll remember, Trey Lance started that game and was stopped inches short of plowing through the goal-line for a touchdown, so to say they failed to cover by a matter of inches is no exaggeration. As such, betting the 49ers as an underdog in this game seems very appealing.
Pro bettors seem to agree with that take at the moment. To begin the week, there was an 8 percent pro money advantage on the 49ers, per BetQL. We’ll side with them here as well, though the pro money edge is close enough that it will be something to watch throughout the week.
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Cardinals (+4) at Rams
The Cardinals may not be the same team that they were earlier in the season when they looked likely to be the NFC’s No. 1 seed, but they are a good value pick as underdogs against the Rams. Why? Because of Matthew Stafford’s struggle to win against teams with a winning record.
During his career, Stafford is just 11-71 against teams with a winning record. That includes a 1-9 mark against teams with 10 or more wins. Granted, that one win came against the Cardinals this year, but historically, Stafford has struggled against higher-end competition. And maybe he can lead the Rams to a win in this one, but expecting him to do so by more than a field goal isn’t a great bet.
It’s also worth noting that Stafford has struggled with turnovers of late. Over his last four games, he has eight interceptions compared to eight touchdowns. He has thrown a pick in each of the four games and the Rams have lost or tied the turnover battle every game as a result.
The Rams have somehow been able to win despite Stafford’s errors. They have posted a cumulative minus-three turnover margin but still have logged a 3-1 record.
Those winning ways seem unlikely to continue if Stafford struggles against the Cardinals. Arizona has recorded an interception in nine games this season. When they record an interception, they have a record of 7-2 straight up. That includes a 37-20 win over the Rams in Week 4, during which they earned a plus-two mark in the turnover battle.
If Stafford can avoid interceptions as he did in the Rams’ 30-23 win over the Cardinals in Week 14, then the Rams could have a chance to cover. That said, it’s hard to trust Stafford to do that given his recent performance, so the Cardinals (+4) are a safer bet. And for the more daring bettors, the Cardinals moneyline (+176) could be a risk worth taking.
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Bills (-4) vs. Patriots
The Bills and Patriots split their season series in 2021, but it doesn’t really feel like they did. The Bills held Mac Jones in check during both games they played; they just weren’t able to win the first one, a bizarre wind game in Buffalo when Jones threw just three passes while Sean McDermott, Josh Allen and the Bills couldn’t get their acts together.
Things changed in the second meeting. Jones was able to pass and needed to, but Buffalo’s stalwart defense slowed him down. He completed 14 of 32 passes for 145 yards and two interceptions. He didn’t record a touchdown pass.
That feels closer to the Jones we’ll see in the wild-card round. Some of that has to do with his struggles over the last handful of games since the Patriots’ late-season bye, but the bigger factor here is that the Bills sport the NFL’s stingiest defense. They allow just 272.8 yards per game. No other NFL team allows fewer than 305.
The Bills have also fared particularly well against rookie quarterbacks this year. They have faced Jones (twice), Zach Wilson, Trevor Lawrence and Davis Mills. In those five games, the quarterbacks averaged a completion percentage of 48 while throwing for an average of 90.6 yards (108.5 if you take Jones’ wind game out). The four rookies combined to throw just one touchdown and six interceptions.
So, long story short, trusting a rookie quarterback against a top-tier Bills defense doesn’t seem like a good move. Maybe Bill Belichick will find a way to pick apart the Buffalo defense, but it seems more likely that he’ll try to win with a run-heavy game plan. That could work — it’s supposed to be just 9 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday night — but if Allen and the Bills get ahead, the Patriots may have trouble passing to catch up.
Rolling with the Bills at -4 seems like a good value, as a result. BetQL agrees with us. Their model has the game rated as a three-star bet (out of five) and believes that the spread should be -5 instead of -4. That’s a full point of line value that we’ll be happy to get in this divisional battle.
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