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NFL Wild Card Weekend Free Picks and Best Bets
Syndication: The Enquirer

NFL Wild Card Weekend Free Picks and Best Bets

After 18 weeks we are finally here, it’s Wild Card Weekend and we are ready to narrow down the playoff field from 14 to eight.  Unlike the name may suggest, the Wild Card Weekend has not been very wild the last few seasons.  Over the last two years, just two of the 12 Wild Card games finished within 6 points and both of those games featured 10+ point leads in the 4th quarter.  In fact, over the last 12 years, just 7 underdogs have lost and covered (62 game span).  If this year replicates the past, it’s all about picking winners and either laying the points or playing the dog on the money line.

Dolphins vs Bills (-13), Total 43.5

With Tua officially announced out, this line jumped from Bills -11 to -13 and with good reason.  We’ve seen enough of the Skyler Thompson show to know that he’s a major downgrade at the QB position and Bridgewater looks unlikely to play dealing with knee and hand issues.  Even with Tua, this Miami team struggled all year vs better competition with just one win vs a playoff team.  While that win did come against this Bills team, it was early in the season, in Miami and the Dolphins got out played.  Buffalo is not invincible, their defense has struggled recently, but this isn’t the opponent that can take advantage of it.  The Bills sport better redzone and 3rd down percentages on both sides of the ball and will be able to pick their score in this spot. 

The Pick – Bills -13

Seahawks vs 49ers (-9.5), Total 42.5

After a hot start, the Seahawks backed their way into the playoffs ending the regular season on a 3-5 run, 1-7 ATS, verse a below average schedule.  The 49ers on the other hand have ripped off 10 straight wins, 8-2 ATS, including going undefeated with rookie quarterback Brock Purdy.  Traditionally first time playoff quarterback have struggled, but this is be Geno Smith’s first playoff start as well so those trends are not applicable here.  However, home teams are 12-0 over the last 12 games in the Wild Card round laying 9+ at home (good for Buffalo as well).  These two teams have played twice, with the 49ers winning both by 20 and 8 points.  The second final margin is slightly misleading, the 49ers were up 21-3 in the 3rd and 21-6 heading into the 4th with the game never being in doubt. 

This is just an awful match up for Seattle who gave up the 3rd most rushing yards in the NFL this season.  The 49ers are undefeated since adding McCaffrey midseason and will be able to pound away on the front for the Seahawks.  At some point Purdy will get tested, but this is not the spot.  I’d lean toward SF -10, but let’s play a prop instead.

The Pick – McCaffrey Over 77.5 Rush Yards

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Ravens vs Bengals (-8.5), Total 40.5

Our third straight division match up provides the largest question mark of the week, Lamar Jackson’s status.  He missed practice on Wednesday, and the last month, so even if he goes the former MVP will not be 100%.  Either way, the Ravens are going to struggle to score.  Of the 14 playoff teams, the Ravens score the 13th most points per game (the Bucs are last) and the 12th best yard per play over their last three games.  The Bengals, on the other hand, come in red hot, winning their last 8 contests and covering in 7 of those games.  Interestingly, the lone non-cover was Week 18 vs this Ravens team in a 27-16 win where the game closed at -11.5.  However, that line was streamed up on Sunday from the -7 or -8 that was available all week. 

The key to the correct side is the Baltimore defense.  They rank 6th in DVOA and are 9th according to PFF for the season.  Once they added Roquan Smith in Week 10, those numbers took a jump up.  The Ravens have only given up 20 points twice with him on the field.  The Bengals have also not solved their offensive line issues grading out 30th via PFF.

I will not be betting a side here unless we end up back in that 11 range we saw last week which may pop up if the Dolphins and 49ers both cover easily.  I would lean to the under here, but the best way to play this is to kick off a teaser with Cincy -2.5

The Pick – Bengals -2.5 to kick off a 6-point Teaser

Cowboys (-2.5) vs Buccaneers, Total 45.5

Tampa, by all accounts, under achieved this year (playoff worst 4-12-1 ATS), but have somehow found themselves hosting a home playoff game.  Dallas did not exactly charge into the post season either going 2-2 in their last 4 after squeaking out a last second win vs the lowly Texans.

This is a rematch of the week one tilt where the Bucs defense absolutely took the Cowboys offense behind the woodshed.  Dallas could not protect Dak and the Bucs pressed the Cowboy wideouts all game causing absolute fits.  Monday you will see the exact same strategy from a Bucs defense that will be fired up at home.  On the other side of the ball, protection is going to be key as well.  Tampa’s back up center and left tackle are both questionable vs an above average Cowboys pass rush.  With time, Brady could have a good day with his receiving core as healthy as they have been in a while.  Turnovers will most likely be the key to the game.  Dallas has forced a league high 33 takeaways, but also leads the NFL in interceptions thrown.

I have the Cowboys -2.1 based on my numbers so this is a tough side to play.  I do like the under here since Tampa can’t help but run the ball even though it’s been wildly inefficient for them this year, but let’s close out the teaser with Tampa who, at worst, keeps this close.

The Pick – Buccaneers +8.5 / Bengals -2.5 Teaser

 Chargers (-2) vs Jaguars

This is the game I am most excited to watch.  The quarterback match up, in particular, is very interesting.  At times this year, Lawrence has flashed his elite ability that caused him to be drafted first overall, but there have been some low points as well including a stinker Week 18 vs the Titans in a de facto playoff game.  Herbert, with his wide outs healthy, has been elite ending the season graded out as the 3rd best quarterback at PFF.  Mike Williams health, he left a meaningless Week 18 game on a cart after injuring his back, is going to be key for the Chargers.  He didn’t practice on Wednesday but is expected to play on Sunday.  Injuries have been an issue all season for the Chargers, but they did get Bosa back late in the year and, with Williams, this would be the healthiest Los Angeles team we’ve seen in a while. 

This is a rematch of a Week 3 tilt in which the Jags took care of business vs a very banged up Chargers team so do not put too much weight on that game when handicapping this one.  Jacksonville’s biggest edge is on the ground and that will be the key if they advance here.  The Chargers rush defense has graded out the 3rd worst in the NFL and the Jags did have James Robinson run for 100 yards on 17 carries in Week 3.  He’s now in New York, but Etienne has looked excellent with an increased workload.

In the end, I simply trust Herbert more than I do Lawrence to show up with his A game.  Jacksonville has consistently shot themselves in the foot in key moments all year and that’s not something you can do in the playoffs vs good teams.  Additionally, the Chargers have better redzone and 3rd down percentages on both sides of the ball.

The Pick – Chargers -2

Giants vs Vikings (-3)

And here we are, the wildest game of Wild Card weekend.  Two teams with a negative point differential for the year battling for a spot in the Divisional round.  New York’s biggest advantage here is their coach, Brian Daboll, who has done more with less this season then anyone in the NFL.  His ability to get creative on both sides of the ball and implement weekly game plans has been nothing short of amazing for any coach, let alone a rookie head coach.  With the 6 seeds locked up in Week 17, the coaching staff has affectively had two weeks to prepare for the Vikings.  Minnesota, on the other hand, has a massive edge at skill positions boasting the best Wide Receiver in football, a top 5 running back and, shockingly, the 4th best graded defense via PFF in the NFL.

These two faced off in Week 16 in a game which featured twenty-eight 4th quarter points and three Giant turnovers to give the Vikings the win on a last second 61 yard field goal.  That was the Vikings season in a microcosm, winning close games where their defense made big plays in high leverage moments.

The key battle to watch is going to be the offensive line of Minnesota vs the front of the Giants.  The Vikings O-line comes into this game banged up and New York’s first round pick Keyvon Thibodeaux has really come on late in the year.  I would love to see the Giants turn him loose on the pass rush and stop dropping him back in coverage to wreck the maximum amount of havoc.

The Pick – Giants +3