During the NFL season, Stadium sports betting analyst Nate Jacobson will break down every single point spread using lines as of Friday morning. Here are his thoughts on the Wild Card slate.
Note: Nate will discuss all of his NFL bets on the Sharp Lessons podcast that drops every Wednesday and Friday. Subscribe on Spotify and Apple for episodes and follow Stadium Bets on Twitter for more sports betting content.
Raiders at Bengals (-5): The Wild Card slate didn’t shake out how I wanted for betting purposes, and this game is one example. I was hoping the Bengals would host a team like the Patriots or Colts in the first round for an opportunity to fade Zac Taylor in his first playoff game as head coach. Instead, they draw a team that I have been betting against all season in the Raiders.
The line for this game opened Bengals -6.5 and moved down to Bengals -5.5 on Tuesday morning. I agreed with that move through the secondary key number of six because I don’t think the gap between the two teams is that wide. The Raiders are coming off a dramatic win where they needed all 70 minutes (including overtime) to clinch a playoff spot and knock out a division rival in the Chargers. It could be a tough situational spot for Las Vegas in the early Saturday time slot, while the Bengals were able to rest QB Joe Burrow with the AFC North wrapped up before Week 18.
These two teams played in Week 11 and the Bengals won 32-13. The Bengals closed as a two-point road favorite and the total was 51. Since that game, Cincinnati has only had to leave the state of Ohio once, while the Raiders closed the season on a four-game winning streak against teams who were in contention for the AFC playoffs. Three of the four wins for Las Vegas ended on a Daniel Carlson game-winning field goal.
These are two teams I have hardly bet on all season, and I’m not going to pick a side now that the number has moved. The total at 48 seems right, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see a slow start to this game with a pair of quarterbacks making their first playoff starts.
Patriots at Bills (-4): This game will be the third meeting between the two teams in less than a six-week span. The first time these two teams met ended up being a memorable Monday night game, as the Patriots defeated the Bills 14-10, and QB Mac Jones only attempted three passes in the victory. Heavy winds played a huge factor in the game and the weather benefitted New England’s power run game against a Bills rushing defense that has had some trouble. Buffalo closed -3 and the total plummeted down to 39.5 before kickoff.
Three weeks later, the two teams met in New England in what ended up being the pivotal game for the AFC East title. The weather was much more mild and the Bills took money as the week went on before closing as a one-point underdog with a total of 43.5. Josh Allen led Buffalo to a 33-21 win and a division lead that they held on to.
As for Saturday’s matchup, the weather is once again a storyline as temperatures are expected to be in the single digits, although the wind should be calm. The lack of wind would benefit the Bills and their pass-happy offense. The Patriots are better suited for bad conditions, and it showed six weeks ago when their running backs combined for 217 yards on 38 carries.
It’s hard for me to make a case to bet the current spread or total, which has been bet up to 44. The Bills only closed -3 last time they played the Patriots at home, but the total was depressed because of the weather. I have concerns about Jones making his first playoff start on the road in cold temperatures — which he’s not used to playing in from his days at Alabama. I’m going to stay away from this game, but will watch closely and try to find a live opportunity.
Eagles at Buccaneers (-8.5): When this number opened Buccaneers -8.5 on Sunday night, I thought the point spread was inflated toward the favorite. Then I thought more about the matchup and how the Eagles could have trouble scoring if they stick with a run-centric game plan that they’ve recently relied on, and I realized that the point spread made sense.
In their previous matchup, the Eagles covered as seven-point home underdogs on a Thursday night against the Buccaneers in Week 6. However, the 28-22 score was misleading as Tampa Bay had a 28-7 lead in the second half and Philadelphia covered after converting a two-point conversion after scoring a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. The Buccaneers were clearly the better team on that October night, but since then the Eagles have made adjustments to rely less on Jalen Hurts’ arm and count more on his legs and their stable of running backs.
The Buccaneers have had a choppy end to the season with star WR Chris Godwin going down, the Antonio Brown saga and injuries to a number of players on the defensive side of the ball. Those injuries have prevented Tampa’s usually stout run defense from dominating as we’ve become accustomed to over the last two seasons. The good news for the Buccaneers is that they might be getting reinforcements back on defense in Lavonte David, Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul. If those players are able to go, I would side with Tampa Bay’s run defense in a matchup against the Eagles’ running attack.
Since I don’t completely trust Hurts in the pocket, I think it’ll be difficult for Philadelphia to score, and I would look to bet their team total under at 17.5. The full under has been bet down from 49.5 to 46 because of expected bad weather in Tampa Bay on Sunday afternoon, so there could still be some value in taking a team total under.
49ers at Cowboys (-3): This is the lone playoff game where the two teams don’t have a previous meeting this season. It’s also the game I’m most looking forward to watching as a football fan, but I don’t love the idea of these teams playing each other because I would’ve liked to bet on both teams in their first playoff game.
I’ve been high on San Francisco all season, but even I lost some faith in Kyle Shanahan and his team after they lost at home to Colt McCoy and the Cardinals to fall to 3-5 on the season. Since that game, they’ve only lost twice and have scored 23 or more points in all but one of their last nine games. Shanahan has figured out his offense and that unit came up huge in the second half of Week 18 against the Rams in a must-win game to extend the season.
It’s hard to know which Cowboys offense is going to show up. They have looked amazing at times, including a 56-point performance against Washington on a Sunday night in Week 16 and a 51-point blowout in the regular season finale at Philadelphia. However, Washington was battling a COVID-19 outbreak and the Eagles rested many of their defensive starters with a playoff spot locked up. The reality is that Dak Prescott and Dallas’ offense are clearly talented, but have also struggled — like in the upset loss to the Cardinals.
I still respect the Cowboys’ offensive pieces and how their defense has played this season. As I mentioned, I really wanted to bet on the 49ers in the Wild Card round, just not in this matchup against Dallas. I’m also hesitant to bet the 49ers because they needed an all-out effort to beat the Rams last week, and there’s still uncertainty about Jimmy Garoppolo’s thumb injury. I would also like to know if left tackle Trent Williams is able to go after he missed last week with an elbow injury. I’m going to monitor this game closely and hope to get Williams on the field and San Francisco at +3.5.
Steelers at Chiefs (-12.5): It’s stunning that this is a playoff matchup because I didn’t think the Steelers had a chance to make it, especially after they lost 36-10 the day after Christmas to these Chiefs. Kansas City closed -10 in a game with a total of 44 in Week 16. Star WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce were both on the COVID list that week. Kelce ended up sitting while Hill played, but admitted he was exhausted after the game. Even with hardly any production from their two top weapons, Kansas City dominated the game.
The only bet I’ve made so far this week is Chiefs -7 first half. It’s a play against the Steelers and their awful starts to games in the last eight weeks. They have been outscored 117-32 in the first half of those eight games, including 23-0 in the game against the Chiefs. Their only halftime lead in those games was against the Browns in Week 17, who were eliminated from postseason contention the day before and lost a lot of motivation going into that Monday night contest.
The under is enticing at 46.5 because I don’t think the Steelers will have any success on offense, but Pittsburgh has scored a lot of fourth-quarter points. I can see another opportunity for late scores against a prevent defense to send the game over. That’s why I want to take out the late-game randomness and isolate Kansas City to jump to at least a touchdown lead after 30 minutes.
Cardinals at Rams (-4): The last game of the Wild Card round is between two NFC West teams that I’ve wanted to fade down the stretch. The Cardinals, who were once 7-0, lost four of their last five games as end-of-season finishes continue to be a struggle for Kliff Kingsbury dating back to his days at Texas Tech. The Rams have a high ceiling with a very talented quarterback in Matthew Stafford, but show a lot of variance due to Stafford’s turnover issues.
These two teams met twice this season. In Week 4, the upstart Cardinals went into Los Angeles and beat up on the Rams. The more recent meeting was in Week 14, and it was the start of the five-game stretch where Arizona produced a 1-4 record. The Cardinals closed as a three-point favorite after the Rams placed players on the COVID list before the game, including star CB Jalen Ramsey. Despite a number of absences, the Rams got a much-needed win and Stafford played his best game in an LA uniform.
Is the adjustment in the point spread from Week 14 warranted after you flip home field? I think it is. I was very discouraged watching the Seahawks’ last game against the Cardinals, who had a chance to win the division. Arizona lost 38-30, and a Seattle team just playing for pride had a 7.6-4.2 edge in yards per play while 14 of the Cardinals’ points were because of Seahawks turnovers.
Sean McVay is 5-1 against Kingsbury and 9-1 against the Cardinals with the lone loss coming this year. What’s ultimately keeping me away from the Rams for now is the Cardinals are 8-1 on the road and have thrived in this position as underdogs. Because I have interest in the Rams, I’m going to wait to see if this line goes down to -3.5 before making a decision about what to bet.