By Fischer Smith
The NFL playoffs are here, and with the addition of the 7th playoff seed in each conference, we are in for perhaps the most exciting wild card weekend ever. There are now 6 games this weekend instead of 4, which will have us on our couches all day and night this coming Saturday and Sunday. If you are anything like me, you will be betting on every single one of these games, so lets dive right into the picks…
Indianapolis Colts (11-5) @ Buffalo Bills (13-3) BUF -6.5, O/U 51
The Buffalo Bills enter wild card weekend as arguably the hottest team in football, having won 6 straight games. Josh Allen is playing MVP caliber football, and Stefon Diggs has been one of the best receivers in the league this season. The Colts finished in the bottom half of the league against the pass this year and will likely be without safety Khari Willis. I expect Allen and Diggs to continue their dominance through the air in this game. For the Colts, Philip Rivers comes in looking to improve to 5-0 in wild card playoff games. Rivers has had a good season, and will need to carry over that play into the weekend if he expects to keep that perfect record against a strong Buffalo secondary. Indy has ran the ball well in the second half of the season with rookie Jonathan Taylor, and should continue to do so against the mediocre Buffalo run defense. The strength of the Indy defense is stopping the run, and they should do so against a Buffalo team that struggles to run it. I think that Allen and Diggs will carry Buffalo to a win, but I think Rivers and the Colts keep the score within a touchdown. I would buy the half point here and take the Colts at +7.
Prediction: Bills 28 Colts 23
Pick: Colts +7
Los Angeles Rams (10-6) @ Seattle Seahawks (11-5) SEA -4.5, O/U 42.5
It is always interesting when division rivals meet in the playoffs. The Rams and Seahawks split the two regular season games with each team winning a slugfest at home. Injuries are going to play a major role in this one. Jared Goff had thumb surgery just over a week ago, and is not likely to be ready to return in time for Saturday’s game. Receiver Cooper Kupp and DE Michael Brockers are currently on the Rams Covid-19 reserve list, and will not play unless they are asymptomatic by Saturday with negative tests. Russell Wilson has not been the same MVP caliber quarterback that he was in the first half of the season, but Russ is too experienced and too talented to lose a playoff game to a team missing its quarterback, and possibly 2 other key players. Wilson is 4-1 in career wild card playoff games. I’m not betting against him under these circumstances. All signs point to this being a very low scoring game as well. The Rams had the #1 defense this season in terms of yards per game. The Rams are likely going to be starting a quarterback who only has 1 career NFL start and they may be without Cooper Kupp as well. Both regular season games were low scoring. For these reasons, I’m on the under.
Prediction: Seahawks 23 Rams 14
Picks: Seahawks -4, Under 42.5
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) @ Washington Football Team (7-9) WSH +8, O/U 45
It will be a clash between one of the league’s best offenses and defenses on Saturday night in Washington. Washington had the #2 ranked defense this season in terms of yards per game, and will look to stop a Tampa Bay offense that has been spectacular in the second half of the season. The strongest part of the Washington defense is their defensive line led by standout rookie DE Chase Young. I expect the Washington defensive front to be able to put pressure on Tom Brady and to shut down the run. Tampa Bay could be without star receiver Mike Evans as well, which would definitely hurt their offense. The Tampa Bay defense ranked bottom 12 in the league against the pass this year, and will be without standout cornerback Carlton Davis. I think Alex Smith has played well enough this year to be confident in Washington covering at home against a shaky secondary. Their defense makes me even more confident.
Prediction: Buccaneers 21 Football Team 17
Pick: Football Team +8
Baltimore Ravens (11-5) @ Tennessee Titans (11-5) TEN +3, O/U 54.5
In my opinion, this is the most intriguing game of the weekend. You have two 11-5 teams facing off in a rematch of last year’s divisional round matchup. We all know what happened last year when these two teams met in the playoffs. The Titans completely took away the run making Lamar Jackson one dimensional, and Derrick Henry ran all over the Ravens defense. I think Baltimore comes in with a completely different game-plan centered around stopping Henry, and getting Lamar Jackson going. Tennessee had a bottom 5 defense this year in terms of yards per game, and I fully expect Baltimore to take advantage. I really like Tennessee’s offense this year. Henry is a superstar and Ryan Tannehill has proved he is a good starting quarterback. However, the Ravens have a terrific defense as they finished in the top 7 in terms of yards allowed per game. The Ravens have 2 terrific cornerbacks to take away the talented Tennessee receivers, and if they could figure out a way to contain Derrick Henry, they have a very good shot to win on the road here and cover.
Prediction: Ravens 30 Titans 24
Pick: Ravens -3
Chicago Bears (8-8) @ New Orleans Saints (12-4) NO -10, O/U 47
The Chicago Bears lucked into the playoffs after Kyler Murray went down for Arizona in week 17. However, I think that luck will run out right when the Bears walk into the Superdome to face the Saints on Sunday afternoon. New Orleans has one of the NFL’s elite defenses, ranking in the top 5 against the run and the pass this season. I could never bring myself to bet on Mitchell Trubisky going up against a top 5 defense – even if he is getting 10 points. The Bears have a solid defense, but I do not believe that the unit is strong enough to contain a fully loaded Saints offense. The last time we saw the Saints with all 3 of Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, and Michael Thomas, they blew out the Buccaneers in Tampa on national television. I am all over the Saints this week against Trubisky and Chicago.
Prediction: Saints 31 Bears 13
Pick: Saints -10
Cleveland Browns (11-5) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) PIT -6, O/U 47.5
The final matchup of wild card weekend is another divisional tilt. Cleveland and Pittsburgh played each other last week, and the Browns barely beat the Steelers without Ben Roethlisberger. When the two teams met earlier in the season, Pittsburgh won convincingly. Big Ben struggled a bit in the second half of the season, but silenced the naysayers with a spectacular week 16 performance against the Colts where he threw for 341 yards and 3 touchdowns without an interception. The Steelers also had the #3 ranked defense in the league this season in terms of yards allowed. Big Ben is rested, and I expect him to have a big night against a Browns secondary that ranked bottom 10 in the league this year against the pass. I like Baker Mayfield, but I think he will struggle in his first ever playoff game, against a great defense. I’m going with Pittsburgh here.
Prediction: Steelers 27 Browns 17
Pick: Steelers -6
Good luck to everyone wagering this weekend, and always remember to bet responsibly. Let’s make some bread people.