NFL Betting Predictions: Wild Card Weekend Opening Line Report and Picks
The bracket is set, and the NFL playoffs are finally upon us. In the coming weeks, hearts will be broken and dreams will be fulfilled. From a betting perspective, Week 18 was one of our best weeks, as we went a perfect 3-0, moving our season record to 20-16-1. Despite falling to the Jaguars and missing the playoffs, the Titans were able to cover the 6.5-point spread. The Steelers easily covered the 2.5 point spread in their blowout win against the Browns, while the Lions eliminated the Packers from playoff contention, with their outright win as 4.5-point underdogs. Before jumping into the opening lines, let’s take a look at the biggest storylines from the final week of football.
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- Jaguars win out: At 4-8 through 12 weeks, the Jaguars knew they would have to win their final 5 games to win the AFC South and make the playoffs. They did just that, as Trevor Lawrence threw for 8 TDs and 2 INTs in the final stretch, and the Jaguars come into the playoffs on a 5-game win streak.
- Chiefs do their part: The Kansas City Chiefs earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC, ensuring they won’t have a true road game for the remainder of the playoffs. Patrick Mahomes dismantled the Raiders and put a stamp on an MVP-caliber season.
- Texans win, but at what cost? The Houston Texans won 2 of their final 3 games, finishing with a 3-13-1 record and the second overall pick. Despite owning the first pick for virtually the entire season, they failed to hold onto the valuable draft position, on the back of 4th and 20 heroics in a 32-31 win.
- Bengals come in hot: The Bengals are on an 8-game win streak heading into the playoffs. There will be no need for any coin flips, after the Bengals demolished their AFC North rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, in the season finale. A Wild Card rematch awaits, with the possible comeback of Lamar Jackson on the horizon.
- Dolphins squeak in: The Dolphins beat the Jets, 11-6, in a 5-field goal game, edging their way into the postseason. A daunting trip to Buffalo awaits, with Tua Tagovailoa’s availability in doubt.
- Cowboys limp in: The Cowboys knew their chances of the NFC East title were slim, yet they played all their starters against the Commanders. They got blown out 26-6, and, frankly, it could’ve been a lot worse. A trip to Tampa Bay to take on the greatest football player of all time awaits them, in the highlight Wild Card game of the week.
- Green Bay falls short: Green Bay won 4 straight games heading into a pivotal matchup against the Detroit Lions in Week 18. They failed to get the job done, missing the playoffs at 8-9. Aaron Rodgers may have played his final snap, ending an illustrious career on a sour note.
Game 1: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
Opening Line: San Francisco 49ers (-10)
The San Francisco 49ers welcome the Seahawks to California, entering the game as huge favorites. The 49ers have turned into one of the most dominant NFL teams this season, despite newcomer Brock Purdy being thrust into a starting quarterback role. They’ve won 10 straight games, 7 of which have been by double digits. Their defense has been immaculate, finishing with a league-low 277 points against. Health wise, the 49ers are getting healthy at the right time. Deebo Samuel and Elijah Mitchell both returned in Week 18, and the weapons Purdy has at his disposal appear unlimited. A well-rounded offense and a stingy defense is exactly what’s needed to succeed in the playoffs, and the 49ers are not an easy matchup for anyone. Seattle squeaked into the playoffs thanks to the Lions beating the Packers in the final game of the regular season, with a 9-8 record. After trading away their franchise quarterback in the offseason, the Seahawks were not expected to be playing meaningful January football. However, Geno Smith had a fantastic first half of the season, starting 6-3 before tailing off slightly. The experience Smith gained from watching Russell Wilson has allowed him to be ready for this chance. Unfortunately for him, it will be a short and sweet playoff run. Simply put, the 49ers are going to maul this Seattle team. Seattle has been a mediocre football team over the last month, while the 49ers haven’t lost since October. They beat the Seahawks twice this season already and should have no problem piling on the misery from whistle to whistle. I know 10 points is a lot to lay in a playoff game, but I’ll happily back the 49ers here at that price.
Pick: San Francisco 49ers (-10)
Game 2: New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings
Opening Line: Minnesota Vikings (-3)
One Wild Card matchup that promises to be a close contest will be going down in Minnesota. Both of these teams have been clutch in tight games, and a battle against each other is exactly what the doctor ordered. The Vikings have a perfect 11-0 record in one-score games, while the Giants aren’t far behind at 8-4-1. Winning close games is always nice, but it can quickly lead to the term ‘fraud’ being thrown around. The Vikings would be 2-15 if those one score games went against them; but they aren’t. The Vikings always found a way to win, and they will do so once again against the Giants. Justin Jefferson and Kirk Cousins will be able to cook up a solid Giants defense, and the Giants won’t be able to match them offensively. Brian Daboll has done a great job expediting the Giants’ rebuild but will fall a few steps short of the ultimate goal. Daniel Jones is simply not that guy and will struggle in his first career playoff appearance. A solid run game has helped the Giants succeed. And if they took Jones out of the equation, they might have a chance, but I’m expecting some crucial mistakes from the young quarterback. I’m not expecting a back-and-forth contest. And if the Giants fall behind and are forced to throw the ball, the game could get out of hand quickly for them. Take the ‘fraudulent’ Vikings at a very reasonable -3 price.
Pick: Minnesota Vikings (-3)
Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Opening Line: Dallas Cowboys (-3)
The NFL is saving this one for Monday night, as Tom Brady and the Buccaneers welcome the Cowboys to Tampa Bay for a crucial postseason game. In Week 1, the Buccaneers took down the Cowboys, 19-3, and Dak Prescott got hurt. The two teams saw their seasons go in opposite directions after that, as the Cowboys went 10-2 in their next 12 games, before finishing 12-5. For the Buccaneers, being blessed with a weak division ensured an 8-9 record was good enough to host a playoff game. Tom Brady has certainly struggled in the twilight of his career, finishing with a losing record for the first time in his career. All hope is not lost for Brady, as he has made improbable playoff runs before. The clutch gene in his blood makes sure that he is never out of any game, and a solid Buccaneers defense will do its best to contain a dangerous Cowboys offense. Heading into Week 18, the Cowboys knew their fate as the 5th seed was all but determined, yet they played their starters anyways. Things did not go to plan, as the Commanders demolished them on both sides of the ball, as they left Washington with their tails between their legs. The Cowboys have the tools to succeed, but they have fallen short when it matters most in the past. The psychology of going to Tampa Bay after that loss will be too much, and they will lose in the Wild Card round once again. A once dominant Cowboys defense will do its best to return to early season form, but Tom Brady is inevitable.
Pick: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+3)
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