NFL

NFL Betting Guide: Wild Card Sunday

The high-stakes, single-elimination drama of the NFL's postseason is here.

An expanded wild-card round includes six games in total. Three games are slated for Sunday.

In the first contest, the surprise Philadelphia Eagles travel to meet the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The late afternoon showcase features the Dallas Cowboys playing host to the San Francisco 49ers. And finally, in the nightcap, the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Arrowhead for a date with the Kansas City Chiefs.

In the most voluminous period of NFL betting, where is the sharp money? What do the wise guys think? Is the public on the wrong side? Let's find out.

Note: All lines come from FanDuel Sportsbook, and lines and/or projections may have changed since the publishing of this article.

Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Spread: Buccaneers -8.5
Total: 47.0

Even half to half, it's hard to know what to expect from the defending champions at this point. Over their final four games, they were shut out at home by the Saints, struggled against the Jets, and dominated the Panthers twice.

It wasn't the best sample to know if Tom Brady can maintain his production level against top-level competition with Chris Godwin (knee) and Antonio Brown (a moron) done for the season.

Philadelphia presents a less-than-ideal defensive matchup to answer that question. They were 17th in numberFire's schedule-adjusted rushing metrics this season and 23rd against the pass. That's one of the worst units remaining in the playoffs.

Philly had the second-best schedule-adjusted rushing offense in the league, per numberFire's metrics, and while the Bucs were the 10th-best team defending the run, that was a substantial step back from their top overall mark in the NFL a year ago.

The problem in handicapping this game is that Philadelphia shifted to their strong ground attack in Week 8. Since then, they've had a 39% pass rate, which is dead-last in the NFL by a mile. They haven't played a single playoff team in that time. Therefore, it's really difficult to know if they've significantly improved with this new philosophy or if they've just beat up on bad teams.

The sentiment is that the Eagles don't belong because of their schedule. Still, I can't get away from the fact the Eagles -- adjusting for schedule -- graded out well rushing the ball. That correlates well with keeping Brady out of rhythm and off the field.

The Bucs likely win outright, but I'll have a unit on the Eagles to cover 8.5 points. numberFire's model agrees with one-star conviction.

Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Buccaneers 27-21

San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys

Spread: Cowboys -3.0
Total: 51.0

For years, betting the Cowboys was difficult because the public so greatly influenced the lines. Then, in 2021, America's Team went 12-4 against-the-spread (ATS). I never thought I'd see the day.

Dallas is largely seen as a team with a bloated record that preyed on the weak NFC East, but they are fifth in numberFire's schedule-adjusted metrics in terms of overall offense, and they're fourth in defense. Only Arizona, Buffalo, and the Los Angeles Rams can also state they are top-10 teams in both categories.

A wild season for the 49ers ended in an overtime win against the Rams to clinch a playoff spot. They were 10th in our schedule-adjusted offensive metrics and 12th in schedule-adjusted D, so this is a pretty high-level matchup for a wild card game.

I have a ticket on the Cowboys to win the Super Bowl, and I believe they're the best team in the NFL. Even with that in mind, I have no definitive lean on this game in one direction or another. San Francisco led the NFL in yards per play (6.1), and their ceiling is sky-high, but they also struggled offensively against Houston and Tennessee in recent weeks.

numberFire's model has a one-star (and one-unit) rating on both Dallas to cover the 3.0-point spread and the game to fall under 51.0 total points. Those would be my sides, as well.

Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Cowboys 27-23

Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs

Spread: Chiefs -12.5
Total: 46.0

This is the singular best betting opportunity of Wild Card Weekend.

Just three weeks ago, the Chiefs bludgeoned the Steelers 36-10 in Kansas City. Just in case you didn't know, FanDuel Sportsbook and other oddsmakers know that. They also know Patrick Mahomes is a significantly better quarterback than Ben Roethlisberger at this point. That's all baked into the 12.5-point spread that the public is pounding like crazy.

What is lost, though, is that the Steelers' defense was scary to close the season. At -0.04 Defensive Net Expected Points (NEP) per play, Pittsburgh had the fourth-best defense in terms of efficiency in the last five weeks of the regular season. They completed swallowed Cleveland, Tennessee, and Baltimore in three of the last four weeks.

Even at full strength, the fan-favorite Chiefs were just 8-9 ATS this year despite a 12-5 record. They're largely overvalued. Tyreek Hill, Darrel Williams, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire are all expected to play for the Chiefs, but their effectiveness has to be in question.

While the Chiefs win this game 82.07% of the time in numberFire's model, the points with Pittsburgh are solid gold. As of right now, I'm planning a one-unit wager on the Steelers +12.5 if the number stays put. That could climb all the way to two units if the Steelers -- somehow -- get to a 14.0-point line if late money comes in on KC.

As far as the total, the Steelers' pace should be glacial to keep Mahomes off the field, and Kansas City had numberFire's 19th-ranked schedule-adjusted run defense this season. Expect plenty of Najee Harris, and I would side with the under that has hit in 10 of Pittsburgh's 17 games this year. I'll watch the line movement closely, but the under should also get a unit from yours truly by kickoff.

Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Chiefs 25-16