NFL Betting Guide: Wild Card Saturday
I don't know about you, but I am loving this new playoff football setup. Six games in the Wild Card weekend? Yes, please.
To kick things off, we get two AFC matchups. The Cincinnati Bengals and AFC North champions host the Las Vegas Raiders to kick off the playoff party, followed by a huge AFC East matchup between the New England Patriots traveling to play the Buffalo Bills. The Bengals are 5.5-point favorites, whereas the home Bills are 4.5-point favorites. The totals are 48.5 points and 43.5 points, respectively.
Our nERD-based rankings show that the first game could be a blowout. We have the Bengals ranked 12th, and the Raiders are ranked 23rd. Our nightcap could be a tight game; the Bills top the rankings and the Patriots are fifth overall.
Let's dive into some interesting betting angles for this contest.
Las Vegas Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals
A bit of a surprise to win the division, the Bengals have been carried this season by signal-caller Joe Burrow, who has recovered quite well from season-ending knee surgery during his rookie campaign. Using our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Burrow has recorded a Passing NEP per drop back of 0.21 -- well above the league average. Burrow has tossed for nearly 4,611 yards and 34 touchdowns this season.
Derek Carr leads the Vegas offense, but he has been far less efficient compared to Burrow. This year, he's thrown for only 22 touchdowns, recording a 0.13 Passing NEP per drop back. The 13 interceptions and 40 sacks have really brought his marks down as well.
Offensively, these two teams are fairly mediocre -- the Bengals check-in at 13th, but the Raiders are 16th. Defensively, this is no contest. The Bengals rank 11th and Las Vegas sits eighth-worst overall.
The Bengals are 5.5-point favorites and the total sits at 48.5 points. We side with the Bengals and project them to win this game 67.4% of the time. From a scoring perspective, we are projecting a 26.16-20.93 final, which makes the current spread basically a toss-up. We give Las Vegas a 51.09% chance to cover.
With the total, our algorithm projects the under to win out 54.89% of the time. Despite that under, one player prop I like and our projections agree with is Derek Carr's passing yards prop, which is set at 252.5 yards (-110). We project him in this negative game script to be throwing early and often, racking up 270.9 passing yards.
Betting history is not on the side of the host Bengals -- they are 0-6-1 against-the-spread (ATS) in their last seven Wild Card playoff games. Conversely, the Raiders are 6-2 ATS in their last eight games as a road dog.
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
Bitter AFC East rivals will match up -- and each team won on the other's home turf. Can the Patriots pull the trick for the third time this season?
After suffering back-to-back losses to the Pats (albeit, in a snowstorm) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, some left the Bills for dead -- but they ripped off four straight wins to end the regular season. The Bills are led by Josh Allen, who's been very good this season -- he's logged a 0.17 Passing NEP per pass this year, including 36 touchdowns and over 4,400 passing yards. Allen has added 763 rushing yards and six rushing scores on the season.
For the Pats to win, they will need rookie Mac Jones to step up in a big way. While rookie quarterbacks have the tendency to struggle, Jones has been a league-average quarterback; he's posted a 0.11 Passing NEP per pass, throwing 22 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. The Pats have been far more reliant on their running game, and Damien Harris (930 rushing yards, 15 rushing TDs) and Rhamondre Stevenson (605 rushing yards, 5 rushing TDs) have been outstanding.
Offensively, these two teams are strong -- the Bills check-in at 6th, and the Pats are 11th. Defensively, these are two great units; the Bills rank as the league's best, and the Patriots are third-best.
The Bills are only 4.5-point favorites and the total sits at a meager 43.5 points. We side with the Bills and project them to win this game 67.4% of the time. From a scoring perspective, we are projecting a 26.97-20.57 final, which lends some strength to the hosts as well. We give Buffalo a 54.84% chance to cover.
With the total, our algorithm projects the under to win out 70.8% of the time.
Despite what could be a tight, low-scoring affair, one player prop I like is a Josh Allen rushing yards (49.5, -110) and anytime TD (+550) prop. We already highlighted the damage Allen can do on the ground, and in two contests this year, he's racked up 18 carries for 103 rushing yards and a score. In Allen's last five games, he's rushed for 60-plus yards in four of the contests.
In recent memory, the Pats have absolutely dominated this series. They have been a covering machine, going 7-1 ATS in the last 8 games. However, outside of this head-to-head matchup, the Pats are only 1-3 ATS in their last four games, and the Bills are 3-0-1.