This is Betting the Spread: Wild Card Weekend! The regular season is done, and now it’s time for the good stuff. The playoffs are here! More games are to be played, which means there are more games to bet on. I would’ve loved to finish with a record above .500 on the season, but we dug too deep a hole to overcome. Our record to end the season was 118-125-1. But the playoffs are a clean slate for those who advance and a fresh start toward the ultimate end goal. This wild card round is a very unique one too. Every game features a rematch from the regular season. It should be fun watching!
Seattle Seahawks vs San Francisco 49ers (-9.5)
Pick ATS: Seattle Seahawks
The 49ers seem like a bad matchup for the Seahawks. When they have the ball, they can hammer the Seahawks’ run defense that ranks No. 25 according to Football Outsiders’ run defense DVOA metric and allows the No. 3-most rushing yards per game (150.2) with Christian McCaffrey and the recently re-reactivated Elijah Mitchell. Though the Seahawks are fine against the pass (No. 17 in pass defense DVOA), they can’t cover tight ends. They ranked No. 31 in the NFL in adjusted fantasy points allowed to tight ends according to numberfire.com. Yes, we’ve exited fantasy land for now, but when fantasy invades reality as it did in Week 15, George Kittle drops an anvil (5-4-93-2) on your head.
🏈: (via @NFL) | @49ers vs. @Seahawks #TNFonPrime | Watch NOW on @PrimeVideo pic.twitter.com/Li83r1tOKm
— NFL On Prime Video (@NFLonPrime) December 16, 2022
The other side of the ball hasn’t borne much fruit against the 49ers either for the Seahawks. Seattle has been held under 20 points six times in 17 games this season. Two of those have come against the 49ers. Seattle had two of 74 Geno Smith passes register over 20 yards. Two. And one of those came on a dump-off to Kenneth Walker III. Speaking of Mr. Walker, there won’t be much room for him to run against San Francisco’s No. 2-ranked run defense DVOA (Seattle running backs ran for 86 yards on 25 carries in their two games against San Francisco this season).
Seattle’s offense as a whole did not land their plane smoothly to end their season either. Geno Smith finished with a negative completion percentage over expectation in four of his last five games of the season according to NFL Next Gen Stats (ironically, the one positive game came against the 49ers). This Seahawks season has been a rousing success no matter the result of this game, but it ends on Saturday.
Los Angeles Chargers (-2) vs Jacksonville Jaguars
Pick ATS: Los Angeles Chargers
Both of these teams’ defenses are playing well at the right time. ESPN’s Bill Barnwell noted that the Jaguars have the league’s best defense in EPA per play since Week 14. Meanwhile, from Weeks 12-16, the Chargers had the league’s No. 2-best defense according to Football Outsiders. In Week 17, they held the Rams to 10 points. They did relinquish 28 points to the Broncos in Week 18, but that game was meaningless.
The Los Angeles Chargers defense is 2nd in DVOA (-17.1%) over the last five weeks. 🔥 #BoltUp pic.twitter.com/va9k5yfTtw
— Football Outsiders (@fboutsiders) December 29, 2022
Granted, neither team played an arduous schedule. Jacksonville ended the season with a three-game stretch of Zach Wilson, Davis Mills, and Josh Dobbs just to get here. But maybe this game won’t showcase the fireworks we’re expecting from two ascending quarterbacks: Justin Herbert and Trevor Lawrence.
I think we’ll get some from both, but mostly from Justin Herbert. Despite the strong finish for Jacksonville’s defense, they finished No. 30 in pass defense DVOA and No. 11 in run defense DVOA. Unfortunately for the Jags, the Chargers don’t run the ball. 63.7-percent of the Chargers’ plays have been passes this season. Herbert ranked No. 2 in the NFL in pass attempts (699) and No. 1 in Money Throws (53) this season. His efficiency has taken a major step up since Keenan Allen returned from his hamstring injury.
These two teams played in Week 3, but things are a lot different from then and now. Justin Herbert was playing through a rib injury. The Chargers lost both Joey Bosa and Rashawn Slater in that game, both of whom could return this week. Mike Williams caught a gnarly touchdown in that game, but he won’t be active. James Robinson was also the leading rusher in the game for the Jaguars. Trevor Lawrence balled out (28-39, 262 yards, three touchdowns), a sign of his impending leap toward stardom. But the Chargers rank No. 10 in pass defense DVOA and a meager No. 29 in run defense DVOA. This looks like a great spot for Travis Etienne, but I think the Chargers have a better chance of slowing down Lawrence than the Jaguars do silencing Justin Herbert. I’ll say 24-20 Chargers.
Miami Dolphins vs Buffalo Bills (-13.5)
Pick ATS: Buffalo Bills
Buffalo had no problems moving the ball against the Dolphins in their two matchups this season. In Week 3, Buffalo accumulated 515 yards of offense (excluding sack yards). In Week 15, they added 454 more. Their problem in Week 3 was sloppiness and then getting stops and allowing big plays in Week 15. They can control that first problem and Skylar Thompson should be enough to limit that second concern.
Tua Tagovailoa has already been ruled out. Teddy Bridgewater is dealing with a pinky injury. Thompson is expected to start, and that should be music to Buffalo’s ears. Thompson is averaging 5.1 yards per attempt and 3.8 adjusted yards per attempt according to playerprofiler.com. Of his 105 pass attempts, 10 have been considered Danger Plays, and seven passes of been interceptable. That’s not what you want against the No. 4-best defense in the NFL in terms of DVOA. It’s hard to see Miami’s path to winning without at least Bridgewater at quarterback.
New York Giants vs Minnesota Vikings (-3)
Pick ATS: Minnesota Vikings
Football Outsiders ranks the Giants as the No. 21 team in the NFL in terms of DVOA. The Vikings? No. 27. Neither of these teams has a positive point differential either. The Giants’ lone wins since their bye have come against the Texans, Commanders (where they needed a defensive score by Kayvon Thibodeaux to muster enough points to win), and Colts. They went 2-6 against playoff teams. We all know that the Vikings’ 11-0 record in one-score games is unsustainable and flimsy at best.
But this is a matchup even the fraudulent Vikings should be able to take at home. Heck, they already did it once. Kirk Cousins has a 44.1-percent completion percentage when pressured this season. That ranks No. 13 among quarterbacks according to playerprofiler.com. The Giants blitz the No. 2-most in the NFL. That number may be inflated with how the Giants disguise their pressure. Regardless, Cousins had no problem with it back in Week 16.
The Giants currently 2nd in the NFL in blitz %, came after Cousins 21 times in week 16.
He had a 122.3 rating with 2 TD’s against Winks Blitzes. Cousins is one of the best QB’s against the blitz.#TogetherBlue #TommysTakes
— Tommy (@TommyG105) January 12, 2023
Kirk Cousins finished that Week 16 game 34-48 for 299 yards and three touchdowns. He hit Justin Jefferson on a Giant blitz late to sustain their eventual game-winning drive.
On 3rd & 9, Kirk Cousins to Justin Jefferson for 16-yds#Giants 24 #Vikings 24 4th pic.twitter.com/kfxSLscfhk
— Sᴘᴏʀᴛs 24/7 (@Sports_24x7_) December 24, 2022
And then a screen pass to Jefferson against another blitz (great play call from Kevin O’Connell) set up Greg Joseph’s game-winning field goal.
On 3rd & 11, Kirk Cousins 17-yds to Justin Jefferson .. FGA coming up#Giants 24 #Vikings 24 4th pic.twitter.com/aV79SHV2xu
— Sᴘᴏʀᴛs 24/7 (@Sports_24x7_) December 24, 2022
The Giants have things working in their favor too. Daniel Jones ranks No. 1 among quarterbacks in True Completion Percentage (75.1-percent), No. 8 in True Passer Rating (94), and No. 7 in QBR (60.7). Minnesota’s secondary is very bad. They rank No. 26 in pass defense DVOA and allowed the No. 2-most receiving yards per game in the NFL (279.3). The Giants will make this interesting. But, even though I think the Vikings are frauds, they should have enough to at least win this game at home.
(Sidenote: If you’re into playoff DFS, this is the game you should want a lot of exposure to.)
Baltimore Ravens vs Cincinnati Bengals (-9.5)
Pick ATS: Cincinnati Bengals
Joe Burrow hasn’t been all that good against the Ravens this season. Just look at this tweet from The Ringer’s Benjamin Solak.
Heavy Cover 2/Quarters. Try to take away the verticals/deep in-breakers. And make Burrow throw the unders.
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) January 11, 2023
A change in styles from past defensive coordinator Wink Martindale (now with the Giants) and his blitz-heavy scheme to Mike McDonald’s more zone-based defense is a big reason why Burrow had only 432 passing yards in his two games against the Ravens this season. He put up 416 and 525 in *each* of his games against the Ravens last year.
Unfortunately, I don’t think it matters much since Lamar Jackson won’t play in this game. Tyler Huntley has yet to throw for 200 or more yards while filling in for Jackson. Anthony Brown just completed 19 of 44 passes against these Bengals and threw two picks. If Jackson plays, Baltimore can pull off this upset. I’d pick the Bengals anyway, but think they cover -8.5 fairly smoothly if Jackson doesn’t go.
Dallas Cowboys (-2.5) vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Pick ATS: Dallas Cowboys
On paper, the Cowboys should easily handle Tampa. Dallas finished No. 5 in the NFL in point differential at +125. Only the 49ers (+173), Bills (+169), Eagles (+133), and Chiefs (+127) were better there. The Bucs finished No. 4 in the NFC South in point differential (-45). Yes, the Saints (-15), Falcons (-21), and Panthers (-27) all had better point differential than this lowly division’s winner. And yet they get a home playoff game against a team that is not only reeling, but one Tampa already beat back in Week 1.
These teams are fairly similar too. Neither can run the ball. Well, Ezekiel Elliott can’t run the ball. Elliott averages 3.7 True Yards per Carry (No. 62 among running backs). Leonard Fournette averages 3.5 (No. 68). Rachaad White? 3.6 (No. 65). But Tony Pollard laps them all at 4.7 true yards per carry, good for No. 13 among running backs. Dallas has an edge with Pollard that they’ll need to use. Let’s hope they realize it (not a given).
They also have an edge rushing the passer. Neither team excels at protecting their quarterback. Tampa ranks No. 25 in ESPN’s pass block win rate. Dallas? No. 28. But Tampa ranks No. 22 in pass rush win rate; Shaq Barrett’s injury has hurt them. Meanwhile, Dallas ranks No. 2.
The saying goes that if you can pressure Tom Brady with four, you can beat him. Dallas should have the goods to come through in that department. It is entirely plausible the comeback king Tom Brady pulls off another rabbit out of his hat, and definitely possible that the Cowboys gag away another winnable playoff game. However, the regular season tells us that not only is Dallas the significantly better team, but they can exploit Tampa’s weaknesses in a profound way. And the line is less than a field goal? I’ll take the Cowboys.