How to Bet Wild-Card Weekend, Including Titans-Patriots and Seahawks-Eagles
Paul Bovi of VegasInsider.com and VSiN reporter Josh Applebaum weigh in
This is NFL Best Bets, a recurring series in which professional sports handicappers lend us their insights and picks for the most intriguing matchups for each week of the football season.
For this edition of Best Bets, Paul Bovi, a sports betting expert from VegasInsider.com who’s been handicapping games for three decades, and VSiN reporter Josh Applebaum share their opinions on the NFL’s four-game slate of matchups on Wild-Card Weekend.
You’ve got places to go, people to see and possibly some wagers to make, so let’s get to it.
No. 5 Bills (+125, +2.5, O/U 44) at No. 4 Texans
The Bills (10-6) and Texans (10-6) both had nothing to play for in Week 17 and both teams will come into this game fresh and relatively free on injuries. Buffalo has been good away from New Era Field, with a 6-2 road record for the season. To improve on that mark, their defense will have to hold an explosive Houston offense in check. The Texans have only been mediocre at home this season (5-3) but will get defensive star J.J. Watt back in the lineup to take on the Bills.
Bovi’s take: “The Texans will benefit from the return of their defensive leader J.J. Watt, who has been sidelined with a pectoral injury. Houston’s pass-rush efficiency dropped from 16th to 31st with him out of the lineup, while their average yards per rush allowed to opposing quarterbacks floated from 4.1 to 5.3 yards per carry. That’s a major factor considering Bills quarterback Josh Allen’s running ability. Buffalo is making their second playoff appearance in 25 years and come in with the second-best scoring defense in the league, though teams have been able to move the ball against them at times. Both teams offenses have been inconsistent, in part due to erratic QB play. Expect this one to be decided by a field goal either way.”
Applebaum’s take: “Both teams have identical 10-6 records, so how can you not take the team getting points? However, average Joes also love backing favorites, home teams and star quarterbacks — especially when they’re laying short spreads. Deshaun Watson and company fit the bill. The Bills went 9-6-1 ATS (against the spread) during the regular season while Houston was 7-8-1 ATS. Historically, playoff dogs have been a smart bet, going 95-76 ATS (55.6 percent) since 2003 according to Bet Labs Sports. If the line moves at least a half-point toward a playoff dog (think +3 to +2.5, as happened here) they improve to 36-12 ATS (75 percent). Both teams have been profitable to the under this season (BUF 12-4, HOU 9-7) and Tony Corrente, the lead ref, has historically favored unders as well (56.5 percent). However, playoff overs in domes or closed roof stadiums have gone 29-13 (69 percent) since 2003.”
Our Pick: The numbers are what they are. Take the Bills with the points.
No. 6 Titans (+190, +5, O/U 44.5) at No. 3 Patriots
There are storylines aplenty here as Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel, a former Patriot, leads the Titans (9-7) into Foxboro to take on his old coach in what could be the final game of Tom Brady’s career. Vrabel and the Titans took care of business against New England (12-4) last season in Nashville and they should be ready to play on Saturday night. The Patriots were a fairly good team at home this season, going 6-2, while the Titans have been decent on the road (5-3).
Bovi’s take: “The Patriots closed out the season by losing three of the last five, including Sunday’s shocker to Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins. They did manage a seven-point win over the Bills two weeks ago, which clinched their 16th division title in the last 18 years. That said, the offense has sputtered, as they have eclipsed the 24-point mark only once in the last seven weeks, the lone exception being the 34 points they scored in their win over the Bengals with four interceptions of Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton paving the way. New England takes on the resurgent Titans, who have scored 31+ points in five of their last seven while never failing to score at least 20 since QB Ryan Tannehill took the reins from Marcus Mariota in Week 6. Hard to build a case for the Patriots laying more than a field goal, so we’ll grab the points.”
Applebaum’s take: “This will likely be the most heavily bet game of the weekend. Tennessee played meaningful games down the stretch, defeating the Texans in Week 17 to secure the final playoff spot. Meanwhile, the Patriots looked very un-Patriot-like in the second half of the season. New England went 2-3 in their final five games, including a shocking loss to Miami in Week 17 as 17-point favorites that saw Tom Brady finish with his worst QB rating (88.0) since 2013. The Titans have value as a playoff road dog with a line move in their favor. Also, Brady and Belichick are 27-10 straight up (73 percent) in the playoffs since 2003 but just 19-18 ATS. However, the Patriots look vulnerable and the media narrative all week has been pounding the idea the dynasty is coming to an end. This is usually when New England is at its best. John Hussey, the head official, historically favors home teams (55.4 percent ATS) and the under (56 percent).”
Our Pick: Look for Brady to have one more good week and lay the points.
No. 6 Vikings (+300, +8, O/U 49.5) at No. 3 Saints
In a rematch of the “Minneapolis Miracle” game in the divisional round of the playoffs two seasons ago, New Orleans (12-3) will look to exact revenge while hosting Minnesota (10-6) on Sunday afternoon. The largest underdog of the weekend, the Vikings will look to play their best game of the season on national television after a disappointing showing on Monday Night Football in Week 16 that locked them into the sixth seed in the NFC. The Saints are a strong home team (6-2) whereas the Vikings (4-4) are pretty mediocre on the road.
Bovi’s take: “This one will be played in the Big Easy as the Saints seek a reversal of fortune from two seasons ago, especially after last year’s missed pass interference call in their playoff loss to the Rams. The Vikings have struggled in pass coverage this year and now face a Saints team that has gotten healthier with the return of two offensive linemen, while the running back tandem of Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray comes in averaging a shade over 4.5 yards per carry, complementing Drew Brees and his 74-percent completion percentage. The Saints have the edge on both sides of the ball and should dominate on Sunday afternoon. Call it 35-17.”
Applebaum’s take: “On paper, this looks like a layup for the Saints. New Orleans finished the regular season tied with the 49ers and Packers for the second-best record in the NFL. Drew Brees (116.3 QB rating) has played unbelievably well since returning from his thumb injury in late October. Michael Thomas just set the single-season record for catches in a season (149). Plus, New Orleans finally seems to have a defense they can rely on (allowing only 21.31 PPG). Meanwhile, Minnesota lost their final two regular-season games and, although he had a strong year (107.5 QB rating), the stigma remains that Kirk Cousins can’t win a big game. Wiseguys have been targeting the over. It opened at 47 and has been bet up to 49.5. The over is 29-13 (69 percent) in dome or closed roof playoff games since 2003. Both teams are 9-7 on the over this season.
Our Pick: Hope Cousins can score some points and take the over.
No. 5 Seahawks (-130, -2, O/U 46) at No. 4 Eagles
As the only road favorites of the weekend, the injury-depleted Seahawks (11-5) head to Philadelphia for a matchup with the banged-up Eagles (9-7). Seattle has been exceptional on the road this season (7-1) while Philly has been pretty underwhelming at home (5-3). Both teams are well-coached and have playoff pedigrees, so this game could actually be better than advertised.
Bovi’s take: “The injury-riddled Eagles clinched the NFC East with yet another hard-fought win on Sunday, this one over the Giants 34-17. The score was misleading, as Philly clung to a 20-17 late in the third quarter before turnover-prone Giants’ quarterback Daniel Jones fumbled, which the Eagles recovered leading to a quick score. Philly is down several receivers and could be without tight end Zach Ertz, who caught 12 balls when these two hooked up six weeks ago in a 17-9 Seattle win. The Seahawks appear the have edges here on both sides of the ball, especially considering injuries to the Eagles skill positions and defensive backs, but the preference here is to the low side of the total.”
Applebaum’s take: “Seattle enters with a superior record and is led by Super Bowl champion and perennial All-Pro Russell Wilson. The public doesn’t seem to respect the Eagles because of their 9-7 record and the fact that they come from the worst division in the NFL. However, Philadelphia has quietly won four straight while Seattle dropped its final two regular-season games. The Seahawks opened as short one-point road favorites. The public couldn’t believe the line was so low. They saw a team with a better record and superior quarterback and rushed to the window to back Seattle, so the line rose to -2.5. Philadelphia is your top contrarian play of the weekend, as they are only team receiving roughly one-of-five bets. The Eagles also appear to be the healthier team, as Seattle is dealing with several key injuries.”
Our Pick: Seattle has been too good on the road. Take ’em and lay the points.
Last Week’s Picks: 1-4, Season: 36-44
Editor’s note: Lines fluctuate throughout the week based on injuries, weather reports and other factors. Make sure to double-check odds before betting.