Expert NFL Picks for All 6 Super Wildcard Weekend Games, Including Colts-Bills and Ravens-Titans
Chris Altruda of PennBets.com, Borgata sportsbook director Tom Gable and VSiN sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum offer their insights
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, Chris Altruda, a national betting industry analyst for PennBets.com, Thomas Gable, the director of race and sportsbook at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, and sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum of VSiN share their opinions on all six games that will take place over the NFL’s Super Wild Card Weekend, including the Washington Football Team hosting Tampa Bay on Saturday and Pittsburgh hosting Cleveland on Sunday.
You’ve got places to go, people to see and possibly some wagers to make, so let’s get to it.
Indianapolis (11-5) (+240, +6.5, O/U 51) at Buffalo Bills (13-3)
A compelling matchup because … the Bills bring a 10-2 conference record and six-game winning streak into the franchise’s first home playoff game since the mid-1990s. The Colts won a road playoff game against the Texans when they were in the postseason two seasons ago and Andrew Luck was their quarterback. Can they do the same thing with Philip Rivers at QB?
Altruda’s Angle: A year older, a year wiser and, most importantly, a year better after ending New England’s reign atop the AFC East, the Buffalo Bills closed the season with an impressive flourish as they averaged 38.2 points in their final six games. Both quarterback Josh Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs will get their respective due in the form of MVP votes and the Bills will go as far as that pitch-and-catch combination can take them. The Colts have been all over the place this year, hence their spot as runner-up to Tennessee in the AFC South. When Rivers is on, Indianapolis can win any game. Ask the 39-year-old to do too much, however, and things can go sideways. Rookie running back Jonathan Taylor came on strong in the last six weeks of the season, highlighted by his 253-yard effort in Week 17 versus Jacksonville. Even with their second-half collapse at Pittsburgh, the Colts are 6-1 in their last seven games. But those little missed plays are the difference between being a No. 2 seed and a No. 7 seed. The Bills have made those plays; the Colts, not so much. I like the Bills, and I love them laying less than a touchdown with that low-side hook.
Gable’s Guess: The Bills offense has been on fire. Diggs led the league with 1,535 yards on 127 receptions. It’s unknown for this game if slot receiver Cole Beasley will play in the game after he missed Week 17. But rookie Gabriel Davis stepped in nicely in Beasley’s absence. I don’t necessarily believe Allen is going to win MVP, but he certainly will get some votes for the type of year he’s having. Buffalo ranks third in passing touchdowns with 40. And the offensive line has played very well. They’ve allowed the sixth-fewest sacks in the league at 28, which certainly has been a key factor in Allen’s performance. Their defense has been very good at times, but I would say their biggest weakness is against the run. They’ve allowed 11 runs of 20 yards or more, which is the most in the NFL. The Colts have looked shaky at times, most recently in Week 16, when they gave up a 24-7 lead to the Steelers and ended up losing. But they’ve had some good stories. Taylor has been very good for them. T.Y. Hilton, after dealing with injury issues in the beginning and the middle of the season, is back and has been performing at a high level since Week 12. And Rivers, he’s not making any major mistakes. As a whole, I don’t think the Colts have any real weaknesses on either side of the ball. If I could get 7 or more with the Colts, I’m going to take the points.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Colts (8-8 ATS) snuck into the playoffs as the No. 7 seed, needing a win against the Jaguars (28-14) in Week 17 and a loss from the Dolphins in order to punch their ticket to the postseason. Indianapolis won four of their last five games and finished +89 in point differential on the season. Meanwhile, the Bills (11-5 ATS) tied for the second-best record in the NFL during the regular season and enter the playoffs as the No. 2 seed. Buffalo just crushed Miami 56-26, winning outright as 3-point home dogs. The Bills won the AFC East and finished the regular season +126 in point differential. This line opened with Buffalo listed as a 7-point home favorite. The public is all over the Bills, who look like an unstoppable juggernaut. However, despite more than two-thirds of bettors laying the points, we’ve seen this line drop to 6.5. This sharp reverse line movement signals pro money grabbing the Colts +7. Wild-card dogs getting 7 points or fewer are roughly 58 percent ATS over the past decade. Playoff dogs that see the line stay the same or move in their favor are 57 percent ATS. Indianapolis is also one of the top contrarian plays of the weekend as the public is loading up on Buffalo. I’ll ride with the Colts, ideally at +7.
Our Pick: The Bills are the NFL’s hottest team, hands down. Lay the points.
Los Angeles Rams (10-6) (+155, +3.5, O/U 42.5) at Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
A compelling matchup because … winners of four in a row, the Seahawks have won at least one playoff game six of the last seven times they have qualified for the postseason. The Rams have made it to the playoffs in three of coach Sean McVay’s four seasons at the helm and advanced all the way to the Super Bowl just two seasons ago. These divisional foes split the season series 1-1, with the home team taking the victory each time.
Altruda’s Angle: The first two games between these NFC West rivals were defensive slugfests, but there’s a wrinkle for Round 3: the uncertainty of who will be the quarterback for the Rams. Jared Goff broke his throwing thumb in LA’s 20-9 loss to Seattle in Week 16 and sat out Week 17, but is trying to make himself available for this game. Backup John Wolford did a lot of good little things in terms of numbers — throwing for 231 yards and running for 56 more — but the offense failed to find the end zone in Week 17 and the defense caught a break with Cardinals QB Kyler Murray getting injured. McVay’s defense has made Seattle work offensively in both meetings — Russell Wilson had only one TD pass in the two matchups — but the Seahawks also have not often resembled the offensive juggernaut that opened the season 5-0. Still, that could make Wilson and Seattle more dangerous; they could finally be due for a breakout game. This line has been sliding toward Los Angeles, which seems counterintuitive considering Wilson is 5-0 at home in the postseason and Goff still a question mark. I’ve been a big fan of same-game teasers all season and see an opportunity here by shifting the lines to Seattle +2 and UNDER 48.5 points.
Gable’s Guess: Seattle’s defense has really made great strides after a pretty embarrassing start to the season. It’s good that they have as their offense has really cooled down and isn’t producing like they did in the early part of the season. When they started the year, their defense was really poor and offensively nobody could seem to stop them. And now they’re at the opposite end of the spectrum on both sides of the ball. I think what’s most troubling for Seattle is their lack of protection for Russell Wilson. They’re going up against the No. 1 defense in the league here in the Rams and a team that ranks second in sacks. So protecting Wilson is going to be huge. Obviously, Wilson’s mobile. But if he’s going to be running the entire game, I’m going to look to take the Rams plus the points in this.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Rams (9-7 ATS) made it into the playoffs as the sixth seed, beating the Cardinals 18-7 as 1-point home favorites in the regular season finale. Los Angeles finished +76 in point differential on the season. They will lean on the coaching of McVay and their stellar defense, as they’ll likely turn to rookie Wolford in place of the injured Goff. Meanwhile, the Seahawks (8-8 ATS) finished the regular season on a high-note by beating the 49ers 26-23 in Week 17, although they failed to cover as 7-point road favorites. Seattle won the NFC West and earned the No. 3 seed, finishing +88 in point differential for the season. This line opened with Seattle listed as a 4.5-point home favorite. This is the clearest “Pros vs Joes” game of the weekend as the public is hammering Russell Wilson at home, yet we’ve seen a sharp move to the road dog, with the Rams falling from +4.5 to +3.5. The Rams also have value as a contrarian divisional dog and a dog with a low total. These teams typically play close games. I’ll buy low on the Rams and grab them with the hook (+3.5).
Our Pick: Both teams have playoff pedigrees, but we like Seattle’s — and their quarterback — more. Lay the points.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) (-420, -8.5, O/U 45) at Washington Football Team (7-9)
A compelling matchup because … in four playoff games against the NFC East in his career, Tom Brady has gone 1-3. Now those were all Super Bowls and the WFT is not a Super Bowl-caliber club, but they may be able to take a page from the Giants’ and Eagles’ collective notebooks and disrupt Brady by hitting him early and often. Washington potentially rotating quarterbacks is also an interesting tactic, though it may not end up being an effective one.
Altruda’s Angle: The Buccaneers pieced together a four-game winning streak to close the season, but let’s recall they beat Atlanta twice sandwiched around a pasting of Detroit. Brady showed he can win without Bill Belichick, but the question is whether the Buccaneers can win with him throwing the deep ball that coach Bruce Arians likes so much. The offensive pieces are there with receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, along with Brady security blanket and old friend Rob Gronkowski, but Tampa needs RB Ronald Jones to be effective to keep Washington’s impressive pass-rushing tandem of Chase Young and Montez Sweat honest. The WFT emerged as the tallest midget of the NFC East, claiming a first-round home game as the prize, but this is still a severely flawed team. Alex Smith, for all his grittiness, is still dealing with a strained calf and could wind up splitting time with backup Taylor Heinicke in this game. That could play right into Tampa Bay’s feast-or-famine blitzing defense — the Bucs racked up 48 sacks and 25 takeaways — but they’ve also allowed an NFL-worst 14 touchdowns when blitzing. The NFL has been topsy-turvy all season and anything is possible, but this feels like too big an ask for Smith and Washington. If the Bucs get ahead early, they can turn their defense loose and hide from Washington. I’m gingerly taking the under here and line-shopping all the way to kickoff in hopes of finding at least an extra-half point to tack onto that total.
Gable’s Guess: Washington has a great defensive front that will be able to pressure Brady inside. That’s something he traditionally struggles with. Overall though, I don’t think Washington should be too much of a problem. There’ll be people rooting for Smith to have a Cinderella moment here and pull off a victory. But I don’t see it happening. The short drop-off passes that Washington lives on are not going to be able to move the ball much against this Tampa defense. This game is going to be a very popular teaser play with the public. Everybody’s going to be teasing Tampa down. I just don’t see Washington being able to put up too many points. And Washington’s defense is going to be good enough that I don’t see Tampa really scoring over 30. So I see this being a very low-scoring game. When I originally was looking at this, the total was at 46 and I was going to take the under. It’s moved, but I’d still look at the under.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: Brady has led the Buccaneers (9-7 ATS) to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Tampa Bay played their best football down the stretch, waxing the Falcons 44-27 in Week 17 and easily covering as 7-point home favorites. Tampa finished +137 in point differential. Meanwhile, Washington (8-7-1 ATS) snuck into the playoffs by beating the Eagles 20-14 in Week 17, although they failed to cover as 6.5-point road favorites. The Football Team went 5-2 down the stretch and won the NFC East. This line opened with the Bucs listed as a hefty 7.5-point or 8-point road favorite. The public is rushing to the window to back Brady and the Bucs, expecting an easy win and cover. This lopsided action moved the line up to Tampa -8.5 or -9. Washington is your top contrarian play of the weekend as they are only receiving about one-third of bets in a primetime game. Big playoff dogs of +7 or more are roughly 57 percent ATS over the past decade. The way to get to Brady is a stout front four that can pressure him up the middle. Washington can do just that. The Bucs will also likely be without linebacker Devin White and stud wide receiver Evans may be limited. Give me the big points with the Football Team.
Our Pick: Not convinced Washington can’t win here. Take the points.
Baltimore Ravens (11-5) (-186, -3, O/U 54.5) at Tennessee Titans (11-5)
A compelling matchup because … this will be the third time in approximately 12 months that these teams have played and there should be a good amount of bad blood on both sides. More of it should be on the side of the Ravens, as they lost the first two meetings, one of them an upset in the playoffs last season. Baltimore comes in riding a five-game winning streak.
Altruda’s Angle: This could be the most entertaining of the six first-round games, as a rejuvenated Ravens offense led by dual-threat quarterback Lamar Jackson faces the Titans and 2,000-yard rusher Derrick Henry. While Jackson’s passing touchdowns total dipped this season, he did clear 1,000 yards rushing for the second straight season. The pressure, though, is on the third-year pro after postseason flameouts at home versus the Los Angeles Chargers in 2018 and Tennessee last season. Jackson had 508 total yards in that 28-12 loss to the Titans, undone by three turnovers and two other failed drives that ended in loss of downs. Tennessee may be the most straightforward team in the playoffs — Henry gets the ball and good luck trying to haul him down. If he’s effective, he not only carries the offense, but the Titans also shorten the game. It also means less time for the Titans defense to be gashed, because to be frank, they’re not good on that side of the ball. The over delivered in Week 11 in this matchup when Henry rumbled 29 yards in overtime for a 30-24 Titans victory and the expectation is a repeat performance as both teams seem primed to clear 30 points.
Gable’s Guess: You could see this bounce between Titans +3 and +3.5. The Ravens coming into this game are not the same team that lost to the Titans a few weeks ago. They’re clicking in a lot of areas and this is the one team I don’t think anyone wanted to face in the playoffs in AFC. The Titans’ pass rush has been nonexistent. Giving Jackson more time is going to be detrimental. The Ravens’ rushing attack is very good. Their offensive line is playing better. And the Titans have given up a lot of points recently, and they give up the fifth-most yards per game. They also give up over 120 yards rushing per game. Everyone knows Henry will need to have a game like he did in last year’s playoff victory against Baltimore for the Titans to hang in there. I would expect Baltimore to run the ball a lot here and control the clock. I just think it’s a matter of which team can rack up more big plays. If you can find the hook at +3.5, I would take the Titans plus the points.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: This early Sunday showdown is a rematch of last year’s Divisional Round, which saw 6-seed Tennessee shock the 1-seed Baltimore 30-24. The Ravens (11-5 SU, 10-5-1 ATS) caught fire down the stretch, winning their last five games to earn the 5 seed. Baltimore crushed Cincinnati 38-3 in Week 17, easily covering as 13.5-point road favorites. The Ravens finished with a +165 point differential, best in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Titans (11-5 SU, 7-9 ATS) won the AFC South and went 3-1 down the stretch, earning the 4 seed. Tennessee won a 41-38 thriller over Houston in Week 17, although they failed to cover as 7-point road favorites. The Titans finished +52 in point differential for the season. This line opened with Baltimore listed as a 3.5-point road favorite. The public is laying the points with the red-hot Ravens, yet we’ve seen this line fall to the key number of 3. This is a classic example of sharp reverse line movement, with pros scooping up Tennessee plus the hook (+3.5) and forcing oddsmakers to drop this line in their favor. Tennessee has value as a contrarian home dog and a playoff dog with a line move in their favor (75% ATS the past decade). I don’t trust Lamar Jackson in the playoffs and Tennessee has Baltimore’s number. Hold out for the hook and grab the Titans at +3.5 if you can.
Our Pick: The Ravens aren’t dropping three in a row. Lay the points.
Chicago Bears (8-8) (+370, +10.5, O/U 47) at New Orleans Saints (12-4)
A compelling matchup because … honestly, it might not be one, as the Saints seem primed to exorcise some of the demons from past playoff failures by beating up on a Bears team that backed into the postseason. But on any given Sunday, anything can happen, and maybe Chicago will put up more of a fight than oddsmakers think.
Altruda’s Angle: Another regular-season rematch, with the Saints edging out the Bears 26-23 in overtime in Chicago in Week 8. There will be one notable change for the return encounter, as Mitch Trubisky will be under center for the Bears in what could be a make-or-break contest for whether his time in the Windy City comes to an end. Trubisky played better down the stretch than he did at the start of the season, but it remains clear there are limitations to his game. Chicago needs running back David Montgomery to be productive, but the hope is coach Matt Nagy didn’t wear him out by giving him 77 carries over the final three games — accounting for nearly one-third of his 247 rushes. New Orleans overcame an injury to quarterback Drew Brees and some internal dysfunction to win the NFC South — stud wide receiver Michael Thomas was injured and benched at points in the season — and all-purpose back Alvin Kamara remains in limbo after being held out of the season finale due to COVID-19. New Orleans caught a break with the game being played Sunday, as Saturday would fulfill the 10-day requirement Kamara needs to be asymptomatic to be eligible to play. Kamara’s absence makes laying the points with the Saints a risky proposition given the double-digit number and the high-side hook on a TD+FG total, so I’m taking the Bears and the points on the belief they’ll hang around just long enough before providing a back-door cover with a not-so-meaningless late touchdown.
Gable’s Guess: In their last six games, Chicago has averaged 30.2 points per game. They only scored 15 against Green Bay in Week 17, which snapped a streak of four consecutive games scoring 30 or more. In their first 10 games of the season, they were only averaging 19.1 points per game. Trubisky has improved his accuracy since taking back the starting job and they are running more play-action since re-establishing their running game. That’s been a big reason for their scoring going up. The Saints have the potential to have Kamara back. They’ve been keeping Thomas on the sideline specifically for the playoffs so he’s ready to go. Having Kamara back would be huge, as he led the NFL with 21 TDS and was third in overall yards with 1,688 from scrimmage. I don’t expect coach Sean Payton to be looking past this game. They’ve had some disappointments in the last couple of years in the playoffs. I think he’s going to be ready. Even though it’s a big number, I’m going to lay the points here with the Saints.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Bears (8-8 ATS) got crushed by the Packers 35-16 in Week 17, failing to cover as 4.5-point home dogs. However, Chicago still snuck into the playoffs thanks to a tie-breaker over the Cardinals. Chicago finished the regular season +2 in point differential, second-worst of all playoffs teams ahead of only Cleveland (-11). Meanwhile, the Saints (9-6-1 ATS) won the NFC South and finished tied for the second-best record in the conference, trailing only the Packers. New Orleans crushed Carolina 33-7 in Week 17, easily covering as 6-point road favorites. The Saints finished +145 in point differential, best in the NFC. This line opened with New Orleans listed as a 9-point home favorite. This public is all over the Saints and happy to fade Trubisky. This lopsided support has pushed the line up to the key number of 10. Chicago has value as a contrarian playoff dog with an inflated line. Big playoff dogs of +7 or more are roughly 57 percent ATS over the past decade. I can’t pass up a road team with a good defense getting double-digits in a playoff game. Give me Bears +10 (or +10.5 if the hook pops up).
Our Pick: The number’s just too big. Will hope for points and take the over.
Cleveland Browns (11-5) (+210, +6, O/U 47.5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
A compelling matchup because … the last time the Browns made the playoffs 18 seasons ago, they lost in the first round against the Steelers at Heinz Field. The time before that, they also lost to the Steelers — at Heinz Field. Will it be déjà vu all over again? For it not to be, Cleveland will have to combat a flawed but well-rounded Steelers team as well as an outbreak of COVID-19, the team’s second in three weeks.
Altruda’s Angle: This game has more subplots than you can shake a stick at. The weekend concludes with a rematch of a Week 17 showdown in which the Browns held off a largely second-string Steelers team to end their playoff drought. Of course, Cleveland being Cleveland, a host of COVID-19-related issues have affected the team’s depth and coaching staff, with head coach and offensive play-caller Kevin Stefanski among those infected. Special teams coordinator Mike Preifer will serve as interim head coach and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will call plays, one of many juggling acts going on throughout the Browns. On the field, wideout KhaDarel Hodge and left guard Joel Bitonio are out after testing positive, though linebacker B.J. Goodson does return. Practice time is also a concern after the Browns had to close the team’s facilities Tuesday and Wednesday. The Steelers, meanwhile, rested quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, edge rusher T.J. Watt, defensive tackle Cameron Heyward and center Maurkice Pouncey last week, and that could make all the difference given Pittsburgh was so hit-and-miss — especially on the offensive end — later on in the season. Roethlisberger is still a master of extending plays, but he was also victimized by a receiving corps that had more than its share of drops. That group also has scant playoff experience. Despite all the off-field churn, I’m taking the Browns and the points — Van Pelt calling the offense may actually help Baker Mayfield by keeping Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt more involved against a still beat-up Steelers defense.
Gable’s Guess: Mayfield didn’t play great against Pittsburgh’s defensive lineup in Week 17, so I would expect him to struggle even more here with more pressure being applied. The Browns also lost defensive end Olivier Vernon to a ruptured Achilles last week and Adrian Clayborn will replace him. Clayborn replaced Myles Garrett when he missed two games due to COVID and played very well, but it’s still a pretty big loss. The Browns, amazingly enough, have not won in Pittsburgh since 2003. They’ve gone 0-17 and 5-11-1 ATS in those games. The Steelers have had their number. The Browns will need to get Chubb more involved than the 15 touches he had on Sunday. On defense, they’ll somehow need to find a solution to contain Chase Claypool. In two games against Cleveland this year, he’s had nine catches for 175 yards and two scores. His yards per catch is exceptionally high. With all the issues with the Browns, including how they looked on Sunday when it was a must-win game against basically the Steelers’ reserves, I’m going to be laying the points here with Pittsburgh.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: Cleveland (6-10 ATS) finished the regular season with a -11 point differential, the worst of any playoff team this season. On the flip side, the Steelers (10-6 ATS) started 11-0 but stumbled down the stretch, going just 1-4. Still, Pittsburgh earned the No. 3 seed and finished with a +104 point differential. These two teams met last week, with the Browns winning 24-22, but the Steelers covering as 10-point road dogs. This line opened with Pittsburgh listed as a 3.5-point home favorite. Pros targeted the Steelers early, driving this line up to -4.5. When Cleveland’s COVID-19 news broke, this line skyrocketed to Steelers -6. When a line moves at least 1-point toward a team in the playoffs, those teams have covered at a 58 percent clip over the past decade. Pittsburgh will be a very popular teaser play this weekend, as you could move Pittsburgh from -6 down to a pick’em. Cleveland has value as a contrarian divisional dog in a primetime game with an inflated line. But I just can’t grab the points with the Browns. We’ve seen what happens when a team loses its coach and play-caller. (The Lions got crushed in this spot a few weeks ago.) I’ll hold off for a drop to -5.5 (below the key number of 6) and back the Steelers.
Our Pick: Can’t bet the Browns with so many personnel issues. Take the Steelers and lay the points.
Last Week: 3-2, Season: 47-36–1
Editor’s note: Lines fluctuate throughout the week based on injuries, weather reports and other factors. Make sure to double-check odds before betting.
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