This is NFL Best Bets, a recurring series in which football experts and handicappers lend us their insights and picks for the most intriguing matchups for each week of the professional football season.
In our Super Wild Card Weekend edition of Best Bets, Thomas Gable, the director of race and sportsbook at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum of VSiN, and Mike Golic Jr. of DraftKings share their opinions on six games that will be played starting on Saturday afternoon and ending with a postseason edition of Monday Night Football. Before we get to the picks, here are 12 notable numbers related to long weekend’s six games.
You’ve got places to go, people to see and possibly some wagers to make, so let’s get to it.
Browns (-2, O/U 44.5) at Texans
Appelbaum’s Assessment: This line opened with Cleveland listed as a short 2-point road favorite. Currentyl, 69% of bets and 79% of the money are backing the Browns. This lopsided betting pushed the Browns up from -2 to -3. However, once we reached the key number of 3 we saw some sharp buyback on Houston +3, dropping the line back down to Browns -2.5 or -2 at some shops. The Texans are only receiving 31% of bets, giving Houston excellent contrarian value in a heavily bet primetime game. Playoff dogs are 43-29 ATS (60%) since 2017, including 20-10 ATS (67%) in the Wild Card round. I’ll take the points with Houston, especially in a teaser (+2.5 to +8.5), which passes through the top key numbers of 3 and 7.
Gable’s Guess: I think the question here is whether the Browns’ defense can play on the road the same way they have at home this season. If they can, they may have a legitimate shot to win the AFC, as improbable of a story as that would be. The Browns have been able to navigate serious injuries and a very competitive division and they look potentially dangerous. Since Cleveland brought in Joe Flacco at quarterback, their offense has looked as good as it has all season. As for the Texans, they’ve had to ride the arm of rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud. They are ahead of schedule with winning the division this year after finishing in last place last year. I’m just not sure the Texans are ready yet, so I’m going to lay the points with the Browns.
Golic’s Gamble: The Texans have been a great story, but I think the combination of Joe Flacco’s playoff experience and the Browns’ stellar defense will prove to be too much. I’ll lay the points.
IH Best Bet: Defense travels and Flacco has been money since getting off his couch. Laying the points.
Dolphins (+4.5, O/U 43.5) at Chiefs
Appelbaum’s Assessment: This line opened with the Chiefs listed as a 3-point home favorite. We’ve seen the Chiefs move from -3 to -4.5, signaling smart money laying the points with Kansas City. The Chiefs are only receiving 54% of bets but are getting 73% of the money, indicating modest public support as well as heavy sharp action. The forecast calls for frigid temperatures with strong winds. The Dolphins, a warm weather team, are 0-9 straight up and 2-7 ATS since 2017 when the temperature is less than 40 degrees. I jumped on the Chiefs moneyline earlier this week at -175. It’s a bit pricey now (-225), but I’ll stick with the Chiefs to win straight up and pay the juice.
Gable’s Guess: A couple weeks ago, I wouldn’t have given Kansas City too much of a loo in this matchup, even at home. But Miami has lost really key pieces on defense due to injury. This isn’t the same dynamic Kansas City offense we have come to expect, but their defense has stepped up this season and I expect them to be able to get pressure on Tua. I don’t think Miami’s offensive line will be up to the task of slowing down the Chief pass rush. Maybe all the injuries on Miami’s defense will be just what the doctor ordered for the offense of Kansas City. But based on what we observed all season, I can’t suddenly just trust the Kansas City offense is going to come to life. I’m going to go with the under in this one.
Golic’s Gamble: It’s going to be bitterly cold on Saturday night in Kansas City. The Dolphins are extremely banged up on defense and have seen their offensive line and receiver room suffer from the inconsistent availability of key pieces as well. KC will win close and ugly, the way they have for much of the year. Siding with the under.
IH Best Bet: Betting the cold is too much for Miami to handle. Will lay the points with the Chiefs.
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Steelers (+9.5, O/U 35.5) at Bills
Appelbaum’s Assessment: This line opened with the Bills listed as a 10-point home favorite. The public is split down the middle and doesn’t know whether to take the points or lay them. A closer look at the line movement shows that it never reached -10.5, and at times has briefly dipped to -9.5. This signals some liability on the Steelers plus the points. However, one scary trend to consider is that Wild Card home favorites of -9 or more are 9-1 ATS since 2006. Weather could also play a factor here, as the forecast calls for temps in the low 20s with 20-30 MPH winds. I’ll bypass the spread and take the under 35.5. Currently, 45% of bets and 66% of the money is on the under.
Gable’s Guess: The total of this game opened at 40.5, and it dropped within 24 hours based on forecasts of 30 to 50 mph winds in Buffalo. If that comes to fruition, don’t expect to see much passing going on, and both teams will be running the ball. Kicking is also going to be an issue. Buffalo had a game with similar circumstances two years ago against New England, and the Patriots barely threw a pass in that game. This could favor Pittsburgh, who would probably be running the ball more anyway. The Bills have a ton of momentum and getting a home playoff game is huge, but it’s important to keep an eye on the weather here. For now, I’ll take the points with Pittsburgh.
Golic’s Gamble: Having to play without TJ Watt is pretty damning for this Steelers squad. Mike Tomlin has once again done the impossible, maximizing the ability of a team now led by Mason Rudolph at QB on offense. But everything has a breaking point. The Bills are one of the hottest teams in football, and that should continue this weekend in Orchard Park. Laying the points with the home team.
IH Best Bet: Don’t like either side here with this number. Maybe we get another Snow Bowl. Going under.
Packers (+7, O/U 50.5) at Cowboys
Appelbaum’s Assessment: This line opened with the Cowboys listed as a 7-point home favorite. We saw the line quickly tick up to Cowboys -7.5. The public is leaning toward Dallas, with 55% of bets laying the points. However, we’ve seen respected buyback on Green Bay plus the hook, with most shops juicing up the Packers +7.5 to -115, signaling a possible fall back down to 7. Green Bay is only receiving 45% of bets but 55% of the money, a sharp contrarian bet split. Playoff dogs who missed the postseason the previous year are 34-17 ATS (675) since 2017. Meanwhile, Dak Prescott is just 1-5 ATS in his postseason career. I’ll sweat the dog and take Green Bay with the points.
Gable’s Guess: Green Bay has been a nice surprise this season. It’s their first in the post-Aaron Rogers world, and there were plenty of Jordan Love doubters coming into the season, including me. The Packers have had their ups and downs, but they’ve come on strong to finish out the year, and Love has looked impressive. The offensive line is giving him time to throw the ball and make plays. However, facing the NFC East champs, who are undefeated at home, will be a big challenge for Green Bay. Keeping up offensively will take a lot. I expect the Packers to be a popular underdog this week and I’m tempted, but I’m going to play the total. Both of these offenses should be able to put up points, so give me the over.
Golic’s Gamble: It’s hard to be confident in this Cowboys team based on the response we’ve seen from them in big moments this season. That being said, with the offensive line healthy and Ceedee Lamb still terrorizing secondaries, I think they find a way to win a close one against a red-hot Jordan Love. I will take the Packers with the points.
IH Best Bet: For Green Bay to hang in, they will have to score points. Rolling with the over.
Rams (+3, O/U 51.5) at Lions
Appelbaum’s Assessment: This line opened with the Lions listed as a 3.5-point home favorite. We’ve seen Detroit fall from +3.5 to +3, signaling smart money grabbing the Rams plus the hook (+3.5). The Rams are receiving 61% of bets but 78% of the money, signaling modest public support but also heavy sharp action from respected bettors. Playoff dogs with line moves in their favor are 17-9 ATS (65%) since 2017. Wild Card dogs playing an opponent who missed the playoffs the previous year are 12-1 ATS (92%) since 2017. I’ll follow the system plays and bank on the playoff experience of Sean McVay over the inexperience of Dan Campbell. I’ll buy up a half point and take the Rams +3.5 at -120.
Gable’s Guess: The Lions are the favorites, but I could really see the Rams being a popular play this weekend. The Rams were a team no one gave any chance to coming into this season. They had Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp and who else? Nobody knew anyone else on the roster. Stafford still looks great. Puka Nacua has emerged as one of the best receivers in the league in his rookie season. Stafford returning to Detroit is going to capture all the headlines. Detroit has waited a long time to be in this position, and it will be tragic for their fan base if Stafford comes in and beats them. Dan Campbell gets a lot of credit for getting the Detroit team to this position, but I still feel this could turn into a coaching mismatch. Campbell’s hardheaded, and that sometimes leads to poor in-game decisions. Sean McVay is one of the best coaches in football, and I’m sure he will be able to out-scheme Campbell. Can the Los Angeles defense hold this Detroit offense in check? I trust McVay more and I’m going to take the points with the Rams.
Golic’s Gamble: Outside of Buffalo, I don’t think there’s a hotter team than the Rams. A healthy Matt Stafford combined with a Kyren Williams-led revamped rushing attack has completely changed the floor of this team. I think Stafford shows out in his first trip back to Detroit since the trade in a game that reminds people about the ceiling of Jared Goff. I’ll back the Rams to win.
IH Best Bet: It’s probably the trendiest bet of the week, but believe in McVay in this spot. Rams with the points.
Eagles (-3, O/U 44) at Buccaneers
Appelbaum’s Assessment: This line opened with the Eagles listed as a 2.5-point road favorite. The public is backing Philadelphia with 65% of bets laying the points. This lopsided support has moved the Eagles up from -2.5 to -3. The Bucs have value as a contrarian home dog only receiving 35% of bets. Playoff dogs are 43-29 ATS (605) since 2017, with Wild Card dogs 20-10 ATS (67%) over that timespan. Tampa Bay has the better defense, allowing 19 points per game (7th) compared to Philadelphia at 25 PPG (30th). Give me Bucs +3.
Gable’s Guess: I found this to be the most difficult game to handicap because of the Eagles. This team has been in a freefall for weeks, and they lost to Arizona and the Giants to close out the season and blow the division title. If you look closer, things have been bad for a while. This team easily could have finished with only eight wins. They’re almost unrecognizable at this point. The defense hasn’t been able to stop the run or pass. On the offensive side of the ball, DeVonta Smith and A.J Brown are both banged up, but they’ll likely play here. Despite all the bad, this is probably the best-case scenario and the best opponent for them. Tampa isn’t anything special, but they happen to play in the worst division in football and won that division. No matter who wins this game, I don’t see either team advancing past the next round. I don’t think the Eagles can just flip a switch here, so I’m going to take the points with Tampa.
Golic’s Gamble: The Eagles are just flat-out too injured to function. Jalen Hurts is nursing an injured finger and will be throwing to a receiving corps that saw DeVonta Smith miss last week’s game and AJ Brown leave early. Sydney Brown’s torn ACL is just the latest injury to add to the massive list of defensive starters lost from the heart of an already suspect defense. This seems like the perfect recipe for a Baker Mayfield-led upset. Bucs with the points.
IH Best Bet: Banged up as they are, the Eagles are in a different class than Tampa. Laying the points.
Last Week: 4-1, This Season: 45-35-4
Editor’s note: Betting lines fluctuate based on injuries, the weather and other factors. Double-check the odds before betting.