It’s playoff time so let’s get right down to it. For the first time ever we have six games on wildcard weekend as the NFL expanded to a 7-team per conference format. The action this week features three games with point spreads of +/- 4.5 or less and three games with spreads +/- 7 or bigger. From an injury perspective there’s lots of news. The Browns have ruled out their head coach Kevin Stefanski (and a few other coaches) meaning the sidelines will be controlled by their special teams coach Mike Priefer. Stefanski could have a false positive test so there’s still a chance he returns in time for the game.
One player who seems likely to return for his game this week is Alvin Kamara, who tested positive for Covid last week. He’d have to remain asymptomatic though to return and test negative again. He’d also be coming in with zero days of practice so the situation would be less than ideal. The other NFC game with lots of drama around it is in Seattle. Jared Goff (thumb) has started throwing footballs but he’s far from a sure thing to start the game which means it could be John Wolford time again. Wolford led the team to its first win in three games in Week 17 so the Rams are far from dead if he starts. Also, the Hawks best defensive player Jamal Adams (shoulder) is now questionable to play.
Washington is also a place to watch as the Football Team is throwing out the idea of potentially using Alex Smith and Taylor Heinicke in a “rotation”. It would be a weird wrinkle to throw out in a playoff game but Alex Smith is still not 100% and nearly lost the game for Washington last week (but the Eagles pulled their starting QB for “evaluation” purposes).
For betting, there’s lots of potential late news that could shift lines so make sure you keep an eye on it up to kickoff.
Wildcard preview (lines and totals)
The Colts and the Bills kick things off this week in what could end up being the most interesting game of slate. The Bills ended the season on a massive roll with John Allen ending the year with 37 passing TDs and 8 rushing TDs, against just 10 INTs. He’s in the running for MVP because of throws like this.
Allen will likely end up losing the MVP award to Aaron Rodgers but he’s in a great spot to make a postseason run this year. The Bills closed with six straight wins and were one hail mary stop away from rolling into the playoffs on a 10-game win streak. The Colts are not pushovers though. The team ranked 9th in yards allowed on defense and rode the hard running of Jonathan Taylor down the stretch, who could prove hard to stop for a mediocre Bills rush defense. This one could devolve into a shootout and it’s worth mentioning that Bills games hit the over in 10 of 16 matchups this year.
The Rams-Seahawks has an interesting line attached given that the Hawks beat the Rams pretty handily in Week 16. Jared Goff is questionable but doesn’t sound likely to play meaning that John Wolford would be in line to start again. Wolford gained 56 yards with his legs against the Cardinals but faces a tougher test here and the Rams likely won’t be holding Russell Wilson to just 7-points as they did the Kyler-less Cards. This could be a closer game than people think but siding against Seattle here is tough. It’s worth noting that the Seahawks are 6-2 ATS this year as home favorites.
The Bucs-Washington game could end up being a defensive battle as both teams have great D-Lines who can take over games with their pass rush and run stopping ability. Tampa’s offense eviscerated four weak defenses to end the year but only averaged 13-points in two games against the Saints and their tough D-Line. The -9 points here seems mighty optimistic for a Tampa team that has proven to be very fragile.
The Ravens/Titans game has the smallest point spread of the bunch and should be a war considering how the last two contests between these teams have gone. Tennessee shocked the Ravens in the playoffs last year beating them handily 28-12, in a game where Lamar Jackson threw an incredible 59-passes and was picked twice. They played again this year and the game was much closer with the Titans taking a 30-24 game that needed OT to decide.
Tennessee’s pass defense has been terrible this year and have allowed the fifth-most passing yards, while also recording the fewest sacks in the league. Lamar Jackson comes in playing well with 10 TDs vs. just 3 INTs in his last five games. That said, this game will come down to whether or not the Ravens can contain Derrick Henry who ran for 133 yards against them this year.
If Baltimore can’t contain him expect a shootout, if they can then the Ravens offense could really get off here and put Tennessee in a hole early.
The Saints and Bears are the biggest mismatch of the week on paper. As mentioned above, New Orleans is likely to have Alvin Kamara back here which is a huge lift. Chicago enters this game 8-8 on the year ATS, while New Orleans is 9-7. This game is likely going to come down to whether or not Mitchell Trubisky can hold up to the pressure the Saints are going to bring, which probably doesn’t bode well for New Orleans. It’s a massive line and worth noting that these two teams played a very close 26-23 game back in Week 8.
The Browns will be without their head coach on the sidelines for this week’s game due to Covid-19 which is a massive loss. Money has started to pour in on the Steelers who kept the game close last week despite starting Mason Rudolph–the Browns won 24-22 and needed a late two-point conversion stop to keep the win. Cleveland could rally behind this though and they haven’t lost any player personnel this time to Covid so the line here may be swaying too far to PITT.
Wildcard Week early conviction play
Week 17 results
- Bears +5.5 X
- Season record: 9-4 ATS (Totals 1-2)
Bet: Colts +7
As much as I like Josh Allen and the Bills right now, you’ve got to think that going up against one of the hottest runners in football in Jonathan Taylor is probably one of the worst matchups the Bills could get stylistically. Buffalo has given up 4.6 YPC on the season–the seventh-worst mark in the league–and faces an equally hot Colts team who could easily be coming into the playoffs on a five game winning streak if not for a late game meltdown against the Steelers a couple weeks ago.
The loss to the Steelers aside, the Colts have taken down some very good teams this year as they hold wins over the Bears, Packers and Titans (all playoff teams) and should be able to move the ball on the ground here. Taylor has now averaged exactly 6.66 YPC over his last four games (I’m not making that up) and should limit the damage Buffalo’s solid pass rush can do in this spot. Josh Allen could easily work his magic and still win this game for Buffalo (he probably will) but I expect the Colts, who are 5-3 ATS as the away team this year, to keep this game close to the bitter end.
Wildcard NFL game props
Week 17 results: 2-1
- Patriots under 23.5 pts X
- Raiders/Broncos over 3.5 FGs (+131) O (4 FGs)
- Texans over 23.5 Team Total O
Both of these teams rank inside the top-10 in FGs made on the year and are neutral to positive teams in terms of pace of play. While these offenses do score points, neither is a standout red zone offense with the Colts ranked 18th and Buffalo ranked 13th in red zone efficiency. The weather in Buffalo could be a slight factor, but it’s really only supposed to be a little chilly with little wind. This one feels like the game to target for our over FG prop of the week.
You have to go way back to Week 9 to find a game where Indy failed to hit the over on this total. Even in losses to Pittsburgh and Tennessee, the Colts were able to move the ball late and get some garbage time. Buffalo has improved defensively towards the end of the year but they’ve also been helped out by their opponents which included a dysfunctional Steelers offense and games against bottom-tier offenses like Denver, New England and Miami. The Bills play at a fast pace and likely won’t be able to shut down Jonathan Taylor here, which should allow the Colts to put up enough points to hit this over.
The Rams have allowed the fewest TDs per game (2.1) while the Seahawks defense has also really tightened up and now sit 11th in TDs allowed. The big key here is that the Rams are going to be led by a non-100% Jared Goff or John Holford, who most people didn’t know existed two weeks ago. The Hawks offense has morphed into a less explosive, ball control unit too and have only scored more than two TDs once in their last five games. This should play out as a defensive struggle and taking the under on TDs here feels like a good way to capitalize on that fact.
Wildcard Week players props
Week player props 17 = 2-1
Check back later in the week for player props.