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Wild Card Round - Betting Lines, Over/Under Picks and Predictions


After a long and exciting season, it's finally playoff time! In this feature, our goal is to break down the Vegas betting lines and provide you with useful information that can help make your handicapping experience profitable and manageable. In theory, a limited betting card of four games should make it much more difficult to find an edge because the sportsbooks have fewer matchups that they need to focus on for the week. And while that is true to an extent, there should be an ample amount of opportunities to find value since public money will be flocking to the windows to wager on the opening weekend of the playoffs.

In some situations, the casinos will mask a line ever so slightly to try and avoid being overweight on a particular side of a game. It is not like we get extreme changes when comparing the released betting price to what it should have been, but a point here and there (mainly if it transfers through a key number) can sometimes be the difference between a win and a loss. With the early release of this article, the purpose is always to present statistical information for you to consider, while still touching on any critical injuries that could affect the game.

There are a lot of moving pieces to begin any NFL week, so I will update this article as pertinent information comes to light. Without further ado, let's jump right into the NFL Wild Card round.

Editor's Note: Get any rest-of-season NFL Premium Pass for 50% off. Our exclusive DFS Tools, Lineup Optimizer and Premium DFS Research through the Super Bowl. Sign Up Now!

 

Buffalo Bills vs. Houston Texans (-2.5): O/U 43.5

Early movement on this game has quickly taken the Buffalo Bills from a 3.5 point underdog to less than a field goal at their new price of +2.5. That full point of movement through the key number of three does tell a strong story that the Bills should be the right side on paper, but is that still the case when we dive a little deeper into the contest?

With nearly 50/50 bet splits as of Tuesday, we can safely discount the movement coming solely from public perception. Most core power ratings have these two teams close to even on a neutral field, which would make sense that somewhere between 2.0 to 2.5 is the safest number for where perception is going to be on the showdown. Looking back on it, I am sure the majority of places wish they wouldn't have taken such an aggressive approach by opening the line at over a field goal, but that isn't to say that the number was wrong on the surface.

Buffalo enters the playoffs in an interesting position for 2019, as their perceived price point, according to Vegas, hasn't changed since Week 5 of the NFL season. The team saw a massive increase with their power rating by casinos during the first handful of games but settled in and didn't receive practically any variation for the last three-fourths of the year. On the other hand, the Texans have fluctuated nearly 4.5 points in both directions with their rating throughout the season, showing them to be overpriced for a vast majority of 2019 and slightly underrated for some stretches.

All of this makes it understandable for why there is an interest from the public when it comes to pure number value on Buffalo this week, but there are other factors that you should be looking at that will influence the price. Most people backing the Bills will want to point to their defensive levels of expertise, finishing the season eighth in passing success rate and third in dropback expected points added, but when you compare that to Houston, who was a top-10 passing unit in 2019, we start to see the strength of both systems butting heads.

We can't control who Buffalo has played, but we can try to discredit part of their success slightly with who they have matched up against this year. During the season, they have faced only two top-1o opponents in passing efficiency (Baltimore Ravens and Dallas Cowboys), and in those two games surrendered a total of 39 points. That at least begins to raise some question marks about the legitimacy of this defense and becomes even more pronounced if CB Levi Wallace can't go on Saturday. Wallace was carted off the field with a non-contact injury in Week 17 but is currently only listed as day-to-day for Saturday. The absence of the former Alabama product would leave a gaping hole in the secondary and could become even worse if Texans WR Will Fuller can suit up.

During 247 snaps for Deshaun Watson without Fuller on the field, the QB featured an EPA of -4.3. In the 337 snaps that he played, that number jumped to 78.2. The sample size of those figures is large enough to indicate that Fuller being active is a massive upgrade for the entire offense, and you can start to see how Buffalo could be at a significant disadvantage if the final injury report goes against them in both circumstances.

Adding to the list of issues for the Bills is their inability to stop the rush. Buffalo ranked 18th in 2019 when it came to rushing success rate, even though it occurred against the easiest schedule of opposing rushers in the NFL. Houston didn't exactly close the season with a ton of positive trajectory between Weeks 12-17 - ranking 18th in rushing success, but their yearly total of 51% of rushes grading out favorably placed them eighth in the league.

Football is more than just one matchup, but we will need to keep a close eye on the status of both Wallace and Fuller as we get closer to Saturday. If the Texans can create a mismatch because of injury, they can quickly turn this -2.5 point spread into a laugher by the end of the week. Add in the fact that QBs making their first start in the playoffs have been shown to be historically shaky, and there are concerns for anyone considering backing the Bills during Wild Card week.

Prediction: Texans 27 – Bills 17

Recommended Picks: Texans (-2.5), Over 43.5

I don't believe we see this number get back to 3.5 again. For the time being, you are either looking at an expensive -2.5 or a cheap -3.0, depending on the place you find the wager located. There is probably a little value on the over here since five of the past seven Buffalo games have featured extreme winds. A contest inside a fast dome should allow more of a track meet atmosphere than fans are expecting, but 43.5 looks close to proper.

UPDATE: Levi Wallace practiced on Wednesday and is trending towards playing. This would be a considerable upgrade for the Buffalo defense and exponentially increases their chances of finding success. However, I still am bothered by the Bills' weak run-stopping unit and worry that that return of J.J. Watt will add enough pressure to cause Josh Allen issues in the pocket. Allen has found the majority of his success when given time to go through his progressions but has struggled when protection has broken down. I don't believe there is any rush to put in this wager ASAP, but I would act quickly if we do get confirmation of injuries titling this contest towards the Texans.

 

Tennessee Titans vs. New England Patriots (-4.5): O/U 44

Public perception entering this game for both teams could not be any different. The Titans have transformed into this trendy sleeper that is getting credit for just about every victory they have accumulated in recent weeks, as where the Patriots are being written off for dead after consistent flops down the stretch of the year, including the embarrassing loss to the Miami Dolphins to lose their first-round bye.

If you have read my weekly matchups column here at RotoBaller, you will know that I have been ahead of this movement of the Patriots as an overrated team. They have had to endure offensive line issues, a lack of protection for Tom Brady and the reduction of prominent pass-catchers if we exclude Julian Edelman. The public took weeks to catch up to the fact that New England is going to have issues of flipping the switch to on if there isn't an outlet to light the room, but have we gone too far in writing the Patriots off? And on top of that, is this a matchup where Bill Bellichick can use his expertise to find a coaching edge?

To answer the first question, yes. For all the regression we have seen from this team as a passing offense, the Patriots are still ranked 14th in pass efficiency and 14th in passing success rate if we exclude the final month of the season. This has come against a top-10 schedule of opposing defenses against the pass, highlighting the fact that maybe Brady hasn't gone completely off the cliff quite yet.

If we look at why there has been some regression as a whole, the Patriots' inability to keep Brady upright has had a lot to do with their struggles. Brady leads the league in throwaway passes and ranks inside the bottom-five in completion percentage when under pressure. However, to make those statistics mean something, the Titans will need to play at a level that has been beyond their norm, as they rank just 20th in pass rush win rate and 14th in adjusted sack rate.

While the Patriots' pass offense has been perceived as this ultimate weakness for their team, you can begin to paint a picture that indicates that their deficiency still far exceeds their opponents' greatest vulnerability. The lack of consistent pressure to opposing QBs has downgraded the Titans secondary to 23rd in success rate against the pass and 17th in explosive throws allowed, which comes against the eighth easiest schedule of opponents. Add that to the fact that New England plays at the quickest pace in the league in the first half and with a neutral game script, and there are signs that point towards this contest having a chance to get ugly early.

The Titans have put up large offensive numbers since Ryan Tannehill has taken over, but they have only faced one defense inside the top-10 in passing efficiency during that period (the New Orleans Saints). As has been the theme with this article so far, we can't discredit a team because of their schedule, but we can dive deeper into how they have handled what has been placed in front of them. The Patriots are ranked first in defensive passing success rate and fourth in defensive rushing success rate, which gives a big step up in competition for the Titans.

I don't like the idea of blindly opposing QBs making their first start in the playoffs because everyone is wired differently, but the narrative of Tannehill having to travel on the road to a raucous New England crowd has been completely lost in this narrative for Saturday. The Titans are going to need to rely at least somewhat on Derrick Henry, but the potential game script is beginning to point against that being possible if the Titans fall behind early. The Patriots do have issues going forward that will be discussed if they move on to face the Kansas City Chiefs, but let's not lose focus on the ideal test they are being given for the Wild Card round.

Prediction: Patriots 31 – Titans 20

Recommended Picks: Patriots (-4.5), Over 44

We have seen some points of resistance once the line reaches -4 and -5.5. Most of that seems to be stemming from influential money on different sides of the aisle that believe each of those numbers presents value. I would have preferred to have recommended this play at -4, but the current trajectory does seem as if the line is more likely to move back up than down. As far as the total is concerned, I would prefer just to lay the points with New England because I think the only path for Tennessee to find the winners circle is to control the tempo on the ground. I'm also not entirely sold that the Titans won't get stymied entirely and held to around 10 to 13 points on the day. I lean towards the over but much prefer betting New England and moving on.

 

Minnesota Vikings vs. New Orleans Saints (-8.0): O/U 47.0

We have an interesting dynamic taking place between the public and the sharps for this contest. Public money has infiltrated the market on the Saints so far this week, but the sharps have kept the line from inflating and even might eventually push this down to +7.5.

One of the more interesting side notes to this game that tells a story is the over/under. At the time of writing this article, there are still some 47s in play, but this thing looks like a freight-train that might exceed 50 by the time Sunday comes around. The reason I find this narrative to be so compelling is that even though the public is sold on the Saints as an eight-point home favorite, the movement of the total isn't corresponding with that take. For this game to exceed the over/under, some semblance of efficiency from the Vikings is going to need to help push this number over. Sure, there is always a chance that the Saints score 42 points and practically beat the total themselves, but it is much more commonly believed that an over bet represents value on the dog when the total is priced this high.

It is difficult for the casinos to move the line too much going forward because of the teaser burden that is going to be associated with this game. I'd have to imagine that nearly all seven-point teasers are going to try and move this number to -1, so there is a chance that we see late money eventually push up the spread closer to -9 to prevent being overly exposed and making six-point teasers have to pay to -3.

The movement that has already happened on the total (and the change that is going to come) makes a lot of sense with both teams ranking inside the top-five in passing success rate on the year. There have been all these ideas floating around Minnesota that Dalvin Cook has been a one-man show that has led the Vikings to the playoffs, but Kirk Cousins has done his part with the opening the running game has given him.

Where this game takes a dramatic shift in tempo is going to come from the Vikings' ineptitude to stop opposing offenses this year. The team ranks 26th in passing success rate and nearly dead last against the run. This has equated to Minnesota trying to slow down games in the second half when they have the lead, but that luxury is most likely not going to be there against a Saints squad that doesn't play quickly but does operate as the most efficient unit in the NFL through the air.

When we look at how the Vikings roll offensively, play-action passes help to open up longer running routes for their wide receivers to land explosive plays. Their big-play ability is why we have seen a handful of games this season turn into a shootout for them and should be able to keep them hanging around into the fourth quarter.

I do have some concerns that Minnesota is going to have such a difficult time stopping the Saints that a backdoor cover might be needed to get the +8 over the finish line, but I do believe the shootout potential is real for these two teams in the Superdome - making it the better way that the game should be approached if you want to place a wager.

Prediction: Saints 34– Vikings 27

Recommended Picks: Vikings (+8), Over 47 

As I mentioned earlier, this total doesn't appear to be stopping anytime soon. It probably still has value up to about 50.5 since I suppose it should have opened at 50 if they were trying to make a proper line, but it is a wager I would put in before it climbs too high. The Vikings +8 does carry a little significance in terms of number grabbing also, and I wouldn't blame you if you decided to get invested there - although this game does feel adequately priced to me and isn't something I am clamoring to take a stance on in either direction. The Vikings are a live dog, but there are better spots on the board with less volatility.

UPDATE: Total has reached 49.5 at most books. A lot of the value has been drained out of that number. 

 

Seattle Seahawks (1.5) vs. Philadelphia Eagles: O/U 46.0

I question the legitimacy of some of these opening lines this week, but the Philadelphia Eagles opened at a few offshore sites as a three-point favorite before getting trounced down to their current price of +1.5, I don't believe this line is going to stop anytime soon and could potentially reach +3.0 if the casinos decide they need a little buyback on this game. That decision will ultimately come down to how the first three contests go for them and how much of a gamble they want to take on bettors that will either be trying to double down on their profits or chasing their losses, but it does seem rather straightforward that Seahawks money should act now, whereas Eagles money should wait as close to kickoff as possible.

Both the Seahawks and Eagles rank inside the top-10 this season in rushing attempts, but the culmination of injuries that both sides have had to endure will provide us with a slightly different matchup than we saw when these two teams met in Philadelphia during Seattle's Week 12 17-9 victory.

Despite the Eagles losing their entire WR core, Carson Wentz placed his name in the record books this season by becoming the first player in NFL history to throw for over 4,000 yards with no WR accumulating 400 yards himself. It is an impressive statistic if you think about it, but it is also a little misleading. Tight end's Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert both eclipsed that total on the year, and while two tight end sets are not the norm in the NFL, the Eagles have found a way to make it work by winning their last four games to get into the playoffs.

Unfortunately for them, the injury bug has hit them hard again, and it appears as if Ertz will not be able to play on Sunday. The Pro-Bowl pass-catcher has still not been cleared for contact after suffering a lacerated kidney and broken ribs, forcing the Eagles' hands again on how they are going to approach this matchup. Ertz has been practicing in preparation for the game, but this situation is larger than a football and might prevent doctors from clearing him in time to play on Sunday.

A lack of offensive options for the Eagles does put them slightly behind the eight-ball to begin their playoff run, but Seattle's defense doesn't exactly come into the matchup as worldbeaters themselves. The Seahawks have given up the most points per game of all 12 playoff teams, and they enter the week ranked 20th or worse in the entire NFL when it comes to rushing and passing success rate.

Russell Wilson's heroics have negated a lot of those issues throughout the year, but playoff football isn't exactly forgiving when one poor game on either side of the ball can cost you your season. With Wentz's lack of postseason experience and weapons to go along with Seattle's conservative nature, this contest is gearing up for a slow start. Both offenses rank inside the bottom-10 in pace of play in the first half, but there are still some concerns that Seattle's decimated rushing unit might cause head coach Pete Carroll to unleash Wilson for a more aggressive aerial approach. Add to that the fact that Miles Sanders has not practiced so far this week, and there is a chance that the Eagles may also decide to speed up their tempo faster than usual.

It is incredibly challenging to find the over to be the play here when you consider all the metrics, but I would be careful that personnel issues for both sides might flip Week 12s grind it out affair upside down and cause more of a shootout than appears possible. I am not predicting that to be the case, but I am just pointing out that the under does have some risks involved as a play.

At the end of the day, this Seattle team is arguably one of the worst units in the NFL without Wilson under center. Their defense has allowed RBs to catch 80% of targets for an average of 9.5 yards per catch, making Sanders potentially missing the game a major blow for the offense. Boston Scott has shown the capacity to step up during his absence, catching 23 passes in his last four games, but the signing of RB Elijah Holyfield on Monday does make it sound as if Sanders might be a longshot to play. Seattle has also allowed the second-most receptions to TEs in 2019 and is just one of three defenses that have surrendered over 1000 receiving yards on the year. The potential loss of Ertz will hurt, but Goedert will be targeted a ton and should be able to find success in his expanded role.

Additionally, it is going to be vital for the Eagles to have right tackle Lane Johnson play. Right guard Brandon Brooks has been placed on IR, and the last thing Philadelphia needs is to have the entire right side of their offensive line out. The Seahawks don't create a ton of pressure, ranking fourth-worst in pressure rate, but it isn't an ideal situation when all these injuries keep adding up.

There are a ton of moving pieces in this game that could swing the outcome one way or another, but I do think Philadelphia has enough substance with their backups to match up well against a Seattle defense that is bad by pretty much all metrics. If they are able to get back either Sanders, Ertz or Johnson, this matchup probably shifts in their favor even more, but there is still a small edge to be had on an Eagles team that everyone is writing off for dead.

Prediction: Eagles 20– Seahawks 17

Recommended Picks: Eagles (Wait on the price to go up. Would like +3), Under 46.0 

I am not going to invest my money in the full game total. If I were to take a stance, I probably would rather bet under 23.5 in the first half, but we do have some issues that I mentioned above with that as a play. I'm going to be holding out hope that I can grab the Eagles at +3 and will play the waiting game on that number for now.

Best Bets:

Texans -2.5

Patriots -4.5

Saints/Vikings Over 47

 




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