What a great weekend of football this will be. There are three NFL Wild Card games on Saturday, then three more on Sunday, followed by the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Monday night. I cannot wait. I’ll be previewing all of these games and giving my gambling picks for all seven, so be sure to follow along!
Tail or fade with caution!
Fun fact: Underdogs are 11-1 ATS the last three wildcard weekends. How many wild card dogs can get it done this time around? Here are my thoughts:
Colts +7 @ Bills and Over 51
Approximately 6,000 fans will be present at this game, and Bills fans everywhere have been waiting for this for a long time. Their beloved Buffalo Bills (13-3) won the AFC East for the first time since 1995. For many reasons, I think those fans will be treated to a great game, and I think there will be a lot of points scored. Josh Allen has proven to be one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the game. He has 37 passing touchdowns along with 8 rushing touchdowns, and his 81.7 QBR is third-best in the NFL, trailing only Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes. Allen led a Buffalo offense that was second in the league with 396.4 yards per game, and second in scoring, putting up 31.3 points per game. They ended the season very hot by scoring 48, 38, and 56 points in their last three games. To open up Wild Card weekend, the Bills will host the Indianapolis Colts (11-5), who finished 2nd in the AFC South. The Indy defense is great against the run, but they have struggled against the pass. Buffalo doesn’t run much, and they primarily use it to set up the play-action pass. The Colts defense ranks 20th in passing yards per game (241.6), 19th in YPA (6.9), and 12th in TD’s. Indy is also susceptible to big passing plays, as they gave up 53 completions of 20 or more yards this season, which ranks 23rd in the league. It will be interesting to see how they handle Stefon Diggs (127 catches, 1,535 yards, 8 TD’s) and Cole Beasley (82 catches, 967 yards, 4 TD’s) who together with Allen have made this Buffalo passing attack a nightmare for defenses. Allen completed 66 passes of 20 or more yards this season (4th in the league), so look for Buffalo to take advantage of the Colts weak downfield passing defense. Add in the fact that the Bills have the best third down offense in the league, converting 49.7% of the time, and I think Buffalo makes some big plays down the field and puts up a lot of points.
Offensively for the Colts, veteran QB Philip Rivers made the move from LA to Indy for this season, and he posted solid numbers finishing the regular season with 4,169 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. Rivers will need to command the offense efficiently while not turning the ball over in this one. In the five Colts losses, Rivers has thrown 7 interceptions. In their 11 wins, he has 4 interceptions. The good news is that the Colts only have four turnovers that are not interceptions on the season, and their 15 total turnovers are third-least in the league. However, Buffalo is great at creating takeaways. The Bills defense has 26 takeaways on the season, good for 3rd in the league. If Rivers can protect the ball, he puts his team in a much better position to win. Rivers does have a great running game to help him out, as rookie RB Jonathan Taylor has gone insane in the final weeks of the season, rushing for 560 yards and 7 TD’s in the last four games. Buffalo’s rushing defense is pretty middle-of-the-pack (17th in the league), and they are giving up 4.6 yards per carry. Indy has the offensive line and running game to have success on the ground, and I think Taylor will need to have a big game if the Colts want to leave Buffalo with a win. The Colts average 28.2 points per game, and the Bills have the third-worst red zone defense in the league. Buffalo’s opponents are scoring touchdowns on 65.5% of their red zone trips, so the Colts have to take advantage of their opportunities when they arrive.
Overall, I think the Bills air-raid attack will give the Colts secondary a lot of problems, and will result in a lot of big plays down the field. As good as Indianapolis’ rushing defense is, the Bills don’t rely too much on their running game, and Josh Allen should have a big day through the air. Indy’s running game can exploit a relatively weak Buffalo rushing defense, and as long as Philip Rivers doesn’t throw multiple interceptions, I think the passing game can thrive as well. Add in the fact that Buffalo is the third-worst defensive team in the red zone, and I think we see this one go Over. This is the only AFC game this weekend that is not a re-match from the regular season, and with unfamiliar opponents, I think both teams will be figuring each other out the whole game. I think that favors the underdog. Indy is a well-rounded team filled with veterans that has the O-line and running game to hang with the high-scoring Bills. The Colts have scored at least 24 points in eight straight games and their running game bodes well for a cold-weather game like this one. I’m taking them +7.
Rams @ Seahawks -3 and Under 42.5
The Seahawks are 6-1 ATS in their last 7 wild card games. Can they keep that trend going against the Rams on Saturday? I think so. First of all, the Seahawks (12-4) are hot. They ended the season on a four-game winning streak, and finished 6-1 in their last seven. Meanwhile, the Rams (10-6) struggled a bit down the stretch, losing two of their last three. Those two losses came to these very Seahawks in Seattle, as well as at home to the then-winless Jets. Second, the Seahawks have the advantage at the quarterback position. I will take Russell Wilson at home in the playoffs just about every time. Jared Goff has been prone to mistakes all season, as he threw 13 interceptions and lost four fumbles. He broke his thumb in Week 16, missed Week 17, and his status for this game is still unknown. If he is able to go, he will not be 100%, and if he cannot go, back-up John Wolford will play. Wolford completed 22-of-38 passing attempts for 231 yards, no touchdowns and one interception on Sunday against the Cardinals in an 18-7 win. So we will either see a banged-up Goff coming off a broken thumb on this throwing hand, or Wolford, who would be making his second-ever NFL start. Yupp, I’ll take Wilson in this one. Third, the Seattle defense has improved in the second half. They have improved to 5th in the league against the run, allowing just 95.6 yards per game on the ground. They are still susceptible to the pass (31st in the league), but as mentioned, I have my doubts about how effective Goff or Wolford will be. Jamal Adams is the catalyst for the Seattle defense, and this will be his first career playoff game, so you know he will be extra fired up. I think that will spark a solid day for the Seahawks defense as a whole, and with Russell Wilson leading the way offensively, I think the Seahawks get it done with a win and cover in this NFC West wild card matchup.
I also think the Under makes sense here. As mentioned, the Seattle defense has improved in the second half, and they were solid against the Rams both times this season, giving up 32 total points in two games. On the other side, the Rams possess possibly the best defense in the league, as they are No. 1 in total yards per game (281.9), passing yards per game (190.7), points per game (18.5), as well as 3rd in rushing yards per game (91.3). Jalen Ramsey is one of the best shutdown corners out there, and he did a good job limiting D.K. Metcalf in their two previous meetings, holding him to just 8 catches for 87 yards combined in those two games. Aaron Donald has been a menace all season, collecting 13.5 sacks, and he is leading the LA pass rush that has 53 sacks on the year. Leonard Floyd has 10.5 of his own, and 5 of them came against Wilson. The Rams were able to sack Wilson 6 times in their first meeting, and 5 times in the second meeting. Don’t sleep on the Seattle pass rush either, as they finished with 46 sacks (7th in the league) and 108 QB hits (6th in the league). Another interesting note is that the Rams LOVE play-action. They had 189 play-action pass attempts this season, which was the most in the league. However, the Seahawks defense was able to hold opposing quarterbacks to the second-lowest rating in the league (77.0) against play-action passes. As division rivals, these teams have met twice already and both games were low-scoring. 39 total points were scored in the first game, and just 29 were scored in the second game. I think this one will be a similar story, so I like the Under.
Buccaneers -8 @ Washington and Under 44.5
In his first season in Tampa Bay, Tom Brady has the Buccaneers (11-5) back in the postseason for the first time since 2007, and the franchise will be looking for their first playoff win since their Super Bowl XXXVII win in 2003. On the other side, Washington (7-9) will be looking for their first playoff win since the 2005 Wild Card Round when they defeated none other than the Buccaneers. Washington won the NFC East, so they host this first-round game despite a losing record. I am going with the Under here for a simple reason: Both of these defenses are that good. Washington is 2nd in total yards allowed per game (304.6), while Tampa Bay is 6th (327.1). Washington is 2nd against the pass (191.8 yards per game), while Tampa Bay is 1st against the run (80.6 yards per game). Washington is 4th in points allowed per game (20.6), while Tampa Bay is 8th (22.2). You get the point: Both defenses are for real. Offensively, Tampa is averaging 384.1 yards per game, along with posting the No. 2 passing offense with 289.1 yards per game. The Bucs will no doubt try to throw the deep ball with their talented receivers consisting of Mike Evans (70 catches, 1,006 yards, 13 TD), Chris Godwin (65 catches, 840 yards, 7 TD), Antonio Brown (45 catches, 483 yards, 4 TD), Rob Gronkowski (45 catches, 623 yards, 7 TD), and Scotty Miller (33 catches, 501 yards, 3 TD). That is a lot of firepower, and Washington will certainly have their hands full defensively. The good news for Washington is that they gave up the fewest completions of 20 or more yards this season (36). Watching this stout passing defense go up against Brady and the Bucs passing attack will be very fun to watch. Additionally, the WFT pass rush is monstrous, as Chase Young and Montez Sweat helped lead this defense to the sixth-most sacks in the league with 47. The Bucs have the fourth-most with 48. I think all of these defensive factors point to an Under, along with Washington’s offense being 30th in the league with 317.3 yards per game. They just haven’t been able to consistently move the ball, and Tampa’s defense poses a very tough challenge. I like the Under.
I’m also taking the Bucs -8. I know this is a big number, but I just don’t see how Washington’s offense is going to move the ball against this strong Buccaneers defense. Tampa is the best team in the league against the run, so I think they will be able to bottle up Antonio Gibson. Not only that, but the WFT is pretty banged up offensively. Gibson, Alex Smith, and Terry McLaurin all did not practice on Tuesday, and were limited participants on Wednesday and Thursday. Smith is still bothered by a calf injury that sidelined him for two games, and even when he returned in Week 17 against the Eagles, he was not 100% and threw for just 162 yards along with two interceptions. Head coach Ron Rivera stated that rotating between Smith and backup Taylor Heinicke is “something we seriously have to look at.” That gives me a lot hesitation on what exactly their offensive game plan will be. As good as the Washington defense is, the Bucs have more weapons offensively that are capable of performing well no matter who they play. That gives me hope that they can still make things happen, which is just not the case with Washington. Brady is clicking at the right time, and the Bucs defense should be able to feast on a sub-par Washington offense. I’m taking the Bucs -8.
Title Photo: Sports Raid