N.F.L. Playoff Predictions: Our Picks in the Wild-Card Round
By the time the N.F.L. playoffs arrive, the betting markets are just coming into full bloom. The data on each of the teams is germinated with an entire season’s worth of stats, helping the bookmakers generate their most predictive lines and bettors to make their most informed choices. As a result, the money is more evenly distributed than usual and there typically isn’t much fluctuation in the point spreads and totals.
That wasn’t the case heading into this postseason’s wild-card round, with Baltimore and Miami both expected to play without their franchise quarterbacks and uncertainty remaining over which of their backups would start.
There are also a few mismatches, a couple of double-digit point spreads, and some intrigue around personnel decisions. They don’t call it the wild-card round for nothing.
All Times Eastern.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Saturday’s Games
- Sunday’s Games
- Monday Night’s Game
- How Betting Lines Work
No. 7 Seattle Seahawks at No. 2 San Francisco 49ers, 4:30 p.m., Fox
Line: 49ers -10 | Total: 42.5
Most preseason predictions had the Seahawks finishing among the league’s worst teams, mainly because of the perceived downgrade at quarterback from Russell Wilson to Geno Smith. The season didn’t quite turn out that way, and the Seahawks are in the playoffs for the 10th time in Coach Pete Carroll’s 13 seasons in Seattle. Kudos. Now Seattle enters as double-digit underdogs against the division-rival 49ers, who have won 10 straight games.
San Francisco swept the regular-season meetings, including a 21-13 win in Week 15, when the rookie quarterback Brock Purdy made his first road start. Purdy should continue to benefit from playing in the quarterback-friendly Shanahan offense with Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffery as his top options. In that system, Purdy doesn’t need to throw deep balls because the 49ers’ pass-catchers have the highest yards after catch average (6.8) in the league. San Francisco should also be able to run well against Seattle’s defense, which lost linebacker Jordyn Brooks and nose tackle Bryan Mone to season-ending injuries.
The 49ers should win, but San Francisco does have an Achilles’ heel: The defense holds opponents to leaguewide lows in average yards and points allowed, but it was one of the N.F.L.’s worst at covering deep passes. Smith is the league’s most accurate quarterback on passes over 20 yards this season, so the Seahawks can still chance a few big plays to cover a two-score spread. Pick: Seattle +10
No. 5 Los Angeles Chargers at No. 4 Jacksonville Jaguars, 8:15 p.m., NBC
Line: Jaguars +2.5 | Total: 47.5
This game features the two ascendant quarterbacks who’ve led their teams to new heights: Justin Herbert, 24, helped the Chargers earn a playoff berth for the first time since 2018, and Trevor Lawrence, 23, has been among the league’s most accurate passers in the second half and the Jaguars have won six of their last seven games.
When these two teams met in Week 3, the Jaguars blew the Chargers out, 38-10. Jacksonville’s defense, led by edge rusher Josh Allen’s four quarterback hits, held Herbert to a passer rating of 74 as Herbert played through a rib injury.
Herbert is healthy now, but plenty of other Bolts aren’t after Coach Brandon Staley’s inexplicable decision to play all of his starters for three quarters in a meaningless Week 18 game against the Broncos. Receiver Mike Williams left that game on a cart and reportedly needed help walking afterward. Pass rusher Joey Bosa may have aggravated his groin injury last week in his second week back from injured reserve after missing 12 games.
Lawrence is a headliner but the Jaguars have run well based on their matchups (gaining over 140 yards on the ground in wins against the Cowboys and Jets) and Travis Etienne finished in the top 10 among running backs for yards per game and per carry. The market is split nearly down the middle on this game, and the line has bounced around both sides of the zero. We will take all the points we can find on the home team. Pick: Jaguars +2.5
No. 7 Miami Dolphins at No. 2 Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Bills -12.5 | Total: 44.5
These A.F.C. East teams split their two meetings this season, and both games were hard-fought affairs. Whether this game will be a repeat of those performances largely depends on Miami’s injury situation. The line for this game was as low as 9 points on rumors that Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa would play. Tagovailoa was ruled out with his second concussion in eight weeks, and the line climbed as high as 13.5 on the news that the Dolphins planned to start the rookie seventh-round pick Skylar Thompson.
In the regular-season finale against the Jets, Thompson was limited to screen plays and designed runs rather than deeper passes on key third- and fourth-down plays. Miami pulled off an ugly 11-6 victory despite not scoring a single touchdown. Along the way, running back Raheem Mostert broke a thumb. The Dolphins average 25.5 points per game when Tagovailoa plays and 16.3 when he doesn’t, so don’t expect a hobbled Miami to put up much offense against a second-ranked defense in below-freezing temperatures (The forecast is 24 degrees at kickoff.).
The spread is high, but should be manageable for a Bills team that will likely show out for a home crowd that could include their teammate Damar Hamlin. Pick: Bills -12.5
No. 6 Giants at No. 3 Minnesota Vikings, 4:30 p.m., Fox
Line: Vikings -3 | Total: 48.5
The Vikings won 11 one-score games and the Giants went 8-4-1 in such contests, so it seems a given that this one will be the most evenly matched game of the weekend. Though the line opened at 2.5, those numbers were quickly bought up and the number has settled in at 3, which seems to be as far as deep-pocketed Vikings-backers will go.
The Vikings have been expected to fade all season, largely because of their propensity for winning games through unpredictable factors like turnovers and coming out ahead in the penalty battle. Minnesota won the Week 16 meeting between these two teams on a last-second field goal and the Vikings benefited from a little luck, blocking a punt and getting two key takeaways. But the win wasn’t all luck: The team also torched the Giants’ defense through the air on tight end T.J. Hockenson’s 109 receiving yards (two touchdowns) and Justin Jefferson getting 133 yards and a score.
This week, the Giants’ defense returned cornerback Adoreé Jackson, linebacker Azeez Ojulari, and lineman Leonard Williams in limited roles in practice and defensive back Xavier McKinney was back to taking full reps. Having any of them available on Sunday would lend needed help against the Vikings’ formidable passing attack. In the most lopsided market so far this week, 90 percent of the money bet on this game has been on the Giants. Seems this won’t be the week the professionals decide to start believing in the Vikings. Pick: Giants +3
No. 6 Baltimore Ravens at No. 3 Cincinnati Bengals, 8:15 p.m., NBC
Line: Bengals -7 | Total: 40.5
Didn’t we just see this game? The Bengals lit up the Ravens, 27-16, on Sunday, but this weekend’s playoff matchup should look different than the usual A.F.C. North rivalry game. The star Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson is expected to miss his sixth game with a sprained knee ligament, and Anthony Brown has taken starter snaps during practice, though Tyler Huntley hasn’t been ruled out. When these teams played last week with Brown at quarterback, the point spread was 11 and the Bengals pushed. This week, the line has shrunk to an expensive 7 and has held there even after the news that Jackson didn’t practice.
The Ravens’ pass rush worked last week against Cincinnati’s offensive line, which lost right guard Alex Cappa to an ankle injury in the third quarter. Cappa is the second starter the Bengals have lost on the right side, which should create problems for their run game and make life more difficult for quarterback Joe Burrow. Last week the Bengals rushed for only 65 yards, and managed only 90 total yards and a field goal in the second half. Still, thanks to a big first-half lead, it was all they needed to win.
The Ravens rested tight end Mark Andrews and running back J.K. Dobbins last week, so their return will give the Bengals a different challenge. Cincinnati has won eight straight games and the team’s momentum may be too strong for Baltimore to plan on finally making a deep playoff run. The Bengals are 20-3-1 against the spread going back to last season, as safe a pick as there is this weekend. Pick: Bengals -7
Monday Night’s Game
Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 8 p.m., ESPN
Line: Buccaneers +2.5 | Total 45.5
The Buccaneers (8-9) stumbled their way into the playoffs with a losing record, squeaking out victories here and there on the backs of a stout defense and quarterback Tom Brady’s late-game heroics to win the N.F.C. South. Coach Todd Bowles inexplicably continued to consistently run the ball on first down despite the team averaging only 3.6 yards per first-down rush — tied with the Indianapolis Colts for the worst average in the league.
There were glimpses that Tampa Bay would open up the playbook in a must-win game against the Carolina Panthers in Week 17. Brady had a gaudy 432 passing yards, including 207 yards and three touchdown passes to Mike Evans, who had not caught a score since Week 4. Having the elite offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs back in the lineup certainly helped give Brady a little more time in the pocket to work.
The Cowboys are the favorites in this game, but they are coming off a regular-season finale in which they allowed the Commanders to put up 309 total yards of offense. Washington nearly doubled the Cowboys’ output in a game that could have helped Dallas grab the No. 1 seed in the N.F.C. Since beating the brakes off the Colts in Week 13, the Cowboys have looked a little off: barely eking out a win against the Texans, losing in overtime to the Jags, and seeing Dak Prescott dutifully throw at least one pick every week. The market hasn’t been very impressed with the Cowboys: By midweek, 63 percent of the bets and 83 percent of the money had been bet on Tampa Bay.
Still, the Buccaneers have bedeviled this column, and we’ve been on the wrong side of nearly every one of their games this season. If they don’t cover this week, we can take some solace knowing this will be the last time. Pick: Buccaneers +2.5
How Betting Lines Work
A quick primer for those who are not familiar with betting lines: Favorites are listed next to a negative number that represents how many points they must win by to cover the spread. Buccaneers -2.5, for example, means that Tampa Bay must beat the Seahawks by at least 3 points for its backers to win their bet. Gamblers can also bet on the total score, which is whether the teams’ combined score in the game is over or under a preselected number of points.
Betting-market data is taken from Action Network’s Public Betting data, and lines are taken from Unabated’s real-time-odds tracker.