NFL Wildcard Playoffs Tips & Preview

After an incredibly exciting 2018 NFL regular season, we now welcome what is sure to be an even more exciting post-season. As always, this kicks off with an epic wildcard weekend of football, featuring the #3-#6 seeds in each conference. Each of the 8 teams finished the season in very strong form and we expect all 4 games to be competitive this week. 3 of the 4 spreads are under 3 points, with all 4 being under 6. Let’s take a look at each wildcard game from a betting perspective, providing our best spread, total, and first touchdown scorer bet.

Houston Texans vs Indianapolis Colts

Where to Watch: ESPN, 7 Mate, or NFL Game Pass Sunday 8:30 am

The first of our 2018/19 NFL playoff games takes place in Houston as the 11-5 Texans take on their AFC South rival Colts, who finished the year 10-6. Both of these sides know each other very well, having split their two-game season series this season. NRG Stadium has provided a strong home-field advantage for Houston, leading to a 6-2 home record. Indianapolis aren’t to be counted out, winning 9 of their last 10 games to claim the #6 seed. As we’ll do with all NFL playoff games, we’ll break down our best spread, total and first touchdown scorer bet.

Houston Texans

The Texans enter this one off a convincing 20-3 home win over Jacksonville that handed them the AFC South. QB Deshaun Watson had another outstanding day, totalling 300 all-purpose yards and a touchdown. DeAndre Hopkins was again outstanding in the receiving game, hauling in 12 catches for 147 yards. The injury to #2 receiver Demaryius Thomas will likely see the Indy secondary look to double team Hopkins. Running Back Lamar Miller is another offensive weapon to watch, totalling 4 100-yard performances in Houston’s 9-game win streak this year.

Whilst the offence gets a lot of love, the Texans defence has been quietly just as good. They were excellent again last week against the Jaguars, holding them to a pitiful 89 net passing yards. The rush defence was just as good, limiting Jacksonville to a mere 30 yards on the ground. Pass rusher J.J. Watt had an excellent year after two injury-plagued seasons, registering 16 sacks on the campaign. Lineman Jadeveon Clowney is another man to watch on this defence, chiming in for 9 sacks of his own.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts enter this one off a very impressive road win in Tennessee that saw them claim the #6 seed. Andrew Luck had another very solid outing, throwing for 285 yards and 3 touchdowns in the victory. Running Back Marlon Mack has also come on of late, carrying the rock 25 times for 119 yards and a score. Tight End Eric Ebron is a man to watch in the red-zone, enjoying 14 combined touchdowns this season. Receiver T.Y Hilton has also emerged as one of the NFL’s premier receivers and the Colts will hope he is fit and firing here.

Defensively, the Colts also put on an excellent display here. They did a strong job containing Titans Running Back Derrick Henry, holding Tennessee under 100 rushing yards. The pass defence was even better, holding Blaine Gabbert to just 165 yards and intercepting him twice. Rookie Linebacker Darius Leonard has been the leader of this improving unit, registering 163 tackles and 7 sacks on the year. If they can contain Watson, Hopkins, and Co, the Colts have every chance of sneaking a road win here.

Best Bets

Texans -1.5

I believe there is significant line value on Houston in this one. These two sides played in Houston a mere 3 weeks ago and the spread was Texans -4.5. Not too much has changed for either of these sides in the games since and I can’t see the logic behind a 3-point line move. I expect a very strong game from Deshaun Watson, with his scrambling ability being a huge positive. Houston are the better team here in my opinion and I’ll gladly take them under the key numbers of 3 and 4.

Over 47

With the way both of these offences are playing of late, I believe the total is a touch too low here at only 47 points. Indianapolis have gone over this total in 6 of their last 9 games, primarily due to the stellar play of Andrew Luck. Houston have been no slouches offensively either, scoring 20 or more points in 9 of their last 10 games. I’m expecting somewhat of a shootout in this one, with both Watson and Luck being effective at avoiding pressure. The first matchup between these sides saw 71 points and we could be in for something similar here.

First TD Scorer: DeAndre Hopkins

As a nice complementary bet to Texans -1.5, DeAndre Hopkins is clearly the best option for 1st touchdown scorer. He has been Deshaun Watson’s primary target all season long, leading the team with 11 touchdowns on the campaign. With both Will Fuller and Demaryius Thomas done for the year, expect Hopkins to become even more of a focal point of late. With the running game having regressed somewhat lately, Hopkins is the most consistent skill position player the Texans have. A threat from anywhere on the field, expect Watson to target him early and often.

Score Prediction: Houston Texans 27-23 Indianapolis Colts

Dallas Cowboys vs Seattle Seahawks

Where to Watch: ESPN, 7 Mate, or NFL Game Pass Sunday 12:15 pm

Our Sunday double-header of NFL wildcard action concludes in Dallas in a battle between two 10-6 teams as the Cowboys play host to the Seahawks. Dallas get the benefit of playing at AT&T Stadium, where they’re a very impressive 7-1 this season. The Seahawks on the other hand are a fairly middling team on the road, finishing the year at .500. Both of these sides finished the season in very strong form and will fancy their chances here. As we’ll do with all NFL playoff games, we’ll break down our best spread, total and first touchdown scorer bet.

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys enter this one off a surprise road victory in New York last week despite resting many of their starters. QB Dak Prescott had perhaps his best game of the year, throwing for 387 yards and 4 touchdowns. Tight End Blake Jarwin also emerged as a solid option, hauling in 7 catches for 119 yards and 3 scores. The Cowboys offence has well and truly run through Zeke Elliott this season. The third-year Running Back had a fantastic campaign, showing his versatility with over 2000 yards from scrimmage. New #1 receiver Amari Cooper also proved a very solid addition to the passing game since being acquired from Oakland.

Whilst a lot of the big names reside on offence, the Cowboys defence has been phenomenal this season. They’ve done an excellent job of containing their opponents, only allowing 30 points once all year, in last week’s meaningless game against the Giants. In half of their games this season, their opponents have scored 20 points or less. Young Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch have particularly shined, both going over 100 tackles on the year. If they can contain Russell Wilson, Dallas has a real shot of pulling out a win here.

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks enter this one after a nervy win over Arizona last week that secured the #5 seed. The rushing attack was again excellent, averaging 5.4 yards per carry en route to 194 yards and 2 touchdowns. Despite a controlled day through the air, QB Russell Wilson is having another very strong season and continues to be one of the league’s premier QB’s. In Tyler Lockett and Doug Baldwin, he has two very capable deep-threat receivers that can get in behind opposing defences.

Despite struggling somewhat early on, the Seahawks defence has come on leaps and bounds throughout the season. Linebacker Bobby Wagner continues to be one of the best in football, enjoying another very solid 138 tackle season. Pass rusher Frank Clark was also outstanding all season, registering a very impressive 14 sacks. Even after the loss of Safety Earl Thomas, the Seahawks secondary has recovered nicely. Stopping Zeke Elliott will definitely be their key to the game this week.

Best Bets

Cowboys -1.5

The Seahawks have been receiving a ton of love from the media lately and I’m not exactly sure why. Really the only good win on their schedule was a victory over a struggling Chiefs side a fortnight ago. Dallas, on the other hand, enter this one in sparkling form, having won 7 of their last 8 games. AT&T Stadium has finally turned into a fortress, where Dallas have gone 7-1 so far. Seattle is a far different team on the road and I just don’t see them pulling this one out. Expect a huge day from Zeke Elliott on the ground en route to a Cowboys home win.

Over 43.5

Whilst this is a line that is relatively well priced, Seahawks games have tended to drift over of late. 43.5 points just isn’t all that many in the modern NFL, with 7 of the last 8 Seahawks games going over this mark. Even though Dallas is a more conservative offence, 5 of their last 8 games have also gone over this total. Whilst I think Dallas can definitely move the ball on this Seattle defence, I don’t see any problems for the Seahawks either. Russell Wilson is having a very stellar season and should be good for a few deep throws here. At only 43.5, I think this one sales over.

First Touchdown Scorer: Ezekiel Elliott

Was this pick ever in doubt? Zeke has had another phenomenal campaign and really been the driving force behind the Cowboys resurgence. He has over 2000 yards of scrimmage this season and enters this one off a well-earned rest last week. The Seahawks rush defence has been lacking at times this year and I think the Cowboys offensive line can open up some holes for him. Despite only 9 touchdowns this season, Zeke is still very much the main man should Dallas get in the red zone. At anything over $5.50, this is solid value.

Score Prediction: Dallas Cowboys 27-24 Seattle Seahawks

Baltimore Ravens vs Los Angeles Chargers

Where to Watch: ESPN, 7 Mate, or NFL Game Pass Monday 5 am

The third of our NFL Wildcard round fixtures, and perhaps the most exciting, features the 10-6 Baltimore Ravens playing host to the 12-4 Los Angeles Chargers. Baltimore enter this one in very strong form after the play of QB Lamar Jackson, coming from behind to pip Pittsburgh in the AFC North. The Chargers have been one of the league’s most consistent teams all season and will be looking for revenge after losing to Baltimore earlier this year. As we’ll do with all NFL playoff games, we’ll break down our best spread, total and first touchdown scorer bet.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens enter this one off the back of an intense 2-point win over Cleveland last week to secure their playoff spot. The rushing attack delivered another incredible performance, totalling 290 yards and 2 scores on the ground. Kenneth Dixon, Lamar Jackson, and Gus Edwards each amassed 76 or more yards, with Jackson scoring 2 touchdowns in the process. Jackson was also efficient in the passing attack, throwing for 175 yards on 7.5 yards per attempt and no interception.

Defensively, Baltimore continues to flash as one of the best units in the NFL. They did another strong job against Cleveland last week, forcing the Browns to just 3.6 yards per carry en route to 50 rushing yards. The secondary also made more than enough plays in this one, coming up with 3 crucial interceptions against Baker Mayfield. They completely owned Phillip Rivers and Co in the first matchup, holding them to just 10 points in Los Angeles. If they can keep at this level, they’ll be really difficult to beat.

Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers enter this one off a cruisy 23-9 road win in Denver that secured a solid 12-4 campaign. QB Phillip Rivers had yet another excellent campaign, throwing for over 4300 yards and 32 touchdowns. Despite both battling injury, Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler have the makings of a very solid Running Back duo. Likewise, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams look like they could combine for one of the league’s premier receiving duos. One of the most well-rounded offences in the NFL, they face a stiff test in Baltimore’s defence this week.

Whilst the offence receives a lot of the plaudits, the Chargers defence has been just as good this year. The Chargers have been an incredible 7-1 on the road this season, in large part due to the consistency of this unit. They’ve held 10 of their opponents this season to 23 points or less. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram have been particularly excellent up front, generating consistent pressure on opposing QB’s. Rookie Safety Derwin James has also flashed as a potential future All-Pro in the secondary.

Best Bets

Chargers +3

I really like the revenge spot for the Chargers in this one. They were a better team than Baltimore this season and could’ve easily had the #1 seed if not for their home loss a fortnight ago. The Baltimore offence is very difficult to prepare for; however, this Chargers team has already seen it in live action. Without a huge home field advantage, the Chargers have been an excellent 7-1 on the road this season. Given that the line only a few weeks ago closed Chargers -4.5, this is a 7-point swing, which I just don’t feel is warranted. The Chargers are still a legitimate Super Bowl contender and I expect them to claim this one outright.

Over 41

In addition to line value on the point spread, there is also some value on the total in this one. It opened at 44 a mere fortnight ago, giving us an extra 3 points for this one. Phillip Rivers and Co had a nightmare last time out, but I expect them to be extremely well prepared for this one. That was the only time this season that the Chargers offence was held under 20 points, making me think this was an anomaly. Ever since Lamar Jackson took over, the Baltimore offence has also been incredibly consistent. They’ve scored 20 or more points in each of his 7 starts, primarily due to their excellent rush attack. Both of these sides have more than enough talent to eclipse 20 in this one, making over 41 points a very solid proposition.

First TD Scorer: Keenan Allen

My first choice for this bet would’ve been Melvin Gordon, however his injury doubts have me shifting my focus to Keenan Allen. Allen has had an excellent 2018 campaign, hauling in 97 catches for 1200 yards and 6 scores. He has been Phillip Rivers’ primary target all season, being thrown at 136 times. If Baltimore key in on the run here, I expect plenty of opportunity for Allen in the passing game. With 5 of his touchdowns coming in the second half of the season, Keenan is rounding in to form at the right time. At anything $8.50 or over, this is well worth a punt.

Score Prediction: Los Angeles Chargers 24-20 Baltimore Ravens

Chicago Bears vs Philadelphia Eagles

Where to Watch: ESPN, 7 Mate, or NFL Game Pass Monday 8:40 am

Our final game of Wildcard weekend pits two of the biggest NFL markets against each other as the 12-4 Chicago Bears play host to the 9-7 Eagles. The Bears have been excellent at home all season, riding their elite defence to a 7-1 record at Soldier Field. The Eagles haven’t been all that spectacular on the road, going a middling 4-4. Buoyed by the play of Nick Foles, they do appear to be a dangerous contender. As we’ll do with all NFL playoff games, we’ll break down our best spread, total and first touchdown scorer bet.

Chicago Bears

The Bears enter this one off an incredibly solid performance, a comfortable 24-10 road win over the division rival Vikings. Jordan Howard was excellent offensively, rushing for 109 yards and 2 touchdowns. Mitchell Trubisky delivered an assured display at QB, completing 18/26 passes and avoiding any turnovers. Wide Receiver Allen Robinson has been solid for the Bears this season, and they’ll hope he’s back fit and firing for this one. With their immense quality on defence, the Chicago offence really doesn’t have to do too much.

Even without superstar Khalil Mack, it was still a very solid defensive display from Chicago last week. They completely shut down the Vikings passing attack, allowing just 101 net passing yards all afternoon. The rush defence was just as good, holding Minnesota to only 63 yards on the ground. Khalil Mack led this incredible defence all season, totalling 12.5 sacks and 6 forced fumbles on the year. Defensive Lineman Akiem Hicks was also very solid, registering 7.5 sacks and a Pro Bowl appearance of his own.

Philadelphia Eagles

Despite looking dead and buried only 3 weeks ago, the Eagles rattled off 3 straight wins to sneak into the #6 spot. Nick Foles put in another very solid display before a late injury, completing 28/33 passes for 221 yards and 2 touchdowns. Receiver Nelson Agholor has come on in a big way lately, enjoying a further 2 touchdowns in this one. It was an improved display from a struggling Eagles rushing attack as well, going for 129 yards on the ground here.

Defensively, it doesn’t get much better than shutting down your division rival on the road. The Redskins simply couldn’t pass on this defence all afternoon, managing only 68 net passing yards. It was even worse on the ground, with Washington just gaining 21 rushing yards on 1.8 yards per attempt. Defensive Tackle Fletcher Cox had one of his better games of the season, registering 3 sacks as he consistently got pressure on Josh Johnson. If the Eagles are to come in and steal a road win, this defence needs to match Chicago’s production levels.

Best Bets:

Bears -5.5

Whilst they’ve performed valiantly to get to this point, I just don’t think this Eagles side is a match for an elite opponent in Chicago. The Bears have been on a tear in the second half of the season, winning 7 of their last 8 games. With QB Nick Foles entering this one with a rib injury, playing Chicago’s very strong defence won’t do him any favours. I expect a lockdown performance from this Bears defence here. Similarly, I expect Mitchell Trubisky to deliver a very solid showing in his playoff debut, leading an efficient offensive outing and comfortable home win. Under the key numbers of 6 and 7, I’m all in on Chicago here.

Under 42

I think this line is very well set but will have to lean towards the under here. The Bears defence has been particularly excellent of late, going under this total in each of their last 4 games. Against a dominant pass rush, I just can’t see Nick Foles repeating last season’s heroics. This will allow more of a calm and relaxed display from the Bears offence, as they win the time of possession battle en route to victory. Above the relatively key number of 41, I think this total ultimately nudges under.

First TD Scorer: Jordan Howard

Buoyed by an excellent display last week, I’m riding the hot hand and going with Jordan Howard as 1st touchdown scorer. Despite only averaging 3.7 yards per carry this season, he does have 9 rushing touchdowns, even whilst splitting the carries with Tarik Cohen. 4 of his 9 touchdowns have come in the last 3 weeks however, suggesting that he is very much finding form at the right time. Whilst I think Trubisky will have a solid day here, I expect a conservative offensive game plan from the Bears that leans heavily on the rushing attack. Should they find themselves in the red zone, I expect a heavy dose of Howard and Cohen.

Score Prediction: Chicago Bears 24-17 Philadelphia Eagles