NFL Playoff Picks: Which Wild-Card Teams Are Locks to Cover the Spread?

Wes ODonnellFeatured ColumnistJanuary 5, 2012

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 24:  Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers warms up prior to the Christmas Eve game against St. Louis Rams on December 24, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The only favored wild-card team this weekend is the Pittsburgh Steelers. Although they are the No. 5 seed, Pittsburgh has the fifth-best record in the league but lost the AFC North on a tiebreaker with Baltimore Ravens.

Because of it, they'll have to travel to Denver to take on the Broncos in Tim Tebow's first ever playoff start. The Steelers are favored by nine points even though they're on the road.

As for the remaining three wild-card teams—Cincinnati, Atlanta and Detroit—they are all getting points in their matchups.

Which of these four teams is a lock to cover the spread, though?

Steelers (-9)

The late game on Sunday features a Broncos team hosting their first playoff game since 2005 when they beat the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots in the divisional round before losing to the eventual Super Bowl champions of that year, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 24:  Mike Wallace #17 of the Pittsburgh Steelers makes a catch against  Josh Gordy #38 of the St. Louis Rams during the game on December 24, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Steelers won 27-0.  (Photo by Just
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

This Broncos team is a 2,000 leagues under the sea different from that team while the Steelers are still forging ahead with many of the same players and much of the same philosophy.

The trends don't favor either team, as Pittsburgh is 2-6 against the spread in road games, but the Broncos are 1-6 against the spread in home games.

But trends and regular season records don't matter much when the playoffs roll around. Even though nine points is a large spread, the Steelers are going to treat this Broncos team the same way the Ravens treated the AFC West champion Chiefs last year.

They cover nine points easily.

Bengals (+3)

The favored Texans have continued to get things done despite a ridiculous amount of injuries. That said, in a battle of rookie quarterbacks, the one with the most experience—Andy Dalton's 16 regular season games this year—will play a large factor in this game. 

Playoff teams' goals are to take away their opponent's best weapon. Cincinnati is not going to let Arian Foster and Ben Tate run all over them. Instead, they're going to force T.J. Yates to make plays at any and all costs.

CINCINNATI, OH - NOVEMBER 27:  Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals takes the field for the game against the Cleveland Browns at Paul Brown Stadium on November 27, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The Bengals defeated the Browns 23-20.  (Photo by John Grie
John Grieshop/Getty Images

Cincy is 5-1 against the spread on the road this season and Houston lost three straight games down the stretch to bad teams (they weren't locked into the three-seed when they lost to Carolina and Indianapolis).

Lions (+10.5) and Falcons (+3)

Detroit can score points, but the Saints are on an eight-game win/cover streak and do not look like they're going to stop. Not even for 10.5 points.

The Falcons, meanwhile, not only have a great shot to cover, but to win as well. They've struggled on the road, but the Giants are only 3-4 at home against the spread.

Big Blue has a knack for winning tight games though, and even if they manage to defend their turf it could come down to another heroic, late-game Eli Manning performance. 

Atlanta is no lock, but they're a play worth considering.