Since the NFL has a one-and-done playoff format, the level of drama attached to each snap is off the charts. One mistake can turn the tide one way or the other, leaving those gamblers paying close attention to the spread and often scrambling for dear life.
The Wild Card round, in particular, comes with much uncertainty. All of the games this year look far more evenly matched than in years past. You can make a strong, legitimate argument for all eight teams to win this weekend, which makes picking them against the spread incredibly hard.
But at some point, you have to trust your gut and look at what the numbers are telling you. Keeping that in mind, here are our predictions against the spread for all four games on Wild Card weekend.
Odds courtesy of Bovada
Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) at Houston Texans (12-4)
Spread: Houston (-4.5)
If I were to name the team with the second longest winning streak in the AFC after the Denver Broncos, I wonder how long it would take before you guessed Cincinnati. It's a rather modest three-game streak, at least when compared with the Broncos' current 11-game run.
However, something seems to be clicking with the Bengals right now. Their last two games, in which they defeated Pittsburgh and Baltimore (which wasn't playing any of its starters after the first quarter), provided the team with a huge mental boost.
The Texans are the softest 12-4 team in the NFL right now. Their secondary, which has been decimated by injuries to Brice McCain and Johnathan Joseph this season, has been dreadful, leaving the defensive line, led by J.J. Watt, to handle all the burden on defense.
In this matchup, you have a team with a bad secondary facing a team whose quarterback has gotten better with each week—throwing just five interceptions in the last eight weeks after throwing 11 in the first eight games— and A.J. Green, who might be the best wide receiver in the playoffs.
The Bengals have an underrated defense, which finished in the top 10 against the pass and was 12th defending the run. The Texans' offense, moreover, has looked lethargic for the last two weeks.
It feels like right now is the time for the Bengals to break that playoff losing streak—which is at four games—and move to Denver for the AFC Divisional Round next weekend.
Bengals 27, Texans 23
Minnesota Vikings (10-6) at Green Bay Packers (11-5)
Spread: Green Bay (-9)
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Of all the matchups this weekend, you knew that this would have the biggest spread. It's a little funny, because both teams are so dependent on one player for their success that they mirror each other in more ways than you might think.
The Vikings have proven that they need Adrian Peterson to run for at least 200 yards if they are going to compete with the Packers. He ran for 409 yards in two games against them this year, almost literally putting the franchise on his back in Week 17 to get them to this spot.
Aaron Rodgers is getting no MVP love this season, despite having more touchdowns, fewer interceptions, a better quarterback rating and playing behind a much worse offensive line than Peyton Manning in Denver.
As great as Peterson was last week, the Vikings still needed Christian Ponder to make plays and throw three touchdown passes to win the game. Now he is going outside to the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field. He is not going to be nearly as comfortable in the pocket as he was last week.
Peterson can only get the Vikings so far without Ponder having to make a few plays. Based on what we have seen from him this year, it would be foolish to think he can do it twice in a two-week span.
Packers 34, Vikings 27
Indianapolis Colts (11-5) at Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
Spread: Baltimore (-6.5)
This is the one game I can safely say I have no idea what to make of. The Colts have exceeded even their most optimistic expectations this season. The emotion the team showed on the field in Week 17 when Chuck Pagano returned to the sidelines was incredible.
The Ravens look as vulnerable as they ever have. The defense is not nearly as imposing as it used to be. Even if Ray Lewis returns this weekend, which head coach John Harbaugh won't confirm, one player doesn't change the fact they finished 17th against the pass and 20th against the run during the regular season.
Plus, the Ravens' weak secondary plays right into the Colts' hands, as they love to throw the ball down the field. T.Y. Hilton has emerged as a very good No. 2 option for Andrew Luck behind Reggie Wayne.
But the Colts have a small defense, particularly up front, that the Ravens can exploit. Ray Rice is still one of the best running backs in the NFL. As long as the Ravens don't get too cute and let Joe Flacco try to prove he is a top five quarterback, they should win this game.
When in doubt, you always take the team with more talent. Baltimore it is...I think.
Ravens 23, Colts 16
Seattle Seahawks (11-5) at Washington Redskins (10-6)
Spread: Seattle (-3)
The great equalizer in the postseason tends to be home-field advantage. That is even more true in the Seahawks-Redskins game, as Seattle has been mediocre (at best) away from the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field.
All five of the Seahawks' losses came on the road, with three against the likes of Miami, Arizona and Detroit. They did turn things around lately, winning at Chicago and against Buffalo in Toronto, but what are they going to do against a good team on the road?
The Redskins are the hottest team in the NFC, winning seven straight games to capture the NFC East title for the first time since 1999. Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris give this franchise one of the best rookie tandems at quarterback and running back in NFL history.
Griffin is the great question mark coming into this game. He has not looked like the same player since suffering a sprained right knee in Week 14 against Baltimore. If he is limited in any way, the Seahawks defense will be all over him in this game.
The play-action pass is what makes Washington's offense so dynamic, but if teams don't respect Griffin's ability to make a play with his arm, it becomes a moot point.
Everyone thinks the Seahawks are the most dangerous team in the NFC, but I think this team needs to prove it can win on the road. Until you prove it, I can't bet on you.
Redskins 23, Seahawks 20