NFL Wild Card Weekend Betting Guide: Odds, Props and Picks
The 2018 NFL playoffs have arrived. How should we go about betting these games?
Checks last year's wild-card results.
All four road underdogs covered the spread, and two won outright a year ago?
Give me the Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks, Los Angeles Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles! Take all of my money!
Scrolls a little more.
All four road underdogs lost and failed to cover the spread in 2017?
OK, back to the drawing board...
If you're looking for a broader trend, underdogs are 12-7-1 against the spread with seven outright victories over the last five Wild Card Weekends. But even with historically low spreads (this week's favorites are favored by just 11.5 total points, compared to 29.5 last year), that probably means some faves are due to come through this weekend.
Here's our latest look at the NFL's Wild Card Weekend, with a guide for upcoming games, notes on spreads, over/unders, money lines, top picks and the lock of the week. Let it guide you, or just take a tip or two. But don't be a sucker—limit your action to discretionary income.
Money-Line Picks and Picks Against the Spread
Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans (-1, 48 O/U): Colts +1 and +104
Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys (-2, 43 O/U): Cowboys -2 and -123
Los Angeles Chargers at Baltimore Ravens (-2.5, 42 O/U): Ravens -2.5 and -140
Philadelphia Eagles at Chicago Bears (-6, 41 O/U): Bears -6 and -250
Stay-Away Game: Eagles at Bears (-6)
This game is overflowing with nearly impossible-to-read variables. For example:
- Nobody knows for sure if the Eagles have something special with Nick Foles at quarterback. Are we only on Chapter 2 of some sort of epic sports tale? Will we one day tell our grandchildren about Foles' exploits in leading the Eagles to seven consecutive improbable championships? Or was last season an aberration, and is Philly just praying lightning will strike twice? This team isn't as good as last year's version, which never had to go on the road in January and didn't face a defense like Chicago's.
- How will second-year Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky handle the pressure associated with his first career playoff game? Remember, Trubisky had just 13 career college starts under his belt at this point two years ago, and he's still mistake-prone. Going up against Philly's ferocious defensive front in the biggest game of his career might be troublesome.
Nobody can say with complete confidence whether the Eagles have another run in them, and nobody knows what to expect from Trubisky and his young team. The Bears are also led by first-year head coach Matt Nagy, and they have had a 2017 Los Angeles Rams feel all year.
Keep in mind that after breaking out and winning their division last season with an exciting first-year head coach (Sean McVay) and a highly touted sophomore quarterback (Jared Goff), the Rams were handily defeated as a 6.5-point fave at home in the Wild Card Round by a more experienced opponent that was coming off an NFC title (the Atlanta Falcons).
There's no way I'm putting my hard-earned money on this team to beat the defending Super Bowl champs by nearly a touchdown, and there's no way I'm putting it on a Philly team that is just lucky to be here and is, at least on paper, substantially inferior to its opponent.
Prop Bets You Can Take to the Bank
Eagles at Bears: Alshon Jeffery under 64.5 receiving yards (-120)
This seems quite high considering Jeffery averaged 64.8 receiving yards per game this season. That number has shot up to 100.3 with Foles at quarterback, but a 160-yard game in Week 15 skews that average.
Now, the Eagles are facing a defense that surrendered a league-low (by a mile) passer rating of 72.9 during the regular season, and Foles is dealing with a rib injury for a tough road game in cold weather (Jeffery's big effort came in sunny Los Angeles).
Throw in that, according to Football Outsiders, the Bears defense has the league's best DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) when covering No. 1 receivers, and this is a no-brainer.
Seahawks at Cowboys: Over 23.5 second-half points (+140)
Stay tuned for more thoughts on the full-game total for Seattle-Dallas, but it's worth noting that the Seahawks were the fourth-highest-scoring team in the league in the second half this season, while the Cowboys surrendered far more second-half points (12.9) than first-half points (7.1).
The Cowboys also scored more in the second half than the first half, and that could be the case for both of these teams if they come out of the gate characteristically conservative in a big game.
Look for a close, low-scoring first half, and then watch for both offenses to open things up as they become more comfortable down the stretch.
Eagles at Bears: 4-5 total turnovers (+180)
OK, don't take this one to the bank, but take a flier on the notion that Philly and Chicago will turn it over often in the cold Sunday at Soldier Field.
Both the Eagles and Bears were among 13 teams to average 1.4 or more turnovers per game this season. And now we're talking about a less than 100 percent Foles versus one of the league's best defenses on the road, as well as Trubisky in his first career playoff game against a fierce Philadelphia defensive front.
These teams combined for two turnovers in Week 17, so we're betting on mean regression during Wild Card Weekend.
Spread to Bet: Chargers at Ravens (-2.5)
A team led by a rookie quarterback hasn't defeated a team led by a veteran quarterback in an NFL playoff game since Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets did so against Carson Palmer's Cincinnati Bengals in the 2009 playoffs, and it's entirely possible that the Chargers figured out how to slow down Lamar Jackson when they faced the Ravens two weeks ago.
But that's not the only conundrum the Bolts have to solve.
Let's not forget that Los Angeles was held to 10 points and 198 net yards on offense in that matchup with the league's top-rated defense, and that was in Los Angeles. Now, a suddenly struggling Philip Rivers and his banged-up teammates have to travel to Baltimore to face a team that has more home wins during head coach John Harbaugh's 11-year tenure than any NFL team except the New England Patriots.
Harbaugh is 5-0 both straight up and against the spread in the wild-card round, and his Ravens have covered the spread in seven consecutive postseason games. Meanwhile, we've all been waiting for the snakebitten Chargers to Charger all over the field. This feels like just the time for a team that, with a lot at stake, has turned the ball over nine times in its last three games.
Because the Baltimore defense, although stout, doesn't generate a lot of takeaways, and because Jackson still needs to develop as a passer, this probably isn't a blowout. But you're probably safe with only a couple of points in L.A.'s back pocket, so grab the Ravens where you can at -2.5, buy back half a point at -3 or stand pat there and risk a push in what should be the worst-case scenario.
Colts at Texans: Texans -3 to -1
The course of the week has removed doubt that Colts center Ryan Kelly could miss a second consecutive game due to a neck injury. And while Kelly is an integral part of the offensive operation in Indy, that alone doesn't explain why a team that was spotting the Colts a field goal is now only a one-point favorite.
A lot of money is obviously coming in on the Colts, who beat Houston at this very site just four weeks ago and outplayed the Texans for much of December.
That makes Houston an intriguing play, but we still aren't biting. Instead, just increase the value of your Colts bet by grabbing them on the moneyline.
Chargers at Ravens: Ravens -1 to -3
This is the high side, as plenty of books still have the Ravens laying 2.5 points. We're on Baltimore regardless, and that movement indicates the public is on the same train. That's not always a good sign, but we clearly and emphatically stated our case above.
Considering that the Bolts could get tight end Hunter Henry back from a torn ACL and should also have running backs Austin Ekeler (groin) and Melvin Gordon (ankle), it's still rather shocking to see this move by two points in a lot of spots.
Vegas was initially way off.
Seahawks at Cowboys: 41.5 O/U to 43.0 O/U
This is the only total that has moved more than a full point in either direction, and that probably has something to do with the fact that both teams look as though they'll be getting starting guards back from injury.
Zack Martin has been practicing for Dallas after he was held out of the last two weeks due to a knee injury, while D.J. Fluker (hamstring) and J.R. Sweezy (foot) both have a chance to play for Seattle. Martin and Fluker don't have injury designations, while Sweezy is questionable.
Seahawks at Cowboys: Over 43 points
But that total climb isn't enough to scare us away from the over in Seattle-Dallas. In a perfect world you'd have locked in the over earlier in the week, but we're still expecting a push for 50 combined points here.
Although both defenses have been strong, both offenses deserve more credit. The Seahawks have the league's top-ranked running game in yards per game; the Cowboys have the league's leading rusher. And now those who block for those running games are getting healthier.
The Seahawks rather quietly had the league's sixth-best scoring offense during the regular season, and they've scored 65 points over the last two weeks. The Dallas offense ranked 22nd with 21.2 points per game this year, but their average was 25.0 at home, and they also finished hot with 63 points in their last two outings.
The midseason acquisition of wide receiver Amari Cooper transformed the offense, and another strong second half from running back Ezekiel Elliott has also helped.
Against a defense that ranked joint-29th in the NFL with 4.9 yards per carry allowed during the regular season, Elliott and Co. shouldn't have much trouble scoring points on Saturday night in Arlington.
Colts at Texans: Under 48 points
Yeah, the Colts and Texans combined for 116 points in their two regular-season meetings (exactly 58 each), but 61 percent of that combined total came in their wild Week 4 matchup in Indy. That game contained nine overtime points, and it took place before the Colts' defense started to take off.
Since then, only eight teams have surrendered fewer points per game than Indy (20.3), but the list of eight includes a Houston team that ranks first in the NFL during that span (17.3) and finished the season with the league's joint-fourth-lowest mark in that category.
Indy and Houston combined for just 45 points when they last met in December, falling short of a total of 49.
Look for 45 or fewer points again on Saturday, mainly because the quick-pursuing Indy defensive front should be able to take advantage of Houston's god-awful offensive line, while the star-studded Texans defense has been particularly strong at home (13.3 points per game in three outings at NRG Stadium in December).
Value Bet: Colts +104 over Texans
Indianapolis isn't listed as a spread to bet because, as a one-point 'dog with a tie off the table, you're better off risking a one-point loss and a push to secure the Colts on the moneyline at +104 than you are taking them plus a point at -110 or so.
It might be close, but the Colts are likely winning this thing outright.
They severely outplayed Houston on the road less than a month ago, and since then, they've easily disposed of two other playoff-contending teams—beating Dallas 23-0 and then hammering the Tennessee Titans 33-17 in a do-or-die road game.
Meanwhile, the Texans followed up that 24-21 Week 14 loss to the Colts with an ugly performance in a too-close-for-comfort victory over the Jets and a late letdown in a loss to the Eagles before "getting back on track" with a Week 17 whipping of the uninterested Jacksonville Jaguars.
Look closely and you'll see that these teams are headed in opposite direction as the playoffs get underway.
But even before that was the case, the Colts had the Texans' number on the road (they've won five of their last six games in Houston), while top Indy receiver T.Y. Hilton has dominated the Texans throughout his career.
There's little reason to expect a different result Saturday afternoon.
Sucker Bet: Seahawks +115 over Cowboys
There will be many who can't resist the temptation to take an experienced playoff team with a Super Bowl-winning head coach and quarterback to upset the Jason Garrett- and Dak Prescott-led Cowboys on Saturday night, but that +115 moneyline just isn't worth the gamble.
The Seahawks have lost three of their last four road playoff games—with the only win during that stretch coming when Blair Walsh did this. If not for that, Russell Wilson's only road playoff victory would have come in his first career playoff game, in his rookie season, against rookie Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins.
Wilson is coming off another strong year and the Seattle offense has improved immensely, but Dallas lost just one home game all season, and the ground-and-pound Cowboys match up well with a defense that ranks below the league median against the run in terms of both DVOA and yards per carry allowed.
Cowboys superstar Ezekiel Elliott was one of five running backs to go over 100 yards and average more than seven yards per carry against that Seahawks defense this season, and that was in September—before Zeke started to heat up.
Those willing to jump on the Seahawks for such a small return as a road underdog are living in the past and ignoring the many obvious signs that Seattle is likely to be a one-and-done playoff team this season.
The writing is on the wall for a Seahawks team that is limping into January following a three-game stretch in which it allowed 27 points per game to the San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs and Arizona Cardinals.
Lock of the Week: Cowboys -2
The rest of this guide has been riddled with spoilers. It has to be obvious at this point that we're on the Cowboys at home, especially with just two points on Seattle's side.
Not only does Seattle look destined to be one-and-done with a tough road game following an up-and-down finish to an up-and-down regular season, but the Cowboys have just been gaining steam. They haven't lost at home since Week 9 and have just one loss altogether during that eight-game stretch, Elliott is looking strong, their dominant offensive line is getting healthier, and the defense finished the year as the sixth-best unit in football in terms of points allowed.
Sure, the Seahawks have the league's top-rated running game, but the Dallas D ranked fifth in the NFL when it came to DVOA against the run, and it allowed 80 or fewer rushing yards in six of their last eight games.
Both reams can run, but it's a hell of a lot easier to run on Seattle than on Dallas.
That'll be one of several major advantages for the Cowboys on Saturday night in Arlington. They're at home, they have the key matchup edge, they're slightly healthier and they're certainly hotter.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.