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NFL Playoff Picks 2020: Updated Odds and Predictions for Sunday Wild-Card Games

Megan ArmstrongAnalyst IIIJanuary 5, 2020

El quarterback de los Saints de Nueva Orleans, Drew Brees (9) celebra su pase de touchdown con el wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) durante la segunda mitad del juego contra los Eagles de Filadelfia, el domingo 18 de noviembre de 2018, en Nueva Orleans. (AP Foto/Bill Feig)
Bill Feig/Associated Press

Saturday's AFC wild-card slate set the bar high for the remainder of the NFL playoffs. 

The fifth-seeded Buffalo Bills and fourth-seeded Houston Texans got things underway with an overtime thriller that saw Houston complete a 22-19 comeback to keep the Bills winless in the postseason since 1995.

That was followed by the sixth-seeded Tennessee Titans stunning the third-seeded New England Patriots at home 20-13. It was a historical outcome that ended with an uncharacteristic Tom Brady pick-six to former teammate Logan Ryan in what could be his last appearance in New England:

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

The Titans knock off the Patriots 20-13. The early exit breaks the Patriots’ streak of 8 straight Conference Championship appearances, which was the longest in NFL history. https://t.co/AUPZ1v0MgK

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Derrick Henry: - Became the first player with 200 scrimmage yards against a Belichick-coached Patriots team in a playoff game - Set the franchise record for scrimmage yards in a playoff game Today is his 26th birthday. https://t.co/yYtKirCJzb

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

The Patriots ended the season losing back-to-back home games. They went 104 home games between consecutive home losses, by far the longest stretch in NFL history (next: Dolphins, 88 straight from 1976-86). @EliasSports

Now, it is the NFC's turn.  

The first game will feature the sixth-seeded Minnesota Vikings and third-seeded New Orleans Saints in a rematch of the 2017 divisional round that's forever remembered for the "Minneapolis Miracle." 

The wild-card round will wrap with the fifth-seeded Seattle Seahawks visiting the fourth-seeded Philadelphia Eagles in a rematch from Week 12, which Seattle won 17-9. 

Below is a deeper dive into the NFC wild-card matchups with odds and predictions for each game.

Wild-Card Sunday Schedule (Odds)

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No. 6 Minnesota Vikings at No. 3 New Orleans Saints (-7.5): 1:05 p.m. ET on FOX 

No. 5 Seattle Seahawks (-1.5) at No. 4 Philadelphia Eagles: 4:40 p.m. ET on NBC

Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook 

Predictions

Vikings at Saints

The last time Minnesota faced the Saints in the playoffs, then-quarterback Case Keenum hit receiver Stefon Diggs for a 61-yard touchdown as time expired to oust New Orleans 29-24 from the divisional round. 

It appears from the outset of this matchup that the Vikings will need another "Minneapolis Miracle" to upset the Saints again.

The 10-6 Vikings finished the regular season dropping three of their last five, including losses to the 13-3 Green Bay Packers and 11-5 Seattle Seahawks. The 23-10 defeat at the hands of Green Bay in Week 16 was particularly damning as the Vikings offense managed just 139 total yards and seven first downs. 

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has to put that performance out of mind. Cousins has an 0-15 career record against teams with 12 wins or more in a season (h/t ESPN).

Contrastingly, Saints quarterback Drew Brees is playing as well as ever to match his historical excellence:

New Orleans Saints @Saints

In the last month of his 19th @NFL regular season: ⚜️NFC Offensive Player of the Month ⚜️15 TDs ⚜️0 INTs ⚜️1,188 yds ⚜️137.0 QB rtg. 🐐 Story: https://t.co/hQqWhGRg9k

StatMuse @statmuse

🏆PASSING LEADERS OF THE DECADE🏆 --- PASSING YARDS Drew Brees 46,770 PASSING TD Drew Brees 345 COMPLETIONS Drew Brees 4,170 COMP PCT Drew Brees 69.5 INTERCEPTIONS THROWN Eli Manning 156 https://t.co/QJr2GYBpoy

Cousins and the Vikings will need running back Dalvin Cook at his best to keep Brees and the Saints on the sideline as much as possible. However, not only does New Orleans own the fourth-best rushing defense, but Cook missed the last two games of the regular season while nursing a shoulder injury.

Cook was a full participant in practice earlier this week for the first time since Week 15. The 24-year-old recorded a career-best 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns on 250 carries across 14 games this season. In other words, he is a pivotal piece in Minnesota's success. 

The Saints' most dynamic weapon, meanwhile, is receiver Michael Thomas. The 26-year-old All-Pro broke the NFL's all-time single-season receptions record in Week 16 and finished the regular season with 1,725 yards and nine touchdowns on 149 catches across 16 games. 

The Vikings won't have cornerbacks Mackensie Alexander (knee) or Mike Hughes (neck) to help contain Thomas.

"Even when healthy, the Vikings’ uncharacteristically porous pass defense surrendered 53 completions of at least 20 yards, the most in [head coach Mike Zimmer's] six seasons," Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune wrote. "There's been improvement, according to Zimmer, since devoting the Week 12 bye to correcting coverage issues. But cornerback Xavier Rhodes is no longer the All-Pro pick who shadowed Thomas during two 2017 matchups."

Jeff Ratcliffe @JeffRatcliffe

Michael Thomas 2019 catch rate: 80.5% Xavier Rhodes 2019 catch rate allowed: 84.3%

Brees will likely throw in Rhodes' direction all afternoon. 

Prediction: New Orleans 38, Minnesota 23

Seahawks at Eagles

Seattle was inches away from sealing the NFC West and avoiding Wild-Card Weekend altogether. Instead, the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Seahawks 26-21 to clinch the division and the NFC's top overall seed.

And so, off the 11-5 Seahawks go to Philadelphia.

Neither squad is at full strength this time around. The Seahawks signed Marshawn Lynch out of retirement to lead the running game after season-ending injuries to running backs Chris Carson (fractured hip), Rashaad Penny (torn ACL) and C.J. Prosise (broken arm). 

The Eagles are even more hobbled. Wide receiver Nelson Agholor (knee) and offensive tackle Lane Johnson (ankle) have been ruled out for this game, while right guard Brandon Brooks (separated shoulder) was lost for the season in Week 17, but running back Miles Sanders (ankle) and tight end Zach Ertz (back/ribs) are expected to play:

Tim McManus @Tim_McManus

Miles Sanders provides update on his ankle injury. https://t.co/2L9X4xGjOB

Derrick Gunn @RealDGunnNBCS

Here’s some news eagles fans have been waiting to hear... looks like Zach Ertz has been cleared to play tomorrow .... per league source.

Ertz's status is the most surprising given he reportedly suffered a broken rib and lacerated kidney in Philly's 17-9 Week 16 win over the Dallas Cowboys that prevented Dallas from clinching the NFC East and allowed the Eagles to clinch the division by beating the New York Giants in the regular-season finale:

Jeff McLane @Jeff_McLane

Aside from a fractured rib, Zach Ertz also lacerated his kidney in last Sunday’s game, NFL source confirms @RapSheet report. Ertz didn’t initially show any signs of further injury, source said. But kidney injury was discovered Monday. Ertz’s season is likely over.

Having Ertz as a target could do wonders for quarterback Carson Wentz, who will make his first career playoff start. Wentz had missed the Eagles' last two playoff trips, including their 2017 Super Bowl run, with injuries of his own. The 2016 second overall pick has made up for his past absences by helping Philly overcome shortcomings in 2019:

Adam Caplan @caplannfl

He did it with no D Jax for 12 games (and most of 2 others), no Jeffery for 4 games, no Agholor for 5 games. https://t.co/40eTDvS7NO

Brandon Lee Gowton @BrandonGowton

NFL quarterbacks with three straight seasons of 20 plus touchdowns and 10 or fewer interceptions Tom Brady Peyton Manning Russell Wilson Drew Brees Aaron Rodgers … and now, Carson Wentz joins the club. #Eagles (H/t @RoobNBCS) https://t.co/gR9PVORJBu

Martin Frank @Mfranknfl

Carson Wentz threw for 4,039 yards this season, the first QB in #Eagles history to do so. He had 0 receivers with 1,000 yards receiving, and 0 WR with 500 yards. Top 3 receivers were 2 TE (Ertz-916 yards, Goedert-607) and a RB (Sanders-509). Amazing.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau (h/t ESPN), Wentz has been a historical asset for the Eagles:

"The 2019 Eagles are the sixth division-winner since the 1970 merger to have zero wide receivers gain 500 yards through the air. The Eagles started nine different wide receivers during the regular season, and during their current four-game win streak, they had four different wideouts catch a pass: Greg Ward, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Deontay Burnett and Robert Davis. That quartet had 11 career receptions combined entering the season. It shouldn't surprise then that Wentz completed 242 passes to his running backs and tight ends this season, the most by a quarterback since Drew Brees' 251 in 2014."

Philadelphia can also feel good about head coach Doug Pederson's track record in games like this:

Tim McManus @Tim_McManus

Eagles are currently 1.5-point underdogs at home against Seattle. If it holds, Philly would be an underdog in its 6th straight playoff game. Doug Pederson is 4-1 in the playoffs as an underdog. No other coach since 2016 has more than 1 such playoff win. -- -- From @ESPNStatsInfo.

However, the Seahawks have been the stronger side throughout 2019 despite dropping their last two regular-season contests to Arizona and San Francisco. 

While Wentz has had a strong stretch, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is a proven winner come crunch time. The 31-year-old MVP candidate ranked third in passing touchdowns (31) and sixth in passing yards (4,110) with only five interceptions in the regular season.

In addition, Seattle's defense forced five turnovers that included four by Wentz in their Week 12 meeting.

The biggest difference, aside from Philly's home-field advantage, figures to be the weapons at Wentz and Wilson's disposal.

ESPN pegged Seahawks leading receiver Tyler Lockett as the one to watch: "With the Eagles leaning on single-high man coverage, Lockett will have opportunities to win in the slot. Look for quarterback Russell Wilson to target Lockett on vertical shot plays and deep crossers to test the Eagles' cornerbacks."

Wilson will also have rookie receiver D.K. Metcalf, who finished second to Lockett with 900 yards and seven touchdowns on 58 catches.

Even though Philly is 5-0 outright as an underdog home in the playoffs in the Super Bowl era, and 9-7 or worse home teams hosting 11-5 or better opponents in the wild-card round are 6-2 since 1990, according to ESPN, too much will sit on the shoulders of Ertz, Sanders and Wentz.

The Seahawks should prevail if for no other reason than depth.

Prediction: Seattle 27, Philadelphia 24

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