NFL Picks Wild Card Round (2021 regular season)
NFL PICKS (WILD CARD ROUND)
BY PROFESSOR MJ
Written Wednesday January 12th, 2021 at 4 PM Eastern Time (spreads/odds may have changed)
We stumbled down the finish line by losing the last six NFL picks over the past two weeks. Still, we concluded the 2021 NFL regular season with a positive record via 31 wins, 26 losses and one tie.
Here is a breakdown of the NFL picks against the spread (ATS), as a function of the star rating, for the entire 2021 season:
- 5 STARS: 2-1-1 record
- 4 STARS: 5-7 record
- 3 STARS: 10-6 record
- 2 STARS: 5-9 record
- 1 STAR: 9-3 record
- OVERALL: 31-26-1 record (a 54.3% win rate)
If you are betting at -105 odds (or 1.95 in decimal) by risking $105 to win $100, you earned a total profit of $370 during the season.
Considering you would have wagered a total of $6090 (58 bets at $105 each) by tailing all of those plays, your return on investment would have been +6.1%. Despite what the haters say, that’s a nice job nonetheless!
Before we get into the picks, here are some super interesting facts:
- Since 2017, the underdogs in the first round of the NFL playoffs hold an impressive 15-3 record ATS.
- Since 2012, quarterbacks in the wild card round making their first playoff start are 11-31 straight up.
Ok, it’s time to unveil my first three picks for the NFL Wild Card round (the remaining three betting tips will come in a different article)!
WILD CARD GAME #1: LAS VEGAS RAIDERS AT CINCINNATI BENGALS (-5.5)
Both QBs are making their postseason debut, but Derek Carr has a lot more experience in the league. However, Carr has not done well in cold weather. Indeed, he has an 0-5 record in games below 30 degrees Farenheit. Granted, four of those five matchups ended by a seven-point margin of less, but he tossed just 4 TD passes versus 5 interceptions in those games.
The Bengals have lost their last seven playoff games. Both teams are pretty unfamiliar with postseason play, so I expect many players to be nervous, which may lead to more field goals and a lower scoring game. In that case, it is often best to side with the underdog and that is exactly what I’m going to do.
Vegas has done well as road underdogs, as shown by their 6-2 record ATS under such conditions. One trend does not favor the Raiders, though: the Bengals beat the spread in each of the past five meetings between these two clubs.
Traveling across the country is not a good thing for Vegas, but they have the revenge factor going their way. As a matter of fact, the Raiders lost 32-to-13 against Cincy back in Week 11. The game was more tight than the final score indicates since the Bengals were up 16-13 with six minutes left in the game.
I don’t have numbers to back the following betting theory, but here is something that I have noticed over the years across many sports. It seems to me like teams who came super close from getting eliminated tend to do well in the following game. In this case, the Raiders won their final four meetings, including a nail-biter against the Chargers last Sunday, to get into the playoff dance. I expect them to keep the momentum going this Saturday.
Joe Burrow sat out the Week 18 game due to a knee injury. How good will he feel? He has been sacked 51 times this season, and the Raiders can certainly rush the passer.
For all of those reasons, I am taking Las Vegas to beat the spread. They might end up on the losing end, but I expect a tight game between two inexperienced teams.
Pick: Raiders +5.5
WILD CARD GAME #2: NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS AT BUFFALO BILLS (-4)
I told you earlier about the awful performance of teams quarterbacked by a guy making his first NFL playoff start. That would suggest fading the Patriots. In this case, Mac Jones is not only playing his first postseason game, but he is also a rookie and he will be on the road in a tough environment. As you can suspect, my pick therefore goes to Buffalo.
The Bills will be at home for a third straight week, so they should be better rested. In comparison, the Pats had to travel to Miami last week.
Buffalo beat their AFC East rivals 33-21 in New England, after losing the first meeting 14-10 at home. In the latter game, Mac Jones attempted just three passes because the team had the lead, and more importantly because the wind was blowing hard. According to the latest reports, it should not be very windy Saturday night in Orchard Park. That’s great news for Bills fans. Mac Jones will have to throw the ball this time, and his level of play dropped off towards the end of the regular season.
Meanwhile, the Bills finished strong with four consecutive victories. I see them taking an early lead, forcing the Patriots out of their comfort zone and having to throw the ball more often that they would like to. Don’t forget that the Bills allowed the fewest yards and the fewest points in the entire league this year.
Pick: Bills -4
WILD CARD GAME #3: PHILADELPHIA EAGLES AT TAMPA BAY BUCS (-8.5)
The Eagles have posted a 10-1 record ATS over their last 11 playoff games as underdogs. However, that was with different quarterbacks under center. Jalen Hurts will make his postseason debut, and as mentioned previously that’s not good news for Philly.
Let’s forget the last game by the Eagles since they were resting many starters. Prior to that, they had won six of seven games. While that seems spectacular, look at the quality of the opponents: the Broncos, the Saints, the Jets, the Giants twice and Washington twice. The best team they have beaten all year was New Orleans, who finished with a 9-8 record. All other teams had a losing record.
The matchup is also very bad for Philadelphia. On offense, they are much better equipped to run the ball, but that turns out to be Tampa’s strength on defense.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles are pretty good defending the run, but the Bucs are more effective when throwing it. Granted, I have to admit that Tampa’s passing offense is severely diminished after having lost wide receivers Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown. That is a big source of concern to me.
Still, my money goes on Tampa. They are 6-1 ATS as home favorites, while the Eagles were 2-5 ATS as road underdogs.
Pick: Bucs -8.5
WILD CARD GAME #4: SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS AT DALLAS COWBOYS (-3)
On paper, Dallas has the better team for sure. They have the better passing offense, and clearly the better passing defense as well. As for the running offense, both teams are roughly equal. The only aspect where I give an edge to the Niners is the run defense. I’m going to pick the Dallas Cowboys in this matchup, but my number one concern is how Dallas will defend the run. Since Week 7, they have surrendered an average of 130 rushing yards.
Other than that, I like Dallas here. Prescott can certainly take advantage of a suspect San Francisco secondary, especially with great receivers like CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper and Dalton Schultz. Even Cedrick Wilson showed great flashes last week.
Jimmy Garoppolo is still bothered by a thumb injury. He has thrown 2 TD passes versus 4 interceptions over this past two games. Now facing an aggressive Dallas secondary, he is very likely to throw a couple of costly picks.
Meanwhile, Dak Prescott has done well in the playoffs during his career. Despite a 1-2 record, he has performed well with 5 TDs, 2 interceptions and a 95.7 passer rating. Both Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard will be available in the backfield, which gives Dallas a much more balanced attack.
The Cowboys hold a 5-1 record ATS the last six times they were favorites and 8-3 ATS following a straight up win. They have not done well in recent years at home during the postseason, but the Niners are 2-5 ATS in their most recent seven road playoff meetings.
Pick: Cowboys -3
WILD CARD GAME #5: PITTSBURGH STEELERS AT KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (-12.5)
This is the game I hate handicapping the most this weekend. First, as a general rule, I don’t like betting games with a big point spread. Secondly, it’s hard to figure out the Steelers and the Chiefs.
Just a few weeks ago, the Chiefs destroyed Pittsburgh by a 36-to-10 score, even though Travis Kelce was out. The revenge factor applies here; there is no way the Steelers will let K.C. embarrass them once again.
However, do they have the weapons to keep this game close? Big Ben looks awful. I really like Najee Harris, he runs hard and is surprisingly shifty. But the offensive line is bad and struggles at creating holes for him.
We all saw in last year’s Super Bowl how the key to slowing down Mahomes was to pressure him. So the good news for the Steelers is they have T.J. Watt, who is master at getting sacks. This guy is a true beast! Pittsburgh needs him to blow up many plays during the game for the Steelers to have a chance.
From a betting perspective, Pittsburgh owns a 5-2 ATS record the last seven times they faced a team with a winning record. That’s encouraging. But they are 1-4-2 ATS in their last seven playoff games as the visiting team. In wildcard games, Kansas City is 1-4 ATS.
I have very little faith in this pick. I will clearly be staying away from this game. But if I was forced to bet, I’d go with the Steelers and cross my fingers that they don’t get blown out.
Pick: Steelers +12.5
WILD CARD GAME #6: ARIZONA CARDINALS AT LOS ANGELES RAMS (-4)
In part #1 of my wildcard picks, I told you how quarterbacks making their first NFL postseason start has posted an 11-31 record straight up since 2012. Kyler Murray fits that bill, so it does not bode well for Arizona, based on those numbers. Matthew Stafford has participated in three playoff games, going 0-for-3 in those matches.
Both QBs are prone to mistakes. Both have had a mix of awesome and ugly games. You never know which version you will get.
This is essentially a neutral-site game. Even if it were on the road for Arizona, they held the best road record this year (8-1). One blemish on their season was their 0-3 record in primetimes games.
In the end, I’ll go with Arizona. The Rams were 1-4 ATS at home against good teams recently, while Arizona did well as road dogs. Can Los Angeles win this meeting by a margin of five points or more? They could, but that seems like something that has less than a 50% chance of happening.
Pick: Cardinals +4
We are now ready to roll for the NFL playoffs! I’m super grateful that you have decided to spend time with me by reading this article. Thank you so much my friend and enjoy the exciting games!
(Sports Betting Expert / University Professor / PhD in statistics)