NFL Picks Wild Card Weekend (2020 regular season)
NFL PICKS (WILD CARD ROUND)
BY PROFESSOR MJ
Written Wednesday January 7th, 2021 at 10 a.m. Eastern Time (spreads/odds may have changed)
First, let’s recap the performance of the NFL picks against the spread (ATS) for the entire 2020 season:
- 5 STARS: 4-3 record
- 4 STARS: 9-4-1 record
- 3 STARS: 10-11-1 record
- 2 STARS: 4-9-2 record
- 1 STAR: 9-4 record
- OVERALL: 36-31-4 record (a 53.7% win rate)
If you are betting at -110 odds, you need to win 52.4% of your bets in order to net a profit.
When wagering at -105 odds, that figure is 51.2%.
In other words, this year’s NFL tips led to a small profit overall (but still a gain nonetheless!).
During the regular season, I did not make a pick on all games. For entertainment purposes, I’ll do it in the playoffs. I will let you know how much confidence I have in each pick.
The best part of the NFL season is coming up, so let’s dive right in!
WILD CARD GAME #1: INDIANAPOLIS COLTS AT BUFFALO BILLS (-6.5)
We are starting strong with my top pick of the weekend: I’m putting my money on the Bills in this matchup.
Can you believe Buffalo has beaten the spread in each of their last eight games? That’s unbelievable!
Only four teams ended the season by beating the spread on 8+ consecutive games. All of them were winning wagers in their first playoff game.
The Colts suffered a big blow in Week 16 when they lost their star left tackle Anthony Castonzo. The team absolutely needs to protect Philip Rivers well because he is a statue in the pocket, and he tends to get bottled up easily.
To me, Rivers having no mobility whatsoever is a big factor, as opposed to Josh Allen who can escape the pressure on a regular basis.
Also, Indy is great defending the run, but they weren’t nearly as good against the pass where they finished in the middle of the pack in terms of passer rating allowed. Now facing a passing team, that could spell trouble for Indianapolis.
The Colts defense overall slowed down as the season progressed. Indeed, they allowed an average of 19.7 points per game through their first nine meetings, while that number increased to 26.4 in the final seven matches.
The Bills defense did the exact opposite and seems to be peaking at the right time. They surrendered 28 points per game in the first six contests versus 21 points over the last 10 games.
The temperature is expected to be below zero degree Celsius this Saturday. Philip Rivers played his entire career in the warm weather of San Diego and Los Angeles before joining the Colts who play in a stadium covered by a dome.
Buffalo wins big and finally gets its first playoff victory since 1995!
Official pick: Bills -6.5
WILD CARD GAME #2: LOS ANGELES RAMS AT SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (-3.5)
I am not going to bet this game, but if I was forced to do it I’d back the Rams here.
The situation at quarterback is unclear for Los Angeles, but the latest reports suggest Jared Goff should be under center.
If he is unable to go, John Wolford will take the field. He did better than expected in a must-win game last week. He’s not as good as Goff as a passer, but he was a threat as a runner.
I also like the fact that the Rams are expected to get three key players back this weekend: wide receiver Cooper Kupp, left tackle Andrew Whitworth and defensive end Michael Brockers.
Seattle’s defense improved a lot late in the season, while L.A.’s defense was strong all season long. This could be a defensive battle, in which case I prefer to go with the underdog.
Still, I am not going to pull the trigger on the Rams. Seattle has won 11 consecutive playoff games when favored. They also post a great 6-1 ATS record in wild card games.
Lean: Rams +3.5
WILD CARD GAME #3: TAMPA BAY BUCS (-8.5) AT WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM
I won’t put money at risk in this game either, but I am leaning towards the Bucs.
Alex Smith appeared even more limited than usual last week in Philadelphia, and he really played poorly.
Washington’s running game couldn’t get going all night long, and it led to a bad outing by the offense. Now facing the top run defense in the league, how are they going to score points?
I simply do not trust Alex Smith to light up the scoreboard, especially with his top two threats, Antonio Gibson and Terry McLaurin, being banged up.
So why am I not betting this game then? There are a few numbers and trends that scare me.
Since 1970, only three teams were road favorites by 6+ points in the playoffs; all of them lost straight up!
Also, the Bucs are 0-4 in primetime games this season. They were really awful in such games.
Finally, the only other two squads qualifying for the postseason despite a losing record both covered in their first playoff game.
Lean: Bucs -8.5
WILD CARD GAME #4: BALTIMORE RAVENS (-3 OR -3.5) AT TENNESSEE TITANS
This time we have a pick that I like enough to put money at risk. In this matchup of the two best running attacks in the league, I am betting the Ravens as 3-point favorites.
First, how could I omit mentioning the famous revenge factor, which is largely in favor of Baltimore? Not only did they lose 30-to-24 in overtime back in Week 11, but the Ravens were ousted from the playoffs last year by those same Titans by a 28-to-12 score.
Both of these games occurred in Baltimore. The Ravens will be fired up to avenge those losses, and they won’t slow down even if they take the lead this Saturday.
The Baltimore train has been picking up some steam recently. John Harbaugh’s team has beaten the spread in each of their final six games. They are also a perfect 6-0 ATS over the past six road playoff games and 8-3 ATS in their last 11 games in January.
A piece of information that may be flying under the radar is the fact that Tennessee has three offensive linemen listed as questionable: Rodger Saffold, Ben Jones and Dennis Kelly. Even if they all suit up this Sunday, they are nicked up and could struggle against a tough Baltimore front.
If you like betting totals, you may consider grabbing the over for two reasons. All five times that the Titans were underdogs this year, the game went over the total. Secondly, this will be just the third time that a wild card game has a total of 55 points or more. In the previous two instances, the game ended with exactly 73 points scored.
Official pick: Ravens -3
Lean: Over 55
WILD CARD GAME #5: CHICAGO BEARS AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (-10)
This is the third pick that I like enough to call it an “official” pick: I’m grabbing the Saints as 10-point favorites.
The Bears have a fairly weak offensive line, so they are likely to struggle against the ferocious Saints defense.
Also, Chicago is likely to miss a key piece of their defense due to injury: linebacker Roquan Smith. He exited the regular season finale against the Packers with an elbow injury. It looks like he dislocated his elbow and probably won’t be available this weekend.
Meanwhile, the Saints have a good shot to get both Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas on the field. That should be a big boost to their offense.
There are several statistics favoring New Orleans:
- Since 2011, double-digit favorites are 7-1 ATS in playoff games;
- The Bears are 0-4 ATS over the last two years as underdogs of 6 points or more;
- Chicago is 0-6 ATS on the road when facing a team with a winning record;
- Da Bears have a disappointing 6-18 ATS record after a double-digit home loss;
- The Saints are 4-0 ATS following a win by at least 14 points.
Based on these arguments, I’m taking the Saints but for some reason I remain cautious and won’t go big on this one. I still prefer Buffalo and Baltimore this week.
Official pick: Saints -10
WILD CARD GAME #6: CLEVELAND BROWNS AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS (-6)
I am clearly avoiding this game. Way too many uncertainties surrounding this game.
The Browns had some COVID-19 cases, which will prevent head coach Kevin Stefanski, star left guard Joel Bitonio and defensive end Olivier Vernon from taking the field.
Other guys are uncertain to suit up this Sunday, including three offensive linemen (Tretter, Teller, Conklin) and a couple of cornerbacks (Denzel Ward and Kevin Johnson). Who will play and who will miss the game? I prefer to avoid putting money at risk on this great AFC North matchup.
The only wager I could consider making is betting the over. Why? The over has gone 9-1 with Big Ben under center in home playoff games. Also, the over is 11-3 when teams meet two weeks in a row.
Lean: Over 47.5
This should be a fantastic weekend of football, so enjoy it guys! I’ll be back next week for more betting tips for the Divisional Round.
Best of luck with your plays!
(Sports Betting Expert / University Professor / PhD in statistics)