NFL Betting Preview: Where Can You Find Value in Saturday's Wild Card Games?
With the playoffs being expanded this season, we get three games on Saturday. And luckily for us as viewers, we are treated to what should be three ultra-competitive games across the board.
According to our schedule-adjusted metrics, we will whet our appetites with the 5th-ranked Buffalo Bills hosting the 11th-ranked Indianapolis Colts. For our second game of the day, two NFC West rivals clash, as the Los Angeles Rams, checking in 4th, travel to visit the 10th-ranked Seattle Seahawks. Our final game of the day takes place in the nation's capital, as the home Washington Football Team (14th) will try to upset the top-ranked Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Let's dive into what our model thinks could be some intriguing betting angles for these contests.
Last year the Bills made the playoffs as a Wild Card entrant, ending their lengthy 17-year playoff drought. With Tom Brady leaving New England, they have now ascended to the top of the AFC East as division champions. They will look to add on to their impressive regular season with some postseason glory as they host their first playoff game in upstate New York in 25 years. Buffalo enters this one as 6.5-point favorites over the Colts, per FanDuel Sportsbook.
Josh Allen spearheads Buffalo's offense, and he has played brilliantly, leading what is the league's best offense, according to our metrics. Allen has tossed for 4,544 passing yards and has done so in an efficient manner -- his Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back of 0.32 is one of the league's best and is well above the league average of 0.13. That's a bit of a terrifying proposition for the Colts, though Indy ranks as a top-10 pass defense this season. To close their fantastic regular season, Allen and crew ripped off a combined 142 points over their final three games.
For the Colts to stay in this game, they'll need Philip Rivers to play well. This marks Rivers' 12th playoff start, and while he's posted just a 5-6 mark previously, Rivers has performed well in the playoffs with more 2,600 passing yards and 14 touchdowns. The Colts will likely try to lean on the run as much as they can. Rookie back Jonathan Taylor has been extremely efficient down the stretch and capped his regular season with a boom. He finished Week 17 with 253 rushing yards, and he logged 80 or more rushing yards in five of his last six games.
Per our oddsFire tool, the betting public is siding with the home team in a massive way -- 80% of bets and 85% of cash have come in on the Bills to cover as 6.5-point favorites. With the total at 51.5, money continues to pour in on the over as 84% of the cash is backing the it. However, our algorithm doesn't agree with the betting public. We predict the under to hit 52.32% of the time, and we have the Colts covering 6.5 points 54.2% of the time.
-- These teams have been very different from an against-the-spread (ATS) perspective recently, as the Bills are a perfect 8-0 ATS in their last eight, while the Colts have gone 4-4.
-- In January playoff games, the road Colts have struggled, posting a 2-7 ATS mark in their last nine.
-- The home team has been perfect ATS in this series over the last five games.
Two division rivals meet in Saturday's Game 2 of our playoff slate, and there are quite a few question marks surround this contest.
After undergoing thumb surgery, signal-caller Jared Goff has practiced each of the last two days, but only time will tell if he or John Wolford is under center for this game. If Goff is able to return, he needs to step up his play -- he struggled this season with a mark of 0.08 Passing NEP per drop back, which was paired with a mediocre 51.83% Passing Success Rate.
On the flip side, Russell Wilson, who was the early-season MVP favorite, has cooled in a big way in recent weeks. While Russ cooked for a while, his 0.18 Passing NEP per drop back has dropped significantly to close the season. Wilson has not topped 300 passing yards since Week 8. He certainly looks to have his hands full against what our metrics have as the league's best D, led by Aaron Donald.
With all of the uncertainty around the quarterback slot for the Rams, this is a tough game to bet until we know Goff's status for sure. That uncertainty is baked into the lines as Seattle is a 3.0-point favorite, and the total is a lowly 42.5.
The betting public is backing Seattle, with 74% of bets and 75% of cash supporting the Seahawks to cover, per oddsFire. As far as our algorithm is concerned, we give some love to the 'Hawks, projecting them to cover 3.0 points 60% of the time. The best value -- by our model -- is the total. We have the over hitting a whopping 69.1% of the time.
-- Both teams have been mediocre ATS bets this year, with the Rams posting a 9-7 ATS mark and the Seahawks recording an 8-8 clip.
-- While our model points to the over, the trends say otherwise. The under has hit in 11 of the Rams' last 13 games and in 7 of the last 8 Seahawks contests.
-- In their last six games, the Seahawks and their opponents topped 42.5 total points just one time.
We finish the day with an NFC matchup, and it's the first of two contests this weekend in which the home team is an underdog. Washington is a huge 7.5-point 'dog, and the total is set at 44.5 points.
Led by rookie Chase Young, Washington has a stout defense, one that ranks third overall and fourth against the pass, according to our schedule-adjusted numbers. Even with a fully healthy Alex Smith, the WFT defense would need to be on top of their game against Tom Brady for WFT to knock off Tampa Bay, but with Smith at less than 100%, Washington's defense will need to have a special day.
Brady is the all-time leader in NFL playoff wins (30), and he has enjoyed one of the finest seasons of his career, finishing 2020 with 0.26 Passing NEP per drop back. Washington allowed the second-fewest passing yards per game this season (191.8), so this is a tough spot for the Bucs' passing game. Plus, Mike Evans appears to be truly questionable, though he's trending in the right direction. But as long as the Bucs' offensive line holds up -- which isn't a lock -- Brady should have some success.
Given Smith's injury, Washington would probably like to run Antonio Gibson -- who enjoyed an outstanding rookie season -- as much as possible, but that plan will face stiff opposition as Tampa Bay owns the league's top-ranked rushing D. This looks like a game in which the Washington offense will have a real fight on its hands to generate points.
As you may have guessed, money is rushing in on the Buccaneers to cover 7.5 poins -- with 76% of bets and 80% of cash on the Bucs' side. A whopping 94% of the money placed on the moneyline is on Tampa Bay.
While our algorithm has the Buccaneers winning 64.9% of the time, we don't see any value on Tampa Bay on the moneyline, which we think should be -185 (it's -375). We do see value on the WFT side of the spread as we give Washington a 63.3% chance to cover. Our algorithm has the over winning out 57.6% of the time.
-- Both teams have been simply okay ATS, with the Bucs logging a mark of 9-7 and Washington at 8-7-1.
-- Tampa has been outstanding ATS as a road 'dog, posting 7-3 clip in their last 10 games.
-- Washington has really struggled at home, going 4-16 straight-up in their past 20 contests.