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Wild Card Betting Preview

Thursday, January 3, 2019


The regular season is over, but the betting fun is just beginning. Like they did all season, Rich Hribar and Raymond Summerlin are here to preview the betting weekend and hopefully make a few good picks along the way.

*All lines taken from the Westgate Superbook on Thursday morning


Colts @ Texans (-1.5) – 48.5-point total
Rich: 
Home teams are 43-29 straight up and 38-33-1 against the spread in the Wild Card round since 2000. Amazingly, over that span we’ve had just four cases in which a home team opened the playoffs giving two or fewer points. This weekend we have two. Only one of those four teams covered, for what that small sample is worth.

In the postseason, we typically expect games to become lower scoring, and the numbers back that up from a betting perspective. Over that same sample listed above, the under has hit 58.3 percent (42-of-72) of the time in the Wild Card round with 3-of-4 games in 2017 going under. In games with totals of 47 points or higher, the under has hit 63.6 percent (14-of-22) of the time. Games in Houston have averaged 42.8 combined points with the under hitting in 5-of-8 times this season.

The Colts have been hot, winning nine of their last 10 games to get into the postseason. That includes a 24-21 win in Houston in Week 14. That avenged a 37-34 Texans win over the Colts in Week 4. We have gotten a third game between division rivals in the Wild Card round 12 times since 2000, with the home team going 7-5 straight up and 5-7 ATS.

This will be the fifth time in eight seasons that Houston has been in this exact spot, hosting the early Saturday game to open the playoffs. They went 3-1 in those previous four games, covering all three times as favorites. I have legitimate concerns about the Texans' pass defense, but this game is as tight as they come. In the end, I would pick Houston if you forced my hand since you have to money line the Colts if you like them, but the most comfortable bet I feel making is the under. 
Pick: Under 48.5

Ray: As Rich notes, this is a weekend of rematches, and the Colts and Texans are taking it to the next level by playing their third game against each other. The Texans snuck by in overtime to turn their season around all the way back in Week 4, and the Colts repaid the favor with a three-point win in Houston in Week 14. Each of those games was as close as the scores indicate, and as the line suggests, this one figures to be a nail-biter as well. That makes picking a side difficult. I would lean Colts because of how well their defense has played and Houston’s struggles in the secondary, but it also has to be noted Indy has not protected the ball well this season while the Texans are near the top of the league in takeaways. 

As for the total, it makes sense this game is predicted to be the highest scoring of the weekend. The Colts finished the season fifth in points scored while the Texans were 11th. The Colts have scored at least 23 points in all but one game since Week 3, their odd shut-out loss in Jacksonville, while the Texans are averaging 26.6 points since the bye. As Rich notes, however, the under has been the play in the Wild Card round in the recent past, hitting 60 percent of the time since 2008. More importantly, each of these defenses has done a good job limiting scoring this season – Houston is fourth in points allowed while the Colts are 10th – and are top-10 in Football Outsider’s DVOA.

It is possible Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson get into another shootout as they did in Week 4, but the evolution of both these defenses along with the lower scoring nature of the playoffs point me more toward an outcome similar to Week 14, when these two teams combined to score 45 in a game which went under the total. 
Pick: Under 48.5

Seahawks @ Cowboys (-2) – 42.5-point total
Rich: This is another rematch from the regular season. These teams met back in Week 3 in Seattle with the Seahawks winning 24-13. That was the beginning of the Seahawks finding their offensive identity while it was a completely different Dallas team. Dallas is 7-2 since acquiring Amari Cooper and they were excellent at home this season, going 7-1 in Jerrah’s World. Seattle has been nearly as hot, going 7-3 over their 10 games since their Week 7 bye on their way to a 10-6 record overall. Of those six losses, four came to the Rams (x 2), Chargers and Bears, so Seattle has a strong resume to back their record.

Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll are 8-4 in the postseason over Wilson's career but 2-3 on the road with the Seahawks failing to cover in each of their past three road playoffs games. The last two came as underdogs catching points. The Cowboys are 1-2 under Jason Garrett in the playoffs with both losses coming to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers (Dez caught it).

This game also features two teams that largely want to do the same thing and keep the pace of game stuck in the mud. That said, the advantage goes to Dallas in that regard both for being at home and when you uncover the matchups. Dallas' pass rush, run defense, and pass defense are all currently playing better than Seattle’s. At the end of the line, that’s enough for me, especially since I don’t have to even give up a full field goal. I already feel the numbing sensation of taking a Jason Garrett-led team over Pete Carroll, but here we are.
Pick: Cowboys -2

Ray: The NFL’s equivalent of the double Spider-Man meme, this game features two teams who want to run the ball and control the pace. Both Seattle and Dallas finished bottom-10 in seconds per play on offense, and the Seahawks were the only team in the league with more rushing attempts than passing attempts this season. Interestingly, Seattle’s win over the Cowboys back in Week 3 was the shift point for their offensive identity, and Russell Wilson attempted more than 31 passes in a game just once from that point on.

Looking at what each team wants to do, it is fair to assume this will be a low-possession, low-play game which hinges on just a few big plays. Betting on that kind of variance is always stomach-churning and just not something I am interested in doing. If forced to take a side, I would go with the Cowboys’ better defense at home.

Chargers @ Ravens (-2.5) – 41.5-point total
Rich: This game is our third rematch of the slate as the Ravens beat the Chargers 22-10 in Los Angeles just two weeks ago. The fact that these teams are playing twice in two weeks is unique for the specific matchup since the Ravens' run-first offense helmed by Lamar Jackson is a tough assignment for a team to prepare for in a week, so there may be some benefit to the Chargers playing it again so quickly. It also should be said the Chargers defended this running game “better” than anyone else did over Jackson’s seven starts. In that game, the Chargers still allowed 159 rushing yards, but that was the fewest Baltimore had in a game with Jackson under center while Jackson himself was held to 39 yards on 13 rushing attempts. Outside of that game, his next lowest rushing total was 67 yards. The downside of that game was the Chargers did absolutely nothing offensively versus the Ravens while at home, giving us marginal confidence in them doing so here on the road.

Unfortunately, the league also did the Chargers no favors with an early kickoff on Sunday. Since 2000, West Coast teams are 4-9 on the road in early kickoffs. The good news is that Philip Rivers is 2-0 in those career playoff starts, despite carrying an overall 4-5 playoff record.

On the Baltimore side, rookie quarterbacks are 9-15 in the postseason since 2000 with six consecutive losses. The last rookie quarterback to win a playoff game was Russell Wilson in the 2012 season, who happened to also be facing a rookie quarterback in Robert Griffin in the very same game. The last time a rookie passer beat a non-rookie passer in the playoffs, you’d have to go back to the 2009 season when Mark Sanchez and the Jets beat…Philip Rivers and the Chargers to go to the AFC Title game.

This is the game I have the worst feel for. I really want to take the Chargers, but I really wish this game was a full field goal, because this feels like a field goal game in favor the Ravens and we’d have the option to buy that half point on top of the three. If you like the Chargers, you have to like them to win outright and play the money line, same as the Colts, but most books are giving you plus odds by taking the Chargers while the Colts are even money on the money line in most spots. Somewhat reluctantly, I’m just going to take the home team giving less than the three points. 
Pick: Ravens -2.5

Ray: This game has all the makings of a stay-away. The Chargers seem like the better team, but they just lost to the Ravens at home a couple weeks ago and now have to travel to the East Coast for an early kickoff. That said, they have at least seen this offense before and, as Rich notes, did a decent job stopping it last time. Also, Lamar Jackson has still yet to prove he can consistently move the ball through the air, which he will have to do if the Chargers can devise a way to slow down the rushing attack.

Perhaps the under is in play given the nature of Baltimore’s offense and how their defense shut down the Chargers just a couple weeks ago, but a defensive or special teams touchdown would almost certainly spell doom with a total this low. 

All of that is to say this is a game to enjoy rather than bet. If forced to take a side, I would take the Chargers and the under. 

Eagles @ Bears (-6) – 41-point total
Rich: The final game of the opening weekend is the only matchup we did not already see in the regular season. The magic of Nick Foles once again struck for the Eagles as they went 3-0 to close the season and snuck into the playoffs, ironically, on the strength of a Bears win.

The Eagles are no strangers to being postseason underdogs. They were getting points in all three postseason wins a year ago with Foles under center, although two of those wins came at home.

This Sunday, they’ll be facing a Bears team that is just as hot, winning nine of their last 10 games with the only loss (and only non-cover over that span) coming in an overtime road game against the Giants. The Bears not only allowed the fewest points per game (17.7) defensively, they’ve also been good against this type of a number all season. When giving more than three points, the Bears went 6-3 ATS and when giving 5.5 points or more such as the line is here, they were 4-2 in covering with both failed covers coming on the road.

This is also another spot to like the under. Since the Bears got Mitchell Trubisky back in the lineup Week 14, they’ve played games with game totals of 21, 41, 23 and 34 points combined.
Pick: Bears -6, Under 41

Ray: This game rightfully comes with the biggest spread because it looks like the biggest mismatch of the weekend. Losers of one game since Week 7 – a road overtime loss to the Giants – the Bears have played absolutely suffocating defense as of late, holding the Rams, Packers, 49ers, and Vikings to a combined 42 points over the last four games. In addition to being tough to crack, Chicago’s defense also creates plays of their own. They recorded six more interceptions in the regular season than the next closest team including at least one in all but two games while scoring a league-leading six defensive touchdowns. 

All of that said, there is still some reason to doubt the Bears can cover this big of a number. First, the Eagles’ defense has turned a corner as of late, forcing more turnovers and standing up well against the run, while Chicago might not be as well suited to attack their issues in the secondary considering Mitchell Trubisky’s limitations since returning from injury – he has averaged 189 yards per game on 28 attempts. Second, it is tough to forget these same Eagles quarterbacked by this same Nick Foles rampaged through last year’s tournament despite being underdogs in every game.

As Rich notes, however, two of Philly’s playoff upsets last season came at home, and while their defense has played better as of late, it is simply not at the same level as last year’s unit. Chicago also has a bit of history working on their side. While it did not work out last season, bigger home favorites have tended to do well in the Wild Card round, with favorites of more than three going 12-7 against the spread since 2008 despite a 0-4 showing last year.

While I have some concerns about this being a close, low-scoring affair, I have enough trust in the Bears’ playmaking defense and Matt Nagy’s coaching to lay the points with what looks like the better team.
Pick: Bears -6



Raymond Summerlin is a football writer for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter at @RMSummerlin.
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