Are you ready for some postseason football. I know I am! From the opening game between the Cowboys and Bucs to the world trying to will a tie between the Chargers and Raiders, this truly was a chaotic season. Plus, with the 18-week schedule, it was the longest season of NFL history!
With that, it’s time to turn our attention to the wildcard round. Interestingly, all but one matchup is a rematch from the regular season, while two of the matchups are divisional games. Additionally, we get a 49ers/Cowboys playoff game. How cool is that!
Now it’s time to take a look at the best bets to make in the wildcard round! Utilizing advanced metrics and personal projections, I have found four picks that look quite favorable this week; this includes an over/under total, a teaser, and two prop bets. What are these beneficial bets? Let us take a closer look!
Stats via Pro Football Focus
#1: LV at CIN (Under 49)
The last time we saw the Raiders, they were dropping 35 points on the Chargers. Meanwhile, the last time we saw the Bengals, they combined for 75 points in their past two games. That being said, I’m expecting somewhat of a dud here.
Let us start with the Raiders. Prior to Week 18, they were averaging 16 points/game, and eclipsed 20 points just one time in that span. Furthermore, while Derek Carr was playing really well with Henry Ruggs III in the lineup, the results haven’t been the same since:
Those are dramatic splits. Even in the team’s win over the Chargers, Carr earned a 45.2 PFF grade with just 5.2 yards/pass attempt. The Bengals, for what it’s worth, rank 11th in PFF coverage grade, making this not an ideal matchup for the Raiders, who scored just 13 points against Cincinnati the last time these two faced.
Then, there are the Bengals. Cincinnati did score 32 points against the Raiders, but they did so averaging just 4.1 yards/play. Las Vegas has been a general run-funnel the season, and the Bengals have proven to adjust their offense depending on matchup. I’d assume we see them operate a run-first attack with Joe Mixon, which isn’t indicative of a lot of points scoring. The matchup between edge rusher Maxx Crosby and fill-in right tackle Isaiah Prince isn’t ideal; the Raiders have the fifth-highest PFF pass-rush grade, while the Bengals rank in the bottom-ten in PFF pass protection grade.
There also isn’t favorable weather in this game, especially given Carr’s struggles in the cold. This just isn’t a game that caters to a lot of points being scored. If you’re worried about a Bengals offensive’ explosion, feel free to bet the under on the Raiders’ team total. If not, the under appears to have value here.
#2: Teaser: TB (-2) vs PHI, KC (-6.5) vs PIT
The Buccaneers have a tricky spread to cover as an eight-point favorite, going past the key number of seven. However, we should still have supreme confidence that they take care of the Eagles this weekend.
This season, Tom Brady was PFF’s second-highest graded passer. Jalen Hurts? Tied for 16th. The Eagles are going to try to, as usual, establish a run-first attack, which could work against a run defense that has struggled as of late. This places a lot of pressure on Philadelphia’s defense, which might not be ready for Tampa Bay’s offense:
The Eagles are allowing the most receptions to tight ends this season, and the third-most receptions to running backs. Given that they are a conservative, two-high defense, this makes sense. Meanwhile, this is great news for Rob Gronkowski and Leonard Fournette, who should be the pillars of a productive offense in this game. Given the quarterback mismatch and Eagles’ clear splits between high-quality teams and inferior teams, and I’ll take the Bucs to win by more than two points.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, are by far the largest favorite of the week against the Steelers, and for good reason. Just take a look at the differences between these two teams:
Among 30 quarterbacks who played 50% of the snaps in 2021, Ben Roethlisberger was PFF’s 29th graded quarterback. Meanwhile, he ranks as a bottom-ten quarterback in both big-time throw rate and turnover-worthy play rate, which is hard to do, while he ranks third-worst in yards/pass attempt; he also has the second-lowest average depth of target. In what looks like to be the send-off game for him, he’s the liability holding back a talent-barren Steelers team, which should make you very confident in the Chiefs winning by at least 6.5 points.
For perspective, with Travis Kelce out and Tyreek Hill limited, Kansas City blew out Pittsburgh by 26 points. There is no where in this game where the Steelers have an advantage. With this not crossing a key number of seven points and with a clear teaser partner in the Bucs, this is the great second leg. I’ll gladly buy into two teams who arguably are the two best in the sport playing inferior teams that squeaked into the playoffs with a supreme quarterback mismatch.
#3: Van Jefferson (Under 3.5 Receptions)
This season, Van Jefferson is averaging just 2.94 receptions per game. Meanwhile, he has only eclipsed 3.5 receptions in five of 17 games this past year.
These numbers even look worse when you consider Jefferson’s last five games played. In that span, he averaged 2.2 receptions per game, in addition to just 3.8 targets per game. Unless he’s covering all of his targets into receptions, which is unlikely for a deep threat, the chances of Jefferson eclipsing this total is unlikely.
At times this season, Jefferson was playing 100% of the team’s snaps. With Bennett Skowronek in the fold, though, his snap rate fell to 69.2% in Week 18. The Rams appear to be adapting to becoming a run-oriented offense that isn’t taking as many chances down the field, which isn’t good news for Jefferson.
Since Jefferson’s yards/reception is quite high (16), betting the under on his receiving yards is tricky. The same cannot be said about the under on his receptions. Even when he was playing 100% of the snaps, he wasn’t hitting this mark often. Now, with him playing a limited role; this is a no-brainer!
#4: Ezekiel Elliot (Under 49.5 Rushing Yards)
This pick explains itself. Let’s take a look at Ezekiel Elliot’s rushing yards per game, outside of a Week 18 game with the Eagles’ backups and without Tony Pollard:
Prior to Week 18, Elliot managed to hit 49.5 rushing yards just one time in his past 8 games, and it came by three yards. He’s been dealing with a knee injury that has hampered his performance, and there are no indications that he’s recovered from said injury. With him averaging just 3.2 yards/rush attempt in those games, it’s going to take a lot of carries for Elliot to reach that total.
Then, there is the matchup, which is not in his favor. The 49ers have PFF’s sixth-highest graded run defense, and are tied for 5th in rushing yards allowed/attempt. Meanwhile, Dallas is allowing the 8th-most yards/rush attempt, which could be a problem for Elliot; if the 49ers are able to establish long drives and keep this game close (perhaps have a lead), then there will be less incentive for the Cowboys to give Elliot the amount of rush attempts he needs to hit this Toal.
With Pollard back in the fold and against a very difficult run defense, it makes sense to expect Elliot to once again go under 49.5 rushing yards. He’s hit the under in almost every single on his rushing yards props in the second half of the season, and I expect that to happen again this week.
(Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire)