NFL Wildcard weekend; Saturday previews

The regular season finished in chaos after a Colts loss (their 7th in a row in Jacksonville) opened up the AFC for a whole host of teams and it was the Steelers who took advantage of that fuck up as they beat their arch-rival Baltimore Ravens in overtime to put themselves into the playoffs. It could have still gone differently had it not been for the Raiders kicking a field goal as time expired in overtime on Sunday night football, a tie in that game would have knocked the Steelers out, but it wasn’t to be.

Those results left the Titans at 1, Chiefs at 2, Bills and Bengals filling out the divisional winners. The Raiders came in as 5th seed, the Patriots losing in Miami meant they are the 6th seed, while the Steelers somehow made it in as 7th seed, honestly a remarkable effort.

The NFC was a little less exciting. The Packers were already at 1, the Rams loss to the 49ers meant they dropped to 4th seed while the Bucs and Cowboys wins put them at 2 and 3 respectively. The Rams now play the Cardinals in a divisional re-match as 5th seeds. The Cowboys face the 49ers in probably the game of the weekend and the Bucs face the Eagles who managed to rest a lot of their team last weekend.

The Packers and Titans are on bye weeks as the top seeds and will have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Prices from Redzonesports.bet (10/1)

A few overall trends that should probably be noted coming into this one.

  • Don’t back first time playoff QBs – 5 of them this year.
  • Don’t back first time playoff HCs
  • Do back the team who had the stronger regular season schedule – since 2002, teams with the tougher schedule at 48-22-2 ATS – 66%.

Raiders +6 @ Bengals: 48

Saturday, 9:30

Line opened 6.5, dropped to 5, ticking back up on game day now. Total is down from 49.5 earlier in the week, it’s cold.

I have a Showdown slate over on DK for this matchup – $3 entry, top 3 get paid.

The Raiders came through a brilliant game against the Chargers to close out the regular season on Sunday night, losing a 15 point lead in the 4th quarter before winning with the final kick of the game as time expired in overtime, and their reward? The league putting them in the earlier possible slot. How kind of them.

Things couldn’t have gone much better for the Bengals, they rested most of their starters for most of their game on Sunday and are back in their usual playoff spot, the early Saturday game, a spot they had for 5 years in a row when Marv was in charge. It’s been 31 years since they last won a post-season game, since the so-called “curse of Bo” after they ended Bo Jacksons’ career with an innocuous-looking hit, will it be the Raiders who end the curse?

These two met in the regular season with the Bengals running out fairly comfortable 32-13 winners in Vegas. Mixon had 30 carries a couple of TDs that day as they controlled the clock and kept the ball away from the opposition. It was probably a false result as it was 13-6 going into the 4th quarter before turnovers let the Bengals pulled away to win by 19 in the end.

This game involves two first-time playoff QBs and two first-time playoff HCs, so I guess they cancel each other out. The Raiders have apparently had the far tougher schedule though according to DVOA. Despite going 4-0 against teams (including this opponent) in the AFC playoffs the Bengals have had the 30th toughest schedule, the Raiders the 8th. So that trend definitely suggests backing the Raiders.

The weather is expected to be around freezing. That’s bad news for Derek Carr who’s not done well in the cold in his career, although it should at least stay dry.

The Raiiiiiiderrrrzzzzz.

Remember the “Dalton line”? The most average QB in the league? Well, it should be re-named the Carr-line, officially he’s ranked 13th on QBR and he can do what is needed, but can he raise a team above the level of their players? I don’t think he can. Amazingly over a 17 game regular season he’s not thrown for more than 2 TDs in a game at all. I don’t really have a whole lot more to say, the offensive line in front of him doesn’t make things easy there’s not a whole lot of talent for him to get the ball to, so I may be a little harsh on Carr here but I just don’t get blown away by him. His 30.8 QBR vs. the Bengals was his 4th worst of the season, 215, 1:1. – Don’t rule out a couple of trick plays with Mariota as there’s no need to hide plays now.

The running game is almost entirely Josh Jacobs who’s had an up and down year, 9 for 27 in the first game between these two as the Bengals defense did a good job slowing them, but two 100 yard games in the final three to see out the season has him coming in looking better. He can catch the ball as well, but Jalen Richard will likely get most of the 3rd down/pass-catching work. If they get to the Redzone it will be Jacobs getting the carries, nearly 50% of their redzone rush attempts have been through him.

Obviously, a rough year for the passing offense with their first-round pick out of the league already, but Hunter Renfrow has scored 4 in his last 4 games, 5 in his last 5 with Darren Waller out injured. He’s always involved and is usually the go-to man on 3rd-and-Renfrow as he does one of his trademark 4 move routes to get open, rarely deep shots but he moves the chains. Waller will be playing his second game back here having caught 2 of 9 targets last week for 22 yards, the general rule is that only one of he and Renfrow have a good game, the Bengals aren’t great against the TE position, allowing 7 for 116 to Waller in Week 11, but we’re still not entirely sure on his health.

Outside of those two Zay Jones led the team in snaps last week and averages 9 targets a game over the last month or so of the season, he had 120 yards a couple of weeks back but has only scored once this year, in the season opener. Bryan Edwards is horribly frustrating, has the attributes to be a good player but never seems to get things done, he is a big lad though and could have success against the Bengals corners despite not getting on the stat-sheet earlier in the year. Desean Jackson had 8 snaps last week.

Defensively they are set up well to play the Bengals. Joe Burrow thrives against the blitz but the combination of Ngakuoue and Crosby means they can just rush 4 and still generate pressure allowing them to drop players and play cover 3 which tries to keep deep plays to a minimum. It worked in the regular season. However, the Bengals just ran the ball in that game and similar could happen here as the Raiders sent their NT to IR this week to weaken their run defense even more.

Bengals.

Joe Burrow finished the season on fire with 400+ yards, 4 TDs and 0 INTs in consecutive games as he had he completed 30+ in both, most of them to Ja’marr Chase. He was stymied by the Raiders in the regular season game though, throwing for just 148 yards and a TD, the lowest yardage he’s had all year. He is a winner though and his exploits in college mean I have no fears over his availability to shine in the spotlight. I’ve heard people having concerns over his knee as he took a knock at the end of the win against hte Chiefs, but I’m not worried in the slightest about it.

Joe Mixon finished the year 3rd in attempts, 3rd in yards and 4th in rushing TDs (with 13) as he took advantage of the pass-catching talent allowing him easier chances in the run game, he’s looked good this year and while the offensive line isn’t exactly good still he has taken advantage of running behind Williams and Spain on the left hand side of it. He’s been used in the passing game too with 3 scores in that facet and finished with 6 and 7 receptions when the games became important.

Ja’marr Chase should have secured offensive rookie of the year by beating Justin Jeffersons total from last season and becoming the leading single-season receiver with 12 yards in the final game of the season. He’s rather fun to watch and can take a game away from the opposition if things go well. They didn’t in the regular season, 3 receptions for 32 yards and a TD was one of his poorer games. I’ll take it, he’s been great in single coverage so expect him to get some attention.

That’s fine for the Bengals who can just throw it to Tee Higgins or Tyler Boyd who have both done well this year. Tee had just 15 yards against the Raiders, but finished the season with 4 x 100 yard games in the final 6 games he played with 4 TDs in those. Boyd has been as reliable as ever, without a drop or a fumble all season on 94 targets and he’s scored a couple of huge TDs recently as well. CJ Uzomah had some games early in the year so he can do it, but he hasn’t done much recently.

The defense has stepped up this year, especially against the run and they’re back to full strength with Logan Wilson returning at LB in recent weeks. The CBs have done well on the whole but can get burned in frustrating ways.

Overall.

Unsurprisingly the league gave the Bengals the first match of the weekend, it’s their spot. It’s been 31 years since they won a playoff game, I don’t know if you’d heard but text messaging hadn’t been invented then. Yeah, I get it, it’s been a long time. BUT this is a different Bengals team, they’ve invested in winners and it seems to be paying off.

The league has been very unkind to the Raiders as well who’s defense played 97 snaps in the Sunday night overtime game which got them into the playoffs. A tiring, emotional game, and then the very first game of the weekend is truly stitching them up.

The key for the Bengals is protecting Burrow, they did it well in the regular season game so I’m hopeful they can. For the Raiders it’s keeping it clean and not making mistakes.

I think this is either Raiders winning by 3, or the Bengals winning by double digits. I’m obviously hoping it’s my Bengal team. I think it should be, but the “sharp money” this week has all been on the Raiders.

My pick would be Bengals covering and I think the total goes close.

  • I like the Paddypower super boost, I’m not sure the yards get there, but at 8/1 in a relatively correlated SGP I think it’s good value. £20 max on that.
  • I’d have to say u260 for Burrow (which does go against the boost above) o9.5 rush yards for him at evens seems decent though, did it his the last 3 reg. season games when the pressure was on.
  • Zay Jones o4.5 recs at 5/4 seems generous, but could be kiboshed by a big Waller role
  • Chase longest is 24.5 that’s low compared to most of the year, but I do think deep shots may be at a premium. (saying that I said u70 yards when he hit 260 vs. the Chiefs…)
  • Crosby 21/20 and Ngakuoue 27/20 to record a sack seems generous too.
  • Waller 2/1 anytime is the one TD prop with a tempting price, the rest are a little short, or too unlikely

Patriots +4.5 @ Bills: 44

Saturday 1:15am

Pats have gone up a point, as has the total since Monday

Another re-match takes place in the late Saturday game with AFC East counter-parts taking each other on after splitting the series in the regular season. The Patriots won the first game in torrid conditions in Buffalo running all over the Bills, while the nicer weather in New England favoured the Bills later in the season and they essentially won the division that day by defeating their rivals.

It’s safe to say these two teams know each other pretty well. Bill Belichick is 36-8 against the Bills and 19-3 in Orchard Park against them including that rain-game earlier in the season where they just out game-planned them by running non-stop. Sean McDermott has 4 years in Buffalo with a 49-32 overall record and 2 playoff wins in 5 games with the team.

The Bills finished out the season winning 4 games in a row including the division decider in New England, they beat the Chiefs early in the year then stumbled a little before closing out the season well, having the easiest schedule in the league (according to DVOA) definitely helped them this year, but they destroyed the poor teams when they had the chance.

The Patriots fell to the Dolphins in the finale and lost 3 of their final 4 as the tougher games on their schedule hit. They too dealt comfortably with the poor teams including a 50-burger against the Jags in the one victory of the last 4 weeks.

This may not be the most glowing preview of a game ever as I’ll admit I just don’t think either of these teams are as good as most seem to think. I’m not convinced by either as potential Super Bowl winners, but that could be said about all the AFC teams this year.

4 fahrenheit in Orchard Park, that’s really fucking cold, which likely affects long field goal attempts and passing. No wind/rain expected though.

Patriots.

It’s been a good bounce-back year for the Pats as their defensive studs returned and it’s that aspect of the game they’ve been relying on to win.

Mac Jones has been fine, literally fine, he ranks 16th in QBR this year, hasn’t been asked to do a whole lot but has done what he’s needed to do with average-ness when called upon. Generally shorter passes but that’s the game-plan and he’s been able to manage it in his rookie season. The worry over him comes if they have to chase a game though, they don’t really have the talent around him to do that and he has thrown interceptions in every game they’ve lost this season.

The running game is where they’ll look to put pressure on the Bills though, and despite losing Isaiah Wynn at LT they will likely try and impose their will again this week. Damien Harris has looked great and scored in 10 of his last 11 games for the Pats including 3 in their loss against Buffalo in December, and 100 yards in each of the matches between these two. Rhamondre Stevenson has added a great 1-2 punch for them in his debut season with 5 TDs and has done well when called upon. It will be mainly Harris but both should get a lot of usage in a run-heavy approach.

The lack of talent comes in the wide receiver group though, Nelson Agholor, Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne aren’t exactly studs and probably wouldn’t do much in most teams, but this is the Pats and Belichick so they make it work. 473:3, 866:2 and 800:5 for yards and TDs for that triplet isn’t exactly going to blow teams away. Hunter Henry is the TD threat for the team scoring 9 times from the TE spot this season, they use him in the redzone, 9 TDs from 10 redzone completions for him this season. Jonnu Smith hasn’t done much since signing from the Titans.

The defense has been good though as you’d expect but the loss of Christian Barmore may hurt the pass-rush as he’s been the best player for them in that position in recent weeks. It means red-shirt Judon will need to get his early season form where he caused chaos. DVOA has them 3rd vs. the pass and 9th vs the rush this season.

Bills.

Josh Allen could be the best QB in this league if things go well for him. I’m still not entirely convinced but he’s got the arm-strength and mobility to do anything he wants on the field. He sits 6th in QBR this year, 8th in yards, 7th in TDs this season. Recent games have seen the Bills try and emphasize the run game and Allen has been a part of that averaging nearly 70 yards per game over the last 3 with 2 TDs against the Falcons making it 6 on the season for him (His playoff games over the last 2 years have been – 92,54,3,88 rush yards). I still have the image of him pitching the ball on the run against the Texans all those years ago of him, and I think that clouds my opinion a bit. His 2nd best QBR of the year came in their win over the Patriots where he threw for 314 yards and 3 TDs.

The run game has got going and it’s got going through Devin Singletary who finished the year averaging 19 rush attempts and 79 yards per game in the last month scoring a TD in each of them including in that Patriots game. My conspiratorial mind makes me wonder if that was more for show, just to prove they could do it, but with cold weather in this game you would imagine the run game would be used a lot. They do have others, Moss has still had carries in recent weeks but he’s been used sparingly.

The passing game has talent, Stefon Diggs showed how good he was last week with a toe-tapper to open the scoring. It’s not been a top year for him but 9th in receptions, 8th in yards and 6th in TDs on a “down year” in my eyes, isn’t exactly terrible is it. He’s outstanding and can win in different ways, but his route-running is the thing to watch for here. Outside of him Beasley, Davis and Emmanuel Sanders returning means they’re at pretty much full strength. I would expect Sanders to regain a role ahead of Davis which is harsh as he’s been good when required this season.

Dawson Knox at tight end is one I’ve been targeting a lot this season as he’s usually a decent price, he’s scored 9 this season, including in their latest match against them and he’s second in redzone targets with 22, behind Diggs’ 33 this year.

They are the best defense in the league according to DVOA. 1st against the pass and 11th vs the run. Personally I think that’s largely schedule based, but DVOA takes that into account, so obviously, the fact I only really see them on Redzone hides their utter brilliance. Ed Oliver has apparently been a beast in recent weeks for them, but stopping the run will be the key here for them.

Overall.

If they were going to dump another AFC game on Saturday night it really should have been the other one involving an AFC North team but obviously they want Big Ben leaving the game on Sunday night football, which is fine for UK fans as it’s the one that’s toughest to watch on this side of the pond.

The weather has got most of the headlines so far in the build up to this one, so it’s a little surprising to see the total line notching up a point as we near game-time.

The Bills are the better roster and should be able to show that, but the Patriots have the best coach ever so you shouldn’t ever write them off, I would think they’ll run a hell of a lot, try to establish long drives and control the clock to keep the Bills off the field.

Forcing a pick it would be the Bills covering the under on the total. But I won’t be betting on either of the main markets here.

  • QB under on their passing seems sensible with the weather, Allen around 240, Mac only 200, so they’re both low already due to the weather.
  • I’d lean under 18.5 completions for Mac, but again, that’s a low line.
  • Over 47.5 rush yards for Allen seems nice, as does anytime TD for him at 15/8 at PaddyPower.
  • The passing lines are all about right, I thought Sanders o26.5 but he’s had 20s in his last 5 appearances.
  • Harris over 60 rush yards, or 4/1 for 100+ is tempting at PP, definitely better than 100 and a TD at 5/1 on Skybet.
  • There’s some decent TD prices available, Harris the shortest priced player at 13/10 proves that, but I’m just not sure who I like here. Isaiah Mckenzie at 8/1 on Unibet, around 6s elsewhere isn’t bad.

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