NFL Wild-Card Playoffs Picks: Our Experts’ Favorite Bets in Chargers-Ravens, Eagles-Bears
USA Today Sports. Pictured: Khalil Mack
- The Action Network experts break down their favorite Wild Card weekend bets, including Seahawks-Cowboys and Chargers-Ravens.
- We've also got against-the-spread and over/under picks, and even a tease and a player prop for Colts-Texans and Eagles-Bears.
What a betting weekend we have in store. Two straight days of NFL playoff games on Wild Card Weekend followed by the college football national championship. It doesn’t get much better than that.
To help you narrow down your final weekend wagers, our staff has angles on each of the four Wild Card games this weekend — including opposing opinions on a few sides, which I personally love to read to get both perspectives.
And for even more analysis on the weekend card, check out our in-depth betting guides.
Let’s get into our 15 favorite Wild Card weekend bets, which can hopefully help you find a winner or two you otherwise wouldn’t have spotted. Our NFL staff picks went 142-125-14 (53.2%) during the regular season.
>> All odds pulled on Jan. 3, so slight line variations are possible. Download The Action Network app to get real-time NFL odds and track your bets.
Chargers at Ravens (-3 | O/U: 41.5)
Sunday, 1:05 p.m. ET on CBS
Stuckey: Ravens -3, Under 41.5
The Ravens’ pass rush should have no issues once again dominating a Chargers offensive line that features some of the worst pass blockers in the league.
It also helps to have a suffocating secondary that can play press coverage on the outside, which makes that pressure even more effective — especially when Rivers snaps the ball as the game clock is running out on almost every play (LA is the slowest team in the league, which will help the under).
Rivers and the Chargers second overall pass offense DVOA should struggle once again against Baltimore’s third overall pass defense DVOA.
This is also a Ravens team that allowed only 3.7 yards per rush, thanks in large part to its play up the middle at linebacker (Mosley top 15 in run defense) and safety (Weddle top 10 among safeties) in addition to two extremely solid run stoppers on the interior in Brent Urban and Brandon Williams (both top 20 run defense among interior defenders, per PFF).
The Chargers ran the ball 16 times for 51 yards in the first matchup. I do expect them to run the ball a lot more to neutralize the pass rush (which will help the under even more) — but I don’t expect them to have a ton of success.
Gordon and Ekeler can also be dangerous out of the backfield in the passing game. And I expect the Chargers to use their backs more in the passing game than they did in the first meeting to try and neutralize the pass rush and provide check downs for when Rivers is under attack.
However, the Ravens pass defense ranks No. 1 in the NFL against opposing running backs, per Football Outsiders.
The one area Baltimore has struggled to defend at times is opposing tight ends (22nd per Football Outsiders). Over their past 14 games, the Ravens defense has allowed only 16 passing touchdowns (and nine interceptions).
Of those 16, six came against opposing tight ends (Ben Watson, Greg Olsen, Matt Lengel, Jared Cook, Austin Hooper, Travis Kelce). But the Chargers haven’t utilized their tight ends a ton this year — and I don’t expect many snaps or an explosion in production from Henry in his first game back from injury.
I do think the Chargers offensive line will benefit more from seeing the Ravens a few weeks ago. The Ravens did everything right, but it’s the Chargers that get to adjust to a unique rushing offense and a complex defensive scheme with unique blitzes. But it’s still just a bad matchup.
While the Chargers won’t be phased by playing in a hostile environment, I think the Ravens can feed off of one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL and carry a lead into the half — and then hold on with their defense. And don’t forget about the enormous Baltimore special teams advantage.
I’m rolling with the Ravens and the under (split between full game and half). If I had to pick one, I’d roll with the under. This is Army (Ravens) vs. a Snail (Chargers).
Sean Koerner: Ravens -3
On paper, the Chargers are the better team.
However, their defense is equipped to slow down a more modern NFL offense that is efficient through the air. They would be a much tougher matchup for the Chiefs or Patriots next round.
The Ravens are just a mismatch for them as they are the most run heavy team in the NFL now with Lamar Jackson under center. I think this game sets up nicely for the Ravens who should control the ball on the ground and rely on their elite defense to put this one away at home.
Also, despite 70% of tickets being written up for the Chargers, the line went from -2.5 to -3. It takes a significant amount of sharp action to move to a key number in that scenario in the NFL postseason.
Danny Donahue: Ravens -3
1:05 p.m. ET on CBS
There’s not a ton to choose from for a contrarian bettor this weekend. At least for now, only one game features a betting split bigger than 55-45.
Naturally, that points me to the Ravens, who are getting just 31% of bets as 3-point favorites. I know contrarian favorites haven’t fared so well in the NFL playoffs, but I’m not ready to throw away a sound strategy because it has a meaningless 45-game sample in only one of six major sports leagues.
Plus, the Ravens’ backing is exceptionally low for a playoff favorite. If it closes at the current figure of 31%, it would go down as the lowest in our Bet Labs database (since 2003), so it’s tough to put them in the same discussion as a team getting, say, 45%.
Only 10 playoff favorites have received less than 40% since 2005, and they’re 6-4 ATS, so I’m comfortable sticking with what feels right and fading the trendy dog.
BlackJack Fletcher: Chargers +3
1 p.m. ET on FOX
I’m going against the group here.
These teams played a couple weeks ago and the Ravens were victorious 22-10, but that game requires a closer look.
It was the worst game played by Philip Rivers this season. He threw an INT on his first drive, not to mention the turnover by Antonio Gates late in the fourth quarter. The Chargers didn’t have a scoring drive of more than 35 yards in that game.
The Chargers defense will benefit significantly from having seen this Baltimore running game just two weeks ago. I think that gives them a slight edge.
Also, let’s not forget that the Chargers were one of the four or five best teams in the NFL this season — and had no issues winning big games on the road (at Pittsburgh, at Kansas City, at Seattle).
I like Los Angeles to advance here.
Eagles at Bears (-6 | O/U: 41)
4:40 p.m. ET on NBC
PJ Walsh: Eagles-Bears Under 41
There are a handful of reasons to like this under. First, Philadelphia and Chicago aren’t exactly offensive juggernauts, ranking 16th and 20th, respectively, in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric.
On the other side of the ball, the Bears sport the league’s top defense, per DVOA. The Eagles’ defense is simply average at 15th in the NFL, but the Bears struggle throwing the ball, which should help Philly keep them in check.
In addition, these are two of the slowest teams in the league with Chicago ranking 27th and Philadelphia 30th in situation-neutral pace.
And don’t expect the weather to do these offenses any favors either. The current forecast is calling for steady winds of 13 mph and, according to Bet Labs, NFL games played in double-digit breezes have gone under the total 55.9% of the time since 2003.
In fact, unders are 70-53-4 (56.9%) in all NFL playoff games played outdoors since 2004.
Chris Raybon: Eagles +6.5 (at Bears)
After a Super Bowl-winning run last season and wins against the 13-3 Rams and 11-5 Texans over the past three weeks, the Eagles shouldn’t be written off with Foles at quarterback — even against a defense as good as Chicago’s.
Just ask the Vikings how well their vaunted defense fared against Foles in last year’s playoffs, when Foles passed for 353 yards and three touchdowns on Minnesota in a 38-7 Eagles win in the NFC Championship game.
Nagy deserves a lot of credit for turning the Bears around quickly, taking them from 5-11 to 12-4 in his first season with the team, but he’ll have his hands full trying to out-coach Pederson fresh off a Super Bowl run with Foles.
The Eagles have a real shot at winning this game, so I love them as by far the biggest underdog on the board.
Exotics and Props
Travis Reed: Colts +7.5/Seahawks +8.5 Teaser
I think the spreads for all four games are pretty tight.
I liked the over in both Saturday games, but both lines moved too much for me to recommend them. Instead, I’ll look to take advantage of teasing through some key numbers in what I expect to be two close games.
The basic strategy for 6-point teases in the NFL is to look for games where you can tease through the key numbers of three and seven (the most likely outcomes). And if you can find a Colts +1.5 and Seahawks +2 line, then you can accomplish this task in both games.
Evan Abrams: Chris Carson Scores Rushing TD (-110)
Carson has scored a rushing touchdown in four straight games and in six of his past seven, so clearly the Seahawks are focused on feeding on him, especially in the red zone.
Carson also enters the playoffs with 100-plus rushing yards in three straight games for the first time in his career, averaging a robust 5.3 yards per carry.
The one stat I love during that stretch: Carson has 11 rushes for 10 or more yards and only eight rushes for negative yards.
The Cowboys have allowed a rushing touchdown in three straight games (five in total), which is by far the most rushing touchdowns they’ve allowed over a three-game span this season.
I’ll roll with Carson finding the end zone, especially behind a Seahawks’ O-line that’s ranked in a tie for fifth in power success, which should help Carson get to pay dirt.
Colts at Texans (-1 | O/U: 48)
Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET on ESPN
Ian Hartitz: Colts-Texans Over 48
There are many reasons why this is the week’s highest over/under.
- The Colts (No. 2 in situation neutral pace) and Texans (No. 9) easily boast the round’s fastest-paced matchup.
- It boasts the two highest combined net yards per pass attempt rates of the week.
- The Texans are one of six defenses to allow at least 75 receiving yards per game to opposing No. 1 wide receivers, and Hilton has historically dominated at NRG Stadium.
- The Texans and Colts are the league’s only defenses that have allowed at least 70 yards per game to opposing tight ends.
- The Colts (No. 20 in DVOA vs. pass, No. 4 vs. run) and Texans (No. 18 vs. pass, No. 1 vs. run) feature pass funnel defenses that should be exploited by the other pass offense.
The biggest concern on both sides of the ball is pressure. The Texans have done a terrible job of protecting Watson, but he’s continued to make the best of his situation.
Meanwhile, the Colts did a great job limiting hits on Luck, but the Texans were surprisingly able to cause some problems — he was sacked six times in two games against the Texans, but just 12 times in his other 14 games.
I’ll bet on these two elite quarterbacks to make big plays despite the potential for some muddled pockets.
Mark Gallant: Colts-Texans Over 48
This is the highest over/under of the weekend. It’s also the most popular.
I don’t care.
Playoff games in domes have been straight cash, homie. The over has hit in 28-of-37 games since 2003, winning by an average margin of more than six points.
One might think that games with lower totals in this sample would have gone over more often, but they would be wrong. In games with totals of 47 or higher, the over has hit 21 out of 24 times by a margin of almost 10 points. If there’s a 24-game sample you want to lay down a handsome wager on, this could be it.
The games with lower totals are just 7-6 with a margin of practically zero, which is why I don’t like Seahawks-Cowboys as much.
Collin Wilson: Colts +1
Has any team had an easier stretch of games than the Texans? Their schedule featured only two opponents inside the top 12 of Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric — the Colts and Patriots — who the Texans went 1-2 against with the one win coming in overtime.
The heart of Houston’s issues is the offensive line, which ranks dead last in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate. Watson has been on the run in every single game.
In addition to poor protection, the run-blocking ranks outside the top 20 in power rank, stuffed and second-level yards.
These rankings indicate Saturday will be a long day against a Colts D-line that’s fourth in stuffed and seventh in second-level yards.
And if all that weren’t enough, the Colts’ offensive line ranks second in adjusted sack rate. J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney might stop the run, but they will have issues getting to Luck.
The Texans have not covered against the Colts at home in the the past six tries. Indianapolis, meanwhile, finished the season red hot, winning nine of its last 10 games.
Contrary to what Raybon said earlier, I trust Reich to out-coach O’Brien — then to give Andy Reid and the Chiefs plenty of problems in the divisional round.
Chad Millman: Texans -1
I couldn’t disagree more.
This line makes no sense to me. A team that dominated, no matter the competition, with a defensive front that can pressure without needing to blitz, a mobile QB who is impervious to the spotlight and a receiver who has ZERO drops this year. ZERO.
And this team is only a 1- to 1.5-point favorite at home! Come on.
I understand the love for Andrew Luck and the Colts offensive line, but when I am getting a team that is equal to or better than its opponent as a very short home favorite because the public has moved the line in the opposite direction, I am going to pull the trigger on the home team.
Seahawks at Cowboys (-2.5 | O/U: 43)
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET on FOX
Matthew Freedman: Seahawks +2
I bet this at +2.5, and I’d honestly bet it all the way to a pick’em.
Since Carroll and Garrett became the head coaches of their respective teams in 2010, Carroll is 4-2 straight up and ATS in this head-to-head matchup.
The Seahawks are 3-0 ATS as underdogs against the Cowboys. Against Prescott, they’re 2-0 ATS. The Seahawks also easily covered as 1-point favorites in Week 3 with their 24-13 win.
The Seahawks have the better coach and better quarterback. They’ve already beaten the Cowboys this season. And they have a better record of postseason success.
I’m a Cowboys fan, so I freely admit that I can’t be objective here. But I see the Seahawks winning this game more often than not.
John Ewing: Seahawks +2
I also like Russell Wilson and company. I’ll add two other points:
- The Action Network NFL simulations make the Seahawks 1.5-point favorites.
- As home favorites under Jason Garrett, the Cowboys are 17-32-1 ATS — including 0-2 ATS in the playoffs.
Ken Barkley: Seahawks-Cowboys Under 43
These teams have played basically every season in the Garrett era. And in their past four meetings, the Cowboys have one touchdown on 33 drives. Even in what was essentially a “playoff elimination game” in 2017, Dallas scored 12 points and turned it over three times.
I think a heavy dose of Ezekiel Elliott, conservative play-calling and relying on defense is in the cards for Dallas.
And with a couple offensive linemen banged up, Seattle allowed a lot of pressure last week while trying to reconfigure. The Cowboys should exploit those same weaknesses to make things difficult on Wilson.
I don’t like either offense here and make this total closer to 40-41 despite ideal stadium conditions.
Editor’s note: The opinions on these games are from the individual writers and are based on their research, analysis and perspective. They are independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.