NFL Playoff Odds, Picks, Predictions: One Expert Already Bet Bucs, 49ers, Cardinals To Cover Wild Card Spreads
Getty Images. Pictured: 49ers TE George Kittle, Bucs WR Mike Evans
Eagles at Bucs
This is an awful matchup for the Eagles.
What do the Eagles like to do? They like to run, with the highest run-pass ratio (52% vs. 48%) in the NFL. That isn’t going to work well against a Buccaneers defensive line featuring Vita Rea and Ndamukong Suh that’s fifth in Expected Points Added (EPA) per play against the run, allowing just a 38.1% success rate that ranks eighth in the league.
These teams met back in Week 6, when Tom Brady made easy work of the Eagles, completing 34-of-42 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns. He led the Buccaneers to a 28-7 lead with 5:47 left in the third quarter before the Eagles scored 15 unanswered points to get the cover.
The Buccaneers aren’t likely to take their foot off the gas in this rematch and should be able to attack an Eagles secondary that’s 19th in Dropback EPA and 24th in Dropback Success Rate, allowing 48.7% of passes to grade out as successful. The Eagles are also 25th in Passing Success Rate to opposing wide receivers and 25th in yards per play to opposing receivers, as well, allowing 8.9 yards per pass.
Even without Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin, the Bucs have more than enough weapons to flourish offensively against the Eagles. With the Eagles beating only one team with a winning record this season (the Saints), this line is short.
My model makes this Bucs -9, which is where I’d back them to.
49ers at Cowboys
The Cowboys are coming off a 51-26 blowout of the Eagles last Saturday night in a game that was essentially a glorified scrimmage with Dallas taking advantage of a Philly team playing its backups.
Despite the scoring outburst, this Cowboys offense has been far from impressive since Dak Prescott returned from his injury in Week 9. Between Weeks 1-6, the Cowboys averaged 34 points a game, ranking fifth in EPA/play, second in success rate, second in Dropback Success Rate and third in Rushing Success Rate. From Weeks 9-17, the Cowboys are averaging 28 points per game and are just 16th in EPA/play, 21st in Success Rate, 19th in Dropback Success Rate and 27th in Rushing Success Rate.
The Cowboys typically want to establish the run, however, we’ve seen a decline in a rushing offense that was unable to capitalize against the Cardinals, who rank 16th in Rushing Success Rate and gave up 190 rushing yards to Seahawks backup Rashaad Penny in Week 18.
Now the Cowboys will have to deal with a 49ers defense that’s second in rushing EPA/play and Success Rate.
The 49ers also have a dominant pass rush and will be able to get home without blitzing as they’re sixth in ESPN’s pass rush win rate. They sacked Matthew Stafford five times in last Sunday’s matchup and should be able to get pressure on Prescott.
While the 49ers secondary has been leaky, with Michael Gallup out of the lineup, there’s one less weapon the Cowboys have to rely on. And with the 49ers secondary getting healthier, I like their chances of slowing down a Cowboys offense that has declined since Prescott’s return.
On the other side of the ball, the 49ers offense has been rolling.
Jimmy Garrapolo has quietly been a better quarterback than Prescott, besting him in EPA + CPOE composite, Success Rate, completion percentage and Football Outsiders’ DVOA. He also leads a 49ers offense that’s sixth in EPA/play and ninth in Success Rate.
With the Cowboys ranking 17th in Success Rate against tight ends, allowing 56% of plays to grade out as successful, they’re in for a long day against George Kittle. And while Trevon Diggs has the reputation of an elite cornerback, outside of interceptions, he hasn’t been very good. According to PFF, he ranks 90th out of 91 cornerbacks with 300+ coverage snaps in yards allowed per target. It’s no surprise the Cowboys are 26th in yards allowed to opposing wide receivers at nearly nine yards per play. I’m expecting a big day from Deebo Samuel.
I’ll back the 49ers with the points down to +3 and take them to win this game outright (check real-time NFL odds here).
Cardinals at Rams
This matchup is unfortunate in the sense that these are two teams I came into the postseason wanting to fade. Nonetheless, they’re playing each other, and there’s only one way to truly approach this — by backing the road underdog.
Matthew Stafford has struggled against winning teams throughout his career, going just 31-51-2 (38%) against the spread (ATS) and 26-58-0 (31%) straight up, per our Action Labs data. This is the spot he finds himself in against Kyler Murray and the Cardinals, who the Rams split games with this season.
Stafford continues to struggle with turnovers as he has eight interceptions and one fumble over the last four games of the season. Things won’t get any easier against the Cardinals, who are sixth in DVOA and fifth against the pass.
The biggest issue for the Cardinals defense is their inability to stop the run. They’re still 17th in Rushing Success Rate (39.9%) and dead-last in explosive run play rate, allowing 15% of rushing plays to go for 20 or more yards. But unfortunately for the Rams, they aren’t very good at running the ball — they’re 19th in Rushing EPA/play and 20th in Rushing Success Rate. They’re also only 24th in yards per carry (4.0), which means they’ll be heavily reliant on Stafford, which has led to disastrous results of late.
The Cardinals have fallen off a cliff on both sides of the ball.
With the absence of DeAndre Hopkins, we’ve seen this offense decline from second in EPA/play and third in Success Rate with him to 16th in EPA/play and 14th in Success Rate without him. It remains to be seen if he’ll play this week, but the other big news surrounds RB James Conner, who left last Sunday’s game with a rib injury. Should he play, it would go along way toward their chances at beating the Rams.
Although the Rams are first in ESPN’s pass rush win rate, Murray has proven the ability to neutralize elite pass rushes as he did in both of their regular-season matchups.
Overall, both of these teams are extremely flawed, but given the familiarity, we’re likely looking at a close game that lends it self to taking the points. Plus the Cardinals have dominated on the road, where they’re 8-1 ATS and SU this season.
It’s tough to buck all the trends in favor of the Cardinals. I like them to cover this down to +3.5 (shop for the best real-time line here).