NFL Playoff Odds, Picks, Predictions: Experts’ Favorite Early Wild Card Bets Feature Bucs, 49ers, Rams
Getty Images. Pictured: Rams WR Cooper Kupp, Bucs QB Tom Brady
One way to find an edge in a market as efficient as betting on the NFL is to bet opening odds that are expected to move in a direction that would lessen the value of said bet. Veteran bettors refer to this as closing line value (CLV), but you don’t have to be an advanced bettor to find possible CLV in the NFL playoffs — our experts are here to guide you.
After analyzing early odds for Wild Card Weekend, our experts made the following three bets, including on the Bucs and 49ers spreads. Find out why they locked those picks in now versus waiting to bet them later below.
NFL Odds, Picks, Predictions
Eagles at Bucs
Brandon Anderson: It hasn’t been the smoothest ride, but the Bucs are here again. And for the second straight postseason, they’ll start their journey against an NFC East foe. Last season was Washington; this season it’s Philadelphia.
The Bucs took care of business against the Football Team last January, and I expect them to do the same against the Eagles.
The Eagles had a tale of two seasons, starting 3-6 but finishing 6-2 to clinch the NFC’s final seed. After a breakout game against the Lions midway through the schedule, the Eagles adopted a run-first mentality. They entered Week 18 ranked third in Football Outsiders’ rushing DVOA — they’re winning games in the trenches and racked up wins by running it down their opponents’ throats.
A closer look helps us understand why, though: The competition was terrible.
We mentioned the Lions. There was also a win over the Jets. There was a pair of games against the Giants — the worst team in the league down the stretch — and the Eagles lost one of them. Plus two wins over the Football Team, whose season tailspun with COVID late. Wins over the Broncos and Saints aren’t worth much, either.
The Eagles played only three teams better than .500 over the back half of the season and lost two of them. They did play six games against playoff teams, but weren’t competitive in any, losing all six.
Did the Eagles really turn the corner? Or did they just stop playing good teams?
One of those six losses came against the Bucs on a Thursday night in October. The final score was 28-22, but the Bucs dominated all the way. They led 28-7 with less than six minutes to play in the third quarter, with the Eagles scoring their only touchdown to that point thanks to a 45-yards penalty. They finally scored their second after a 50-yard penalty but had only 213 yards and 20 minutes of possession compared to 399 and 40 for the Bucs.
The line for that game was Bucs -7 on the road, which means they should be double-digit favorites in the -12 to -13 range.
The Bucs went 5-1 against playoff teams and enter the postseason having won seven of their last eight. Their run defense sputtered midseason, but still finished top 10 in Expected Points Added (EPA) and top-three over the final four games.
The Bucs are far better while the Eagles have no gear to play from behind once Brady and Co. inevitably take the lead.
I like the Bucs to -9.5 (check real-time NFL odds here).
49ers at Cowboys
Raheem Palmer: 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).
49ers at Cowboys
Michael Arinze: No team in the NFC benefited more from playing in a weak division than the Dallas Cowboys — they were the only NFL team that went undefeated in their division, and while their 13-4 record against the spread (ATS) is impressive, keep in mind that six of those ATS wins were courtesy of the NFC East.
While the overall numbers might seem to favor the Cowboys in this matchup, you could argue that no NFC team has played better than the 49ers since Week 8. They’ve gone 8-3 straight up and ATS over that span and pose a threat to the Cowboys in this spot.
While the NFL’s evolvement as a passing league continues, the running game carries a greater significance in the postseason on both sides of the ball. This is something the 49ers excel in: Football Outsiders ranks them in the top-five in offensive and defensive rush DVOA.
As for the Cowboys, though they rank 16th in rush defense DVOA, I’m going to downgrade them even more against this 49ers’ outside zone running scheme. Few teams have been able to slow down this 49ers’ rushing attack when it’s healthy. And there’s no better way to take the crowd out of the game than running the ball to break the will of your opponents.
I suspect there will be periods when the mood will get very tense at AT&T Stadium on Sunday. I also have more faith in placing my confidence in Kyle Shanahan to make the necessary in-game adjustments instead of Mike McCarthy.
This is a great spot to fade the Cowboys, who are likely overvalued after scoring more than 50 points in two of the last three weeks against weaker divisional opponents. That said, I only like them at +3.5, so be sure to shop for the best line.
Cardinals at Rams
Phillip Kall: This pick is more an indictment of the Cardinals than praise of the Rams.
Simply put, Arizona’s offense has not played well without DeAndre Hopkins. Yes, the Cardinals put up 30 points in their Week 18 loss to the Seahawks, but they also had a defensive score and another interception stopped at the goal line. That puts their offense at more like 16 points earned, in line with their recent subpar performances.
As for the defense, well, they’ve been marched on up and down the field — they’re allowing 354 yards of offense during their current 1-4 stretch.
Those struggles defensively should set the Rams up for a nice rebound game. Last week was the first time the Rams put up fewer than 325 yards of offense since their bye. They’ll have too many talented receiving options for Arizona to matchup, so LA should be able to blow this one open.
The Cardinals were a fun story to start the year. Unfortunately, their late-season performance will still force them to an early playoff exit.
I’ll take the Rams up to -5.5 (shop for the best real-time line here).