NFL Wild Card Round Picks for Every Game: Bets to Make for Sides, Totals, Props, Futures & More
Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images. Pictured: Mike Evans.
The playoffs are finally here, and Super Wild Card Weekend should be a doozy.
The AFC bracket is loaded with quarterbacks from Josh Allen and Joe Burrow to Justin Herbert and Trevor Lawrence. The NFC feels more wide open with Daniel Jones and Geno Smith leading teams no one expected to be here, Tom Brady a playoff underdog, and seventh-round rookie Brock Purdy shepherding the hottest team in the field.
Not every Wild Card Weekend is full of fireworks, and it could be a dud of a weekend if the big underdogs don’t show up. The Dolphins and Ravens will start second- or third-string quarterbacks, and we could end up with three double-digit underdogs by kickoff.
So do we bet the long underdogs or trust the big favorites? What do we do with all these debut playoff quarterbacks, and what other trends matter?
Check out my key Wild Card Round trends for answers to some of those questions, and I’ll refer to some of those trends with picks below:
With a smaller slate and the injury unknowns at QB, I decided to skip the early-week picks and just go all-in with one article featuring sides, totals, props, futures, and everything else I like for all six games on the slate.
Well, Seattle Island… we had some fun, didn’t we? The Island party is over.
San Francisco is the far better team in virtually every way and a terrible matchup for these Seahawks, and the Niners looked the part in both meetings.
Early in the season, this nasty 49ers defense held Seattle to 216 yards and would’ve recorded a shutout if not for a punt block touchdown, winning 27-7 despite Trey Lance’s injury. A month ago, the defense held Seattle to 277 yards and went up 21-3 before coasting to a 21-13 victory. The 49ers forced four turnovers in those games and dominated the clock and game flow.
Brock Purdy makes his playoff debut but does so at home behind a good line with plenty of help from his weapons, coaches and defense. I’m much more concerned about Geno Smith making his own postseason debut.
Smith isn’t exactly turning into a pumpkin, but he’s slowed down drastically and is making too many mistakes late in the season, thanks in part to an offensive line that’s fallen apart down the stretch. That’s a big problem against this awesome Niners defense.
Seattle has faced a top-10 defense four times, and the Seahawks fell behind 21-3, 21-3, and 20-0 in three of them.
Seattle’s defense has also betrayed them. The Seahawks had a nice midseason bump but rank 29th against the run by DVOA over the last six weeks, and the team never really figured out how to tackle. That’s going to be a problem against a 49ers offense that ranks top three both running and passing since trading for Christian McCaffrey.
We’ve only seen two years of these 2 vs. 7 matchups, but only one of the four games has been close. The other three were comfortable wins by the big home favorite, by 12, 16, and 21 points.
Expect something similar. Home favorites of nine or more are a perfect 9-0 ATS in the Wild Card Round the past two decades. Home Wild Card teams that made the playoffs last year are 25-12-3 ATS (68%).
San Francisco was on the verge of the Super Bowl last year and looks even better now. Seattle overachieved low expectations to make the playoffs, but there’s little reason to expect that to continue.
San Francisco should roll. Keep it easy and lay the points.
THE PICK: Bet 49ers -9.5
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It’s a second straight Saturday night elimination game for the Jaguars, but I’m not sure they’ll survive this time. Jacksonville may have eked out a victory against Josh Dobbs and the Titans‘ leftovers on a seven-game losing streak, but the Chargers are a different animal.
This one is all about the matchups.
Jacksonville is outstanding at one specific thing — passing the ball with sophomore Trevor Lawrence starting to carve up defenses. The Jaguars offense surprisingly ranks in the top 10 thanks to the No. 6 passing attack. But Brandon Staley builds his defense to take away the pass, and the Chargers defense started slowly but found its footing after the bye. The pass defense has leapt to No. 2 in DVOA since Week 8, and the defense has improved from 16th to 9th overall and now gets Joey Bosa back too.
L.A.’s pass defense should keep Lawrence and his receivers in check, but Jacksonville’s defense can’t do the same against Justin Herbert now that he’s got Keenan Allen back. The Chargers offense ranks top 10 by DVOA over the past six weeks now that it’s healthy, and Jacksonville’s pass defense is an ugly 28th for the season. The Jaguars pass rush is fierce and will be a factor, but Herbert will light this secondary up when he finds time.
Jacksonville’s defense leads the league in EPA over the past five weeks but has done so against a pathetic schedule. The Jags defense has faced the league’s softest schedule by DVOA, but they’ve proven fraudulent against competent offenses. In six games against an offense in the top half of the league, the Jaguars have allowed 30 points per game — nearly double their 15.4 points per game in the other games — with a DVOA ranked 31st against the pass and overall. The offense has also fallen off against top defenses, especially the passing attack.
Bet Los Angeles vs. Jacksonville at FanDuel
The Jags dominated the September matchup 38-10, but we shouldn’t make much of that. Herbert played with bad ribs on a short week without his star WR Allen, C Corey Linsley, or CB J.C. Jackson, and the Chargers also lost Bosa and LT Rashawn Slater mid-game. When a team is short six of its 10 best healthy guys, we just can’t take much from that game.
The Chargers are much healthier now and finally look like the team everyone expected coming into the season. That defense is still leaky against the run but terrific against the pass, the exact right lean in a conference featuring Mahomes, Allen, and Burrow. Los Angeles still struggles with play calling on early downs, but Herbert finally has his weapons healthy and may even get Slater back soon. Heck, the Chargers are even good at special teams this year.
This team is good, and the path sets up nicely. Win in Jacksonville and the Chargers likely heads to Kansas City to face a team Staley has consistently schemed well against. The Chargers pushed the Chiefs all the way twice this season, losing both times by a field goal. They’d have a chance again, and who knows what happens if they make the AFC Championship Game? This team has the star QB, the weapons, and the defensive talent to make a deep run. Chargers +1200 to win the AFC is my favorite futures bet on the board.
They’ll have to beat Jacksonville first.
Wild Card Round hosts that missed last year’s playoffs are 12-28 ATS (30%) over the past two decades, and hosts that just won their finale by 10 or less are 9-16-2 ATS (36%). The trends tell us the same thing we’re seeing in the numbers — that the young darling Jaguars are a little overrated right now.
I lean under if you want to play a total. Doug Pederson home unders are 34-14 (71%) in the regular season and Lawrence home unders are 13-4 (76%), including 6-2 this year. Outdoor Wild Card games featuring non-division matchups with a total 41 or higher are 28-8 to the under (78%) over the last decade, and two debut playoff QBs could struggle to find a rhythm.
What’s Jacksonville best at? They have a good passing game with a great young QB, a dynamic RB, and a terrific pass rush. The Chargers have a better version of all three of those things, and they’re better in most other places too.
Chargers to win and cover is my favorite bet of Wild Card Weekend. As of Friday at 1 p.m. ET, you can still get Los Angeles at -1.5 at Caesars, but it’s -2.5 at most other books. I’d play this to Chargers -2.5.
THE PICK: Bet Chargers -1.5
FUTURES: Chargers +1200 to win the AFC
OTHER ANGLES: Lean Under 47.5
This division rivalry was a ton of fun in the two regular season matchups, but QB injuries look to have robbed us of a third delight.
All-powerful playoff-mode Josh Allen versus seventh-round rookie Skylar Thompson is about as big a playoff mismatch as you get at QB. Thompson makes his debut on the road in front of a wild Buffalo crowd as a rookie with a bad offensive line that may be missing both tackles, and it could get ugly.
Miami’s offense at its best relies on blazing speed and perfect timing to break defenses apart in Mike McDaniel’s system. Buffalo’s defense has been more good than great down the stretch and has leaked some explosive plays, including against these Phins, but that all relies on a competent quarterback that can get his speedy playmakers the ball and there’s little evidence that Thompson can do that.
Bet Miami vs. Buffalo at FanDuel
The Dolphins have scored 17 and 11 points in games where Thompson took a majority of the snaps. They average just 16.0 points per game without Tua Tagovailoa this season, with the offense plummeting from third to 21st in DVOA.
If this game is anything like the past two meetings, Thompson may not be on the field much anyway. Miami’s pass defense ranks 26th on the season and has not been able to get off the field against Josh Allen, who has played two of his best games of the season against them. Early in the year, Allen threw 63 times for 400 yards on this team with the Bills holding a wild 90-to-39 edge in plays and 285 more yards but somehow losing anyway. Then in the Buffalo snow globe, Allen had 381 yards of offense and threw for four TDs.
The scorelines in both games were close but betrayed the tale of the tape — Miami’s defense never had a chance. That defense is also far worse on the road than at home (28th vs 5th by DVOA) and worse in the first half (25th vs 11th), so this could get away from the Dolphins quickly.
Buffalo has five wins this season that cover this number. They have a huge advantage on defense and special teams, in experience, and at coach. And then there’s that whole Skylar and Josh thing.
I like Allen overs. He threw 103 times for 704 yards and six TDs the first two Miami games. He’s gone over his posted line of 33.5 attempts in both Miami games and in five of six playoff games, and he’s over 255.5 yards by the same counts. I’ll play the yards over in case Buffalo piles it on early and Allen’s attempts are limited by garbage time.
The Bills fit the same trends as the 49ers above as big home favorites in the Wild Card Round that made last year’s playoffs, and I’m expecting a similar result. Over the past two decades, quarterbacks making their playoff debut against QBs who have already played in the postseason are an ugly 14-35 ATS (29%), so all signs point against Thompson here.
I’ll make it a lean instead of a bet because it’s such a high line and we still don’t totally know how this Bills team will respond emotionally after everything, but I expect Buffalo to win with ease.
THE PICK: Lean Bills -13.5
PROPS: Josh Allen over 255.5 passing yards
These teams played one month ago in a matchup that very much reflected both teams and their entire seasons.
It was a one-score game from start to finish. Neither defense did anything much. Daniel Jones and Kirk Cousins surprised, while stars like Justin Jefferson, T.J. Hockenson, and Saquon Barkley all had big games. The Vikings were the slightly worse team but got key turnovers to swing the game and walked it off with a franchise-record field goal for a one-score win.
That game was both of these teams in a nutshell. It was even and close then and should be again. The Vikings and Giants have combined to play 24 one-score games this season. That’s 24 of 34 games, 71% of them! New York is 8-4-1 in those games, and Minnesota is a ludicrous 11-0.
My favorite bet on this game is for exactly that — yet another close game for both of these teams. I’ll bet Giants +6.5 and Vikings +6.5 in a Same Game Parlay at FanDuel at +134 to bet on either team to win by six or less. You can play the same idea at +180 at Bet365 as a Tribet for five or lower, or pay for +8.5 each direction at -137 if you prefer. I have no idea who will win a close wonky game between two weird teams — I’ll play +133 for it to be close.
Oh, you want a side too?
The Giants have the worst run defense DVOA in the league, but the Vikings rank dead last rushing over the past six weeks. Jones is 16-5 ATS (76%) as a road underdog lifetime but fits the scary trend against debut QBs (14-35 ATS, 29%). Both teams have bad, low variance defenses that both offensive-minded coaches just saw a month ago and have had two weeks to prepare for. Neither team is good on special teams. Both franchises have a horseshoe up their butts all year. This game is the Spider-man meme.
Minnesota‘s biggest advantage comes in its star playmakers. The Giants defense is worst in the league on first down, allows a heap of explosive pass plays, and ranks last and second to last against WR1s and TEs. Justin Jefferson had 12 catches for 133 yards in the first matchup, and Hockenson had 13 catches for 109 yards and two scores.
Hockenson has at least five catches in seven of his nine full Minnesota games, and he’s had 9+ targets in six of them. Hockenson over 4.5 receptions is my favorite prop on the board this weekend. He’s become a real security blanket for Cousins. For Jefferson, I prefer an alternate over. The Giants could scheme heavily to eliminate him, but if they don’t, he should eat. Jefferson is +280 to record 125 receiving yards at Bet365 and +650 to hit 150 at PointsBet.
The Vikings fan in me fears New York‘s advantages are more glaring.
The Giants have the league’s best pressure rate over the back half of the season, and Minnesota’s pass protection ranks 25th and may have to start a backup rookie RT and a third-string C. Dexter Lawrence, Kayvon Thibodeaux, and Azeez Ojulari could wreak havoc against Kirk Cousins and win this game in the trenches. The Giants also get Adoree Jackson and Xavier McKinney back to help in the secondary, and Brian Daboll and Wink Martindale should dial up some schematic advantages in the coaching game too.
I have to lean Giants with all those potential advantages. I don’t blame you if you want to play a Giants moneyline, and you might consider Giants to win by 1-to-6 points at +350 at BetMGM if you’re going that route.
Giants +9 is a great teaser leg. New York has covered that line in 14 of 17 games, and the backdoor should be open even if Minnesota leads.
If you like the Giants, you should also like Eagles futures. The real winner of this game will be whichever NFC team gets to face the Giants or Vikings next week. If Philly lucks into the Giants and their horrid run defense and general lack of talent, you can pencil the Eagles right into the NFC Championship.
THE PICK: Either team to win by 6 or less at +133 (+6.5/+6.5 SGP)
PROPS: T.J. Hockenson over 4.5 receptions, Justin Jefferson alternate receiving yards overs
OTHER ANGLES: Lean Giants +3, Giants by 1-6 at +350, Tease Giants to +9
FUTURES: Eagles +550 to win the Super Bowl
The Ravens still won’t have Lamar Jackson, so that leaves Tyler Huntley or rookie Anthony Brown, who made his starter debut Sunday against these Bengals and was better than the numbers looked.
These Ravens are nothing like the early version of their team, for better and for worse. The offense ranked 5th in DVOA with Lamar Jackson and led the league in rushing DVOA. Without him, this offense bottomed out to 22nd, with the rushing falling outside the top 10. The Ravens have scored a measly 12.8 points per game since Jackson’s injury, 17 or less in every game.
The Ravens would already be in offseason mode were it not for the awesome defensive improvement. Baltimore leads the league in rushing defense since trading for Roquan Smith. A defense that couldn’t stop anyone early held opponents under 17 in all five meaningful games without Jackson. The defense gives Baltimore a shot in a tough division game, no matter who’s under center.
Bet Baltimore vs. Cincinnati at FanDuel
Cincinnati is versatile and battle-tested but has picked up key injuries down the stretch. The loss of Chidobe Awuzie has left this secondary vulnerable, and the right side of that rebuilt offensive line will be missing both starters and leave a huge hole protecting Joe Burrow.
John Harbaugh has a knack for keeping these games ugly and close. He’s 54-35-3 ATS (61%) as an underdog, including 8-4 in the playoffs and 8-1 as an underdog of eight or more. He’s also 6-1 ATS (86%) in the Wild Card Round. The Ravens are healthy outside of QB after resting key starters, and they’ve been far better on the road both offensively and defensively.
Historically, playoff division rematches tend to be close and unpredictable. Road division teams the first two rounds are 13-4-1 ATS (77%) and a shocking 11-6 straight up (65%) with a spread of nine or below. My gut says Harbaugh and this outstanding special teams and defense keep this close while the Ravens run the ball, kill the clock, and wait for a big play.
If you like the Ravens, you have to like the under 40.5 too. This team only hangs around if the defense keeps them in it. Baltimore went under 40.5 every game without Jackson before Week 18’s rest. Play Ravens +9 and Under 40.5 as a +264 correlated SGP to make the juice worth the squeeze, or play the under with the moneyline instead at +778 if you’re really feeling spicy.
If you prefer the Bengals, think about playing just the second half. Cincinnati has covered 21 of its last 25 second halves (84%) and makes good in-game adjustments, and that could follow a script where Harbaugh keeps his guys in it for awhile but runs out of ideas and talent late.
I’m trusting my gut and playing the Ravens. One of these big favorites will be vulnerable this weekend, and I think it’s Cincinnati.
THE PICK: Lean Ravens +9 and Under 40.5 as a correlated SGP +264
OTHER ANGLES: Sprinkle Ravens +360 ML and Under 40.5 SGP +778
Monday Night Football
And somehow after all that, we’re right back where we started, with a Monday night rematch of the opening Sunday night game.
The Bucs dominated defensively as a lackluster Cowboys attack gained only 244 yards on 3.8 yards per play. Four months later, after all the ups and downs, it feels like these teams are weirdly back where they started.
For Dallas, that means major question marks on whether this defense is real. The Cowboys have an elite pass rush but a porous secondary, and no one gets the ball out faster than Tom Brady so that could neutralize Micah Parsons and co. and make for a big game. Dallas’s offense still runs short on answers when CeeDee Lamb is bottled up like he was with just two catches for 29 yards on 11 targets in that first matchup, and Tampa’s defense has been nasty when actually healthy.
“When healthy” is the key for this Bucs team, and the answer to “when” this season has mostly been never. The team lost key starts from stud offensive linemen Dovovan Smith (five games), Tristan Wirfs (four), and Ryan Jensen (17). They were without Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Julio Jones at receiver for 11 games combined. The defense missed games from Vita Vea (three), Akiem Hicks (six), Carlton Davis (four), Antoine Winfield Jr. (four), and Jamel Dean (two).
That’s half the Bucs starters that missed meaningful time — but remarkably, every one of them may actually suit up this week. Believe it or not, this could be the healthiest team the Bucs have fielded all season.
Tampa Bay’s defense cratered down the stretch at 26th by DVOA over the final six weeks, but the Bucs have remained stout against the run and the pass defense is finally healthy. The Bucs defense leads the league in Drive Success Rate, while the Cowboys offense ranks 24th, so Dallas may be forced to churn out long, sustained drives, something they’ve struggled to do.
Tampa’s offense hasn’t exactly been great, but this faltering Dallas defense might be the perfect elixir. The Cowboys pass D nosedived to 25th over the past six weeks and has no answers or healthy bodies at corner. Dallas is worst in the league by DVOA against WR2, so Chris Godwin could have a huge day, and the Cowboys should struggle to defend Tampa’s now-healthy weapons.
Bet Dallas vs. Tampa Bay at FanDuel
The Bucs have been at their best this season against the best competition. In eight games against teams that finished with 8+ wins, the Bucs ranked top 11 in both Offensive and Defensive DVOA. What if the muddled mess we saw all season was just a banged-up team biding its time for the real competition?
Dallas should out-class and out-talent these Bucs based on what we’ve seen this season, but the Cowboys are the run-heaviest team in the playoffs and remain far too committed to establishing Ezekiel Elliott and the run game. The Bucs defense has been far better in first halves, and if Dallas lets the underdogs hang around, Tom Brady will make them pay.
Unlike Dallas, the Bucs sling it around early and often. Tampa Bay had the highest early-down pass frequency in the league, and Brady set an NFL record for pass attempts. I love backing Brady to go over 42.5 attempts. He’s topped that in six straight starts (excluding Week 18) and 11 of his last 13 (85%), averaging 47.1 attempts during that stretch. Whether Tampa is building a lead or pushing from behind, Brady will be slinging it, like always.
I never imagined I’d be backing these Bucs after everything we’ve seen this season, but my research flagged a barrage of trends in Tampa Bay’s favor over the past two decades:
- Wild Card Round hosts that made last year’s playoffs: 25-12-3 ATS (68%)
- Wild Card teams at .500 or below: 8-1 ATS (89%) and 6-3 SU (67%)
- Wild Card teams 15+% worse than opponent: 6-0-1 ATS (100%)
- Wild Card teams that won by 14+ in the previous meeting: 9-3 ATS (75%)
- Fade Wild Card road teams on a one-game losing streak: 14-3 ATS (82%)
Every one of those Wild Card Round trends supports the Bucs, and none of my research supported Dallas. Dak Prescott is 0-4 ATS in the playoffs. Tom Brady is 3-0 both ATS and straight up as a playoff underdog. He’s also 22-7-2 ATS (76%) lifetime as an underdog of three or less, including a perfect 6-0 straight up since 2014.
Turns out that Brady guy is pretty good, especially when everyone has counted him out. The spread may say Tampa Bay is an underdog, but I have to back Brady and the Bucs.
I’ll play the +2.5 cover rather than the money line, because I could see Tampa losing by a point or two and still covering, so I’ll take the extra outs. I may wait to see if we get that +3 back before kickoff.
I’ll also put the Bucs into my favorite teaser. Tease Tampa Bay six points and you get Bucs +8.5. Tom Brady is an ungodly 43-4 lifetime in the playoffs against that number, a 91.5% cover rate. I like our chances.
THE PICK: Bet Bucs +2.5
PROPS: Tom Brady over 42.5 pass attempts
OTHER ANGLES: Tease Bucs to +8.5
NFL Wild Card Round Best Bets
- Chargers -2.5
- Bucs +2.5
- T.J. Hockenson over 4.5 receptions
- Giants +9 & Bucs +8.5 teaser
- 49ers -9.5
- Tom Brady over 42.5 pass attempts
- Vikings-Giants to win by 6 or less (+6.5/+6.5 SGP at +133)
- Ravens +9 and Under 40.5 as a correlated SGP +264