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NFL Wild Card Predictions: Data-Driven Pick for Chargers vs. Jaguars, More

NFL Wild Card Predictions: Data-Driven Pick for Chargers vs. Jaguars, More article feature image
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Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images. Pictured: Austin Ekeler.


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NFL Wild Card Saturday Odds & Picks

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 DK Metcalf Longest Reception
4:30 p.m. ET
 Seahawks vs 49ers: First Team to Score Wins
4:30 p.m. ET
Chargers vs. Jaguars Total
8:15 p.m. ET
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Pick
 DK Metcalf Longest Reception Under 23.5 (-114)
Best Book
Time
4:30 p.m. ET

Nick Giffen: This number is way too high for a number of reasons.

First, Metcalf’s median longest reception in a game this year is 17 yards, and he’s stayed under 23.5 in 11 of 17 games. In the two games against San Francisco, his longest reception was just 13 yards. In fact, just eight of his 90 receptions on the year have surpassed 23 yards.

San Francisco poses a particularly tough matchup for Metcalf. The 49ers play zone defense at the fifth-highest rate, but Metcalf has been much better against man. He averages 2.88 yards per route run against man, but that drops down to 1.55 against zone.

Per Football Outsiders, the 49ers are fourth against opposing teams’ top receivers in defensive DVOA and fifth in passes to the left side of the field, where Metcalf lines up 60% of the time.

Now we’re adding wind and rain into the forecast, which shouldn’t help his chances of catching a long pass. Metcalf has the highest aDOT on the team at 11.2 yards.

I think his longest reception projection should be much lower – around 17.5 yards – so I’d comfortably bet this down to 19.5 to leave us some wiggle room.


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Pick
 Will the First Team to Score Win — YES (-200)
Best Book
Time
4:30 p.m. ET

Billy Ward: Any time books offer the same odds on a prop in every single game, my radar is up. Certain situations will make this prop more or less likely to happen, but what are they?

I went through the last two seasons to answer that question, comparing the frequency that the team who scores first wins to both the spread and the total. Perhaps intuitively, the larger the total, the less likely the team to score first is to win. With more scoring overall, going up three or seven points is less important.

Spreads were a bit noisier. There’s a slight positive correlation – games with bigger spreads are somewhat more likely to have the winner score first. That’s likely caused by the dominant team being more likely to score first in less competitive matchups.

Regardless, when we filter for specific situations, we can find a distinct edge. In this case, I looked at all games with a spread of seven or more but a total of 44 or less. In those games, the first team to score won just over 70% of the time.

That converts to an implied probability of -230 or so, giving us a nice edge on the -200.

If playing this bet, I’d also take it for Miami-Buffalo and Cincinnati-Baltimore, all of which fit the criteria. We’d have about a 35% chance of hitting all three bets, and would break even by hitting two out of three another 44% of the time.


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Pick
 Under 47.5
Best Book
Time
8:15 p.m. ET

Billy Ward: This one is all about how both teams match up defensively.

The Chargers have a major run funnel on defense, with the No. 10 passing defense by DVOA but No. 29 rushing defense. The Jags emerged as a top passing offense this season – ranking sixth – but struggled to run the ball consistently.

On the other side of the coin, Jacksonville’s defense is far better at stopping the run. At first blush, this would seem like a good thing for the Chargers. Like Jacksonville, they’re far better throwing the ball than running it.

But thanks to head coach Brandon Staley’s insistence on playing his starters in a meaningless Week 18 game, top wide receiver Mike Williams will be missing this contest due to a reported back fracture. He’s their primary deep threat. Sure, the Chargers can move the ball with short passes to Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler, but those extend drives and slow down games.

The Chargers are also slight favorites, meaning we would expect a slightly boosted rushing rate for them and a higher passing rate for the Jaguars — putting both teams against their opponent’s defensive strengths. I’d bet this down to 47.

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