Wild-card weekend starts Saturday afternoon with the Buffalo Bills generating interest from sharps as defensive dogs on the road against the Houston Texans (4:30 p.m., ESPN/ABC).
When openers went up late last weekend, Houston was a three-point favorite. You regulars know that’s the most important key number in football betting. Professional wagerers who respected Buffalo’s elite defense happily took those three points knowing it would take at least Houston by four to beat them.
That caused a drop to Houston -2.5. Be sure you monitor the markets to see if public interest lifts the game back to three. Recreational bettors generally prefer favorites in playoff games. But Houston’s lack of playoff success might not generate much buzz.
Let’s check in with the same analytic categories we used for the bowls. Offense and defense rankings refer to yards per game. Strength of schedule rankings are from Jeff Sagarin’s market-respected rankings posted by USA Today.
— Houston (-2.5) vs. Buffalo (4:30 p.m., ESPN/ABC)
Buffalo: No. 24 offense, No. 3 defense, No. 29 schedule, plus-4 turnover margin
Houston: No. 13 offense, No. 28 defense, No. 7 schedule, even turnover margin
The defensive dog theory has a possible flea in the ointment. Buffalo faced one of the softest schedules in the league. Its defense may look more mortal on the road against mobile Deshaun Watson. Houston’s awful defensive ranking came against a tough schedule and could be mitigated by the return of J.J. Watt.
For now, sharps are happy with their Bills options. If the point spread moves back to the full three, they will reinvest. If the point spread ranges from plus-1.5 to plus-2.5, they will move the line six points in teasers to cross the 3 and the 7. Buffalo plus-7.5 to plus-8.5 is a powerful teaser nominee in what is projected to be the lowest-scoring wild-card game. There’s also a good chance New Orleans and Philadelphia will fall in the basic strategy teaser window this weekend.
That doesn’t mean Buffalo is a lock, even against the teaser line. But the wise guys do play the percentages — and this option is right in their wheelhouse.
What are the possible drawbacks of backing Buffalo?
— Young quarterback Josh Allen is erratic at best and untested against NFL playoff pressure. At least in late-season home games, weather conditions can make the opposing quarterback erratic too. Hermetically sealed football in Houston should favor Watson and the Texans. The fact that Buffalo was slightly better than Houston in the turnover category may not matter in this environment.
— That soft schedule means the Bills aren’t battle-tested. They lost home games to playoff-bound Baltimore, New England and Philadelphia. Now you’re going to ask them to perform on command on the road? Houston’s No. 7 ranking in schedule strength might be a hidden key that looms large in the second half.