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Musburger column: Wild-card matchups present challenge

By Brent Musburger  (VSiN managing editor) 

January 4, 2020 12:01 AM
Ryan Tannehill will be trying to upset the Patriots in his first playoff start.
© Imagn

Nothing is more difficult to handicap than the NFL’s Wild Card Weekend.

Three seasons ago all four favorites won and cashed against the spread. In the eight games since underdogs are 8-0 ATS.

Adding to our betting complexity is this gem from VSIN’s Point Spread Weekly: Sunday road NFC teams have been money makers, going 12-4-1 ATS in their last 17. Both NFC games are Sunday.

We begin with Saturday’s AFC card.

Buffalo (10-6 SU, 9-6-1 ATS) o/u 44

at Houston (10-6 SU, 7-8-1 ATS) –2½

Saturday 1:35 p.m. PST – ESPN/ABC

Early money dropped the Bills from plus 3 to plus 2½. Lack of confidence in the Texans is understandable, but you might want to hold your nose when you back the Bills. They haven’t won a playoff game since Dec. 1995. That’s nearly a quarter of a century of misery.

One other reason to approach with caution: Josh Allen. Yes, the Buffalo QB has been much better in his second season, but since 2002 quarterbacks making their first playoff starts during Wild Card Weekend are 8-28 SU and 10-26 ATS.

Deshaun Watson already got his inaugural loss out of the way when he was beaten last year by Andrew Luck and Indianapolis.

I’m backing the home team at –2½.

Tennessee (9-7 SU, 9-7 ATS) o/u 44

at New England (12-4 SU, 9-7 ATS) –5

Saturday 5:15 p.m. PST – CBS

All is not well with the Patriots. Last week’s shocking loss to Miami as a 17-point favorite highlights one of my favorite clichés: “Father time is undefeated.” Tom Brady had never lost in the NFL when he was at least a 14-point favorite.

His weapons are depleted. Yes, Julian Edelman is still helping, but Rob Gronkowski is enjoying celebrity after his last reception set up the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory last February against the Rams. Gambling on Mr. Social Media – Antonio Brown – blew up on the greatest dynasty in the history of the league.

Yes, this is quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s first playoff game (see Josh Allen above), but he’s not coming to Foxborough alone.


Running back Derrick Henry led the NFL in rushing (1,540 yards), and he marched the Titans into the playoffs with a 211-yard game last week at Houston.

Ole Miss rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown averaged more than 19 yards a catch. He will keep cornerback Stephen Gilmore busy all game.

Titans coach Mike Vrabel spent six years playing for Bill Belichick and the Patriots. He knows the drill.

I’m backing Tennessee at anything over plus 3, and I will tease them over plus 10.

Minnesota (10-6 SU, 9-7 ATS) o/u 49½

at New Orleans (13-3 SU, 11-5 ATS) –7½

Sunday 10:05 a.m. PST – Fox

Interestingly, early money took the Vikings with eight points. I’m assuming those bettors didn’t watch Kirk Cousins lose to Green Bay at home Monday night in Week 16.

You cannot back Cousins when the lights are the brightest. He’s 0-9 straight up on Mondays with the Vikings and Washington, and he lost his only playoff start with the Redskins at home. As a two-point favorite Cousins and the Redskins lost to the Packers 35-18 in 2015.

Finally, this from Point Spread Weekly’s Steve Makinen: Home favorites of a TD or more in the Wild Card round are 11-1 SU and 10-2 ATS since 2005.

Let me have Drew Brees and his 6-2 SU record in Superdome playoff games, please. Yes, I will give the points.

Seattle (11-5 SU, 7-8-1 ATS) –1½

at Philadelphia (9-7 SU, 7-9 ATS) o/u 45½

Sunday 1:40 p.m. PST – NBC

NFL TV ratings are up 4 percent this year, and NBC pushed this game to the later start Sunday, when it will dominate all comers. 

The Eagles opened as one-point favorites, and early money flipped to the Seahawks, now –2 in some books. I’m recommending an early bet on the ’Hawks before this climbs to –3.

It’s easy to forget that this is Carson Wentz’s first playoff start. An injury opened the door for Nick Foles during the Eagles’ Super Bowl run two years ago.

Wentz has been special down the stretch, willing an injury-riddled team into the playoffs with a four-game winning streak.

But the Eagles aren’t much healthier this week, and the Seahawks have been road warriors, winning 7 of 8 away from Seattle, including 19-7 over the Eagles at Philly on Nov. 24.

I would take Wentz in the rematch, but he’s still without DeSean Jackson, Alston Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and two starting offensive linemen. There is a chance TE Zach Ertz returns, which would help. But I’ll take Mr. Never Out of It – Russell Wilson – and his 8-5 playoff record as the starting QB.

Hope you celebrate the New Year by cashin’ some tickets, because that’s what it’s all about.

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