The NFL playoffs have finally arrived and the field of 14 teams vying for a Super Bowl is set. Super wild-card weekend begins on Saturday with two exciting matchups.
Here are our best bets for the Las Vegas Raiders-Cincinnati Bengals matchup, along with the New England Patriots traveling to face the Buffalo BIlls.
Las Vegas Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals (-5.5, 49)
4:30 p.m. ET
Burke: The Raiders deserve a lot of credit for winning four straight games to get into the playoffs. They basically had no margin for error and won all four games by four or fewer points, but you wonder how many times a team can keep responding to those sorts of stakes.
Maybe the shared sense of belief is enough to carry the Raiders through what amounts to an awful spot on Saturday. One would think that the playoffs and the associated motivation would be enough, but Las Vegas just played five quarters against the Chargers and the defense was on the field for 88 plays late in a long season. Now the Raiders travel across three time zones to play in cold Cincinnati.
The Bengals rested nearly every player of consequence last week, including a banged-up Joe Burrow. Cincinnati thrives on yards after catch, ranking third in the NFL in that department. The Raiders, however, have held teams to just 10 yards per reception. The game may hinge on how well the Bengals protect Burrow to give him time to throw and find his long list of weapons.
Aside from the games against Dallas, Kansas City and the Chargers, the Raiders haven’t seen teams this loaded at the skill positions. Las Vegas also lost to this Bengals 32-13 back in Week 11 at Allegiant Stadium, although score is a touch misleading in that the Bengals were held to 4.1 yards per play. They had one play of 20+ yards and it was a Joe Mixon run.
I do have a lean to Cincinnati here, but it would appear that the under is the play. Both quarterbacks could be affected by the cold conditions and the Raiders do a really good job of limiting explosive plays, which will force the Cincinnati offense to methodically move down the field. Neither team is a standout in the red zone and the first meeting was a 13-6 game entering the fourth quarter.
I’ll likely take about a half-unit look at the Bengals, especially as the line keeps dropping, but have decided the under is my preferred play.
Pick: Under 49
Tuley: When the Raiders kicked the winning field goal on Sunday night against the Chargers, it meant they were heading to Cincinnati instead of Kansas City. My initial thought was that I would love the Raiders plus the points since they’ve been very good at winning close games and anything over a field goal could come in handy. And it certainly seemed like a good move to avoid playing the Chiefs. However, the more I’ve been handicapping this matchup, the more I’m thinking “be careful what you wish for.” While the Raiders were routed 41-14 and 48-9 by the Chiefs, they also were blown out 32-13 by the Bengals. They were 2-point underdogs in that game, so we understand the line being higher even though home-field advantage has been negligible in the NFL this season.
However, based on the first matchup, I would have liked for oddsmakers to make this line even higher, as it now appears short. I made the mistake of taking the Ravens against the Bengals in their rematch after they lost the first meeting 41-17. The Bengals ran over them again 41-21, so I’m not going to make the same mistake twice. I project the score at Bengals 24-20, so I still lean to the Raiders, but I believe the better bet is to take the Under 49 points, especially as the weather forecast calls for game-time temperatures in the 20s with a chance of snow flurries. Those types of conditions don’t always lead to a low-scoring game, but it could slow down the Vegas offense, which hasn’t been very explosive lately (averaging just 18 PPG in the five games before the finale).
Pick: Under 49
Brown: Routinely, single-game QB rushing yard totals are of the best opportunities to find an edge against the prop bet market, and this game is no different, as PFF’s player props tool sees positive expected value in Burrow covering his 9.5 number.
Against pressure from the edge, Burrow prefers to scramble as opposed to checking down or throwing the ball away – watch the tape against the Chiefs and the 49ers. And while the Bengals give their tackles help against top edge rushers with chips, double teams and max protection while staying in 11 personnel, Raiders star Maxx Crosby (91.8 pass rush grade) should still win his matchup enough times on Saturday to force Burrow to escape and pick up at least 10 yards.
The one area of concern is how little the Raiders actually have to blitz in order to apply pressure. They blitz at, by far, the lowest rate in the NFL and will need as many defenders in coverage as possible against the Bengals trio of wide receivers. This opens up the middle of Las Vegas' defense for Burrow to escape pressure on Saturday.
In addition to rushing for double-digit yards in each of the last three weeks, PFF’s player props tool gives Burrow a 55.5 percent chance to cover this prop.
Pick: Joe Burrow Over 9.5 Rushing Yards (-118)
Hill: It’s been roughly two decades since either of these teams last won a playoff game (three for the Bengals), as both look to break the drought on Saturday afternoon. Cincinnati was able to rest Burrow and a number of key starters last week, while the Raiders seemingly just got finished defeating the Chargers in overtime, and are certainly in a less-than-ideal scheduling spot having to play early on Saturday. However, I think the suboptimal situation for Las Vegas is more than baked into this number.
These teams met in November with the Bengals winning 32-13 in Sin City. However, a closer look at the stat sheet tells a different story. The Raiders averaged 5.9 yards per play, while the Bengals averaged just 4.1, and this was a 3-point game in the fourth quarter. The last we really saw Cincinnati was two weeks ago when it impressively defeated the Chiefs to clinch the AFC North. The Bengals do have a loss to the Jets and a 25-point home loss to the Browns on their docket, though -- and they trailed 14-0 at home to the Jaguars in the second half.
The last we saw Burrow he was limping off of the field with an apparent knee injury. The injury will not keep him out of this game, and the while the severity of it is unknown, it was enough to keep him out of last week’s game, despite still having the potential to move up to the 1-seed. If Burrow is healthy this is still a solid bet; if he’s not, this becomes a great bet.
Pick: Raiders + 5.5
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills (-4, 44)
8:15 p.m. ET
Burke: We’ve got two data points for the Bills and Patriots against each other this season, but only one truly holds water -- because the water would have frozen into a solid block during the first game in Orchard Park. High winds and snow created a chaotic offensive environment in that Monday night game back in Week 13. Damian Harris shook free for a long touchdown run and that was basically the difference in the game.
In the second meeting, however, the Bills throttled the Patriots on the day after Christmas. That Week 16 victory was maybe the most complete performance of the season from Buffalo, at least against a good team. Josh Allen threw for 314 yards and ran for 64 more as he did what good players do and put the team on his back.
Without the compromising weather, the Bills outgained the Patriots by nearly a full yard per play. New England was 1-of-10 on third down, while Buffalo was 6-of-12. Had the Patriots not gone 5-of-6 on fourth down, the game could have been even more lopsided.
The weather will be very cold in Buffalo, but wind and precipitation won’t be factors. Allen’s numbers in cold weather are not great, with about a 50 percent completion rate, but it isn’t like Mac Jones has played in bitter chill like this either. The Patriots will be one-dimensional, while the Bills have two offensive dimensions. Buffalo has the better defense by DVOA and yards per play as well.
Pick: Bills -4
Tuley: It’s impossible for myself, many VSiN colleagues and members of the Las Vegas sports betting community to think about this game without mourning the passing of Brian Blessing, who was a longtime radio staple here in Las Vegas, where he enjoyed a second career after being a legend in his beloved Buffalo.
We know no one on heaven or earth is cheering more for a deep playoff run by the Bills than Brian, but we’re sure as weck (look it up if you don’t get the joke, which I’m sure Brian would appreciate) that he would understand us taking an objective view of this game. The road teams won the two meetings this season between these divisional rivals, and we trust New England coach Bill Belichick is going to have his team prepared to go into Buffalo and steal another win. The Patriots beat the Bills 14-10 in windy and cold conditions in Week 13 as they dominated on the ground and grinded out the win. Temperatures are projected to be in the single digits, but the wind won’t be as much of a factor, so I don’t expect this game to be as low scoring.
We expect Belichick to open up the attack more and also make the right adjustments on defense to slow down Josh Allen and the Bills offense after studying the tape from the 33-21 loss to the Bills in New England just three weeks ago.
Pick: Patriots + 4
Brown: Weather could once again play a role in this AFC East matchup, but the betting market appears to be overcorrecting based on their last matchup. It will be cold in Buffalo on Saturday night, but current weather forecasts project next to no wind, which is the real detriment to the passing game.
Tailing Jones’ passing yardage prop comes down to both an efficient Patriots aerial attack and a negative game script for Jones and the rest of the New England offense.
Jones excels on short-to-intermediate throws, accruing a strong 80.4 passing grade on throws inside of 20 yards, which is higher than Matthew Stafford, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen.
Game script is the other big factor here. Facing a Bills offense that is as explosive as any team outside of Kansas City, Jones and the Patriots will likely have to utilize a pass-heavy scheme early and often to keep up with Allen, especially if they are trailing toward the end of the game – which is to be expected given that New England is a 4-point underdog for the game and 3-point underdog for the first half.
Jones has a 55.9 percent chance to throw for at least 210 passing yards on Saturday, according to PFF’s player props tool.
Pick: Mac Jones Over 201.5 Passing Yards (-112)