The NFL playoffs have finally arrived and the field of 14 teams vying for a Super Bowl is set. Super wild-card weekend continues on Sunday with three exciting matchups.
Here are our best bets for the Philadelphia Eagles-Tampa Bay Buccaneers Bengals matchup, along with 49ers-Cowboys and Steelers-Chiefs.
Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-8.5, 46)
1:00 p.m. ET
Burke: The Eagles and Bucs have the worst weather game of the week, as we’ll see gusts up in the 30-mph range and some rain. These two teams played earlier this season and the Bucs led 28-7 in the third quarter before the Eagles scored a couple of cosmetic touchdowns to make the game look better.
In that game, Tampa Bay went on the road and had a 186-yard edge. The Bucs had 27 first downs to 16 for Philadelphia. It was a pretty thorough beating, especially when you consider that Tampa Bay ran 26 more offensive plays.
The Eagles are a better team now. At the time, the win bumped the Bucs to 5-1 and dropped the Eagles to 2-4, but Tampa Bay failed to cover the 7-point spread. This line sits at 8.5. If the weather was better, the Buccaneers would be the pick for me, but they do need to throw the ball to be as effective as possible and that may prove to be difficult.
The total has already fallen on this game, but the awful weather conditions and the concerns about the Philadelphia offense still leave enough meat on the bone to take it. The Eagles are a pretty one-dimensional offense because Jalen Hurts isn’t much of a passer. Philadelphia will hit the occasional deep ball, but that is unlikely to happen here with the wind.
The Bucs aren’t as stout against the run as we’ve seen in the past, and the Eagles had 5.3 yards per carry in the first meeting, but I see Tampa Bay playing keep-away with the same effectiveness that it did in Week 6; the Bucs had the ball for just shy of 40 minutes in that game.
This looks like an under to me, both by the weather and the flow of the game.
Pick: Under 46.5
Tuley: The Buccaneers beat the Eagles 28-22 in a Thursday nighter to start Week 6 but failed to cover as 6.5-point road favorites. The line is now up over a touchdown for this rematch, so it’s tempting to take the Eagles and hope for another backdoor cover. Tampa Bay was playing that game short-handed, but it still outgained the Eagles 399 yards to 213 as Hurts was confused by the Bucs’ schemes but was effective running the ball. We expect the Bucs defense to contain him better and the game to play out in a similar fashion with Tampa Bay building a comfortable lead and holding on.
The obvious best way to play this game is to tease the Buccaneers under a field goal just in case they let up at the end while coasting to victory. My top choice is to tease them with the 49ers teased up from + 3 to + 9. If you prefer containing your wager to a single game, I’d go with the Bucs -2.5 with the Under teased up to 55 in this game as we don’t expect the Eagles to contribute enough to turn this into a shootout.
Pick: Buccaneers in two-team, six-point teaser (Bucs -2.5/49ers + 9)
Reynolds: Credit to the Eagles for getting into the playoffs in coach Nick Sirianni’s first season in Philadelphia. However, all of Philadelphia’s nine victories came against non-playoff teams, and they only beat one team with a winning record (New Orleans).
The first meeting between these two teams, in Week 6, was a 28-22 victory for the Bucs in a game they led 28-7 late into the third quarter before they let the foot off the gas and allowed for a late Eagles backdoor.
Sunday’s rematch will be played in bad weather. There is an 80 percent of rain with 20-30 mph winds in the forecast, which is the largest reason for the drop in the total.
Furthermore, Philadelphia’s rushing attack, which had 25 touchdowns, will have a difficult time running against the Bucs No. 3 rushing defense (92.5 yards per game). The Eagles top-10 defense has feasted on lower competition, but may be able to keep Tampa Bay from getting too much distance considering Brady will be without several weapons for this game including Chris Godwin, Ronald Jones and Cyril Grayson.
Pick: Under 46.5; Under 23 1H
Youmans: The wet and windy conditions in Tampa could hinder Brady and the Bucs’ passing attack, but the weather is not enough of an equalizer for the Eagles. Philadelphia’s strength is its ground game, and the Tampa Bay defense is rock solid against the run, so don’t expect the defending Super Bowl champs to get upset here. The Bucs might have to sweat it out, though, especially if Hurts can make plays with his legs. While I don’t feel comfortable laying more than a touchdown, the Bucs look like a layup on a teaser at less than a field goal.
Pick: Buccaneers -2.5 on a teaser with 49ers + 9
San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys (-3, 51)
4:30 p.m. ET
Tuley: Say what you will about Jimmy Garoppolo, but he does a better job of taking care of the ball and being a game manager like he was when he led the 49ers to the Super Bowl just two years ago. Dak Prescott still has to get over that hump, so this should be a game that comes down to the final gun. While everyone gushes about the Cowboys offense -- No. 1 in the league at 407 yards per game and averaging 31.2 points per game -- I actually prefer the 49ers’ weapons of WR Deebo Samuel, TE George Kittle and RB Elijah Mitchell (or whatever other runner, including Samuel, Kyle Shanahan uses in his backfield by committee). I’m OK taking the 49ers + 3, but I obviously prefer to get + 3.5 -- that is looking more possible as of this writing, as more books have been adding juice to Cowboys -3 as we get deeper in the week.
Pick: 49ers + 3, preferably waiting to get + 3.5
Burke: The 49ers are the most dangerous wild-card team in either league. San Francisco has been an advanced metrics darling on both offense and defense throughout the season, and scored a nice comeback win over the Rams to secure a spot in the postseason. You can see the respect that the 49ers are getting, given that they are the smallest underdog of the first weekend.
The Dallas defense was able to hide a lot of deficiencies by leading the NFL in takeaways with 34. Micah Parsons is an absolute stud, but a lot of people have put Quandre Diggs under the microscope this season. He is a microcosm of the Cowboys defense: He’s been burned for big plays, but also has several game-changing interceptions. The whole goal for the 49ers should be taking care of the ball in this game and they are capable of doing it with their rushing attack, as Dallas ranks 26th in yards per carry allowed and 16th in rush defense by DVOA.
However, you can also beat this Cowboys defense deep, and a brilliant offensive mind like Kyle Shanahan should be able to isolate the weaknesses in that group. Jimmy Garoppolo clearly isn’t 100 percent, but he was good enough to throw for over 300 yards and help lead the Niners down the field on the game-tying drive.
Dallas will move the ball in this game as well. Prescott finished the regular season with a 13-0 TD:INT ratio over his last four games. The quality of competition is enhanced here against the 49ers, but the Cowboys have a bevy of offensive weapons and all of them are pretty healthy going into the postseason. It is impossible to take away CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, Dalton Schultz, Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard and Cedrick Wilson Jr. all at once. You have to pick and choose, which is why Dallas burns so many teams.
No offense gained more yards or scored more points than Dallas. The 49ers defense graded in the middle of the pack in pass DVOA, which should lead Kellen Moore to attack through the air.
This is the highest total on the board, but deservedly so, and it is a game that has the makings of a shootout.
Pick: Over 51
Youmans: Despite a right thumb injury, Garoppolo led the San Francisco offense to 449 total yards and 6.7 yards per play in a comeback victory over Rams in Week 18. On the defensive side, the 49ers allowed only 265 yards and 4.1 yards per play. The 49ers are simply more dynamic offensively with Samuel and Kittle back to full speed. At this point in the season, it’s often about who’s hot, and the 49ers have won four of their past five. The Cowboys are 13-4 ATS but have been beating up on weak teams for two months, and Prescott’s slump is a fact. The underdog has become too popular in this game, but I still believe San Francisco is the sharp side.
Pick: 49ers + 3 straight bet and + 9 on a teaser with Buccaneers -2.5
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs (-12.5, 46.5)
8:15 p.m. ET
Burke: Are the Steelers one of the worst wild-card teams ever? Pittsburgh comes into this game -55 in point differential with a Pythagorean Win-Loss record of 7-10. The Steelers are -0.7 in yards per play differential and are the first playoff team since the 2017 Bills to have fewer than five yards per play on offense.
Pittsburgh has the league’s worst run defense by yards per carry allowed. The only saving grace for the Steelers seems to be TJ Watt and the pass defense. Pittsburgh ranks 24th in points per drive, 28th in yards per drive and has one of the worst passing offenses of any playoff team.
This spread is not only deserved, but I think should be even higher. These two teams just played on December 26 and Kansas City won 36-10. That spread was KC -10 even though the Chiefs had a lot of COVID concerns. The Chiefs outgained the Steelers 5.7 to 4.3 in the yards per play department. Pittsburgh only scored one touchdown in four red zone trips, while the Chiefs scored four touchdowns in six trips. Patrick Mahomes was only hit three times and the two sacks were for just four yards.
Kansas City is clearly the superior team, but there is a high probability that the Chiefs are up by multiple scores in the second half and put the game in cruise control so as not to compromise anything for the following week. Kansas City led that most recent game 23-0 at halftime; I would expect something similar here.
Rather than worry about the back door being open, we can go ahead and take the first half line and assume Kansas City starts fast against an overmatched, fraudulent opponent. Find a 7 if you can because that is a lot better than 7.5, which is the prevailing number out there. I’m not sure if it matters, but you always want to get in the habit of getting the best line, especially in obvious cases like this. I’ll use 7.5 because it’s the most common line, but do your best to shop around.
Pick: Chiefs -7.5 1H
Tuley: We’re not seeing as many inflated lines in the wild-card round this year, likely due to home-field advantage being pretty much non-existent this season, (plus the fact dogs have fared well in this round in recent years, including 11-3 ATS with eight outright upsets the past three seasons), but we have one here.
I certainly understand the high spread with the Chiefs winning nine of their last 10 and having routed the Steelers 36-10 just three weeks ago, easily covering as 10-point home favorites. If anything, we’re kind of surprised the spread isn’t a little higher. What’s keeping this line under two TDs is that the Chiefs still don’t always cover when they win (6-4 ATS during this recent run), though that’s still better than late last season and early this season. And that’s why I fully expect the Steelers to be able to stay within this big number.
After they were routed by the Chiefs, the Steelers bounced back with road upsets of the Browns and Ravens. There’s something to be said for a team living on borrowed time with nothing to lose. Very few people expected the Steelers to be here and they can play loose as all the pressure is on Kansas City.
The Chiefs defense, which has been lauded for turning their season around, has given up 34 points to the Bengals and 24 to the Drew Lock-led Broncos the past two weeks, so we expect Big Ben to be able to keep the Steelers close as Mahomes and the Chiefs should be content to just get out with the win. But watch out if the Steelers are able to bring more of a pass rush this time.
Pick: Steelers + 12.5
Reynolds: These two clubs played just three weeks ago with the Chiefs dominating in a 36-10 win. The game went over the closing total of 44.5 largely due to Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin electing to kick a field goal late in the third quarter despite being down 30-0.
In that game the Steelers only averaged 4.3 yards per play on 303 total yards, but 85 of those yards came during a late fourth quarter garbage time drive with Kansas City leading 36-3.
While the Chiefs defense has shown a bit of regression on the road late in the season, KC has only allowed just 10.2 PPG in its last six home games. Meanwhile, Roethlisberger, who is likely playing the last game of his career, has posted QB Ratings of 80.1, 56.2, 73.4 and 80.1 in his last four games. Furthermore, the Steelers offense only averages 2.2 PPG in the first quarter (last in NFL), so they are likely to be behind early and will become more one dimensional.
The Steelers defense led the NFL in sacks with 55 and should be able to stop the Chiefs’ fair share of drives if they can get Kansas City into third-and-long situations, because Pittsburgh does rank dead last in the NFL at stopping the run (146.1 yards per game). Kansas City will look to establish the run against this front, leading the longer drives.
Pick: Under 46.5