My apologies for taking the last week of the regular season off last week. In the wake of the Damar Hamlin situation, and admittedly with an overwhelming work schedule, I felt like the right thing to do was to take a break, even though it meant swallowing a losing record for the regular season. I’m glad that Damar is recovering and by the reports from the medical team it seems like it will, thankfully, be a full recovery. With continue thoughts his way, we turn our attention now to this weekend’s wild card games. Last year, I brought you the laws of playoff gambling as I proceeded to miss most of my playoff bets. With that and the stain of a losing regular season record, this postseason I will take a different and more humble tack, especially because I actually hate this slate of games from a gambling perspective. This week, I’m going to play devil’s advocate with myself. I will still try to be clear, but I will try to make an argument for both sides and let you decide whether to fade me or not. (Let’s be honest, you probably should fade me).
49ers -9 over Seahawks
Jaguars +2.5 over Chargers
San Francisco is the hottest team in football right now. They have run roughshod through the rest of the league since Brock Purdy took over for an injured Jimmy G. Those two things are associated, but that doesn’t mean it’s causative. Purdy has been a diamond in the rough to be sure, but the success of this team is because of Demeco Ryans’s defense. Seattle, on the other hand, has an absolutely putrid defense and had to back door their way in to the playoffs after fading down the stretch. This is also the Trey Lance revenge game! But…but…what if this is the game that Brock Purdy finally looks like a rookie? What if those tight window throws are suddenly a fraction of a second too early or too late? There’s a reasonable chance that happens at some point in the playoffs, but I doubt this Seattle team is the one that can make that happen. If you’re convinced that Purdy will continue to look, sorry I know this is bad, pretty (pronounced like a Beverly Hillbilly), then can I tempt you with a little quarterback parlay? Can I talk you into Brock Purdy, Joe Burrow and Trevor Lawrence each to throw 2+ touchdowns at +419? Come on live a little!
Trevor Lawrence seems to be coming into his own as an NFL quarterback and catching up to the speed of the game. It’s also amazing what adequate coaching can do for a franchise. Jacksonville is playing it’s best football in two years and the Chargers never play well when they have to travel east, so this is a prime set-up for a home underdog to get a win. But…but…what if Justin Herbert and the Chargers continue to elevate their level of play and finally resemble the AFC favorite many in the media thought they should be with this talented roster? What if Keenan Allen and Mike Williams getting another week healthier catalyzes the offense into an unstoppable force of nature? I’ll still believe in the Chargers playing well in the Eastern time zone when I see it, but they do have the more talented team.
Bills -13.5 over Dolphins
Vikings -3 over Giants
Ravens +8.5 over Bengals
Of all the Sunday games, the Bills blowing out the Dolphins feels like the safest bet. Tua’s season is unfortunately over, even though it’s absolutely the right call. Buffalo has rallied around Damar Hamlin and I think that will be a powerful force for a team who already had the tangible tools to make a Super Bowl run. Miami is a sinking ship for this season and their quarterback play without Tua has made them impotent, even with Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill. But…but…Mike McDaniel is renowned for his offensive schemes and he does still have Waddle and Hill. Josh Allen is also still playing at less than 100% and hasn’t looked like the same passer since his UCL injury. That being said, I still have a hard time picturing Miami staying in this game, which is why I need to tempt you with another special bet. Buffalo, San Francisco and Minnesota combine for 11+ touchdowns can be had for 3/2 odds currently. The Minnesota piece makes me nervous, but they might only need to contribute one or two touchdowns to push this one over the top.
Speaking of the Minnesota piece, the Vikings have been one of the most difficult teams to figure out. Are they good? Are they bad and lucky? Is Kirk Cousins a chain-wearing sorcerer? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I do like the fact that they get to play at home and they are healthier than the Giants are. But…but…New York has been one of the surprise success stories of the season. They are well-coached and disciplined, and those two things bode well for them if they can get an early lead, which Minnesota is prone to allowing teams to do. To be honest, I actually think this line pushes and if it were any higher I would be betting on the Giants. With that, here’s one last special bet for the weekend: Any 4 of Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Deebo Samuel, Tee Higgins and Brandon Aiyuk to score 1+ touchdowns at +1100. Fanduel has several of these out for the weekend’s games, but this is my favorite mainly because it has two 49ers and a Bill, which are two of the teams I feel most confident in scoring several touchdowns. After that, only one of Adam Thielen or Tee Higgins needs to score to cash big.
Betting on the Ravens, especially with Lamar Jackson likely out, feels like a risky proposition and I don’t feel great about it. However, it is a pretty big line and the Ravens defense is actually playing really well. The Ravens have only given up 20+ points one time since the start of December. Cincinnati has started a few games pretty sleepily and if you combine that with a good Baltimore defense and a well-coached team, then I can talk myself into at the very least this being a one score game. But…but…Cincinnati enters the playoffs on the rise, where Baltimore definitely is not. The one time Baltimore gave up more than 20 since December was against the Bengals…last week. Maybe we get the same thing again, but then again maybe John Harbaugh pulled punches in a meaningless game.
Cowboys -2.5 over Bucs
This simultaneously feels like the easiest bet and the biggest sucker bet of the weekend. Tampa Bay has not been a good team, and is only in the playoffs because they play in an incompetent division. Dallas is still a supremely talented team with playmakers on both sides of the ball. This feels like it should be an easy Cowboys win and easy money to bet on them. But…but…Dallas has a really bad track record of losing playoff games they shouldn’t and of being awful on the road. Will those things bear out one more time? Truthfully, I wouldn’t be surprised but a Dallas win still feels like the more likely scenario.
Cover Photo Courtesy of The Associated Press