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NFL wild-card betting: 49ers, Bills roll; Cowboys-Bucs goes under

  • ESPN Sports Betting Analyst
  • Host of Daily Wager
  • Behind The Bets podcast host

Now is not the time to pull the “revenge” card. Otherwise, it would insinuate that one team is trying harder to win an NFL playoff game solely because it lost a previous meeting. That would be silly. This is the postseason. Both teams are all-in.

However, we do have six rematches over wild-card weekend that incorporate a previous meeting into the handicapping angle. But just how much does it matter?

“The point spread is more based on perception and current form,” longtime Las Vegas handicapper and SuperBook oddsmaker Ed Salmons told ESPN, using a divisional game from last week as a prime example. “Look at the Titans and Jaguars. They know each other well, but the perception was Jacksonville had won four straight and Tennessee is in chaos and using a guy they just signed to play quarterback. The spread (6.5) was much higher.”

Contrary to the cliché, it actually is not that hard to beat the same team three times in the same season. Since the 1970 merger, teams that won the first two meetings and then hosted the third in the playoffs are 14-9 overall.

This applies to San Francisco, which is going for the sweep of Seattle and laying nine points. The other divisional matchup has a similar spread, but Baltimore and Cincinnati split their regular-season meetings.

“I don’t put too much stock in maybe even the first six weeks of the regular season, regardless of opponent,” longtime handicapper and 2015 SuperContest winner James Salinas told ESPN. “What matters more is what has changed since the first matchup.

Clearly the entire situation is nuanced and no blanket ruled exists. Nuances are the name of the game.

Favorite plays

Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers (-9, 42)
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.

I like two plays in this game. First, I will lay it with San Francisco. As we know, the NFL is typically a graveyard for heavy chalk, but the postseason is a different story. There are rarely flat spots, and the cream usually rises to the top. Over the past 30 years, wild-card weekend home favorites of at least nine points are 11-0 ATS. Seattle mustered just one offensive touchdown in the two previous meetings, and I do not see much reason that changes.

I actually like a prop bet most for this game, which is fairly rare for me. In the previous meeting, Geno Smith finished 31-of-44 passing. The stout San Francisco pass rush forced him to check down early, and that should continue on Saturday, particularly because rain and wind are in the forecast. I expect the Seahawks to trail most of the game and need to throw.

Pick: 49ers -9, Geno Smith over 20.5 completions

Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills (-13.5, 43.5)
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Highmark Stadium, Orchard Park, N.Y.

This is the largest point spread in wild-card history — and for good reason. Miami will start third-string rookie quarterback Skylar Thompson, who I believe is the worst QB to start a regular-season game this season. He was a limited passer in college at Kansas State, and I am unsure he can muster much offense, even with some dangerous weapons. The Bills have laid an egg recently as big favorites, but I do not anticipate a flat spot in the postseason. They should be ready to rock, and this should be a blowout.

Pick: Bills -13.5

New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings (-3, 48)
Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis

Critics have blasted the Vikings all season, dismissing their 11-0 record in one-score games. They also have a 13-4 overall record that resulted in a negative point differential, which is pretty baffling. I think the magical ride finally ends. Injuries have been mounting on Minnesota’s offensive line, which is now relegated to a backup right tackle and a third-string center or a starter just returning from back injury. That spells doom from a New York front that should live in the backfield and constantly pressure Kirk Cousins. And it’s about time we start viewing the Giants as a reliable and well-coached team. The Joe Judge stench is gone and they constantly surpassed the betting market, which led to a league-best 13-4 ATS mark. These teams play tight games, so let’s grab the full field goal.

Pick: Giants +3

Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals (-8.5, 40.5)
Sunday, 8:15 p.m. ET, Paycor Stadium, Cincinnati

Be careful laying the points, even if rookie Anthony Brown starts at quarterback for Baltimore. John Harbaugh knows how to muck things up, and he’s not afraid to kick field goals when trailing by multiple scores. The Ravens took some sharp action this week around +9.5. I think Cincy wins the game, but the Ravens know how to grind their opponents and avoid the blowout. I think the Bengals prevail and might cover, but I much prefer using them in a 6-point teaser.

Pick: Bengals -2.5 in 6-point teaser with Bucs +8.5

Dallas Cowboys (-2.5, 45.5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN/ABC/ESPN+, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.

America’s Team will face America’s quarterback — and America will be watching this marquee showdown. However, we might not see many fireworks. These teams delivered 22 total points in their first meeting, and I do not expect a whole lot more. First off, they both rank in the top eight in defensive efficiency, although the Dallas defense has faded a bit in recent weeks. Tampa Bay’s offensive line has been injured all season, and while some positive strides have been made lately, I do not expect a great deal of protection for Tom Brady. The 45-year-old will adjust and deliver quick strikes to avoid the pass rush, but he still lacks great chemistry with his wide receivers and the Dallas defense is fairly solid.

Pick: Under 45.5

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