The 2020 NFL season defied the odds. It triumphantly succeeded in carrying out a full 16-game schedule for all 32 teams, despite the obvious challenges presented by a global pandemic. COVID-19 be damned, it’s a new year and we have a full slate of amazing games to look forward to this Wild Card weekend. All sorts of edges can be found in the first round of the playoffs, whether you prefer betting against the spread, on the moneyline, or on the points totals.
Every week, this column provides a detailed breakdown of our favorite bets, weaving in a preview of exclusive data from BetQL. This compilation serves as a mere sneak preview of all that BetQL offers. Check us out now to reveal our full betting predictions for every game of Wild Card weekend, including projections and best bet ratings from our NFL Best Bet Model.
All data presented is as of Friday morning. You can track all NFL line movement on BetQL’s Line Movement Dashboard.
Wild Card Betting Picks: Spread pick of the week
Washington Football Team (+9) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Washington Football Team has been all about comebacks this season. Quarterback Alex Smith returned from a two-year recovery of his gruesome, life-threatening leg injury and helped the nation’s capital forget about 2019 first-round draft bust Dwayne Haskins. Ron Rivera battled through neck cancer, and never even allowed for the possibility of it distracting from his first year as Washington’s head coach. And the team itself struggled early, but Rivera and Smith had their squad playing good football when it mattered most. WFT finished the season with a 5-2 stretch and a 7-9 record. It narrowly edged out Dallas, New York, and Philadelphia in Week 17, winning the lowly NFC East for the first time since Kirk Cousins’ “You like that!” Redskins.
The majority of the nation will be picking the Buccaneers straight up in this one, but many of us at RotoQL see great value in Washington +9. The RotoQL Best Bet Model gives WFT a three-star rating against the spread, one of our two best value ratings on underdogs this weekend (go to RotoQL.com to read about our other favorite underdog).
There’s a reason this Washington squad won five of its past seven regular-season games: Defense. It ranks in the top four in the NFL in points allowed, first downs allowed, and red-zone defense. Even better, it has surrendered the second-fewest total yards, passing yards, and average plays per drive. Only four squads have more interceptions.
Leading the charge has been Chase Young, who finished his rookie season with 7.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, 12 QB hits, and 32 solo tackles. He earned Pro Bowl honors and will most likely win Defensive Rookie of the Year. Montez Sweat deserves a lot of credit alongside him, as the 24-year-old second-year pro had nine sacks and 20 QB hits. Ryan Kerrigan and Tim Settle combined for 11.5 sacks, and linebacker Jon Bostic swallowed up run games with 118 total tackles. Kendall Fuller, Kamren Curl, and Fabian Moreau highlighted a strong secondary. This collective unit should present challenges for Tom Brady, who has struggled under pressure at times this season.
The Football Team also has some playmakers on offense. Rookie Antonio Gibson and pass-catching back J.D. McKissic serve as a great one-two punch out of the backfield. Speedster Terry McLaurin can break off chunk-yardage plays in the blink of an eye. And Logan Thomas has emerged as one of the most effective pass-catching tight ends in the NFL.
Washington is 9-7 against the spread, 5-3 ATS at home, and 8-5 ATS as an underdog. This team can get gritty and punch opponents in the mouth, and Young has already tweeted that he’s “coming” for Tom Brady. I wouldn’t doubt that if I was Brady, and I wouldn’t write WFT off completely if I was betting on this game. RotoQL’s Sharp Bettor Report notes that 58 percent of money and 63 percent of tickets are on Tampa Bay. Join the minority and pick the home underdogs in this one. I don’t think they will win, but I highly doubt they will lose by nine.
Wild Card Betting Picks: Moneyline pick of the week
Seattle Seahawks (-180) vs. Los Angeles Rams
The Seahawks have experienced a bit of a roller coaster in 2020. They started the season scorching hot, with QB Russell Wilson putting up historic numbers and DK Metcalf emerging as one of the most dominant receivers in the game. Then they cooled off, and their substantial defensive woes caught up to them. But since Seattle’s midseason acquisition of pass-rusher Carlos Dunlap, this squad has deserved to be back in the Super Bowl contender conversation.
Prior to the trade for Dunlap in late October, Seattle allowed an average of 28.6 points, 479.2 total yards, and 368.6 passing yards per game through its first six contests. With Dunlap revamping the Seahawks’ defensive line, they finished the final six games of the regular season allowing an average of 14 points, 290 total yards, and 187.1 passing yards per game. The man deserves consideration for Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Wilson and coach Pete Carroll needed their defense to step up. Their sharp improvement, which echoed across all defensive levels (safety Jamal Adams and linebackers K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner deserve credit, too), has given Wilson a lot more wiggle room and what must seem like infinitely more comfort to run his offense at his own pace.
Seattle has won six of its past seven games, and Wilson has thrown 12 touchdowns and just three interceptions in that span. Included among those six wins is a 20-9 Week 16 win over the Rams in which Wilson accounted for two TDs. Los Angeles QB Jared Goff never found the end zone that day, nor did the rest of his squad.
With the Seahawks at home, where they went 7-1 this season, their moneyline feels like a layup this week. The Rams managed just a 4-4 record in away games this year and went 2-2 as road underdogs. Aaron Donald and his elite defense will put some pressure on Wilson, but it won’t be anything the veteran Pro Bowler can’t handle. Seattle has a vastly superior offense and a more-than-capable defense. It would shock me if L.A. pulled off the road upset, especially considering Goff is just 12 days removed from surgery on the thumb of his throwing hand. (I may have just talked myself into picking this as 1b for the spread pick of the week.)
Wild Card Betting Picks: Over/under pick of the week
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns: UNDER 47.5
One of BetQL’s picks of the week, this game stands out as the only total listed with a five-star rating by the BetQL Best Bet Model. It put maximum confidence on the game totaling about 44.5 points, one field goal less than the consensus over/under of 47.5.
All the signs point to this game being a hard-fought, gritty affair. In an insignificant Week 17 game, with Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger sidelined and Pittsburgh ceding the No. 2 seed, the Browns won 24-22. For the mathematically challenged, that’s 46 total points. That’s also the eighth time in Pittsburgh’s past nine games in which the total amounted to under 47 points. Meanwhile, the Browns have allowed an average of 37 points in their past three games.
The Steelers defense finished the season ranked No. 3 in points, total yards, and passing yards allowed. It had the most interceptions in the NFL, the second-most takeaways, and gave up the second-fewest first downs. It also surrendered the fifth-fewest passing TDs, the seventh-fewest rushing TDs, and the sixth-worst red-zone scoring rate.
But ask anyone in Cleveland and they will tell you that a healthy Myles Garrett transforms the Browns defense from good to great. The fourth-year defensive end (and now two-time Pro Bowl selection) finished the regular season with 12 sacks, four forced fumbles, and 33 solo tackles. If not for a brush with COVID-19 that kept him from playing in Week 11 and 12—and arguably left him in less-than-optimal game shape in Weeks 13 and 14—he might have come away with Defensive Player of the Year this season. Garrett now seems closer to 100 percent again, and he will be hungry to prove himself in front of a national audience in his first career playoff game.
With two great defenses, Cleveland’s penchant for primarily running the ball, and Pittsburgh’s offense underwhelming throughout the second-half of the regular season, the UNDER is the obvious play here. The over has only hit in seven of the Steelers’ 16 games this season and hit in only half of Cleveland’s away games. This should be a knock-down, drag-out affair, with multiple turnovers and a nail-biting finish. I’m going with our trusty Model, and picking the Steelers 24-21.
For more betting analysis and information, head over to BetQL and check out our model’s best bets, sharp data, and much more for every playoff game! You can find all updated NFL lines, spreads, and odds at BetQL!
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