Vegas pick’em: NFL wild-card weekend winners against the spread

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Kelvin Kuo / AP

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Nov. 19, 2018, in Los Angeles.

Thu, Jan 7, 2021 (2 a.m.)

Visitors 128, Home 127.

For the first time in NFL history, away teams outscored home teams throughout an NFL regular season. The question coming into a (mostly) fan-free season was how the new atmosphere would affect homefield advantage.

The answer, it seems, is that it abolished it completely. It’s a result that’s not quite as shocking as it may sound or is being made out to be, as homefield advantage had dwindled for several years in the NFL now.

Some bettors and bookmakers were adjusting as low as 1.5 points for the home team coming into the season. All evidence for this season, however, indicates that number should have been zero.

There’s a school of thought that it will revert closer to the old ways in the playoffs, especially with a cold-weather team like Green Bay holding the NFC’s No. 1 seed. But there’s no guarantee and it comes down to the individual gambler to determine how to weight the edge of playing at home.

For me, it’s all situational. Lambeau Field might be worth a couple points, for instance, but not Nissan Stadium.

Looking at my plays for wild-card weekend, I’m hoping the road success continues.

Read below for picks on every wild card game, separated into three confidence categories and listed in rough order of confidence. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side. The record for the year stands at 132-116-8 after going 8-7-1 last week.

Plays (42-35-1)

Indianapolis Colts +6.5 at Buffalo Bills A month ago, this number would have been around field goal, not a touchdown. Has that much really changed? Buffalo is playing its best, sure, but Indianapolis hasn’t exactly regressed. The Colts’ one loss in the span came by four points in a game where they were the more efficient side against the Steelers. Indianapolis would be much more preferable if it got back to a 7-point underdog — a possibility, albeit slim one, with the flood of Buffalo money set  to come in leading up to kickoff — but this spread is too high regardless.

Los Angeles Rams +3.5 at Seattle Seahawks If Jared Goff is playing, then this spread is inflated. Playing amateur doctor, I think Jared Goff is playing. Two weeks ago, the Rams went to Seattle and closed as a 1-point underdog. Yes, they lost 20-9 but the game was much closer than the score indicated and mostly came down to Los Angeles botching a couple trips into the red zone. Count me out among the crowd that says there’s no difference between Goff and John Wolford. This is a bad number if Wolford plays. But I don’t think he’s playing. Once it becomes clear Goff will return, this should close at less than a field goal.

Baltimore Ravens -3 at Tennessee Titans Bless the South Point. The sports books’ stubborn insistence on only pricing point-spread bets at -110 (risking $1.10 to win $1) makes it the one place in town where this is a playable game. The Ravens are more commonly a 3-point favorite priced at -120, which would knock this down to a lean. Baltimore is playing better than any team in the league and it’s no anomaly — It also spent most of last season doing the same. The Ravens were a 10- and 6-point favorite against the Titans in their last two meetings, and even though they lost both, look closer at the games. Baltimore played well in both, losing in overtime this season and racking up 530 yards in last year’s playoff loss. Uncharacteristic mistakes doomed the Ravens. It’s unlikely they make them in a third straight game against the Titans.

Leans (35-30-3)

Washington Football Team +9 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers The Buccaneers have the best chance of any wild card team to reach the Super Bowl. They also have a pretty good chance to look rather mediocre Saturday night. This is not a  bad matchup for Washington. The Football Team ranks third in the league in defensive EPA per play and seventh in adjusted sack rate. Tampa Bay hasn’t seen a defense like this in well over a month, since it lost 27-24 to the Rams as 4-point favorites. Unlike that game, the Buccaneers should survive here but it’s going to be a grind. It’s going to be low scoring — the total has dropped from 46.5 to 45 — and if the number reaches 10, Washington is probably worth a play.

Guesses (55-51-1)

Pittsburgh Steelers -6 vs. Cleveland Browns Pittsburgh -3.5 was a short opener well before news of Cleveland’s continued COVID troubles that will keep coach Kevin Stefanski out of this game. Are the absences worth 2.5 points on the spread? That becomes the question, and a difficult one to answer. It probably hurts the Browns more than other teams because Stefanski doubles as their playcaller. That being said, Pittsburgh’s offense has shown some of its worst over the last month and ranks 22nd in the league by Football Outsiders’ DVOA. How confident can a bettor possibly be in laying a touchdown with the Steelers?  They’re still a lot better than the Browns, though, with a point differential that’s  whopping 115 points higher. Fallout from news of the virus may have inadvertently put this number right where it always should have been.  

New Orleans Saints -9.5 vs. Chicago Bears This is the one true mismatch of wild-card weekend — a bona fide contender against a team that doesn’t belong in the playoffs in the first place. The Saints have the second-best defense in the league per DVOA and should put an end to the offensive strides the Bears made down the stretch. A bigger concern is how much they’ll be able to score, but with Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas both expected to come back, it’s not unreasonable to expect a breakout. The fairest number might be -10.  

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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