Derry’s NFL Wild-Card Picks: Best value comes by playing teaser in two NFC games

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) sets back to pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

After a fun 2022 NFL season – and most certainly a profitable one for myself and the regular readers of this column – it’s time to extend our streak into the postseason.

I have always said my favorite two weeks of football were the wild-card weekend and the divisional round with games all day Saturday and Sunday – and now even on Monday in the first week.

While next Saturday and Sunday might be the most fun and certainly most compelling, this is usually the easiest one to win money on. Favorites have fared well over the recent past in the wild-card round, except for the 3-6 game, where the 6 seed has won multiple games in a row in the NFC and also has done well in the AFC as of late.

Will that trend continue? Well, considering we have Giants at Vikings on one side and Ravens at Bengals on the other, I think we know where the most likely upset will come from.

All that being said, let’s not waste more time and get to the picks. We have just two best bets this week, but they involve four games. (And don’t forget that we’re 11-3 on our teasers this season!)

Any comments, questions, gratitude or hate mail is welcome at [email protected].

NOTES: All spreads, money lines and over/under totals (as of Thursday morning) are provided by FanDuel Sportsbook. We started the season with a mythical bankroll of $1,000. Our totals for the past week and the season are at the bottom of this column.

THE WILD-CARD WEEK BEST BETS

HOME TEAM in CAPS

1 / Teaser, NY Giants +9 over MINNESOTA and TAMPA BAY +8.5 over Dallas

Teaser explanation: At most books, a bettor can parlay two teams in a “teaser” and get 6 points of cushion for each bet. However, it costs -120 to play and – like a parlay – both legs must hit to cash the ticket.

WHEN: Giants at Vikings, 4:30 p.m. on Sunday; Cowboys at Buccaneers, 8:15 p.m. on Monday.

One trend sticks out that I simply cannot ignore here, and that’s the fact the 6 seed has won outright against the 3 in five consecutive NFC wild-card games. That being said, there’s such a wide range of finals that could be had in this one.

There are reasons to think the G-Men will be able to pull off the upset (such as the aforementioned trend and the fact they are usually tough in the playoffs). However, from a personnel standpoint, Minnesota is so much better offensively that one could see them playing much better than in their regular-season matchup on Christmas Eve when the Vikes needed a 61-yard field goal as time expired to avoid overtime and win 27-24.

We keep hearing two things from sharps: Kirk Cousins is awful outside of the Sunday at noon window and the Vikings (13-4) are overrated. I don’t buy the latter, because I have yet to see a 13-win team that isn’t any good in the NFL. And one can’t deny the first stat, but haven’t we seen Cousins step up at different times? (Playoffs vs. Saints and in Week 1 this season vs. Packers in a late-afternoon Sunday game.)

Meanwhile, the Giants have had some slip-ups, but Brian Daboll absolutely is in the running for Coach of the Year.

In the end, it would be surprising if this is a blowout, as 11 of Minnesota’s 13 victories this season have been by one score with the opener against Green Bay and the finale against Chicago being the only departures. Meanwhile, all but three of New York’s seven losses have been one-score games, as well.

I think the Vikings barely cover, but this seems like a great spot to play a teaser. Despite my final score prediction, I would rather have the Giants at +9 (getting over the 3 and through the 7) than Minnesota at +3. (And playing New York in a money-line parlay with the other team in this teaser pays great value at +433. Hmmmm.)

SCORE PREDICTION: Vikings (-3) 30, Giants 26. (Over 48.5.)

So no one trusts the Buccaneers, right? That means you trust the Cowboys?

This will be a stay-away game for many, that is until they realize it’s the last game on the docket for wild-card weekend and their degenerative-ness kicks in, which will force one to take a side after the value is long gone.

Well then! Let’s dive in ahead of time and play it the right way. To do that, we have to pair it in a teaser. While few will say they love Tampa Bay here, does anyone think they will get blown out by the up-and-down Star Heads?

Dak Prescott has been anything but great since blowing out Minnesota in Week 11, and as bad as Todd Bowles has been coaching Tampa, one could say Mike McCarthy has been pretty darn sucky himself.

Oh, and my fact of the week: Tom Brady is 7-0 in his career against the Cowboys, throwing for 277 yards per game with 15 total touchdowns against five interceptions and an average victory of 11.9 points. This includes a 19-3 win in the season opener this past September.

I will bet against Brady soon enough, but certainly not here, and getting 8.5 points in a teaser seems like a gift.

P.S. Is this the game that gets McCarthy fired and sets the wheels in motion for Sean Payton to finally land his dream job? Just putting it out there in cyberspace …

SCORE PREDICTION: Bucs (+2.5) 23, Cowboys 19. (Under 45.5.)

2 / 7-point teaser (-140), SAN FRANCISCO -3 over Seattle and CINCINNATI -1.5 over Baltimore

WHEN: Seahawks at 49ers, 4:30 p.m. on Saturday; Ravens at Bengals, Sunday at 8:15 p.m.

(Note: I originally planned to put more on this teaser before the line changed just as I was set to post. Is it bragging if I say out loud I got it at -2.5 and -1?)

Before this season, Pete Carroll had the Niners’ number, defeating them in 15 of the previous 18 played between the two. That changed in a big way this season with San Francisco winning 27-7 at home on Sept. 18 and 21-13 in Seattle on Dec. 15.

We have said in this column multiple times Geno Smith was just about ready to turn back into Geno Smith, and that’s basically what has happened. He has thrown 74 passes in the series this season with just one touchdown, and that likely won’t change here.

Other than the fluke game against Jarrett Stidham and the Raiders on New Year’s Day, the 49ers have not allowed more than 20 points in any other game since giving up 44 to the Chiefs in Week 7. Their top-ranked defense also has been stingy against the run, giving up more than 100 yards on the ground four times all year and just once over the past 10 weeks.

In other words, the Seahawks are going to have to score in the upper teens to 20 to cover here, and well into the 20s to not allow San Fran to cover a teaser. Seems highly unlikely, especially in potentially the only bad-weather game of the weekend and the fact the 2 seed has defeated the 7 seed in both NFC wild-card games by 16 last January and 13 in 2021 since the recent expansion of the playoffs.

SCORE PREDICTION: 49ers (-9.5) 27, Seahawks 12. (Under 42.5.)

I have had a weird feeling about this game much of the week … and it only got a little less weird after I heard Lamar Jackson was very unlikely to play. Baltimore has clearly been better defensively since the trade for Roquan Smith, and they have allowed the high-powered Bengals 17 and 27 points, respectively, in their two matchups in the 2022 season.

We talked about what could spell doom for the Bengals and their chances of winning the AFC last week, and sure enough, another starting offensive lineman went down in right guard Alex Cappa. If he doesn’t return before the divisional round, that could present real problems, especially in a potential game against Buffalo.

But how will the Ravens score? They haven’t posted more than 17 points in ANY game since losing at Jacksonville, 28-27, on Nov. 27, which so happens to be the last week Jackson played a full game.

With it being a division opponent and Harbaugh knowing the Bengals as well as anyone, it wouldn’t surprise me if he finds a way to keep it close and interesting all the way until the end. However, it’s a stretch to think either Tyler Huntley or, more likely, third-string QB Anthony Brown, can pull this upset.

SCORE PREDICTION: Bengals 23, Ravens (+8.5) 17. (Under 40.5.)

OTHER PICKS

Saturday at 8:15 p.m.

JACKSONVILLE (+2.5) 33, LA Chargers 23: It’s hard to put aside the first meeting between the two teams, even with the fact it was played way back at the end of September, simply because it was THAT decisive.

In that 38-10 Jags’ victory in Los Angeles, the visitors collected 413 yards of total offense, including 151 yards rushing. Why won’t they put up similar numbers in this one against the 28th-ranked rushing defense in the NFL?

In fact, I am trying to figure out exactly why the Chargers are favored here on the road against a team that has won five consecutive games and basically has been in playoff mode since Christmas. That loss to Denver last week was an especially bad look for the Bolts, who played their starters into the fourth quarter and took a beating.

The only reason this isn’t a best bet is due to how bad I have been this season picking Jags’ games. But I certainly will play this one, even if it is just to give me a rooting interest. (Over 47.5.)

Sunday at 1 p.m.

BUFFALO (-13.5) 38, Miami 17: Obviously, many bettors thought for a time that Tua was going to start for the Dolphins, as this line was as low as +8 earlier in the week. Now that the news has come he won’t play, it has skyrocketed.

Still, with the uncertainty of how the Bills will respond following an incredibly emotional game last Sunday in blowing past the Patriots at home, it keeps me away from making this a best bet.

With that, I’m not saying to run to the window and lay 13 points, but how could anyone want to bet on Skylar Thompson and Miami here? I am guessing Aunt Mabel and her friends will be jumping all over the Bills, while the sharps will just stay away from it. I’m not a sharp, but I am smart enough not to be hanging out with Mabel this time of year, either. (Over 43.5.)

_____________________

HOW WE DOIN’?

Note: TIES ARE NOT COUNTED IN MY RECORD, which could result in a different total of games in the “straight up” and “against the spread” categories, as well as with totals.

BEST BETS

Week 18: 3-2 (+$49). Final regular season: 52-37 (.584; +$284).

ALL GAMES AGAINST THE SPREAD

Week 18: 11-5. Final regular season: 134-125 (.517)

STRAIGHT UP (no spread)

Week 18: 11-5. Final regular season: 157-107 (.595).

OVER/UNDER TOTALS

Week 18: 6-10. Season: 143-123 (.538).

PREVIOUS COLUMNS

(click on week to view)

Week 18: 3-2 best bets (+49); 11-5 ATS; 11-5 straight up; 6-10 over/unders

Week 17: 3-2 best bets (+66); 6-7 ATS; 10-3 ATS; 5-8 over/unders

Week 16: 3-2 best bets (+39); 6-9 ATS; 10-5 straight up; 10-5 over/unders.

Week 15: 3-2 best bets (+$37); 3-11 ATS; 7-8 straight up; 11-5 over/unders.

Week 14: 1-4 best bets (-$74); 5-8 ATS; 8-5 straight up; 8-5 over/unders.

Week 13: 1-4 best bets (-$70); 9-6 ATS; 7-7 straight up; 6-9 over/unders.

Week 12: 3-2 best bets (+37); 11-4 ATS; 12-3 straight up; 8-7 over/unders.

Week 11: 1-3 best bets (-$81); 5-7 ATS; 9-5 straight up; 7-7 over/unders.

Week 10: 2-3 best bets (+$16); 7-7 ATS; 6-8 straight up; 6-8 over/unders.

Week 9: 4-1 best bets (+52.40); 9-2 ATS; 9-4 straight up; 5-8 over/unders.

Week 8: 4-1 best bets (+$69); 9-6 ATS; 13-2 straight up; 6-9 over/unders.

Week 7: 3-2 best bets (-$5); 5-9 ATS; 6-8 straight up; 9-5 over/unders.

Week 6: 4-1 best bets (+$62.60); 9-5 ATS; 8-6 straight up; 6-8 over/unders.

Week 5: 3-2 best bets (+$2); 10-5 ATS; 9-7 straight up; 10-6 over/unders

Week 4: 4-1 best bets (+$37); 9-6 ATS; 9-7 straight up; 10-6 over/unders

Week 3: 3-2 best bets (-$5); 5-11 ATS; 8-8 straight up; 8-7 over/unders

Week 2: 4-1 best bets (+$57); 7-9 ATS; 9-7 straight up; 12-4 over/unders

Week 1: 3-2 best bets (-$15); 8-8 ATS; 6-9 straight up; 10-6 over/unders

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