I don’t know about you, but I love this new playoff football setup. Six games in the Wild Card weekend? Yes please.
For starters, we get two AFC matchups. Cincinnati Bengals and AFC North champions host Las Vegas Raiders to kick off the playoff party, followed by a massive AFC East clash between the New England Patriots traveling to play the Buffalo Bills. The Bengals are 5.5-point favorites, while the local Bills are 4.5-point favorites. The totals are 48.5 points and 43.5 points respectively.
Our nERD-based ranking shows that the first game could be a blast. We have the Bengals ranked 12th and the Raiders ranked 23rd. Our last drink could be a close match; the Bills lead the standings and the Patriots are fifth overall.
Let’s dive into some interesting betting angles for this contest.
Las Vegas Raiders vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Somewhat surprised to win the division, the Bengals have been carried this season by signalman Joe Burrow, who recovered fairly well from season-ending knee surgery during his rookie campaign. Using our expected net points (NEP) metric, Burrow recorded a pass-per-retreat NEP of 0.21 — well above the league average. Burrow has thrown for nearly 4,611 yards and 34 touchdowns this season.
Derek Carr leads Vegas’ offense, but he’s been far less efficient than Burrow. This year, he’s only thrown for 22 touchdowns, recording a 0.13 Passing NEP per drop back. The 13 interceptions and 40 sacks also really lowered his ratings.
Offensively, both of these teams are pretty mediocre — the Bengals check in 13th, but the Raiders are 16th. Defensively, it’s not a contest. The Bengals are ranked 11th and Las Vegas is eighth overall.
The Bengals are favorites by 5.5 points and the total is 48.5 points. We side with the Bengals and project them to win this game 67.4% of the time. Scoring-wise, we’re anticipating a 26.16-20.93 final, which makes the current spread basically a coin toss. We give Las Vegas a 51.09% chance of covering.
With the total, our algorithm predicts that the sub will win 54.89% of the time. Despite that, one player prop that I like and our projections agree with is Derek Carr’s passing yards prop, which is pegged at 252.5 yards (-110). We project him into this negative play scenario to throw early and often, racking up 270.9 passing yards.
The betting history is not on the side of the host Bengals – they are 0-6-1 ATS (ATS) in their last seven Wild Card playoff games. Conversely, the Raiders are 6-2 ATS in their last eight games as a road dog.
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
The bitter rivals of the AFC East will face each other – and each team has won on the other’s ground. Will the Patriots pull it off for the third time this season?
After suffering back-to-back losses to the Pats (albeit in a snowstorm) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, some left the Bills for dead — but they pulled off four straight wins to end the regular season. The Bills are led by Josh Allen, who has been very good this season — he’s recorded a NEP of 0.17 per pass this year, including 36 touchdowns and over 4,400 passing yards. Allen has added 763 rushing yards and six rushing scores this season.
For the Pats to win, they will need rookie Mac Jones escalate considerably. While rookie quarterbacks tend to struggle, Jones has been an average quarterback in the league; he posted a 0.11 Passing NEP per pass, throwing 22 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. The Pats have been much more reliant on their running game, and Damien Harris (930 rushing yards, 15 rushing touchdowns) and Rhamondre Stevenson (605 rushing yards, 5 rushing touchdowns) were outstanding.
Offensively, both of these teams are strong – the Bills are 6th and the Pats are 11th. Defensively, they are two great units; the Bills are the best in the league and the Patriots are third.
The Bills are only 4.5-point favorites and the total sits at a meager 43.5 points. We’re siding with the Bills and projecting they’ll win this game 67.4% of the time. Scoring-wise, we expect a final of 26.97 to 20.57, which also strengthens the hosts. We give Buffalo a 54.84% chance to cover.
With the total, our algorithm predicts that the penny will win 70.8% of the time.
Despite what could be a tight, low-scoring affair, one player prop I like is a Josh Allen prop on the floor (49.5, -110) and anytime TD (+550). We’ve highlighted the damage Allen can do on the ground before, and in two contests this year he’s racked up 18 carries for 103 rushing yards and a score. In Allen’s last five games, he rushed for 60+ yards in four of the contests.
In recent memory, the Pats have absolutely dominated this series. They’ve been a covering machine, going 7-1 ATS in the last 8 games. However, outside of that head-to-head matchup, the Pats are just 1-3 ATS in their last four games, and the Bills are 3-0-1.