NFL Tips: Mike Carlson's predictions for all six wildcard weekend games

Tom Brady
Tom Brady and the Bucs can cover a big handicap

Wildcard weekend is here with six games for Mike Carlson to preview, and he has a trio of bets for your consideration...

"Buffalo, with Gabe Davis back, Covid Beasley fully fit and James Singleton in better form, are justifiably favourites: the Pats route to a win involves their beating them up front, and getting an early score or two to force them into the air."

More of everything on Wild Card Weekend

We have extra teams in the wild card round, which means more games, more TV, more days and of course more money! Being America, more is ALWAYS better!

It also means only two teams get the advantage of the bye. But after the craziness of week 18's ending; many of us were rooting for a tie just to prove that ties are not anathema to football--indeed they act as great tie-breakers when it comes to the playoff, and in this case a Raiders/Chargers tie would have kept the Steelers out. Is that a bad thing, I ask rhetorically?

Overall, I escaped last week with just about another good one, helped by my best bet on Wednesday's Betfair NFL Only Bettor podcast, where I had the Bucs -8 over the Panthers.

I was screaming at the Bills as they marched for an unncessary late score after being held, improbably I must admit, close by the Jets: the last TD made it 27-10 and my best bet of Jest +16.5 failed. Though it did go under. The Niners and Rams dutifully went over 44.5, and though the Steelers did win, the game didn't go over 42.5 so the double didn't pay off (though taking the separate bets was OK).

My "strong push" for WTF to cover -7 over the Giants paid off, and my "bonus pick" of North Dakota State and Montana State going over 42.5 in the NCAA FCS Championship game was an easy cover despite losing star freshman QB Tommy Mellott on the first series. Mellott only became the starter during their playoff run and the guy he replaced, Matt McKay, a free agent signing from North Carolina State, had already left the team and declared for free agency again! NCAA scholar athletes at work.

Chase and Jacobs TD value

Las Vegas (10-7) at Cincinnati (10-7), Saturday 21:30

Although the Raiders have been outscored by opponents over the season, the line on this game has dropped consisently during the week, from Bengals -6.5 on Monday to -4.5 now, but the lines have in general held steady since Wednesday. This means a lot of people liked the Raiders getting almost a TD, but less cash is coming in on them with that nether zone value of 4.5.

The Bengals are tough to evaluate because they are very much boom and bust: Joe Burrow is often passing with no help from his line, which means he's taken a league high 51 sacks and thrown 14 picks.

But close your eyes and throw to JaMarr Chase is not a bad strategy, especially if, as when they played the Chiefs, it draws flags like flies to a carcass. The Raiders need a big game from Maxx Crosby and their D line, and their secondary will be challenged if they can't do that. If Joe Mixon can run, it might be easier for Burrow. Derek Carr remains the hardest QB to evaluate, and he doesn't have a great set of deep receivers, but they will try to establish Josh Jacobs running, then work play-action to Hunter Renfrow, Bryan Edwards and Jay Jones, while setting up Darren Waller for the big gains. It's a formula that can be defeated by good secondary play, but the second-level, linebackers, seems to me the Bengals' weakness.

When they met just before Thanksgiving, Cincinnati won 32-13, but the game was closer than that: rookie kicker Evan McPherson had kept the league with field goals of 54, 53, 51 and 47 yards before they pulled away late. The bets I like here are Josh Jacobs and JaMarr Chase as anytime TD scorers, both at evens.

Go low on Pats-Bills

New England (10-7) at Buffalo (11-6), Sunday 01:15

Typical NFL: scheduling the northern-most game played in an outdoor stadium in January at night. The start is 8:15pm local time and the forecast is for temperatures of 5 degrees Fahrenheit (-15C). If they played Sunday at 1 the forecast is for sunny skies and 30F (-1 C). So the first question is whether the conditions will bring on another game like the previous meeting in Buffalo, where the Pats threw only three passes, but ran the ball and controlled Buffalo's offense, or the second in Foxboro under better conditions, where the Bills took an early lead and dominated?

The Pats are not really built to come from behind: they lack a big-play offense and their D is built on situational stops; they tend to allow the other team possession. Buffalo, with Gabe Davis back, Covid Beasley fully fit and James Singleton in better form, are justifiably favourites: the Pats route to a win involves their beating them up front, and getting an early score or two to force them into the air.

This is the first of three games where the key is keeping a QB in the pocket: make Allen beat you as a drop-back passer, not as a runner.

Value Bet: Under 44pts at 1.910/11

Buccs can cover big handicap

Philadelphia (9-8) at Tampa Bay (13-4), Sunday 18:00

This would have made a relatively pleasant Saturday night game in Florida. When the teams met in Philly way back in October, the Bucs took a 28-7 lead and then coasted as the Eagles made it 28-22.

But Tampa had 40 mins possession and outgained them just under 2 to 1. The Eagles are a better team now, especially when Nick Sirianni doesn't forget his run game when they get into the red area.

The problem is the Bucs are a very good defense against the run, and they should be getting JPP and Shaq Barrett back for this game, which means they can pressure Jalen Hurts: keeping him in the pocket under pressure negates the Eagles' pass game; and their receivers won't threaten the Bucs secondary, which is their D's weak point, too much.

The over/under here has dropped from 49 to 44.5 during the week, to the point I'm starting to consider the over. I also like Gronk as an anytime TD scorer at 2.35/4.

Best Bet: Tampa Bay -8.5 @ 1.910/11

Back 49ers to beat the odds

San Francisco (10-7) at Dallas (12-5), Sunday 2130

This would have made a relatively pleasant Saturday night indoor game. Or Sunday night for that matter, as Kansas City can be pretty wintry too. It's a throwback to the great rivalry games of 30 years ago, and a lot of people like the Niners as road dogs, especially after Jimmy G's second half performance last week.

In 2019's two playoff games, Jimmy threw only 27 passes (17 complete for 208 yards 1 TD 1 INT) but Raheem Mostert ran for 278 yards combined, Tevin Coleman had 22/105 in the first game and Deebo, who wasn't a RB, had a 30 yard run in the second (and 3/53 in the Super Bowl which I still believe was ruined for the Niners by bad calls and no-calls). Rookie Elijah Mitchell is the key for me: if the Niners can run effective and get Deebo more catches as a receiver they can move the ball.

But the Cowboy D with Parsons and Neal at LB can do a good job of taking away the crossing routes that are SF's staple. Cedrick Wilson has become one of my favourite players this December, and the weapons remain dangerous for Dak Prescott. The big question is the O line, and whether they can contain Nick Bosa and company up front to get at a very average secondary, which is last in the NFL vs the deep pass. Look for Dallas' TE pair of Schultz (2/1 anytme TD) and Jarwin (9/1 anytime TD) in the red area when those deep throws aren't an option.

Dallas is the league's most penalised team, but ref Jerome Boger is the third-most pro-home team ref in the league this season (Carl Cheffers, who averages two more calls against the visitors per game, is no 1). Don't forget George Kittle, 2.56/4 for an anytime TD.

Outside Bet: San Francisco to win @ 2.35/4

Chiefs impossible to ignore

Pittsburgh (9-7-1) at Kansas City (12-5), 01:15 Monday

Big Ben keeps coming back like Frankenstein's monster getting new jolts to his electrodes, and JuJu might be back with him but it's really hard to see the Steelers doing much better then they did in week 16's 36-10 loss, because it's hard to see their defensive strength dragging the game down into one of the low-scoring slug-fests they can win putting together one good drive.

Every time the Chiefs' D looks like its settled down, something (like JaMarr Chase and penalties) comes along to stymie it but I like the way Andy Reid adjusted to the idea that teams had figured out how to contain Tyreek Hill (who should be back healthy) and Travis Kelce, and switched to a more run-oriented attack.

This may take the pressure off back-up RT Andrew Wylie, who ought to see a lot of TJ Watt, and a lot of Watt is not a good thing. It may not, however, be enough. My favourite bet might be Pat Freiermuth 3.7511/4 as an anytime TD scorer.

Rams could cover the handicap

Arizona (11-6) at LA Rams (12-5), Tuesday 01:15

Having a Monday Night wild card game will open up an interesting situation next week, as it becomes a short week for the winner, even shorter if the TV ratings mean they draw a Saturday start. The teams split their season series, each winning on the road, and the total points was over 50 both times.

Many people were making a big deal about teams meeting for the third time in a season, but it has become more common as the playoffs (and season) expanded and now with only one team getting a round 1 bye. Many of us forecast three teams from the NFC West in the playoffs (though I thought one of them would be Seattle).

Both these teams have struggled in the second half: the Cards were 7-0 and finished with a 4-6 run as their D seemed to collapse. The Rams were 7-1 when Robert Woods got hurt; they went 5-4 the rest of the way as Matt Stafford seemed to struggle with Cooper Kupp his only favourite receiver.

This the third game where one team will want to keep the other's QB in the pocket: Kyler Murray can beat you with his feet but he struggles when contained to find receivers. This would be why the Rams brought in Von Miller. The Cards ought to be able to contain Kupp: look for Isaiah Simmons to be back in coverage, which might mean Sony Michel getting lots of carries if Sean McVay can force himself to run the ball.

Last week the Niners became the first team to ever beat McVay when he held the halftime lead (17-3), and I wish I could figure which pattern the halftime/fulltime bet would go here, cause if the Cards could do what the Niners did it's 8.515/2. But I'd nudge you towards the Rams giving 3.5.

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