Each week we take a look at some of the underlying mismatches in the NFL in order to find hidden betting value. Here are four mismatches you may not have considered when capping the NFL Wild Card Weekend board:
Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans (-4.5, 43)
Bengals’ quick starts vs. Texans’ slow beginnings
The Texans lost three of their final four games, costing them the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC. The Texans were outscored 48-12 in the first half of those losses, including a 14-6 hole in the first 30 minutes versus Indianapolis in Week 17.
Cincinnati ranks in the middle of the pack in terms of offensive gusto, but the Bengals average 13.6 points in the first half – eighth overall – and are tied with New England for the most first-quarter scoring at 7.1 points per opening frame. Cincinnati is even a quicker starter on the road, where it averages 14.5 points in the opening two quarters – fifth most in the NFL.
Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers (-9.5, 46)
Vikings’ play action vs. Packers’ pass rush
Last Sunday, Minnesota’s play action kept the Packers’ pass rush at bay and Minny was able to go six for 12 on third downs – not bad for a team that converted just 37.1 percent of third downs on the year. The potent play action helped Ponder total 234 yards and three touchdowns, probably his best performance of the season.
Green Bay finished the season fourth overall in sacks with 47, 13 of those coming from linebacker Clay Matthews. But with the front seven keeping all eyes on “All Day”, the Packers pass rush has been deemed null and void. Matthews was the lone Cheesehead with a sack last week. The Vikings have done a good job of keeping Ponder clean when they do hand him the ball, giving up only 32 sacks – 22nd most in the NFL.
Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens (-7, 46.5)
Colts’ head coach Chuck Pagano vs. Ravens’ defense
A little inside information never hurt anyone. Pagano knows the Ravens stop unit intimately, having served as Baltimore’s defensive coordinator last year and was a member of the coaching staff for four years. The Colts will no doubt be well schooled in their opponent’s schemes and calls come Sunday. Pagano also hinted to the media that he’s got the inside scoop on the Ravens offense after running plays against them all last season.
Baltimore’s defense just ain’t what she used to be and even an emotional send off for leaders Ray Lewis and Ed Reed may not be enough to find the fountain of youth. The Ravens ranked 12th in points allowed, giving up 21.5 points on 350.8 yards per game. They limped into the postseason, losing four of their last five, and gave up an average of 25 points during that span. With the all-knowing #ChuckStrong on the other sideline, Baltimore may be in for an opening-round upset.
Seattle Seahawks at Washington Redskins (+3, 46)
Seahawks' speedy defense vs. Hobbled RG3
Even with a bum knee, Robert Griffin III was able to gash the Cowboys for big runs in Week 17. The dual-threat totaled 63 yards and a score, but did so against a depleted Dallas defense that had a hard enough time fielding a team let alone wrapping up runners. Griffin is nowhere near as explosive as he was before injuring his knee in Week 14 and may need to rely on his arm to move the ball versus a ferocious Seattle defense.
The Seahawks have one of the quickest defensive fronts in the NFL and have snuffed out opposing running backs and dual threats all season. Seattle locked down Cam Newton in a 16-12 win over Carolina in Week 5, limiting the Panthers’ playmaker to just 42 yards on seven runs. It also slowed down 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick for only 31 yards on seven attempts in a huge divisional win in Week 16. The Seahawks are going to force RG3 to pass the ball, which is something the rookie sensation has regressed at in recent weeks.