NFL playoff betting is a double-edged sword.
The urgency and gravitas of the postseason ups the intensity and interest to peak levels, as you have elite-level teams squaring off in do-or-die contests. But with a smaller slate of games, oddsmakers can laser focus their energy on those matchups, meaning these NFL odds are the sharpest you’ve seen all season.
For a few years, betting on the NFL playoffs (especially betting on the NFL Wild Card round) was as simple as taking the points with the underdogs. From 2017-18 to 2020-21, Wild Card pups were a profitable 15-3 against the spread.
Then last year happened.
After a 28-17 ATS overall run by dogs (62%) the previous four postseasons, the 2021-22 Wild Card round produced only one underdog winner, and pups went 7-6 ATS in the playoffs thanks to Cincinnati staying within +4.5 in the Super Bowl.
So, what’s this year’s Wild Card round have in store for a guy who writes a column based solely on taking the points? I dunno, but at least I’ve got momentum on my side.
After a nasty November slump, my NFL Underdogs picks and predictions pumped out a 12-6-2 ATS finish to the season, and we’re hoping that pups can find their bite once again in the tournament.
Here are my best NFL bets for the underdogs on Wild Card Weekend.
NFL picks against the spread for Wild Card
Click on each pick to jump to the full analysis.
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Seattle Seahawks (+10) at San Francisco 49ers
No team covered more spreads as a favorite than the San Francisco 49ers, who own an average margin of +10.2 on the season and finished 10-5 ATS when laying the points. Now bookies are asking the Niners to do just that in this third go-around with the rival Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card game on Saturday.
Seattle played its way into the postseason with an overtime win against the Rams in Week 18 and will face an NFC West foe that beat the Seahawks twice during the regular season: 27-7 (SF -8.5) at Santa Clara in Week 2 and most recently 21-13 (SF -3) at home in Week 15.
San Francisco faced two very different Seattle clubs in those matchups, the most recent version playing improved defense and finding a better balance on offense — two factors that will keep the Seahawks inside of this beefy spread.
For most of the year, Seattle ranked out in the bottom third in many defensive measurements, but as the postseason drew near, the stop unit tightened its belt. Ever since that Week 15 matchup with the 49ers, the Seahawks have jumped from 27th in EPA allowed per play to 10th in the final four games. That includes limiting the high-powered 49ers and Chiefs to sub-par efforts.
On the other side of the ball, the Seattle offense has options. That’s a good thing, considering how stingy this San Francisco defense is. The Seahawks have struck a balance in their play calling, getting great work on the ground from running back Kenneth Walker III but also having the passing option with D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett — the latter of which has a history of torching the 49ers.
Perhaps most importantly, when it comes to taking the bundle of points with Seattle, is this team’s prowess in the closing 15 minutes. The Seahawks are the No. 1 fourth-quarter offense in DVOA at Football Outsiders and average 7.4 points in the final frame, which makes them a big-time threat to backdoor cover as double-digit underdogs.
Mix in those late scores with a shrinking total, and covering the 10 points could be a tall task even for the 49ers, considering they’ll play an extra-plodding, short-gain offense with a rookie quarterback making his playoff debut in a game-time climate more Seattle than California (rain and winds in the forecast Saturday).
Divisional underdogs have also been a solid bet in the postseason, going 19-11-1 ATS when those rivals meet for the third time in the playoff since 2000-01. So there’s that.
I fully expect this to be an uncomfortable ride for bettors on both sides of the spread. But with the market moving off the +10 to +9.5, we’re getting the key number with the Seahawks while we can.
PICK: Seahawks +10 (-113 at Pinnacle)
New York Giants (+3) at Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings rub a lot of bettors the wrong way with a 13-win record but ho-hum outputs in terms of how they got there. For me, however, it’s the lack of hunger that has me fading Minnesota in the Wild Card Round.
The Vikings jumped out to a commanding lead in the NFC North and had the division locked up before Christmas, thanks in part to that historic comeback versus the Colts. And even before that game, Minnesota was all but guaranteed a ticket to the postseason.
That’s not how the New York Giants got here.
New York needed a victory over Indianapolis in Week 17 to clinch a Wild Card spot and has been fighting for its postseason life all season. Even with a meaningless matchup against the Eagles in Week 18 (a game in which the G-Men covered as 17-point pups), the hunger has been persistent in New York.
That difference in desire was on display when these two teams faced each other just a few weeks back, with the Vikes needing a last-second 61-yard field goal to edge the Giants 27-24, failing to cover as 4.5-point closing chalk at home.
New York didn’t play a great game in that Week 16 outing, leaving points on the table due to bad drops on key downs and a fumble deep in Minnesota territory. The Giants finished with two turnovers and seven penalties on the day, yet still outgained Minnesota by almost 100 yards.
The blitz-happy defense from Wink Martindale can get after Kirk Cousins and was able to sack the QB four times in that Christmas Eve matchup, with mixed results (Cousins passed for 299 yards and three TDs). The Giants must make Cousins hurry up and can’t allow time in the pocket for those big shots to WR Justin Jefferson to develop.
Improved play from the defensive line has lifted New York from 29th in EPA allowed per play to No. 11 in the final four games of the regular season, with rookie standout Kayvon Thibodeaux becoming a big problem for opposing pass protectors. Minnesota’s offensive line ranks 22nd in pass block win rate and is running thin with bodies out or injured up front.
As for the Giants’ offense, there’s caution with QB Daniel Jones making his first postseason start, but New York doesn’t need him to stand on his head against a doo-doo defense from the Vikings. New York was able to amass 445 yards against Minnesota last time out, picking up an average of 6.7 yards per play. A repeat of that efficiency allows the G-Men to set the tempo and stick what is normally a frenetic-paced Vikings team in mud, limiting the possessions and damage Cousins & Co. can do.
New York does a lot of little things that win football games, like move the chains on third down and cash in on red zone trips — things it just didn’t do in the first meeting with Minnesota. The defense also protects the red zone (fifth-lowest TD percentage allowed) and ushers opponents off the field on third down (fifth-lowest conversion percentage).
It all adds up to another nail-biter that sees the Giants stay within the field goal spread.
PICK: Giants +3 (-110 at bet365)
Last week: 2-1 ATS +1.83 units (Risking 1 unit per play)
Season: 24-27 ATS -2.72 units (Risking 1 unit per play)