The New York Jets flunked in their final game of the regular season and the Pittsburgh Steelers stole in through the back door. But can they take advantage of their good fortune?
After another winning season against the handicap, MyClubBetting handicapper and Lindy’s Sports UK Editor Simon Milham takes a look at the betting trends and some of the best bets ahead of Wildcard weekend.
The odds are correct at the time of writing and are available on your club’s betting service.
(Handicap is denoted by +/- for the home team)
KANSAS CITY at HOUSTON
(+3.5, Total Points 41.5)
Houston won the AFC South almost by default with a 9-7 record, while Kansas City rode a 10-game winning streak, having started 1-5, to finish runner-up to Denver in the AFC West.
The Chiefs’ sole win in their first six games came at Houston, as they built a big lead before holding off the Texans 27-20 in Week 1, with quarterback Alex Smith tossing three touchdowns in a 22-of-33, 243-yards afternoon.
That has been a theme of their season – getting out to big leads and grinding out victory on the ground with Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware.
The pass rush – and the respective ability to protect the passer – is one of the more fascinating battles to keep an eye on. Houston have JJ Watt, while Kansas City may have Justin Houston back after missing the last five games with a knee injury.
While the Chiefs have relied, with great success it must be said, on a re-jigged offensive line, Houston has been weakened with the loss of left tackle Duane Brown, who tore a quad muscle in the regular-season finale.
The Chiefs should get plenty of joy on the ground, particularly running up the gut. West is an elusive runner who can get tough yards. Houston know they must do a better job of shoring up the middle of the line, where they are giving up 3.72 yards a carry, according to FootballOutsiders.com.
The Texans’ defense also does not match up well against quick-passing screen plays and slants, and that will play into Smith’s hands. He may not have a big arm, but he is careful with the ball and the Chiefs should have space on the perimeter.
Those looking for a cheeky anytime touchdown scorer at a big price might like to consider Chris Conley. The first-year receiver out of Georgia has one score in five starts, but had six catches for 63 yards and a score when the Chiefs snapped their five-game losing streak in a 23-13 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. While he is the future, tight end Travis Kelce looks a fair bet to score a touchdown. At 6ft 5in, the third-year man out of Cincinnati is a big target in the red zone.
We see the Chiefs continuing their winning streak and they should be able to cover the handicap.
VERDICT: KANSAS CITY 24 HOUSTON 16
BEST BET: KANSAS CITY -2.5 @ 1.67
SPORTING BET: UNDER 41.5 POINTS @ 1.75
PITTSBURGH at CINCINNATI
(+0.5, Total Points 46.5)
Pittsburgh were fortunate to make the playoff party but they are one of the most dangerous sides in the AFC, with arguably the most explosive offense.
While quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s strengths are well documented, the Steelers, who have won eight of their last nine trips to the home of their NFC North rival, have a major problem with balance. It seems likely that veteran running back DeAngelo Williams, who has filled in admirably for Le’Veon Bell since Week 8, will miss the game with a foot injury.
That means Mike Tomlin with build his gameplan around Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman. The worry is that while Todman can provide protection in the passing game, he is not a patch on Williams, whose blocking skills are vastly underrated.
Cincinnati, who win the division with a 12-4 record, beat the Steelers 16-10 on the road in November, but lost their home tilt 33-20 on December 13, a game in which they lost starting quarterback Andy Dalton with a broke thumb.
Dalton has not played since but may well be available for the wildcard clash. However, it is expected that AJ McCarron, who has filled in adequately, will start. There is plenty on his shoulders, but what we like about this match-up is the Bengals’ ability to take advantage of the Steelers’ major weakness: defending tight ends.
In their first meeting, before Dalton’s injury, they spread the field, forced the Steelers to respect the deep ball and punished them for it over the middle. Tyler Eifert could have a big night if the Bengals can get AJ Green involved early and often.
However, bettors must be concerned if backing the Bengals, as McCarron does not inspire confidence – the Bengals have not looked the same early-season force since Dalton went down. They are also 0-6 in the playoffs since 1995 and have not won a post-season game since January 6, 1991.
Pittsburgh may be one-dimensional in attack, but as long as Roethlisberger is flinging he ball to receiver Antonio Brown, the Steelers will always be in with a chance. Brown, with 136 catches and 1,834 yards has to be in the running for the League MVP award.
Still, despite their excellent record in the Queen City, without a running game, they may not be able to close out the game and the Bengals may make a few crucial stops and progress to the Divisional round.
VERDICT: PITTSBURGH 17 CINCINNATI 27
BEST BET: CINCINNATI +0.5 @ 2.15
SPORTING BET: CINCINNATI WIN BY 7-12 POINTS @ 7.00
SEATTLE at MINNESOTA
(+4.5, Total Points 40.5)
Minnesota won the last of the church raffle prizes by beating Green Bay to take the NFC North division.Their reward is a clash against the NFC champion Seattle Seahawks, who are the team nobody wanted to face. While the Vikings have a home game, the Packers appear to have the easier task when they travel to Washington.
Minnesota’s 20-13 win at Lambeau Field was their first in seven visits, their first since last winning the division in 2009.
Two years ago, Minnesota went 5-10-1, but they have been rejuvenated under first-year coach Mike Zimmer and have been aided by a stifling defense and a soft schedule – their win over the Packers was just their second in six games against teams with a winning record.
Vikings’ quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has won nine of his 11 starts at home, but the Vikings offense is all about running back Adrian Peterson, who led the NFL in rushing with 1,485 yards and was named to his seventh Pro Bowl. The running back sustained a lower back injury against the Packers, but is still expected to start.
They have also got great production out of receiver Stefon Diggs, who led NFC rookies with 720 receiving yards and ranked second with 52 catches.
Seattle have already gone to Minnesota and beaten them once this season, inflicting a 38-7 victory upon them on December 6.
The Seahawks made a statement last week at Arizona, winning 36-6, with quarterback Russell Wilson passing for 274 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran in a score. They also got a boost from the running game with rookie Thomas Rawls rumbling for 101 yards and a TD.
The Seahawks aim to reach the Super Bowl for the third consecutive season and have beaten the Vikings in their past three meetings, outscoring them 109-47.
The difference this time round is the Vikings are a lot healthier. This young team played with youth Joseph in the first meeting and lost two other key players, safety Harrison Smith and linebacker Anthony Barr to injuries early on. Wilson finished 21-of-27 passing for 274 yards and three TDs. He has posted a 120-passer-rating in six of the last seven games (the exception coming against St Louis) and is looking just as effective within the pocket as he is scrambling outside of it.
Is revenge in the air? It is rare that a team which had lost by 30 points or more to a non-division opponent in the regular season served up a victory against that same team in the playoffs. The last time it happened was in 1993 – Kansas City lost 30-0 to Houston during the regular season and then beat them 28-20 in the playoffs.
The Seahawks have the propensity to throw in a bad game – usually against St Louis, who are their kryptonite – but we don’t see the Vikings having enough offensive pop to keep pace, especially with Peterson not 100 per cent and with top running back Marshawn Lynch returning for the Seahawks.
It could be much closer than anticipated, however, and the Vikings’ defense should be much better equipped to handle the occasion in what could be an unusually low-scoring encounter in very cold conditions.
VERDICT: SEATTLE 17 MINNESOTA 13
BEST BET: MINNESOTA +4.5 @ 1.83
SPORTING BET: SEATTLE TO WIN BY 1-6 POINTS @ 3.50
GREEN BAY at WASHINGTON
(-0.5, Total Points 45.5)
Marbles. We lost a few a while back. But Aaron Rodgers was only talking marbles when discussing the Green Bay Packers’ putrid offensive output over the last eight weeks.
The star quarterback, who has averaged under 300 yard passing in the last three weeks, said: “I have confidence in those guys and myself that, when it matters for all the marbles, we’re going to show up.”
The Packers, coming off a home loss to the Minnesota Vikings which cost them the NFC North title, may have decided it was better to face Washington’s 28th-ranked defense than to play a home game against Seattle’s 2nd-ranked defense in yards allowed (they are 1st in points allowed). That seems a sensible move.
The only time they could face the Seahawks would be in the NFC Championship game – and that would be at Lambeau.
The Packers’ ground game has been skittish, with Eddie Lacy and James Starks being given sporadic roles. The lack of direction and inconsistency is troubling, and had Rodgers and company been firing as they have in seasons past, they certainly would not be underdogs going to Washington.
Losing WR Jordy Nelson to injury means they have not been able to stretch the field and loading up against the run means opponents can make the Packers look one-dimensional, much like the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In fairness, their season has seen them win 10 games, lost four on the last play of the game and they have been beaten by the AFC’s No.1 seed Denver. It is worth noting that the last time the Packers’ defense outplayed its offense, they went on to win Super Bowl XLV.
The Redskins have played much better in the second half of the season than their fans could have imagined. The NFC East champions have run the ball effectively and, with Kirk Cousins tossing 19 TDs to two interceptions since Week 10, they are getting far more production out of the quarterback than they dared hope.
The Packers have won five of the last six meetings but have lost on five of their last six trips to Washington. On the flip side, the Redskins have played three teams with a winning record in 2015 and lost all three. They have been outscored 105-46 in those contests.
We think Washington’s tight end Jordan Reed is going to have a leading role to play. He has five TDS in the last four games. Still, if he and running back Alfred Morris, who had 107 yards against the Packers in their last meeting, can be limited, Rodgers may not lose his marbles and keep the Packers on track for the Divisional round.
VERDICT: GREEN BAY 27 WASHINGTON 23
BEST BET: GREEN BAY +0.5 @ 1.85
SPORTING BET: OVER 46.5 POINTS
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