Top Picks for NFL Wild Card Sunday – January 10th

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History shows it’s time to pay attention to Wild Card weekend, even if the odds are long for teams who qualify for the playoffs as wild cards to make it to the Super Bowl, much less win it. In fact, it has been going on a decade since any wild-card team even claimed a conference championship to make it to the big game. Perhaps that will change this year with a fourth wild-card qualifier in each conference.

Since the wild-card system was implemented in 1970 following the AFL-NFL merger, only 10 wild-card teams have advanced all the way to the Super Bowl and only six have won it. Only four – the 1985 New England Patriots (who lost Super Bowl XX to the Chicago Bears), the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers (who defeated the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL), the 2007 New York Giants (who edged the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII) and 2010 Green Bay Packers – have won the three games on the road now required just to reach the Super Bowl.

But they have done it, proving that it can be done. And perhaps that will change this year with a fourth wild-card qualifier in each conference. That is food for thought for the Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns heading into Wild Card Sunday this weekend. Odds courtesy of MyBookie.ag.

Wild Card Futures

There is no better time to grab the best future odds on wild-card entries to pull off the ultimate string of upsets and actually advance to the Super Bowl or even win it. Of Sunday’s teams, Baltimore is +450 to capture the American Football Conference title and +1000 to win Super Bowl LV after doing so. The Browns (+2500 to win the AFC and +5500 to win the Super Bowl) and the Bears (+4000 to win the AFC and +8000 to win it all) are much greater longshots.

While the Ravens are the favorites amongst this group for obvious reasons – former league MVP Lamar Jackson at quarterback, a stout and reliable running game that includes not only the elusive and creative Jackson but also capable running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, and an excellent defense – the Browns are the better value play. While it is unlikely that the Browns will string the three wins together necessary to advance to the Super Bowl in their first playoff appearance since 2002 because of their youth and inexperience, as well as a difficult wild-card round matchup with Pittsburgh, they very well may be worth a small flyer to do so at +2500.

They have a quarterback who can get hot in Baker Mayfield, decent receivers when they aren’t testing positive for COVID-19, and a young and potent defense. True, the Browns will be without head coach Kevin Stefanski for the wild-card playoff opener at Pittsburgh after Stefanski also tested positive for COVID, they have the ingredients necessary to make a possible long-shot run if they can survive the weekend and get their head coach back.

The Value Longshot Pick
Cleveland to Win AFC!
+2500

1:05 p.m. ET – No. 5 Baltimore (-3½) at No. 4 Tennessee O/U: 54.5

Teams Spread Money Line Total Points
Baltimore Ravens -3½ (-105) -180 O 54½ (-110)
Tennessee Titans +3½ (-115) +150 U 54½ (-110)

Last year the Titans eliminated the Ravens, then seeded No. 1 in the AFC, in the Divisional Playoff round in a 28-12 upset. Tennessee and Baltimore met in Week 11 this year, with the Titans prevailing 30-24 in overtime on a 29-yard walk-off rushing touchdown by Derrick Henry, the league’s top running back. This has escalated into one of the more unpredictable rivalries in the NFL, with Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh engaging in a pregame altercation with Titans defensive back Malcom Butler back in November and stiffing Titans coach Mike Vrabel during an attempt at the traditional postgame handshake. Sunday’s game figures to come down to the wire again, decided by hard-nosed running and whichever team can carve out an edge in the offensive vs. defensive line trenches.

These two teams feature the top two rushing attacks in the NFL, so it’s obvious that this outcome is likely to be decided on the ground. The Over total at 54.5 is perplexing considering they combined for just 40 points last postseason and 54 in an overtime game back in November. These two offenses are incredibly efficient, but with it being the playoffs and both teams undoubtedly committed to establishing the run, it is safe to assume that there will be limited possessions and that points may be at a premium.

The Ravens outgained the Titans 530 yards to a measly 300 in last postseason’s meeting, when rthe deciding factors proved to be Baltimore’s three turnovers and four failed fourth-down conversions. Lamar Jackson admitted this week he is aware of the narrative surrounding his career 0-2 record in the postseason and he is not running from it. The star quarterback told reporters his “No. 1 goal” is to “erase that narrative,” with his entire quote below (according to CBS Sports):

“It’s win or go home right now. I want to win regardless,” Jackson said. “I don’t really care about what people have to say. I’ve only been to the playoffs twice in my young career. Other people have been in the league forever and haven’t been in the playoffs at all. It is what it is. But, definitely trying to erase that narrative right there. That’s No. 1 in my mind.”

Expect Lamar to do exactly what he has in mind, as he seems to have regained his 2019 MVP form recently after a bit of a lull at midseason. Baltimore will learn from its mistakes the past two matchups and handle the Titans Sunday afternoon to advance to the divisional round of the playoffs, while the Under of 54.5 is likely to hit as well.

The Picks: Ravens -3½; Under 54½

The Bets
Ravens -3½
-105
UNDER 54½
-110

4:40 p.m. ET – No. 7 Chicago at No. 2 New Orleans (-10) O/U: 47

Teams Spread Money Line Total Points
Chicago Bears +10 (-110) +395 O 47 (-110)
New Orleans Saints -10 (-110) (-540) U 47 (-110)

For better or for probably worse, the 8-8 Bears clinched their wild-card playoff berth last Sunday through no great accomplishment of their own. The Los Angeles Rams knocked the Arizona Cardinals out of the playoffs while the Bears were getting stomped by Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in Chicago.

The Bears’ reward? A trip to New Orleans to take on a Saints team that went 10-2 against teams that did not finish the season with a winning record. One of those wins came against Chicago, 26-23 overtime, back in November. Much has changed since Will Lutz hit a game-winning 35-yard field goal for New Orleans that Sunday at Soldier Field. Nick Foles was Chicago’s starting quarterback then, but he suffered an injury that opened the door for Mitchell Trubisky’s return under center. Chicago went 3-3 following the change, but its three wins came against opponents with a combined record of 12-36.

The Saints had Drew Brees available in the first game against Chicago but later lost him for a four-game stretch after he suffered 11 fractured ribs and a collapsed lung suffered in Week 10 against San Francisco. Brees returned in Week 15 and has been phenomenal since then, hitting his stride at precisely the right time as the Saints prepare for their playoff run. The Saints also have the fourth-best rushing defense in the league, and should be able to stop any attempt by Chicago to establish a rushing attack. And while it can be argued that the Bears’ defense is very good, they do not stand out statistically because they are on the field for long, extended stretches for most games because their offense is lacking.

Expect more of the same trends to bear out, so to speak, in this matchup, The Saints should lead early and often in a rout of a Bears team that has many hard decisions to make this offseason. Trubisky has been better than Foles at moving the football, but he has had many back-breaking turnovers that the Bears have not always been able to overcome. The Over in this game is a solid play because Chicago will be playing from behind and attempting to throw the ball, which should lead to either quick scores or costly turnovers that lead to easy points for the Saints.

The Bets
Saints -10
-115
UNDER 42
-110
Mitchell Trubisky OVER Prop
+2000

8:15 p.m. ET – No. 6 Cleveland at No. 3 Pittsburgh (-6.5) O/U: 47.5

Teams Spread Money Line Total Points
Cleveland Browns +6½ (-115) +225 O 47½ (-110)
Pittsburgh Steelers -6½ (-105) -275 U 47½ (-110)

The Cleveland Browns have made the playoffs for the first time since the 2002 season with an 11-5 campaign and how are they rewarded? With their head coach Kevin Stefanski and Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio being placed on the COVID-19/Reserve list following positive tests, prior to a return trip to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers.

These two teams met just last week in Cleveland, where the Browns won 24-22. The Steelers were resting many key pieces in the regular-season finale, however, including starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. These two offenses are polar opposites, with the Browns ranking third in rushing yards per game this season and the Steelers ranking dead last in the NFL at 32nd. The Steelers average 250 passing yards per game, while the Browns only average 221 yards per game through the air.

This game is the perfect recipe for the Over because both offenses excel where the defenses do not. The Steelers rank third in the league in passing yards allowed and the Browns ranked ninth in rushing yards allowed per game. The vaunted Cleveland running back tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt should be able to have success against a Steelers front seven that recentlyallowed 152 rushing yards to a Bengals team that was well under 100 rushing yards per game entering that matchup. On the other side, the Steelers should be able to exploit Cleveland’s secondary and put up monster numbers through the air. The Steelers scored 38 in their first matchup with the Browns and they will break 30 again on Sunday night. The spread bet is Cleveland +6.5 or nothing at all. Considering the COVID-19 concerns in the Browns’ locker room the safest thing to do is avoid a side in this game until more information is available and hop on the Over of 47.5 before it climbs.

The Bet
OVER 47½
-110
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Joe Menzer / Author

Joe is an award-winning writer and editor who has covered the NBA, NFL, NASCAR, golf, various collegiate athletics and other sports for newspapers, Turner Sports, Fox Sports and ESPN. He has been on the beat for seven Super Bowls, six Daytona 500s and numerous NBA playoff series and All-Star Games. He once was dispatched to Rome, Italy to spend time with an NBA draft choice who opted to play overseas, after which he produced an award-winning series of stories. He also is passionate about fantasy sports and breaking down games in ways that even novice gamblers can use to make their most intelligent wagering decisions.