This article is designed to be an early betting preview for this week’s playoff games. I’ll include my personal power ratings, Super Bowl odds, and mini-game previews with recent trends. I’ll also include my bets and leans for the week at the end of the article.
My power ratings are a starting point for point-spread betting between two teams. They take into account recent performances, long-term injuries, coaching, and strength of schedule. These ratings are intended to help predict performances in the present, but they’re not necessarily predictive for the rest of the season.
I will take my Power Ratings into account when I make my weekly against the spread picks for the week, but I’ll also consider current injury reports, home-field advantage, weather, and other factors that may be relevant. I’m baking in about a 1.5-point adjustment for most home teams. I hope you find these ratings useful and good luck with your wagers!
|Rank||Team||Power Rating||2021 Record (ATS)||Ratings Change||Super Bowl LVI Odds|
|1.||Green Bay Packers||8||13-4 (12-5)||+.5||+380|
|2.||Kansas City Chiefs||7||12-5 (8-9)||—||+450|
|3.||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||6.5||13-4 (9-8)||—||+800|
|4.||Buffalo Bills||6||11-6 (9-6-2)||—||+750|
|5.||Los Angeles Rams||5.5||12-5 (8-9)||-.5||+1000|
|6.||Dallas Cowboys||5.5||12-5 (13-4)||—||+1200|
|7.||San Francisco 49ers||5||10-7 (9-8)||+.5||+2000|
|8.||Tennessee Titans||4.5||12-5 (10-7)||+.5||+850|
|9.||New England Patriots||4.5||10-7 (10-7)||-1||+2200|
|10.||Cincinnati Bengals||4||10-7 (10-7)||—||+1600|
|11.||Arizona Cardinals||3.5||11-6 (10-7)||-.5||+2500|
|12.||Philadelphia Eagles||2.5||9-8 (8-8-1)||—||+6000|
|13.||Las Vegas Raiders||1||10-7 (8-9)||+1||+6000|
|14.||Pittsburgh Steelers||0||9-7-1 (8-9)||—||+9000|
WILD CARD MATCHUPS
(5) LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (+6000 Super Bowl odds) AT (4) CINCINNATI BENGALS (+1600)
Spread: Bengals -5.5
Time: 4:35 p.m., Saturday
Forecast: 28 degrees, 10 mph, 30% chance of rain/snow
The young Bengals wrapped up their first AFC North title since 2015 with their victory over the Chiefs in Week 17, and they were the only non-favorites to win their division at whopping +2500 odds. HC Zac Taylor owned just six wins through two seasons, but Cincinnati reached 10 victories in 2021 and they exceeded their season win total by 3.5 victories. The Bengals used the last week of the regular season to rest QB Joe Burrow, and they picked a good week to have a COVID outbreak before a relatively meaningless game against the Browns.
They’ll look to exercise some postseason demons in their first playoff game since Vontaze Burfict handed the Steelers a victory in 2015 when he tried to kill Antonio Brown with an illegal hit. Cincinnati is 0-7 in the postseason since Boomer Esiason led them to a Wild Card victory over the Houston Oilers during the 1990 season. The Bengals are finally moving in the right direction again with Burrow leading the league in completion percentage (70.4%) and YPA (8.9) in his second season, and rookie Ja’Marr Chase broke Chad Johnson’s single-season team record with 1455 receiving yards, which is also the most by a rookie in the Super Bowl era. The Bengals have covered four straight games and in six of their last seven contests, which started back when the Bengals smoked the Raiders 32-13 in late November as 2.5-point road underdogs in a game totaled at 51 points.
The Bengals are mostly playoff virgins but Derek Carr will also be making his first postseason start. He broke his leg in the second to last game of the 2016 season, which was the last time the Raiders made the postseason. Only Ryan Fitzpatrick and Archie Manning have started more regular season games than Carr without starting a playoff game, but Carr will finally take himself off that list this week. This is only the franchise’s second postseason appearance since they lost to Jon Gruden’s Buccaneers in the 2003 Super Bowl. Carr’s 4804 passing yards this season broke Rich Gannon’s previous franchise record of 4689 yards set in 2002. The Raiders had to win four straight games just to reach the postseason, and they’ve covered in their last three contests after their dramatic overtime victory over the Chargers. Even with their late-season surge, they’re sporting the worst point differential in the playoffs at -65, which ranks 23rd in the NFL and 13th in the AFC. The NFL did the Raiders no favors by flexing their Week 18 contest to Sunday Night Football and then giving them the first game of the playoffs on Saturday afternoon.
(6) NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (+2200) AT (3) BUFFALO BILLS (+750)
- Spread: Bills -4
- Total: 43
- Time: 8:15 p.m., Saturday
- Forecast: 2 degrees, 5 mph, 10% chance of snow
The weather for this contest will be a big talking point this week after these teams played in a windstorm back in Week 13. Rookie QB Mac Jones famously attempted just three passes when the Patriots pulled out a 14-10 victory as three-point road underdogs in a game totaled at 41 points. The Bills got their revenge three weeks later in a 33-21 win as one-point road favorites in a game totaled at 43.5 points. These teams will meet for the third time in seven weeks in the Wild Card Round, and the early forecast is more favorable to the Patriots’ run-heavy attack. Temperatures are expected to be sitting in the single digits on Saturday night in Orchard Park with the potential to be subzero by the end of the game, but wind (5 mph) and snow (10% chance) aren’t expected to be factors.
The Patriots are in unfamiliar territory entering the postseason as a Wild Card team opening the playoffs on the road. Bill Belichick’s first 17 postseason appearances with the Patriots came after New England won the AFC East. The Patriots controlled their destiny after beating the Bills in Week 13, which capped a seven-game outright and ATS winning streak. They’re 1-3 outright and ATS since their Week 14 bye, though, with their defense allowing 27+ points and Jones throwing five INTs and averaging 6.6 YPA in their three losses in that span. Damien Harris has hammered Buffalo’s weak run defense with 28/214/4 rushing (7.6 YPC) in two games, and Belichick will look to shorten this game to keep Josh Allen off the field as much as possible.
The Bills are starting their own run of dominance in the division with their second consecutive AFC East title. They enter the playoffs with the league’s best point differential at +194, ahead of the Patriots who finished third at +159. All 11 of Buffalo’s victories have come by double-digit margins but five of their six losses have come in one-score games. The Bills are allowing a league-low 17.0 points per game — just ahead of the Patriots at 17.8 PPG (2nd-fewest) — and they’re giving up the fewest yards per play (4.6) after limiting the Jets to a franchise-low 53 yards in the season finale. The Bills turned to Devin Singletary to be their bellcow back in the final four weeks of the season, and he should be active again this week after averaging 21.0/99.1 scrimmage per game with six TDs in that span. The Bills won all four of those contests outright and they went 3-0-1 ATS to close out the season.
(7) PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (+6000) AT (2) TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (+800)
- Spread: Buccaneers -8.5
- Total: 49
- Time: 1:05 p.m., Sunday
- Forecast: 60 degrees, 10 mph, 10% chance of rain
Sunday’s action kicks off with a rematch of a Thursday Night Football showdown from Week 6 between the Buccaneers and Eagles. Tampa Bay escaped Philadelphia with a 28-22 victory in a game totaled at 53 points, but the Eagles left with the backdoor cover as seven-point home underdogs by scoring the last two touchdowns and a two-point conversion. Both of these teams have undergone some changes since then, especially the Eagles who have moved toward a more run-heavy approach.
Philadelphia is averaging 189.8 rushing yards per game over their last 10 contests after averaging 116.7 rushing yards per game through their first seven contests. The Eagles set a franchise record with 2715 rushing yards this season and Jalen Hurts actually finished as their leading rushing with 784 yards. Philadelphia’s backfield will be back at full strength with Miles Sanders (hand) and Jordan Howard (COVID) returning to the lineup. Philly’s run game will be tested this week against a Tampa Bay defense that’s allowing the third-fewest rushing yards per game (92.5). The Bucs have shown some cracks late in the year, though, allowing 100+ rushing yards in five of their last six games after allowing 100+ yards just three times in their first 10 contests.
The Eagles finished the year 6-1 outright and 4-2-1 ATS in the final seven games they played with their starters in the lineup, and the Buccaneers won seven of their final eight games with a 6-2 ATS mark in that span. Tampa Bay will look to defend its Super Bowl title without WRs Chris Godwin (ACL) and Antonio Brown (released), but they’re expected to get RB Leonard Fournette (hamstring) and pass rushers Shaq Barrett (knee) and Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) back in the lineup — LB Lavonte David (foot) is a little more uncertain. Tom Brady will start his journey for an eighth Super Bowl title and his second ring in as many years with the Buccaneers. Brady is coming off a career-best 5316 passing yards, and he joined Drew Brees as the only player to reach 5000 passing yards twice in a career. He also set a Bucs’ record with 43 touchdown passes, and 14 of those scores went to Mike Evans, who set his own franchise record. Evans also extended his NFL-best run of eight seasons with 1000 yards to open his career.
(6) SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (+2000) AT (3) DALLAS COWBOYS (+1200)
- Spread: Cowboys -3
- Total: 50.5
- Time: 4:40 p.m., Sunday
- Forecast: Dome
The tightest point spread of the Wild Card Round features two streaking teams in the 49ers and Cowboys. San Francisco has been one of the hottest teams in the league with a 7-2 outright and ATS record in their last nine games, and they’re coming off a 27-24 overtime victory over the Rams as 3.5-point road underdogs. Dallas is sporting a 5-1 outright and ATS record in their last six games, but they’ve done it by beating up on the Eagles’ backups, Saints, Giants, and Washington twice. They dropped a 25-22 decision to the Cardinals as 6.5-point home favorites in Week 17, which was their one playoff-caliber opponent in that span.
The Cowboys finished with the second-best point differential at +172, behind only the Bills, and they set a franchise record with 530 points this season. They also finished with an NF Dak Prescott set his own franchise record with 37 TD passes, and he used last week’s exhibition game to get on the same page with Cedrick Wilson heading into the playoffs. The fourth-year WR finished with a career-high 119 receiving yards and two TDs filling in for Michael Gallup, who suffered a season-ending ACL injury in Week 17.
The Cowboys averaged the third-most yards per play (6.0) this season, behind only the Buccaneers and 49ers at 6.1 YPP. Jimmy Garoppolo made it through the season finale playing through his throwing thumb injury, and he led a furious comeback starting with 38 seconds left in the second quarter. He completed 18 of his final 25 passes for 277 yards (11.1 YPA), one TD, and one INT in the final 39 minutes against the Rams. Deebo Samuel has been the NFL’s biggest X-factor this season, and he’s been completely overlooked for Offensive Player of the Year honors (+5000 odds). He set an NFL record for a wide receiver with eight rushing touchdowns, and he led the league with 18.2 YPR. Keep an eye on the status of LT Trent Williams (elbow) this week after he was unable to play in the season finale.
(7) PITTSBURGH STEELERS (+9000) AT (2) KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (+450)
- Spread: Chiefs -12.5
- Total: 46
- Time: 8:15 p.m., Sunday
- Forecast: 37 degrees, 5-10 mph, 5% chance of rain
The Chiefs are starting their bid to reach their third straight Super Bowl, and they have a chance to host their fourth consecutive AFC Championship with a pair of wins and a Tennessee loss in the Divisional Round. They received the easiest draw of the Wild Card Round against a Steelers team they just wiped out 36-10 in Week 16 as 10.5-point home favorites in a game totaled at 44.5 points. The Chiefs enter the postseason on a 9-1 outright run and a 6-2 ATS streak, and they’ve played over the total in five straight games with their offense posting 28+ points in each of those contests.
Patrick Mahomes is trending in the right direction entering the playoffs even with a sub-par performance against Denver in the season finale. He’s averaging 8.1 YPA over his last five games with 12 TDs and just one INT after averaging 6.3 YPA with seven TDs and four INTs in his previous six contests in Weeks 7-13. Tyreek Hill barely played in Week 18 with a heel injury, which certainly didn’t help Mahomes’ performance, but he’s expected to be ready to play against the Steelers. Clyde Edwards-Helaire (collarbone) and Darrel Williams (toe) are also trending in the right direction to be available for Sunday.
The Steelers overcame long odds to reach the playoffs. A parlay on the Steelers to beat the Ravens (+150) and the Jaguars to beat the Colts (+750) paid out at +1900 odds. They then needed the Raiders and Chargers to avoid a tie on Sunday Night Football, which looked bound to happen after both teams made field goals in the extra frame. Pittsburgh’s reward is a date with the defending AFC champions, and the Steelers are facing the longest odds (+500) to advance to the Divisional Round. Ben Roethlisberger is facing the biggest point spread (+12.5) of his career in potentially his final game, and he enters this week with a career-worst 6.2 YPA. Najee Harris (elbow) and Diontae Johnson (ribs) are expected to be ready to play, but they left the season finale a little worse for wear.
This is the 10th time the Steelers have made the playoffs in Mike Tomlin’s 15 years as a head coach, and they reached nine wins with smoke and mirrors for much of the season — only the Raiders own a worse point differential entering the playoffs at -55 (22nd, 12th AFC). T.J. Watt and Pittsburgh’s defense is going to have to make a massive impact if the Steelers have any chance at pulling off one of the bigger upsets in postseason history. Watt, who played in 15 games this season, tied Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record with 22.5 sacks.
(5) ARIZONA CARDINALS (+2500) AT (4) LOS ANGELES RAMS (+1000)
- Spread: Rams -4
- Total: 49
- Time: 8:15 p.m., Monday
- Forecast: Dome
Los Angeles is coming off its first loss in 46 games with a halftime lead under Sean McVay. The Rams had run off five straight outright victories (4-1 ATS) before they squandered a 17-point lead in their overtime loss to the 49ers in the season finale. They went from being the second seed hosting a Taysom Hill-less Saints team to the fourth seed and a much more difficult path against the division-rival Cardinals. The Rams backed into the NFC West title thanks to Arizona’s loss to the Seahawks in the season finale. The Cardinals scored a defensive touchdown on the second play of the game and they still lost 38-30 as 5.5-point home favorites against a seven-win Seattle squad.
McVay and the Rams own Kliff Kingsbury and the Cardinals over the last three seasons with a 5-1 outright record and a 4-1-1 ATS mark in this series. Cooper Kupp became the fourth player to win the receiving Triple Crown by leading the league in receptions (145), receiving yards (1947), and touchdown catches (16). His quarterback, Matthew Stafford is stumbling into the playoffs with eight INTs and a 7.4 YPA average in his last four games after throwing just nine INTs while 8.3 YPA in his first 13 contests. The Rams at least got Cam Akers back in the mix last week with five carries and three catches, which is a minor miracle considering he tore his Achilles just over six months ago from his return to action. They did lose S Jordan Fuller to a season-ending ankle injury in Week 18, and S Taylor Rapp is in concussion protocol so the Rams could be a bit vulnerable on the back end.
Arizona will hit the road for their first playoff game since the 2015 season, and they might be happy to be playing in Los Angeles considering their extreme home-road splits this season. The Cardinals own a remarkable 8-1 outright and ATS record away from Glendale while they’re riding a five-game outright and ATS losing streak at State Farm Stadium. The Cardinals are 1-4 outright and ATS in their last five games overall, which includes a 30-23 loss to the Rams as three-point home underdogs in a game totaled at 51 points in Week 14. Arizona wiped out the Rams 37-20 as 3.5-point road underdogs in a game totaled at 54 points in Week 4. The Cardinals get a little extra time for James Conner (ribs) and Chase Edmonds (ribs/toe) to heal this week, and the Cardinals could get J.J. Watt (shoulder) back after they designated him for return last week. Arizona held opponents to 20 or fewer points in six of its seven games with Watt in the lineup, while opponents have posted 20+ points in 8-of-10 games without Watt in the lineup.
(1) GREEN BAY PACKERS (SB ODDS +380)
The NFC North’s longest-tenured coach, Mike LaFleur, led his team to 13 wins for the third straight season to open his career in Green Bay, and they captured the NFC’s top seed and homefield advantage for the second straight season. It doesn’t hurt that LaFleur has Aaron Rodgers at his disposal, who is the odds-on favorite (-500) to win back-to-back MVP awards. Davante Adams is also having a special season after breaking his old teammate Jordy Nelson’s single-season franchise record with 1553 receiving yards.
Green Bay’s line has been the weakest link for this offense, but they could be rounding into form entering the playoffs. All-Pro LT David Bakhtiari saw his first action of the season in Week 18 since he tore his left ACL on New Year’s Eve in 2020. Second-round center Josh Myers returned in the season finale after sitting out 12 weeks for a knee injury. The Packers have just the NFL’s 10th-best point differential at +79, but they still enter the postseason with the NFL’s second-best ATS record at 12-5, behind only the Cowboys at 13-4. They’ve played over the total in six of their last seven games heading into the playoffs and their defense allowed 28+ points in five of those contests. Green Bay’s beleaguered defense should be getting some key reinforcements for the Divisional Round though, with top CB Jaire Alexander (shoulder) and top pass rusher Za’Darius Smith (back) expected to return.
(1) TENNESSEE TITANS (SB ODDS +850)
The Titans earned the AFC’s top seed and homefield advantage for the third time since they relocated to Tennessee in 1997. They eked out the one seed despite using an NFL-high 91 players this season and finishing with the AFC’s sixth-best point differential at +65. Mike Vrabel is somehow the third favorite for the Coach of the Year honors at +240 behind Zac Taylor (+175) and Matt LaFleur (+195). The Titans enter the postseason with three straight outright victories to earn No. 1 seed, and they’ve played under the total in four of their last five contests.
The Titans could get their most important player back for their postseason run with Derrick Henry returning to practice before Week 18. Henry’s initial recovery timeline was set at 6-10 weeks, and he’ll be about 12 weeks removed from foot surgery in the Divisional Round so it looks like he’ll be back barring a setback. He still finished ninth in rushing yards (219/937/10 rushing) despite missing the final nine games of the season. Vrabel’s team have been the best with extra time to prepare since he took the Titans job in 2018, sporting a perfect 8-0 outright and ATS record when coming off a bye or a Thursday night game.
BROLLEY’S EARLY BETS
Check out all of my Best Bets for the Wild Card Round.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (+4.5) at Buffalo Bills
LOS ANGELES RAMS (-4) vs. Arizona Cardinals
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (+3.5) at Dallas Cowboys
BROLLEY’S EARLY LEANS
LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (+5.5) at Cincinnati Bengals — I was waiting to see if any +7s would pop but this line has actually fallen below six points so it’s looking unlikely.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (+8.5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers — I’m in no rush to bet this one with the line sitting in no man’s land at +8.5. I’ll wait to see if there’s any chance this line moves to double digits later this week.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (-12.5) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers — I’m leaning toward the Chiefs in this one as long as the line is sitting under two touchdowns.