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NFL Betting: Wild Card Saturday ATS Picks

Matt McEwan

by Matt McEwan in NFL Football

Jan 7, 2017 · 5:55 AM PST

Can Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor bring the Boom in the playoffs without Earl Thomas?

The NFL’s Wild Card weekend always brings a flurry of emotions for me. On one hand, I’m excited for playoff football. On the other, I miss watching 16 games at once. Usually, you can count on playoff quality making up for the lack of quantity. I’m not sure if the two games in store for us this Saturday (January 7) went through quality-control, though. (The NFL may need to implement better product testing procedures next year.)

If you’re not overly enthused about the underwhelming quarterback matchup the Raiders at Texans provides, or the chances of a banged-up Matthew Stafford leading his Lions to victory in Seattle, there’s still a way to make it a thrilling day: bet on the games!

Not sure who to take? That’s why I’m here. If you’d prefer to take advice from more than just me, here’s our Wild Card Weekend Podcast.

Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans (-3.5)

As the Raiders prepare to play their first playoff game since losing in Super Bowl XXXVII (2002 season), they will have to do so without Derek Carr, who suffered a broken leg in Week 16. In his place will be rookie fourth-round pick Connor Cook, who is set to become the first quarterback ever to make his first career start in a playoff game. As a result, we are a little uncertain of what to expect from the Raider offense on Saturday.

Cook went 14/21 for 150 yards, one touchdown, and one interception in his relief appearance in Denver last weekend. That line looks pretty good considering it came against the Broncos’ secondary, but it should be noted that he came into a 24-0 blowout, and Denver was missing some of its better pieces on defense.

While Cook is an unknown commodity, we know what to expect from Houston’s Brock Osweiler. After signing a massive $72 million deal with the Texans in the offseason, the apparent solution to the team’s QB issues has been anything but the answer. Osweiler was as miserable as his stats suggest: 59-percent passing, 197.1 yards per game, 15:16 touchdown-to-interception ratio, 72.2 passer rating.

However, one of his better games of the season came against this same Raider defense back in Week 11, when he posted an 81.5 passer rating in a controversial 27-20 setback.

The big question regarding Houston’s offense is whether head coach Bill O’Brien trusts Osweiler to put the ball in the air. O’Brien actually benched Osweiler in Week 15, turning the team over to Tom Savage, but was forced back to go back to Osweiler when Savage suffered a shoulder injury. With Oakland’s defense ranking 23rd against the run, and allowing an average of 4.5 yards per carry (25th), O’Brien is apt to lean on Lamar Miller and the ground game.

If there’s one unit you can trust in this game, it’s the Texans defense. Houston ranks first in total defense and 11th in scoring. After starting the season rather suspect against the run, allowing 135.4 rushing yards per game through their first seven, the Texans stiffened up over their last nine, only surrendering 71.8 yards per game. On top of that, they rank second against the pass, and have generated at least one turnover in eight straight games.

Going back to their earlier meeting this year (which took place in Mexico City), Derek Carr was the difference. Oakland only managed 30 rushing yards on 20 carries, but Carr threw for 295 yards and three touchdowns while posting a 117.0 passer rating. Cook will not perform at the same level. Houston is 7-1 at home this season, and its defense only allows an average of 287 total yards and 16.6 points per game at NRG Stadium. Trust in the Texans defense.

Pick: Texans (-3.5)

Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks (-8)

While the Raiders haven’t played in a playoff game since 2002, the Lions’ misery trumps that; Detroit has not won a playoff game since 1991, going 0-7 in that time. A month ago, the team looked poised to end that drought, holding an almost insurmountable lead atop the NFC North. Then they lost three straight games and watched Green Bay win five in a row. Now, instead of hosting a playoff game at Ford Field, they find themselves big underdogs on the road in Seattle.

If there’s anything we’ve learned about this Lions team this year, it’s not to count out Matthew Stafford. Detroit’s field general set an NFL record this season by leading his team to eight fourth-quarter comebacks. It’s no coincidence that the Lions offense began to struggle after Stafford dislocated the middle finger on his throwing hand, but it should also be noted that their last three opponents were some of the best teams in the league (NYG, Dallas, Green Bay). With the 30th-ranked rushing attack as their other option on offense, Detroit will need the healthiest version of Stafford to pull off an upset.

Playing in Seattle is never easy. It gets even tougher in the postseason. The Seahawks were 7-1 at CenturyLink this season, and have won nine-straight playoff games at home. The defense is still a very good unit, but has not been as dominant as we’ve become accustomed to. Seattle ranks fifth in total defense and third in scoring; the loss of safety Earl Thomas has left the team with a major hole in the Legion of Boom secondary.

Offensively, the NFC West champs have struggled to overcome issues on the offensive line. The group has allowed 42 sacks (sixth-most) while blocking for a very mobile quarterback, and it hasn’t provided the running backs with much space, only averaging 3.9 yards per carry (24th). Fortunately, Russell Wilson looks fully healthy again and has posted a 112.0 passer rating over his last three games.

Focusing in on the two quarterbacks, Wilson has a 7-3 record in the playoffs with a 93.4 passer rating in those games. While his record becomes more impressive when looking at home playoff games (4-0), Wilson’s passer rating drops to 85.1 at C-Link in the playoffs.

That’s still much better than Stafford has fared in Seattle, though: 0-2 record with five interceptions and a horrendous 55.4 passer rating. But Stafford has played well in the playoffs, posting a 92.4 passer rating in two road playoff games.

It’s hard to bet against Seattle at home, but I see Stafford rising to the occasion and at least keeping this game within a touchdown.

Pick: Lions (+8)

Photo Credit: Mike Morris (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

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