This weekend will be unlike any other in NFL history.
In 1982, there was a 16-team playoff field due to the strike-shortened season. But the NFL was many years from putting playoff games in prime time. The eight games on the first weekend of the 1982 postseason all happened at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.
The NFL is making sure you will get nothing done this weekend. For the first time there will be two tripleheaders of playoff football, one Saturday and one Sunday. It’ll be roughly nine hours of wild-card action on Saturday, then the same thing on Sunday. It’s a football fan’s dream.
Here are the picks for the Saturday games, with the point spreads from BetMGM (the picks for the Sunday games are here):
Colts (+6.5) over Bills
It’s hard to go against the Bills right now. They’re the hottest team in the NFL, perfectly capable of winning a Super Bowl. Buffalo is 7-1 in its last eight games and every win was by double digits. The only loss was the “Hail Murray” game at the Arizona Cardinals. They’re a fantastic team.
So are the Colts.
Indianapolis is the best reason to have expanded playoffs (though we’ll likely see more No. 7 seeds looking like the 8-8 Chicago Bears). The Colts are 11-5 and deserved a postseason spot. They’re solid across the board: Only four teams finished in the top 12 in offensive, defense and special teams in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, and the Colts were one (the Bills were another, along with the Saints and Ravens). They have not lost to a non-playoff team since Week 1, when they had a weird loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars despite out-gaining the Jags 445-241. Jonathan Taylor’s surge late in the season energized the offense. He had 741 rushing yards and eight total touchdowns in the Colts’ last eight games.
There’s also the odd road team trend in wild-card weekend to consider. Over the last three postseasons, road teams are 9-3 straight up and an astonishing 11-1 against the spread on wild-card weekend. Trends aren’t always predictive, but the erosion of home-field advantage in the NFL has been happening for a while. Road teams went 128-127-1 straight up this season.
The Bills are a very good team. They can win a Super Bowl. But that doesn’t mean the Colts can’t give them a close game.
Seahawks (-4) over Rams
The Los Angeles Rams’ options for Saturday’s playoff game at the Seattle Seahawks: John Wolford making his second start, or Jared Goff 12 days after thumb surgery.
The Rams are a good team in many ways. They’re well-coached, have good skill-position players, the defense has been outstanding and Aaron Donald or Jalen Ramsey can take over a game on that side of the ball.
But the quarterback situation is hard to ignore.
Since the Rams won on Sunday and too much NFL analysis can be traced back to assigning quarterbacks an individual record, the thought has been that Wolford played great in his first start. He was decent. The Rams offense never scored a touchdown. Wolford had a 64.7 passer rating. It was a great story and Wolford did his job in a tough circumstance, but let’s not overstate how he played. The line has moved from Rams +4.5 to +4, and I’m not sure that’s justified.
These two teams played in Seattle two weeks ago, and the Seahawks won 20-9 to clinch the NFC West. The Rams didn’t score a touchdown and that was with a healthy Goff. I’m not sure a lot has changed.
The Rams defense could keep them in the game and perhaps cover. A lot of people are betting that way. But before you place that bet on the Rams, ask yourself one final question: Are you sure you want to bet on John Wolford against Russell Wilson in a playoff game?
Washington (+8) over Buccaneers
It’s not comforting to take Washington, having just seen them barely beat an Eagles team that was showing no interest in winning last week.
The matchup isn’t terrible for Washington. The strength of their team is the defensive line, and they could make things difficult on Tom Brady. We don’t know how healthy Mike Evans will be, and he’s arguably Tampa Bay’s best player. There is also Brady’s record in prime time. That could be a small-sample fluke, but he hasn’t played great in prime time for about a season-and-a-half. The Buccaneers were 1-3 in late starts and Brady’s passer rating was 73.9, compared to 112.8 in all other games.
The issue will be if Washington can score. Ron Rivera’s comments that he could rotate Alex Smith and Taylor Heinicke, but presumably he’ll only do that if Smith’s calf injury doesn’t cooperate. If Heinicke plays, remember there is in-game betting on BetMGM and invest in the Buccaneers. Washington might not win this game, but Rivera’s squad has been competitive most of the season and they can keep it within a touchdown as long as Smith is reasonably healthy.
Last week: 7-8-1
Season to date: 122-128-5