Welcome to a full NFL Wild Card weekend. The NFL expanded its number of playoff competitors to 14 last season as they hoped to further incentivize the race for each conference’s No. 1 seed. We’re taking advantage of this six-game slate with the best bet for each Wild Card matchup.
Three of the games feature backup quarterbacks, leading to large spreads against two of the teams without their starters. We have you covered for all NFL betting action throughout the 2023 Super Bowl. Let’s dive into whether there’s value to be had in all six games, and which direction you should be leaning.
NFL Wild Card Weekend’s Best Bets
Seahawks vs. 49ers | Seahawks +9.5 (-105)
The third iteration of the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers likely won’t end up with a different outcome than the last two times these divisional foes faced off this year. Even as the 49ers continue to rely on seventh-round rookie and third-stringer Brock Purdy at quarterback, this team is loaded. It’s telling how oddsmakers feel about them considering they’re a bigger favorite to win the Super Bowl than the No. 1 seed Philadelphia Eagles.
The 49ers opened as 6.5-point home favorites but this line has swelled as the total has dropped 1.5 points. Those are significant movements influenced by San Francisco’s 48-20 winning margin in their two games against the Seahawks. Seattle’s also played some sloppy football over the second half of the season, losing five of their last eight games.
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In credit to the Seahawks, who are only 7-10 against the spread this season, they haven’t been getting blown out in most games. Only two losses all season were by more than eight points, including their 20-point loss to the 49ers in Week 2. Having a powerful and balanced offense has helped them stay competitive even in losses.
The 49ers can certainly cover this, but I like the veteran leadership in Seattle to make this a gritty game. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll and quarterback Geno Smith can be steadying forces who upsell their team on being such major underdogs. I think San Francisco will overwhelm Seattle with their talent when it matters the most, but I like Seattle to keep this game closer than this line suggests.
Chargers vs. Jaguars | Jaguars ML (+120)
The most difficult game of the weekend to predict is the rematch of the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars. Jacksonville walloped the Chargers in Week 3, winning 38-10 thanks to a 22-0 second-half run. This opened as a 1.5-point line in favor of the Chargers but has swelled to 2.5.
I think the Jaguars are the better team entering what I’d classify as a coinflip matchup. Jacksonville has been red hot, winning six of their last seven games. They’ve retooled on both sides of the ball after trading running back James Robinson to open playing time for Travis Etienne, and moving cornerback Darious Williams from the slot to outside. Those two moves unlocked a new upside on both sides of the ball.
Though we can certainly throw out some of what happened in their first meeting, as the Chargers were without Keenan Allen, some strategies will continue. The Jaguars had solid success running on one of the worst rush defenses in recent NFL history, with Robinson and Etienne combining for 145 yards on 30 carries. Trevor Lawrence also had a massive day, completing 28-of-39 attempts for 262 yards, three touchdowns, and taking zero sacks.
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The Chargers simply don’t have a reliably good defense despite Brandon Staley having a defensive background and the unit having several high-end individual performers. This puts a big pressure on Justin Herbert to be efficient and impactful, which he often struggles to do despite being one of the young darlings of #filmtwitter. His job will be even more difficult as star receiver Mike Williams will miss this battle.
Williams is now officially out due to Staley’s awful decision to play his starters in Week 18. That swings this pick for me. I would take the Jaguars plus the points if he played, but I think Jacksonville is better coached and is the more well-rounded roster.
Dolphins vs. Bills | Bills -13.5 (-110)
Things are rarely easy in betting, but I think this one is pretty straightforward. The Dolphins, without Tua Tagovailoa and with Teddy Bridgewater only available in an emergency, are dead in the water entering Orchard Park. I’m surprised this line is only at 13.5 points considering the Bills are unanimously a top-5 team and possibly the best overall roster in the NFL.
The dropoff from Tagovailoa to rookie third-stringer Skylar Thompson is massive. With Tua, the Dolphins split their season series with Buffalo and lost the cumulative scoreboard by only one point. They had a chance to upset the AFC’s No. 2 seed if he were healthy, but Miami has notable injuries beyond the quarterback spot.
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Star left tackle Terron Armstead is questionable with a toe and pec injury. Defensive anchors Bradley Chubb and Xavien Howard have been limited in practice. The Bills are healthier and have won seven straight games.
This is a lot of points, but I think this is in the bag by halftime. Buffalo doesn’t need to respect Thompson’s deep passing ability and can crowd his passing lanes by dropping seven and eight defenders into coverage whenever they want. This will be the worst game of the weekend.
Giants vs. Vikings | Under 48 (-110)
Another Wild Card rematch from just a few weeks ago is the Giants against the Vikings. The public seems to have nabbed the Vikings as the team most likely to suffer an upset because of their unusual 11-0 streak in one-score games. I think the Vikings at -3 is a good play as the Giants have been oversold, but the total is the best bet.
It’s easy to forget the Giants and Vikings had 33 combined points until there were three minutes left on the game clock. Then, the Vikings scored 10 points and the Giants added eight in a furious back-and-forth. Factor in the familiarity gained from their first matchup and the intensity of playoff games, and this game will more resemble the first 57 minutes of action than the last three.
Both teams gained yards with ease but couldn’t convert in the red zone until the waning moments. This was the case for both teams’ defense throughout the season, employing a bend-don’t-break mentality to compensate for mediocre talent in their back seven personnel. This will eventually cost both teams their playoff spot, but it doesn’t mean this will be high-scoring.
It’s been a remarkable season for each of these first-year coaching staffs. The Giants have been particularly sharp for a team that was undermanned with high-end talent. However, the Vikings have experienced veterans on both sides of the ball like Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, Patrick Peterson, Eric Kendricks, and Harrison Smith.
This is when that experience pays off.
Ravens vs. Bengals | Bengals -9.5 (-110)
This is another projected blowout as the Bengals are likely to face Ravens backup quarterback Tyler Huntley. Huntley, though, is returning from injuries, as he missed last week with shoulder and wrist injuries.
This line opened and 6.5 and has predictably swelled quickly. The Bengals, in my opinion, might be the best team in the AFC. They possess a fierce defense and the best surrounding cast in the NFL around Joe Burrow. And Burrow might be this era’s version of Tom Brady considering his domination of the Chiefs in their matchups.
The Bengals just won against Baltimore last week, though the Ravens had Anthony Brown at quarterback for the matchup. Baltimore turned it over four times, and Cincinnati just coasted after going up 17 points in the third quarter. Though Huntley is far more proficient than Brown, the difference between these teams with Jackson sidelined is massive.
Baltimore’s defense performed well last week by limiting Burrow’s ability to stack completions and Joe Mixon’s running lanes. They’ll need that same intensity and turnover luck to cover this spread. This one’s dicier than the Bills covering but still a good play.
Cowboys vs. Buccaneers | Cowboys -2.5 (-115)
We have one of the league’s better teams against the spread (Dallas at 10-7) getting less than a field goal against one of the worst teams against the spread (Tampa Bay at 4-12-1). Brady’s Buccaneers have been a disaster to bet on, as their offense has been one of the league’s most dreadful units. The 46-year-old will need to turn back the clock in order to get more out of an offense that has scored more than 23 points only twice all season.
Facing Dallas’ fast and aggressive defense is far from ideal. The Cowboys confuse quarterbacks with their mixed coverages that are extremely good at forcing turnovers. For as smart as Brady is, his process looks slower than ever, and he now routinely misses opportunities that he once hit.
This line is reflective of the skepticism around Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy’s ability to win big games and quarterback Dak Prescott’s sloppy brand of football this season. Those are fair concerns. On paper, the Cowboys should be a much bigger favorite considering their talent advantage and how poorly the Buccaneers have performed this season.
However, this Cowboys franchise has continued to cost themselves opportunities in the past. This is a gut-check moment for the organization in a game they have no business losing.