The opening weekend of the NFL playoffs is here. And with that, let’s break down a final look at our NFL Wild Card round predictions and picks for all three Sunday games. The following betting odds are for picks against the spread as well as moneylines based on DraftKings Sportsbook.
NFL Predictions and Picks for Sunday Games
Just like during the NFL regular season, the playoffs feature the expected, the moderately unexpected, and the completely unexpected. When betting on point spreads and moneylines, we need to focus on the first two outcomes.
What are the highest-probability game scripts? Which interesting subplots could emerge? For example, we cannot anticipate when a little-used fullback will fall into the end zone twice in one half. But we can assess the likelihood that one team’s backfield will earn more scoring opportunities.
With that in mind, here are our preliminary assessments of how each game might proceed.
Buffalo Bills (-13.5) vs. Miami Dolphins
- Date: Sunday, Jan. 15
- Start time: 1 p.m. ET
An 11-point advantage on Tuesday has jumped to 13.5 Friday. And who knows? It might hit 15 by game time.
As shared earlier this week, I researched every game between these two teams over the past 20 years. At no time has Miami won in conditions of 30 degrees or colder. The high is expected to be 30 degrees. So if you believe in weather omens, heed this one.
But, of course, the weather is the least of Miami’s concerns. A once-promising season — featuring breakout star Tua Tagovailoa — has devolved into an existential crisis. Tagovailoa’s concussions are worrisome for this team far beyond this season. Miami’s backfield consists of two oft-injured veterans. Their defense is sub-par.
Their chances of keeping this one close rest almost entirely on arguably the best WR tandem in the league. But while a QB or RB can help carry an offense, WRs need more help. Third-string QB Skylar Thompson can do only so much.
Buffalo will come prepared to bottle up Jeff Wilson Jr. and contain Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle near the line of scrimmage. Force Thompson to throw accurately downfield. Force the rookie to execute near-perfect timing in only his third career start.
I’d be shocked if the Bills win by fewer than 20 points.
Against-the-spread prediction: Bills
Moneyline winner: Bills
Minnesota Vikings (-3) vs. New York Giants
- Date: Sunday, Jan. 15
- Start time: 4:30 p.m. ET
If there’s a tougher playoff team to size up than the Minnesota Vikings, I can’t think of one. In fact, when was the last time a postseason squad looked like they can beat any team . . . and also lose to any team?
The New York Giants are an open book by comparison. We know Saquon Barkley drives their offensive engine. We know the mobile Daniel Jones will try to work magic with a collection of receivers who, this summer, were not even on most bettors’ radars. They were backups trying to make a team expected to perform somewhere between disappointing and dismal.
MORE: NFL Playoff Bracket Predictions
The spread was three points on Tuesday. It’s still three points. In many respects, these are two evenly-matched teams that operate entirely differently. They’re like strawberries and mustard. Both popular. Both edible. But not at the same time.
Both teams need their RBs to get going. Dalvin Cook is averaging only 3.39 yards per carry in four losses, while Barkley is averaging only 3.66 yards per carry in six losses and a tie.
And yet, I believe Minnesota can afford to pivot from Cook if needed. He’s averaged only 10.3 carries in those four losses, while Barkley’s carried the ball 14.4 times per loss/tie. The Giants cannot afford to phase out their best offensive playmaker.
Minnesota’s offensive versatility is the key. They’re beatable but not as beatable as the more top-heavy Giants.
Against-the-spread prediction: Vikings
Moneyline winner: Vikings
Cincinnati Bengals (-9) vs. Baltimore Ravens
- Date: Sunday, Jan. 15
- Start time: 8:15 p.m. ET
This point spread made no sense to me when it was 6.5 on Tuesday. Now it’s nine points. It’s certainly moving in a reasonable direction based on the likely outcome. But not enough.
The Cincinnati Bengals are better than their record and their stats indicate. They opened the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets, Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, and New Orleans Saints. A lot of tough offenses and/or defenses in that mix.
So it shouldn’t have been surprising that they were two minutes away from falling to 2-4 before a 60-yard, game-winning TD from Joe Burrow to Ja’Marr Chase turned their season around.
Through it all, they lost Chase for five contests and Joe Mixon for three. Vastly underrated TE Hayden Hurst missed four games. Tee Higgins missed one game but was also limited or knocked out of at least two other contests.
For all of the Ravens’ notable struggles with injuries, the difference is that Baltimore has had to make do with who they have left: J.K. Dobbins, Mark Andrews, a potentially-returning Gus Edwards, and perhaps the least effective WR corps this league has seen in years. Oh, and a backup QB leading the charge.
But the Bengals won eight straight despite facing adversity, and now are finally (mostly) healthy. They’ve come out the other side stronger than when they entered — not unlike the main character in any coming-of-age film starring Tobey Maguire.
Against-the-spread prediction: Bengals
Moneyline winner: Bengals