NFL fan Joshua Jones (@JoshuapsJones) oversees Saturday's night action from Wild Card play-offs.
Indianapolis Colts @ Buffalo Bills | Saturday 9th January 2021, 18:05 | Sky Sports
The first play-off game of the season gets underway at 18:05 on Saturday, as the #2 seed Buffalo Bills welcome the #7 seed Indianapolis Colts to Orchard Park for their first home postseason tie since 1996. Buffalo opened as 6.5 point favourites (where they remain at the time of writing), with the total set at 51 points.
The Colts snuck into the play-offs on the final day of the regular season, with a win over division rivals Jacksonville, and have their postseason opponents to thank for it – after Buffalo put on an absolute clinic against the Miami Dolphins, opening the door for Indy.
The Bills, who were able to bench MVP-calibre quarterback Josh Allen at half-time on the back of 28 second quarter points, left Miami stunned in a 56-26 rout and secured a top two seed in the AFC for the first time since 1993.
They are, in my opinion, a better side in all facets of the game than the Colts are (and DVOA agrees with me) so should have no trouble dispatching their AFC South opponent.
The key to doing that is, of course, Josh Allen. The 3rd-year QB threw for over 4500 yards, 37 TDs and 10 INTs during the regular season – with a passer rating of 107.2 – and I’ll be taking him to make over 37.5 pass attempts at 5/6 with SkyBet (H/T @paulsingh22 who I know is also on this.)
Realistically, I think you can attack both his attempts and completions (24.5) line in this game as the Colts will look to stuff the run and prevent getting beat deep down the field by playing lots of zone coverage.
This’ll open up the short-intermediate range for Josh Allen to hit and I think he’ll do that repeatedly with the talent he’s got at his disposal. Excluding the game he didn’t finish against Miami, Allen has hit this line in five of his last seven games and averaged 38.5 attempts in those games (and 41 when you exclude the Chargers game in which he only threw the ball 24 times).
Indy, on the other hand, have allowed ten of the last 12 QBs they’ve faced to reach this line – with only Lamar Jackson and Ryan Tannehill, who average 25 and 30 attempts per game respectively, failing to do so.
Along similar lines, I don’t rate the Colts’ defence as highly as a lot of others seem to. Their good performances have been against awful offenses (Bears, Jets) and whenever they’ve faced a functioning offense they’ve allowed a bunch of points.
In fact, they’ve allowed eight of the 13 teams they’ve faced this season to reach 27 points at least once, including the Jaguars, Bengals and Steelers – who all rank 22nd or below on offense, per DVOA.
At the time of writing Steffon Diggs and Cole Beasley are officially listed as questionable, but I think both guys will be involved in this game and it’s why I’m taking Buffalo Bills Over 28.5 Points at 19/20 with betway.
The inclusion of those two elite receivers, and the return of John Brown from injured reserve, should give Buffalo more than enough firepower to overcome the Colts. In the 6 games in which Brown has four or more receptions this year, Buffalo has averaged a whopping 36.3 points.
Los Angeles Rams @ Seattle Seahawks | Saturday 9th January 2021, 18:05 | Sky Sports
The LA Rams (10-6) leave the warmth of California and head north to Washington to take on the Seattle Seahawks (12-4) in the rainy city. It’ll be the third time these NFC West sides have faced off in the last 9 weeks, in a winner-takes-all scenario, with the series currently tied at 1-1.
How often is the third instalment the best in the trilogy? Revenge of the Sith from the Star Wars prequels? Return of the King in the LOTR franchise? The Good, The Bad and The Ugly? Toy Story 3? Either way, it’s not often.
We’ll be hoping this is one of those times though, as the divisional rivals go head-to-head in what looks more likely to be a war of attrition than your classic shoot-out.
To kick this one off, I’ll be taking Under 42.5 Points at 10/11 with Betfair.
The total for this is the lowest of the weekend, and there’s a good reason for that. The Rams are the best side left in the play-offs for unders this year, with 12 of their 16 games going under the specified total – at an average of just 41.6 points per game.
This is further compounded by the fact seven of the Seahawks’ last eight games – including both matches between these two – have gone under the total. In that stretch, Seattle has an average of 39.1 points per game.
Honestly, the way these two play each other, I’d probably rather they played rock, paper, scissors and awarded their victory their inevitable 20-13 win.
Sticking with the theme of unders, my second play for this game is Russell Wilson Under 254.5 Passing Yards at 4/5 with Unibet (playable down to 249.5).
After an astronomical start to the regular season in which he threw for 28 touchdowns and over 2,500 yards in just 8 games, ‘Mr.Unlimited’ ran into a brick wall in the shape of this Los Angeles Rams defense and hasn’t recovered since.
In his 8 starts to end the regular season, Russ has thrown for just 1,671 yards and 12 TDs. He has only gone over this line – which I think is inflated because of his early season form – in one game down the stretch, instead passing for an average of 208.9 yards per game.
On the other side of the ball, the Rams allow an average of just 212.6 yards per game to opposing QBs.
In fact, Brandon Staley’s defense hasn’t allowed an opposing quarterback to reach this line since Week 7 – keeping Tom Brady, Kyler Murray, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson (TWICE) under 250 yards.
Speaking of Wilson, he has only gone over this line against a Ram’s team once in 10 games since they moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles. This is not a team he likes to face, at all.
Another line I considered, but won’t be tipping, is DK Metcalf’s under. When he’s matched up against Jalen Ramsey (which he should be during this game), Wilson literally doesn’t look his way whatsoever. His line of 62.5 at Paddypower seems a little inflated considering he hasn’t reached those heights in any of his last four games, and has only done so once against the Rams in his two-year career.
If I had to pick a side in this game, I’d plump for LA to win outright at plus money. 6/4 feels generous, no matter who is at QB for the Rams, for two sides that are so similarly matched. Both teams will look to run the ball as much as possible and avoid putting it in harms way against two solid defenses.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Washington | Sunday 10th January 2021, 01:15 | Sky Sports
Tom Brady steers his swashbuckling Buccaneers northward, as they sail into Maryland to challenge Chase Young and his rowdy rabble of defenders.
Before I get into my picks for this article, I have to say how unbelievably incredible it is that Alex Smith and Ron Rivera have taken this side to the postseason.
In November 2018, Smith suffered a horrific injury (spiral compound fracture of the tibia and fibula) that almost cost him his life. He went through 17 surgeries and had to ask doctor’s not to amputate his leg, despite it threatening his very existence.
Now his Washington team is preparing for their first play-off game in five years, coached by a man that spent the start of the regular season battling (and beating) a form of skin cancer – including taking IV at the HALF-TIME of their games because he was so fatigued.
Unfortunately for Smith, it looks like the calf strain he has been dealing with for the last couple of weeks may sideline him for this one – at least to begin with – so it’ll be Taylor Heinicke under centre.
He was an interesting watch when he came in against Carolina in Week 16 and will definitely be a bit more adventurous with deep shots than the man he is replacing.
Thankfully, my first pick of this game won’t matter who’s in at QB for Washington; it’s JD McKissic Under 21.5 Rushing Yards at 7/10 with Unibet.
It looks like Antonio Gibson should be good to go for this one and a lot of people (myself included) think he’ll struggle against the Bucs’ elite run defense. My thinking is if Gibson struggles, it’s likely those behind him in the pecking order do too.
Furthermore, McKissic has failed to reach this line in any of the last four games (and 6 of the last 7) in which he and Gibson have both started – rushing for a combined 24 yards on 12 carries in his four most recent games. The former Detroit Lion has actually become more of an aerial threat than a ground threat this season; with a total of 589 receiving yards to 365 rushing yards.
Now he’s running into a Buccaneers front seven that is the only unit in the league not to allow over 1000 rushing yards to RBs on the season, making them the number one defense against the run according to DVOA.
On the other side of the ball, serial winner Tom Brady will be appearing in the wildcard round for the first time in 11 years and his first time ever as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer.
A couple of years ago, the thought of Tom Brady in primetime would invoke a sense of confidence and excitement. Now, not so much.
‘Tom Terrific’ (wtf is that nickname!?) has struggled when playing in the primetime slot over the last couple of years, and it has been the home of his worst performances this season – including throwing 5 interceptions in two games against the Saints and the Rams.
Brady has thrown a pick in six of his last eight primetime games, and now faces a Washington defense that ranks second against the pass.
Maybe I’ve been caught up in the narrative of it all, but the only way Washington have any chance in this game is by winning the turnover battle and this would be a good place to start.
Indianapolis Colts @ Buffalo Bills – Josh Allen Over 37.5 Pass Attempts (5/6 SkyBet)
Indianapolis Colts @ Buffalo Bills – Buffalo Bills Over 28.5 Points (19/20 Betway)
Los Angeles Rams @ Seattle Seahawks – Under 42.5 Points (10/11 Betfair)
Los Angeles Rams @ Seattle Seahawks – Russell Wilson Under 254.5 Passing Yards (4/5 Unibet)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Washington – JD McKissic Under 21.5 Rushing Yards (7/10 Unibet)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Washington – Tom Brady Over 0.5 Interceptions (5/6 Bet365)