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It’s NFL play-off time and Paul Highman is here to give us some insight ahead of the action.

It’s NFL play-off time again as 32 teams are whittled down to 14 hopefuls, 12 of which are in action over the expanded “Super Wild Card Weekend” this weekend.

We’ll have two games on Saturday, three on Sunday and a new Monday night fixture to get our six teams who will go through to next week’s Divisional Round joining top seeds Green Bay and Tennessee – who get to sit this week out on a bye.

And just to re-emphasize the format, it means the Titans and Packers will play at home as long as they remain in the hunt, and both can sit back and watch their rivals kick the living daylights out of each other this weekend.

After this week, the Titans and Packers will then face the lowest seeded team left in the play-offs, while the highest seed remaining plays at home against the other remaining contender.

Best Wild Card outsiders

We kick-off with “Super Wild Card Weekend” and although home advantage usually counts the away teams have a great recent record (12-6 since 2017) so who are the teams that could spring an upset?

The Raiders have a puncher’s chance in Cincinnati at 19/10 while given the weather forecast in Buffalo it’s a coin toss game between the Bills and Patriots – and would New England winning at 8/5 really be counted as an upset?

But all three NFC games sees the away sides carry a very real threat to the hosts – the Cardinals are 8/5 at the Rams, where they’ve won once already this season, while the 49ers can give the Cowboys a scare in Texas at 11/8.

The Eagles are the second-biggest outsiders on the slate but at 29/10 might be worth a look, at least on the handicap, as they bring the league’s best run game with them that can cause even the Bucs problems.

Any value in the AFC?

The message here is beware of the Titans as Tennessee continue to be underrated despite having an extra week’s rest this week and home advantage.

Also, the two teams ahead of them in the betting are the Chiefs and the Bills – who the Titans have beaten this season, at home in Nashville, and in consecutive games no less.

They made the AFC Championship game two years ago under Mike Vrabel, and their defence has improved from the one that saw them lose at this stage last season.

They won’t face the Chiefs or Bills until the AFC title game so they’ll likely get the Bengals unless the Steelers or Patriots win on the road – and although the Titans lost to both of those this season, both games were away and they had players missing.

Most notably Derrick Henry, the most dominant running back of a generation, who is set to return after missing the last nine games of the season with a foot injury. He played just eight games yet still finished sixth in the league for rushing TDs (10) and ninth for yards (937) and was on pace to smash records.

In 2020 he led them to the AFC title game after two historically monster games of 182 and 195 yards and while he’ll be eased back in his mere presence presents problems for the opposition and opportunities for QB Ryan Tannehill.

And Tannehill also happens to have receivers AJ Brown and Julio Jones both healthy again after injuries this season – it’s just problem after problems for opposing defences to think about.

The Chiefs are still the team to beat, but when you consider that the Pats and Bills will beat each other up, then Buffalo would likely have to play the Chiefs before the winner then goes to Nashville – they’ll be a tired team facing this powerful Titans outfit.

The Bengals are exciting but maybe not quite tough enough so 16/5 for the Titans to win the AFC or an 8/1 each-way punt for the Super Bowl isn’t the worst outside bet for the play-offs.

Have to back the Pack in the NFC?

If you’ve already backed Green Bay to win the Super Bowl at around the 16/1 at the start of the season then you’re sitting pretty smugly right now, as they’re 7/2 to win the Lombardi Trophy and 17/10 to be NFC champions.

Aaron Rodgers is the huge MVP favourite and they’ll get crucial players back on both sides of the ball before they enter the play-offs next week – where they can’t face the Buccaneers or Cowboys.

Of the teams they could face they’ve already won in San Francisco and Arizona and squashed the Rams at Lambeau Field – which will be frigidly cold with a hot atmosphere for visiting teams.

Going against the Packers is that we’ve been here before – they’ve made the NFC Championship the last two seasons but fallen short, with last year Tom Brady dumping them out at Lambeau.

Rodgers won his first NFC title match then has lost the next four, and he knows that losing five in a row will tarnish the legacy that he’ll be leaving in the game once he departs.

They’ll face problems, especially against teams who can run the ball well like the 49ers, Eagles and Bucs, but the Packers can run it themselves and elsewhere they look to have the answers to solve any problem.

In the NFC betting, I’m sticking with the Packers ahead of the similarly priced Bucs, with too many trust issues to back the Rams (9/2), Cowboys (6/1) or Cardinals (11/1) and I’d actually rather have a smaller staked punt on outsiders San Francisco (12/1) and Philadelphia (30/1) as cover.

Super Bowl prediction

There’s so many brilliant storylines and narratives for the Super Bowl it’s hard to narrow them down to just a few.

From Brady trying to repeat with the Bucs, Rodgers winning it in possibly his last ride with the Packers and the Rams making it two years in a row with a home team in the Super Bowl, to Belichick restoring the Patriots’ empire or the Chiefs making it to the big game three years in a row.

Then there’s the possibly match-ups. Brady v Mahomes in a “repeat or revenge” rematch of last year, Brady v Belichick for all the marbles would send the hype machine in America into overload and Mahomes v Rodgers would pit two of the most talented QBs we’ve ever seen against each other.

And although there are others, plenty of them and plenty that are plausible, I’m sticking with the Chiefs v Packers as the favourite right now before a play-off game’s been played.

It’s the men at quarterback, the weapons they have around them, the improving defences and that burning desire and something to prove that they’ve both got in common.

It’s no forgone conclusion, and anything can happen in the play-offs, but these two are the teams to beat right now.

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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