The Buffalo Bills shouldn’t be playing on Saturday. The Bills won 13 regular-season games for the first time since 1991 and, after posting the AFC’s second-best record, and should have a bye week while awaiting their Divisional opponent. Instead, the NFL’s first-ever 14-team playoff format is forcing the Bills to play on Saturday.
The Bills will host a playoff game for the first time since 1995. And they’ll do so against the AFC’s first-ever No. 7 seed, the Indianapolis Colts, as the biggest favorite of AFC teams in NFL playoff odds. Will the Bills win and cover?
Predictions for the Bills-Colts and the other AFC Wild Card games (NFC Wild Card odds and predictions):
Colts at Bills
Spread: Bills (-6.5)
The Buffalo Bills were undervalued all season and cashed 11 of 16 ATS tickets for bettors, the best mark in the league.
The Bills are red hot; they’ve scored at least 38 points in three straight games (and 26 in eight straight games), haven’t lost a game that didn’t include a DeAndre Hopkins Hail Mary since October, and have the NFL’s best third-down offense. They haven’t run through a murderer’s row of opponents during their six-game winning streak (only one playoff team) but they’re annihilating bad teams, posting a plus-88 scoring margin over their last three games.
Historically, the biggest difference in margin of victory in NFL games comes between three points and four points, dropping roughly nine percentage points over the last two decades. There’s also a sizeable difference between six and seven points (approximately three percentage points), making six plus the hook a key number, especially for the league’s most undervalued team.
Even with the extra half-point and increasing public awareness of the Bills as a legitimate Super Bowl contender, take the Bills to cover against a Colts’ team playing its worst football of the season.
Prediction: Bills (6.5)
Ravens at Titans
Spread: Ravens (-3.5)
From 2000-15, there were 19 home underdogs in Wild Card games. Seven of those teams won outright, while another three covered. There wasn’t another Wild Card home underdog until the Seahawks visited the Eagles as a 1.5-point favorite last year. Philadelphia lost and failed to cover, dropping home underdogs to 10-10 ATS in the last 20 Wild Card games. Home dogs have another opportunity this weekend as the Titans seek a second straight playoff win over the Ravens.
The Titans allowed 530 total yards in last year’s 28-12 win in Baltimore but forced three turnovers, had four sacks, and didn’t allowed a fourth-down conversion on four attempts. While the Titans could win again, as they also did in Week 11, it won’t look like last year’s playoff win. It’ll look more like their six-point overtime win in November in which they gashed the Ravens’ defense for 6.2 yards per play and 7.4 yards per pass attempt.
Gladly accept the field goal plus hook and bet the Titans to keep it close, if not win outright.
Prediction: Titans (+3.5)
Browns at Steelers
Spread: Steelers (-6)
The Browns opened as 4.5-point underdogs for Sunday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. That number jumped to six points after five positive COVID-19 tests forced a shutdown of team facilities and NFL Coach of the Year favorite Kevin Stefanski (and three-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman Joel Bitonio, among others) off the sideline for the Browns’ first playoff game in 18 years.
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer will serve as acting head coach while offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will call plays. Van Pelt hasn’t called plays in a regular-season game since a one-year stint as Buffalo Bills’ offensive coordinator in 2009. For what it’s worth, with Ryan Fitzpatrick as his starting quarterback, the 39-year-old Van Pelt commanded one of the league’s worst offenses before spending the next decade as quarterbacks coach for three different teams.
From all accounts, Van Pelt has been integral to the Browns’ success in 2020 and spent a portion of the offseason preparing to call plays in preseason games that never happened. However, without a history of success, especially in a high-pressure environment like the organization’s biggest game in two decades, 1.5 points isn’t enough to move the needle in Cleveland’s direction.
The Browns struggled at home against the nothing-to-play-for Steelers last week, managing just 5.4 yards per pass attempts while surrendering four sacks. It was an unusually inefficient day for a passing attack that ranked second in the NFL this season in completed air yards per completion (7.4) and third in completed yards per attempt (4.7). Don’t bet on another backend shutdown from a Steelers’ defense that allowed Baker Mayfield to complete just one of four attempts beyond 15 yards in the two-point win. However, a slightly better attack won’t be enough to beat the second-best ATS team in the league.
Prediction: Steelers (-6)
For more betting analysis for NFL Wild Card games and Ohio State vs. Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship, listen to the High Motor NFL betting podcast by BetMGM:
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Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor, a college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else. He has written for Sports Illustrated, HERO Sports, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter: @adoughty88.
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