Sub-.500 division champions are undefeated in NFL Wild Card games. Don’t blow it, Washington.
With a win over the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 17, Washington clinched the NFC East with a 7-9 record, joining the 2010 Seattle Seahawks and 2014 Carolina Panthers as the only sub-.500 teams division champs ever. As home underdogs in NFL playoff odds, the Seahawks and Panthers won their respective Wild Card game before losing in the Divisional round. Can Washington do the same against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to extend one of the most bizarre streaks in sports history? Get even more in-depth info in our NFC Playoff betting podcast.
Predictions for Washington-Buccaneers and the other NFC Wild Card games (AFC Wild Card odds and predictions):
Rams at Seahawks
Spread: Seahawks (-3.5)
The Seattle Seahawks won four home playoff games from 2013-14. They also won the five home playoff games before then and their most recent home playoff game, a 20-point win over the Detroit Lions four years ago. The organization’s last home playoff loss: Jan. 8, 2005, against the St. Louis Rams. It’s their only home playoff loss in the last 20 seasons.
That’s not a blip; that’s a convincing trend for one of the most stable franchises in American sports.
As 3.5-point favorites over the Rams, the Seahawks can extend their winning streak without covering the spread. They’ll do both against a Rams team that, according to Sean McVay, won’t announce their starting quarterback before Saturday. With John Wolford under center again, a 3.5-point cover is the steal of the year. With Jared Goff, it’s still the right play.
Prediction: Seahawks (-3.5)
Buccaneers at Washington
Spread: Buccaneers (-8)
Home underdogs are only 10-10 against the spread in Wild Card games over the last two decades but they have seven outright wins, including the aforementioned 2010 Seahawks and 2014 Panthers. None of those seven underdog winners, however, entered the game with a quarterback dilemma that Washington faces.
Among quarterbacks with at least 250 attempts this season, Alex Smith ranks dead last in intended air yards per attempt (5.1) and completed air yards per completion (3.7). He’s thrown six touchdowns in eight games, posted a QBR above 40 only once, and didn’t complete a pass over 18 yards in his last two games.
On Tuesday, Ron Rivera said they will “seriously” consider rotating Smith with backup Taylor Heinicke on Saturday vs. the Buccaneers. Heinicke has only 77 career attempts and has never appeared in the playoffs but played well in a Week 16 loss to Carolina.
Smith and/or Heinicke will face the NFL’s fifth-ranked defense (DVOA) that finished first in yards allowed per rush (3.6), rushing touchdowns allowed per game (0.6), and forced yards per penalty (10.7). There are too many unfavorable matchups on both sides of the ball to expect Washington to cover eight points.
Prediction: Buccaneers (-8)
Bears at Saints
Spread: Saints (-10)
Don’t let the Bears’ strong start to the season, strong finish to the season, and/or strong showing in New Orleans two months ago fool you; the Bears are bad at football. Don’t bet on bad teams unless the spread is gigantic.
Matt Nagy’s team does nothing well and a lot of things terribly, including throwing the ball beyond the line of scrimmage, converting third downs, and forcing turnovers. They beat one playoff team (the Bucs by one point), finished 25th in offensive DVOA, and enter Sunday’s game with a problematic injury report headlined by linebacker Roquan Smith and cornerback Jaylon Johnson.
The Saints have their own injury concerns, though the outlook for Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas, among others, is far more optimistic as they seek a 12th win in their last 14 games. And unlike the Bears, the Saints do a lot of things well and only a few things terribly.
Prediction: Saints (-10)
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.