Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Six years have passed since a team that played on wild-card weekend won — or even advanced to — the Super Bowl.
There’s a decent shot that this season’s playoffs snap the streak. Future odds at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook imply a 32 percent chance that one of the eight teams opening the playoffs this weekend ultimately become NFL champions.
Odds are inherently going to be stacked against teams needing to win an extra game, but that’s a higher probability than in past years. It speaks to the quality of several of the teams that will be playing Saturday and Sunday.
The Chicago Bears are priced as the biggest threat to play into February, as they’re 9-to-2 to win the NFC and 9-to-1 to win the Super Bowl. The Los Angeles Chargers are the other wild-card weekend team that the odds imply have better than a 5 percent chance, as they’re 16-to-1 to win the Super Bowl and 7-to-1 to win the AFC.
The other four teams are all 20-to-1 or higher to win the Super Bowl, but shouldn’t be counted out. It might be hard to remember given the current streak, but from 2010 to 2012, all three Super Bowl champions were first-weekend participants.
Read below to see which teams Talking Points likes this weekend as the blog continues its series picking every game. The regular-season record finished at 127-117-11. Picks are listed in order of confidence and separated in three categories. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side.
Bears minus-5.5 vs. Eagles On December 9, the Eagles fell to 6-7 on the year after an overtime loss to the Cowboys where they were outgained by more than 300 yards. At the same time many were writing off the defending Super Bowl champions off, they were anointing the Bears as a bona fide contenders after a 15-6 home victory over the Rams. If this game had happened then, the Bears would be (conservatively) 7.5-point favorites. A lot has changed since then, but not enough to merit this large of a shift. The Eagles haven’t lost either straight-up or against the spread, but neither have the Bears. Much of Philadelphia’s emergence has happened behind Nick Foles, but despite last year’s Super Bowl victory, he’s notoriously inconsistent. That’s not a trait that bettors should take lightly going into a game against the NFL’s best defense. Oddsmakers have struggled to price the Bears all year, as they’re an NFL-best 12-4 against the spread including covering in eight of their last nine games, and it doesn’t appear that anything has changed going into the postseason.
Colts plus-2 at Texans It’s a good thing for the Texans that this game is being held at NRG Stadium. Otherwise, they might not have a single discernible advantage. Indianapolis’ offense has been better than Houston’s all year — and finished the season gaining 5.8 yards per play to the Texans’ 5.6 — and now its defense has jelled over the second-half of the season to also arguably catch up. In Football Outsiders’ weighted DVOA ratings, which emphasizes recent performance, Indianapolis is eighth in defense. Houston sits in 10th. If there’s a drawback in taking Indianapolis, it’s that it got 2.5 points more in this same matchup only four weeks ago. But that line was way off, resulting in Talking Points making it a play at the time. This one is more in line with the correct number, but the better team is still getting points.
Ravens minus-2 vs. Chargers Oftentimes, upsets are misleading. The inferior team catches a few breaks, makes a couple of plays and comes out with a result that isn’t indicative of its true value. None of that occurred two weeks ago when the Ravens defeated the Chargers 22-10 as 4-point underdogs on the road. Baltimore walloped Los Angeles. The Ravens outgained by the Chargers by more than 2.5 yards per play, and 163 total yards. That type of dominance should shift the point spread in the Ravens’ favor with the teams going into a second meeting, but it hasn’t. This number only reflects the standard three-point adjustment for home-field advantage. The week 14 line implied the Chargers would be a 1-point favorite over the Ravens on a neutral field. This wild-card weekend line implies the Chargers would be a 1-point favorite over the Ravens on a neutral field. Over-reacting to one game is a cardinal sin of gambling, but under-reacting can be just as dangerous. Baltimore, at the minimum, has proven worthy of coming in as the standard 3-point home favorite in this spot.
Seahawks plus-2 at Cowboys It feels cruel to make bettors pick between these two teams on the first day of the playoffs because they’ve both been so profitable over the second half of the season. They’re both 6-2 against the spread, though Dallas is 7-1 straight-up to Seattle’s 6-2. The success and popularity of the two teams makes it intriguing to see which side the market feels more comfortable backing. So far, it’s been Seattle. The spread is down to as low as Dallas minus-1 after the home team opened at 2 with reports indicating about roughly two out of every three tickets coming in on the Seahawks. It’s hard to argue that Seattle is the better team considering it has a plus-81 point differential on the year to Dallas’ plus-15. But the Cowboys have only lost at home once this year and made significant strides late in the year. If there’s any value on Seattle, it’s extremely slight, and rapidly disappearing.