For The Win: Wild Card Weekend

Dave Larkin makes his picks against the Las Vegas lines for the first round of the playoffs.

With 256 regular-season games in the books, now we turn our full attention to the playoffs. This year’s field is particularly strong, especially in the NFC where the Saints, despite finishing with a 13-3 record, have been consigned to a wildcard game. The AFC shouldn’t be completely dismissed either, however, as the standard-bearer of the conference for so many years, New England, must traverse their own obstacle course this weekend, the first time in 10 seasons they have not progressed straight to the divisional round. In other words, game on.

Fewer games on the docket means the Vegas sharps have ample opportunity to drill down and find every edge, so picking the right spots is crucial not only this week but throughout the playoffs. My predecessor on this column Jeff Pasquino often found success during the postseason with this column. My hope is that I will be able to take up that mantle after a regular season with a 52.7% overall winning percentage – good, but not great.

As you would expect in playoff clashes, no game features a double-digit favorite, but there are ample teaser opportunities with the lines that Vegas has thrown out. Without further ado, let us dive in and start the postseason off in style.

Note that the over/unders are taken from VegasInsider.com

BUFFALO at HOUSTON (-3 to -2.5) (Over/Under 41.5)

(Saturday 4.35 pm Eastern, ESPN/ABC)

The last time the Bills were in the playoffs was just two seasons ago, but the difference between then and now is stark. Sean McDermott’s team played above itself in 2017, being swiftly dismissed by the Jaguars in the first round, but the 2019 version of the team has more grit, more panache and, crucially, more experience. Throughout the season they have thrived in the critical moments, winning at Pittsburgh and Dallas and playing New England close on two occasions. Buffalo’s TreDavious White has been among the league’s best cornerbacks this season, recording six picks and 17 passes defended. His match-up with Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins will be worth the asking price. Josh Allen has shown maturity in big spots this season, but one must wonder whether the bright lights of his first playoff game will affect his composure.

The Texans need no introduction to the wildcard round. The early Saturday time slot has become their go-to but playing at home hasn’t meant guaranteed success. Indeed, the Colts made short work of their division rivals in the wildcard round last season. This game has something of the same aura, so the emphasis for Houston will be to use the ‘been there-done it’ factor to gain an edge. The Texans defense has flopped on multiple occasions this season, surrendering 388.3 yards per game and 24.1 points per game. Compare that to Buffalo’s 16.2 points per game and suddenly there’s a real opening for the visitors to hit Houston with some déjà vu. If you can get the Bills at +3, grab it or wait until that line comes in. Buffalo 19 Houston 14.

Key stats:

  • Under Bill O’Brien (dating back to 2014), the Texans are just 23-27-1 (46%) against the spread as the home team.
  • The Bills are 12-7-2 (63.2%) against the spread as the road underdog with Sean McDermott at the helm.

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