Inside Slant: Wildcard Round

Dave Larkin looks to kick off the playoffs with a clean sweep as he examines off-the-radar bets for wildcard weekend. 

I don’t claim to be an expert at betting football games.

After all, gambling is, by definition, a bit of a toss-up. If you manage to come out of a season with anywhere around 55% of your bets earning a profit, you can afford to pat yourself on the back. Getting to that point is the hard part, but my aim is to help you do that across a season with some under the radar wagers.

What gambling on football does allow us to do is have a little bit of fun with games we might not normally be interested in. While wagering on the spread and total points is the norm, your best bet might be to eschew these and go with more unconventional options.

I’m about ready to wipe the slate clean and put a pretty forgettable 2016 gambling season behind me. The playoffs beckon, offering a chance to redeem myself and help all of my loyal readers (that’s you) to recoup some lost dollars and cents. Let’s take a look back at Week 17 first before performing a deep dive on the wildcard games.


LOSS: Pittsburgh Steelers (-5.5) vs. Cleveland @ 10/11

My disclaimer heading into Week 17 was basically to do the opposite of what I ultimately did – gamble on the games. Any of them. I should have taken my own advice and avoided this game especially, as a plucky Browns team showed that they are capable of hanging with the Steelers’ second string. This is not a ringing endorsement of the talent level the Browns possess nor a criticism; it is simply the way of things. The Men of Steel pulled out the victory after a late touchdown pass from the sloppy Landry Jones, and my head dropped as I realised we were in for a rollercoaster week of bets.

LOSS: Total points under 48.5: Green Bay at Detroit @ 10/11

This was the cherry on the dish of delectably ill-advised bets as the unstoppable Packers wiped the floor with their division rival on Sunday night. Aaron Rodgers is back to his ridiculous 2011 form, tossing touchdown passes like they are going out of fashion. A game effort from Detroit was not enough to halt the Green Bay train, which rolls back to Lambeau this week (I’ll touch on this later).

WIN: Away team total points: New York Giants over 17 @ 10/11

My only victory of the week – and it needed a late touchdown off a lateral to wrap it up. I’ll take them any way they come, so I wasn’t quibbling with the outcome. The Giants played this extremely close to the vest, limiting their opportunities to score points and not giving away too much to their first-round opponent. My thanks to the Redskins for trying the desperate lateral game at the end.

LOSS: Race to 20 points: New Orleans (at Atlanta) @ 11/5

This bet was just a train wreck from the beginning. I decided to go against the grain and back the better odds of the Saints to reach 20 points first. I suppose my logic – that Atlanta’s defense was going to crumble at home – was flawed. The Falcons offense did the grunt work and the defense fed off it afterwards. In this case I was punished for backing the worse team.

WEEK 17 RECORD: 1-3-0
SEASON RECORD: 29-37-2 (0.426)


Oakland @ Houston – over 37 points @ 20/21

It’s the titanic battle between, ahem, Connor Cook and Brock Osweiler to kick off the wildcard round. One might say it is a case of the unstoppable farce meeting the immovable abject. Despite the likely struggles of Cook, making his first NFL start and in way over his head, and Osweiler, who has singlehandedly thrown games away for Houston, we could see a decent game here. It won’t involve the quarterbacks per se, but the Raiders playmakers can create yards after the catch and Houston’s defense certainly has the horses to score. This could be a sneakily high-scoring affair, so I can’t possibly take the under; at only 37 points, I would be a fool to bet anything but the over.

New York Giants (+4.5) at Green Bay Packers @ 20/23

This line tells us everything we need to know about Vegas’ opinion on the Giants’ season. It screams ‘frauds’ despite their one incredible defensive display after another putting the NFL’s offenses on ice. This team has done it before; going on the road in the playoffs is what Big Blue lives for. Eli Manning may not be able to keep up with Aaron Rodgers and his high-flying attack, but he may not have to; New York’s defense has the ability to shut any offense down. Steve Spagnuolo’s blitz packages will cause trouble, even for a Green Bay offensive line that allows very little pressure. In what should be a fascinating clash, take the points.

Miami Dolphins over 17.5 points at Pittsburgh

No other bet for this game stood out, so backing the Dolphins offense with Matt Moore (yes, even him) to score over 17.5 points seems like a safe enough punt. The Steelers could produce a shutdown defensive display and embarrass the Dolphins, of course, tossing them into the offseason with their thumbs in their collective mouths wondering what just happened. Despite that distinct possibility looming over this game, I will put faith in a Miami offense that has, at times, been prolific to rack up some scores – even if they are late.

Longest successful field goal: Detroit (M. Prater) @ 5/4

Matt Prater had a mini swoon at home against the Packers, but that was his only real letdown of 2016. In every other game he has been money from long distances. He is likely to have the opportunity to test his range in Seattle on Saturday night if the Seahawks defense plays as it can – and should. The Lions offense lacks a credible big play threat on the ground, so Seattle will feel comfortable locking up with the Detroit receivers on the outside and forcing Matthew Stafford to take shorter completions. A dink and dunk approach should afford Prater chances for kicks.

Make sure to check back next week for more betting tips ahead of the divisional round games. Follow me on Twitter @davlar87.

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