After a wild Saturday, we are back for Day 2 of Wildcard Weekend. And today, we get a glorious three game stretch of games. We open up with a divisional matchup between Dolphins and Bills, an epic rematch between the Giants and Vikings, then cap off the night with the Bengals and Ravens rivalry. There’s not a whole lot of football left this year so we have to cherish it.
Miami at Buffalo: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS
Spread: Buffalo -13.5
Miami is heading to Buffalo. The Bills have the narrative of the "Team of Destiny." With safety Damar Hamlin back in Buffalo after his terrifying incident against the Cincinnati Bengals, there's a sense of relief. The Bills are back on their quest to bring the first Super Bowl victory to the blue-collared city of Buffalo.
The weather is going to be in the 30s. We will see how Miami adjusts. Former Kansas State Wildcat Skylar Thompson will start in place of Tua Tagovailoa. The line ballooned from 9 to -13.5 as a result. Let's break this game down.
Miami's Path to Success:
This is a scenario where Miami is outflanked. There is going to need a lot of flunky stuff to happen. Josh Allen has struggled in the turnover category. He leads the NFL in red zone interceptions. However, Miami ranked 30th in the NFL in takeaways per game.
The one positive for the Dolphins is they got their running backs healthy. They ran the ball for 162 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per rush against a stingy Jets front in Week 18. They are going to have to do a lot of that here. Mike McDaniel has got creative in the run game. Miami had a 65 percent success rate on runs on the edge vs the Jets. They deployed an arsenal of counter treys; their tackles were pulling and creating holes. Buffalo's defense has been susceptible to giving up power runs to the right side of their defensive line. That's where Miami is going to try to go.
How Buffalo covers:
Buffalo is power rated as the top team in the NFL per DVOA and EPA metrics. They rank second in scoring offense and second in scoring defense. Based on the eye test, they haven't looked like the best team in the NFL since they dominated the Patriots in Week 13. They killed the Bears on the scoreboard. Chicago successfully moved the ball, and their defense is last in DVOA. The Bills were in danger of losing at home against the Pats in the 4th quarter, but they could turn Mac Jones over in the red zone twice.
Matchup-wise, I would put it in Josh Allen's hands. Miami ranks 25th in DVOA against the pass. Whether the Bills cruise or not depends on how aggressive they are out of the gate. Josh Allen will have the opportunity to throw against zero coverage here. The Bills will dominate this game on the defensive side of the ball.
Miami is going to have some trick plays to get their skill-position players in space. If Miami can't run, they won't be able to score. I can see the Bills play to relax and rely on the defense.
Early morning game; I like the under. Miami is going to have some success running the football. They are going to slow the game down and take some time off. I also don't see them having success finding the end zone. The Bills offense will play more conservatively if the defense shuts down Miami. We see the Bills take their foot off the gas when they secure big leads. There is no reason to risk injury with a potential battle with Cincinnati looming ahead. If the game avoids the explosive passing plays early, we should keep the number in the 30s. I like the under here.
The pick: Under 43.5
New York at Minnesota
Spread: Minnesota (-3)
The Vikings are a high flying, fashionable football team that hasn’t been really impressive. They have won five out of their last seven-but they have grinded out all of their wins. They are 6-0 in games decided by four or less. They are 13-1 when they win the turnover margin and 1-3 when they don’t. Minnesota is winning their games getting the better end of 3-4 important plays.
That’s sort of happened the last times these two teams met in Minnesota. The Giants moved the ball through the air and on the ground. But too costly turnovers that resulted in Minnesota points proved vital.
Why the Giants will cover:
There is a reason why this game is a full point less than the closing line in their first matchup which was four. Minnesota isn’t exactly blowing teams out. The Giants have sort of overachieved to making the postseason despite ranking 29th in defensive DVOA. Their offense will be able to move the ball. The Giants rank 10th in offensive DVOA. They have a truly balanced attack running the ball 48 percent of the time and passing it 52 percent clip. Their trio of receivers have stepped up. They haven’t turned the ball over in their seven. An important mark when knowing the Vikings defense has lived on turnovers all season.
Minnesota’s defense ranks 20th in DVOA but they have struggled defending the run ranking 28th in DVOA. The Vikings are particularly poor at defending the edge, which the Giants love to do. Whether it’s tossing Saquon Barkley sweeps or Daniel Jones using his legs to get around the edge. The Giants also play great situational football in the red zone ranking sixth in the NFL in red zone TD percent on offense and 5th on defense. This is a game that is going to come down to the wire. Giants have proven they excel playing great situational football in the game’s most pivotal moments.
Why the Vikings will cover:
The Giants are a less talented version of Minnesota; both are well-coached and squeak out wins by the thinnest of margins. The Vikings are getting healthier in the secondary and on the defensive line. They have the best players on the field with Justin Jefferson out wide and Dalvin Cook in the backfield.
They are going to have to show up. Because the Giants are going to score.
The offense gets a boost with Irv Smith back in the lineup at tight end. It’s hard to doubt the Vikings when they just keep winning. Kirk Cousins is a lot better at home than he is on the road. Minneapolis is one of the toughest places to play in the NFL. You know the fans are going to show up for this one. The Giants defense ranks 32nd in DVOA against the run. Dalvin Cook is going to have to start fast. They need to pound the rock and control the clock.
If Minnesota dominates the run game, Justin Jefferson will have opportunities to create a knock out blow with a deep catch. That’s the Minnesota formula. Establish the run game early, create big plays with play action. Get out to a lead and make Daniel Jones come from behind to beat you. That’s the winning formula for Minnesota. No matter how the games goes, they are for sure going to make things interesting in the end.
This is going to be the highest scoring game on the Wild Card slate. The first team to 30 wins. Despite having multiple long empty drives in the first matchup, both teams combined to get 51. It’s going to be all hands on deck. Brian Daboll is going to go for it on fourth down. Minnesota is going to move the ball at ease against a Giants defense that is simply atrocious.
I’ll gladly take the over 47.5 here.
I think it hits pretty easily.
The pick: Over 47.5
Props: Justin Jefferson over 97.5 receiving yards
Baltimore at Cincinnati
Spread: Cincinnati (-8.5)
It’s 17th time in NFL history two teams are playing in the Wild Card round after facing off against each other in the regular season finale. There is not much to take from last weeks game. The Ravens rested their starters. However they had some effectiveness running the football. They held Joe Mixon to 55 rushing yards on the other side. Joe Burrow was the great equalizer and they were able to throw the ball on the Ravens secondary.
The big news is Lamar Jackson will not be available. The Ravens offense has struggled considerably in his absence. There is still a question mark whether Tyler Huntley or Anthony Brown will start the game.
The Case for the Ravens:
JK Dobbins is expected to suit up which means the Ravens will have a chance to control the game on the ground. Dobbins has rushed for over 100 yards in the last four games he has played. The Ravens are averaging over five yards per carry when he is in the backfield. Cincinnati’s defense is pretty average against the run ranking 14th in DVOA and 16th in defensive line yards. The Ravens needs their run game to go in order to control the pace and keep the ball out of Joe Burrow’s hands.
On the other side, Joe Burrow has had struggles against the Ravens defense. Burrow had 35 touchdowns this season but only threw two touchdowns in two matchups against the Ravens secondary. Outside of a few fourth quarter collapses, the Ravens defense has been pretty solid-ranking 7th in DVOA against the run and 11th versus the pass.
The Case for the Bengals:
Playoff Joe Burrow. Plan and simple. Burrow was electric in Cincinnati's playoff run last season. I expect a lot of the same. The Bengals have been the best team in the NFL against the number. They lead the NFL in explosive passing plays. That has seemed to be the Achilles heel of the Ravens defense. Ravens corners Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters were All-Pro’s in the past but will they be able to keep up with Bengals superstar wideouts on the outside?
The Ravens offense has been bad since Lamar has been out.
If Anthony Brown is the starting quarterback, I don’t see the Ravens breaking 14.
I don’t think the Ravens have a chance to win this game. I think the style the Ravens are going to employ will make this game muddy. JK Dobbins is a game changer and Huntley can do just enough offensively. The Ravens defense is full of veterans and they will make the Bengals offense work for everything. I expect this game to play out around 23-17. John Harbaugh covers as an underdog.
The pick: Ravens +8.5
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