NFL Wild Card Round – Best Bets for the AFC

01 / 12 / 2022 By Ally Mielnicki

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The Raiders clinched a playoff berth in an epic 35-32 Sunday night final despite a tumultuous season. They also gifted Big Ben and the Steelers a playoff spot when K Daniel Carlson nailed a 47-yard field goal as time expired in OT to give Las Vegas a win and send the Chargers home for the year.

If the last crazy weekend of the NFL was any indication of how the playoffs may turn out – we are in for quite a ride. First up, three pivotal AFC matchups this Wild Card weekend. 

So who do we like to cover and advance out of the Wild Card round?

Here are our Best Bets for the AFC Wild Card – both straight-up and ATS:

Bengals -6 over Raiders

The Raiders played their hearts out of Sunday night to notch a playoff berth. It was a grueling match, especially within the final few minutes of regulation and the entirety of OT. Nevertheless, Las Vegas managed to pull out the win instead of settling for a tie, much to the joy of Steelers’ fans and the chagrin of Chargers’ loyalists. Now, following the emotional win, the Raiders will need to travel on the road for their first playoff appearance since the 2016 season.

On the other hand, the Bengals faced a much easier Week 18. Clinching the division title during Week 17, Cincinnati sat most of their starters against the depleted Browns this past weekend. They have the fortune now of starting a refreshed and rested Joe Burrow and Joe Mixon for the Wild Card game, along with their dangerous WR core of Ja’Marr Chase, Tyler Boyd, and Tee Higgins.

The last time these two teams met in November, it was a one-sided affair as Cincy overpowered the Raiders to claim a 32-13 victory in Vegas. Mixon rushed for 123 yards and 2 TDs that day while the Raiders struggled to get their ground game going as RB Josh Jacob accumulated just 37 yards on 9 carries. It was a pedestrian day for Burrow despite the win as he logged only 148 yards and 1 TD through the air. Derek Carr was not much better for Vegas as he finished the game 19-for-27 with 215 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT.

Since that game, the Bengals’ offense has been on fire, with Burrow inserting himself into the MVP race with record-setting games. Though he struggled midseason, Chase has also re-emerged as Burrow’s No. 1 target, especially in big games against the Ravens and Chiefs to end the year. 

While the public has backed the Raiders so far, I view this mainly as overreaction. There has been a long debate about whether momentum is more advantageous than rest, but I believe fresh legs will prevail in this case. The Bengals have hit their stride at the right time and have logged impressive wins throughout the season. Not only do I see the Bengals winning and advancing to the divisional round of the playoffs, but I feel they will cover the 6.5 point spread comfortably. The Raiders had a nice run to make the playoffs, but unfortunately, Carr will not keep Vegas in the game. The passing game has not been nearly as lethal for the Raiders as for the Bengals. Lay the points.

Patriots +4 over Bills

Believe it or not, the Patriots have been most dangerous playing on the road this season. Bill Belichick has his squad playing their best football in hostile environments by sporting a 6-2 record away from Gillette Stadium, including a win at Buffalo on a windy Monday Night football game earlier in the season. There may not be a more raucous crowd they will face this season than Saturday night when they travel to Highmark Stadium to square off against their division rival for the third time this season.

After splitting the season series 1-1, this matchup should be a close contest throughout regulation. Both teams are evenly matched, though Buffalo holds the advantage on offense while the Patriots carry the designation on defense. This should make for 60 minutes (or more) of entertaining football between the two foes.

To be honest, I was surprised with the value we are getting with the Patriots. Had New England not lost to the Miami Dolphins this past weekend, I’m sure the spread would be closer to 3. These two teams play hard and close, and this game could easily come down to a last-possession field goal. 

That being said, I am only taking the Patriots to cover the 4 points, but not the outright upset. With no disrespect to Belichick, Sean McDermott will have his team primed and ready to compete. After all, you can argue that the Patriots’ win over the Bills in their first matchup was an anomaly. The weather was horribly windy in that contest and yet, the Bills stubbornly stuck with the passing game over the ground game which cost them a win.

Although it’s rare to defeat Belichick twice in a season, even if Tom Brady is not under center, I like Buffalo’s chances to advance at home. Take the points with the Patriots but lean toward Buffalo to win. Mac Jones has been impressive in his rookie campaign and has proven to be unfazed by games with high-stakes, but he still lacks the playoff experience that Josh Allen has demonstrated. After all, it was only a year ago that the Bills reached the AFC Championship game. I believe they are primed for another deep playoff run. Patriots cover, Bills win. 

Chiefs -13 over Steelers

At first glance, I’m sure public bettors will be looking at this high spread and jump on the underdog. After all, entering Sunday, the Steelers’ chance of making the playoffs was less than 2 percent. Yet, after a Colts’ collapse to the Jaguars, a Chargers loss to the Raiders, and a win against the Ravens, the Steelers pulled off the seemingly impossible, clinching a Wild Card berth, prolonging Ben Roethlisberger’s career by at least one more game. It’s a great story to add to the credentials for the future Hall-of-Famer, but this one will come to an end this weekend.

Though the spread may seem high, I don’t believe it is high enough. The Steelers barely scraped into the playoffs by defeating a hobbled Baker Mayfield and the Browns on the final Monday Night football game of the year and needed OT to edge Tyler Huntley and the Ravens on Sunday narrowly. The Steelers are no more than a mediocre team who needed everything to go right for them to secure a playoff berth. Pittsburgh would not be playing this weekend if the Raiders opted to settle for a tie.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, finished the season tied with the best record in the AFC. They lost out on the No. 1 seed to the Titans after falling to Tennessee earlier in the season. Still, the Chiefs have a favorable matchup against Pittsburgh this weekend – a team they already blew out 36-10 back in Week 16. Expect Patrick Mahomes to utilize his offensive weapons of Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Mecole Hardman, and more to run up the score early in Arrowhead and repeat the same drubbing from a few weeks back. 

The Steelers have struggled to put points on the board against good teams all season. I expect that to be the same result this weekend. The Chiefs finished the season with a 7-2 record at home, while Pittsburgh was a dismal 3-5 on the road. Double-digit point spreads are always a risk, especially in highly-contested playoff games, but I’m comfortable laying the points here. Take the Chiefs to both win and cover easily.

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