NFL Wild Card Round – Best Bets for the NFC

01 / 12 / 2022 By Ally Mielnicki

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In a thrilling afternoon showdown, the San Francisco 49ers remarkably erased a 17-0 deficit against their divisional rival Rams to emerge with a 27-24 OT victory, clinching the final playoff spot in the NFC. Jimmy Garoppolo had perhaps his best game in a Niners’ uniform and erased any doubt of him being the true starter over rookie Trey Lance.

It was an exciting final regular-season weekend of football, but now the real fun is about to commence as the NFL playoffs are finally here.

So which NFC teams do we like to cover and win outright this weekend?!?

Here are our Best Bets – both straight up and ATS – for NFC Wild Card weekend:

Bucs -8.5 over Eagles

The Eagles surprised many around the league by netting a Wild Card berth despite their early struggles to begin the season. Credit the running game behind RBs Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Jordan Howard, and QB Jalen Hurts for emerging on the scene. However, the Eagles will have their hands full this weekend when they travel to Tampa Bay to take on the defending Super Bowl Champions led by the G.O.A.T. himself, Tom Brady.

When these two teams met earlier in the season, the Bucs were able to escape with a 28-22 victory in a Thursday night thriller. However, these are not the same teams that squared off against each other in October. For one, the Bucs no longer have troubled WR Antonio Brown on the roster, and WR Chris Godwin is out for the year with a torn ACL. Fortunately, they are expecting RB Leonard Fournette to return in time for this week’s contest, and they will also have TE Rob Gronkowski on the field, which they didn’t in the first matchup.

The Eagles, on the other side, no longer have TE Zach Ertz after trading him to the Cardinals, but Dallas Goedert has done an impressive job filling in. Sanders is also not expected to suit up this time around, but Philly has plenty of depth at RB to make up for his absence.

At first glance, my thought was to side with Tampa, thinking the spread would be higher than 8.5. After all, the Bucs have blown out lesser opponents by double-digits all season, and this contest should be no different. Yet, when you factor in the Eagles’ dominance in the run game and their ability to stretch out possessions, I can see why many Philly backers think this game can be within reach for a cover. Still, I’m not confident enough to bet against Tom Brady in the playoffs. The Eagles have next to no playoff experience, and we often see QBs struggle in their first postseason outings. I expect the same to be true with Hurts. If he is forced to abandon the run game and opt to pass, then the Bucs should force multiple turnovers. It’s a lot of points, but I’m sticking with Brady and the Bucs to win and cover.

49ers +3 over Cowboys

If you read my other blog post with my AFC picks, you will notice I use the Raiders’ momentum following their thrilling OT victory against the Chargers as one of the reasons I am betting against them. In this case, I am advocating for the Niners, and it is not just about momentum but experience. Don’t forget. Just two years ago, San Francisco faced off against the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV and came within one score of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. Many players on that squad are still on the current roster and know what it takes to make a deep postseason run.

The Cowboys had the benefit of playing a relatively easy schedule this season. In fact, Dallas sports only a 3-5 record against playoff-bound teams – with two of the three wins against the Eagles (including the final game of the season when the Eagles did not play their starters). You may call out my bias being a Giants’ fan, but I have labeled the Cowboys as overrated all season.

If there was one matchup the Cowboys did not want in the first round of the playoffs, it is this one. The Niners match up well against Dallas, especially in the run game where they can use their multiple weapons of Elijah Mitchell, Deebo Samuel, and Jeff Wilson Jr. (when healthy) to extend long drives and wear down the defense. Garoppolo has also proved his value in the passing game, led by Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk, along with the emergence of WR Jauan Jennings.

The Cowboys’ offense cannot be overlooked, nonetheless. Dak Prescott has plenty of weapons of his own with WRs CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, and Cedrick Wilson Jr. 

Factor in the emergence of TE Dalton Schultz and the run game led by Ezekiel Elliott, and it’s hard to discount Dallas for having the ability to put up numbers. Still, the offense has been prone to slumps this season, especially concerning Prescott. There will be no room for errors against the dangerous front 7 of the Niners, along with their secondary, who will be ready to run back any interceptions for TDs.

Before even looking at the spread, I already knew this would be my upset pick of the weekend. The 3 points are a nice cushion, but I’m taking the Niners outright. San Francisco is the superior team in this matchup and should rattle Prescott into committing multiple errors. Garoppolo will do his job managing the offense for the Niners and putting them in a position to pull off the upset and advance to the next round. Take the points for sure, but don’t hesitate to lay a bet on the Moneyline as well.

Cardinals +4 over Rams

Since losing top WR DeAndre Hopkins to injury, the Cardinals have struggled mightily the second half of the season. Though Kyler Murray has also been dealing with an injury the latter part of the year, Hopkins is the key to any deep playoff run for Arizona. Without him, not only does the passing game suffer greatly, but the offense as a whole. To add, the Cardinals have also been without top DE J.J. Watt, who has been sidelined since suffering a shoulder tear on Oct. 24th. His absence has also impacted the defense as the team has gone 4-6 in his 10 missed games. Overall, the Cardinals are limping into the postseason with a 1-4 record in their final 5 games.

The Rams are missing key players due to injury as well. After 9 games, slot receiver Robert Woods went down with a torn ACL, ultimately ending his season. That same week, disgruntled receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was signed to the squad following his release from the Browns. However, his time with the Rams has been inconsistent, and it is clear he does not have the same chemistry on the field as Woods did with QB Matt Stafford. RB Darrell Henderson Jr. also is out with an MCL sprain, though Sony Michel has done a respectable job filling in for him in his absence. 

Both teams ended their season with losses to division rivals, and it is clear neither are as lethal nor feared as they were to start the season. However, the Rams still possess the edge thanks to MVP-candidate Cooper Kupp, who turned in a record-setting year as Los Angeles’ top receiver. It is customary for Kupp to post a 100-plus yard game after another. The Rams defense also has been stellar behind Pro-Bowlers Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey.

Despite all this, Arizona can keep the game within reach. RB James Conner has been tremendous for the Cardinals following his offseason signing, and his legs should be enough to move the chains and balance out the time of possession. Without Hopkins, however, Arizona will be limited in its passing game, relying on midseason acquisition Zach Ertz and WR Christian Kirk to make pivotal plays. Still, as long as Murray avoids sacks and uses his feet to scramble, the Cardinals will move the ball downfield and put up the numbers to make this a game.  

My initial thought was to take the points with the Cardinals in this matchup, but expect the Rams to win. However, after mulling this matchup over, I am going to be bullish on Arizona to win outright as well. The Cardinals should keep the game close and stretch out the clock to keep the Rams’ offense off the field. Take the points to be safe, but if you’re as confident as me, go with Arizona and the upset.

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