Predicting Which NFL Wild Card Hopefuls Will Make Playoffs
Super Bowl odds—and other future lines—come via Bovada and are accurate as of Monday, Dec. 11.
AFC Wild Card Predictions
Jacksonville Jaguars (+1800)
The Jacksonville Jaguars are a no-brainer inclusion. They don’t yet have the AFC South under lock and key, because the Tennessee Titans are an inexplicably scrappy bunch, but they’ll get there without much resistance.
Indeed, they have the league’s top-rated defense. They’re first in points allowed per game. And their offensive line has long helped buoy what is, in terms of total yards, the NFL’s best rushing attack.
But the play of quarterback Blake Bortles is what truly makes the Jaguars a formality. He was initially painted as their weakest link. And he was. Now, though, he’s turning in quality performances regularly, many of which have come against quality defenses—like that of the Seattle Seahawks in Week 14.
Two of the Jaguars’ final three games come on the road, including a Week 17 date in Tennessee, with the Titans, who pummeled them in Week 2. But this is a different team now, with a rejuvenated quarterback, and a more diversified offense. Even if they don’t win the division, they should have the juice to secure a postseason bid.
Tennessee Titans (+2800)
Oddsmakers don’t give the Titans a particularly strong shot of winning the AFC South. According to FiveThirtyEight, they have around a 31 percent shot at eclipsing the Jaguars. That goes through the roof if you assume they’ll hold serve at home, where they’re 5-1, during Week 17’s date, but that’s far from a given.
The good news: FiveThirtyEight gives them an 81 percent chance at making the playoffs anyway. And it’s not hard to see why. The AFC East is a cluster-you-know what after the New England Patriots. Ditto for the AFC North after Pittsburgh Steelers. And the AFC West is just a massive pileup in general.
No other wild card hopeful in the AFC, save for the Jaguars, looks like a potential 10-win squad. The Titans do. That gives them priority over the field.
Kansas City Chiefs (+3300)
And the Kansas City Chiefs are back on the board!
The Chiefs needed their 26-15 victory over the Oakland Raiders in Week 14, lest they have lost their fifth straight and seen their 5-0 start go straight to crap. Though this win doesn’t prove they’re the same team that hovered around the top seven of points scored and points allowed per game earlier in the year, it was a step in the right direction.
Kansas City’s offense has stood strong at different stages even as quarterback Alex Smith struggled. They still didn’t turn the ball over too much, and their rushing attack places second in yards per attempt. The defense has been the bigger concern, allowing more yards on the ground than anyone else and checking in at 29th in touchdowns let up in the same category. The pass prevention hasn’t been much better; it’s 28th in total yards allowed. But they don’t let up a ton of touchdowns—in part because of how inviting their crappy run prevention is to rivals.
Anyway, limiting the Raiders to 15 points is big time—something the Chiefs can carry with them even they don’t hold up for Week 17’s matchup with the division rival Los Angeles Chargers.
Los Angeles Chargers (+2200)
Most projection models like the Baltimore Ravens for this spot more than they do the Chargers. But forget the computers.
The Chargers have won four in a row, during which time their improving defense is allowing fewer than 13.3 points per game. And no, that is not a typo.
What’s more is their offense has started to plumb average to above-average output. The Chargers are tallying nearly 33 points per contest over their four-game win streak and have climbed all the way to 15th in scoring overall as a result. And it’s not like they’re feasting on truly cupcake opponents. Sure, the Washington Redskins are a walking turnstile, but they hung 54 points on the Buffalo Bills‘ defense.
Quarterback Philip Rivers and company now have the well-rounded spark, both in the air and on the ground, to compete with some of the best. Don’t be surprised if they go into Kansas City in Week 15 and steal a victory—along with the AFC West—from the Chiefs.
NFC Wild Card Predictions
Los Angeles Rams (+1600)
We are starting to see cracks in the Los Angeles Rams‘ feel-good story.
While the defense has spent most of the year fluttering somewhere in the top seven, the Rams are allowing around 25.8 points over their past four games, a driving force behind them slipping to 12th in the league’s points-prevention pecking order. Giving up 43 points to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 14—37 of which came through the third quarter—could prove particularly costly, since it resulted in a loss and ensured the Seahawks’ own letdown against the Jaguars didn’t seal their fate as the division runner-up.
Perhaps we’re playing with fire here as a result. The Rams have a one-game lead over the Seahawks in the win column, but two of their final three come outside Los Angeles, while two of the Seahawks’ final three come in Seattle. To make matters worse, the Seahawks also won the first meeting between these two teams, ostensibly putting them in the driver’s seat when they square off again, in Seattle, for Week 15.
And if the Rams forfeit the division lead, they’ll need to beat out one of the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers for a Wild Card slot—no small order. We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt anyway, because going 2-1 over the final three weeks should get them in, and it’s tough to imagine them collapsing too hard with such a potent offense.
New Orleans Saints (+1400)
Things are getting interesting in the NFC South—a little too interesting for the Saints’ liking.
Although Pro-Football-Reference’s Simple Rating System (SRS), which ranks teams according to point differential and strength of schedule, rates them as the NFL’s second-best squad, they’ve yet to clinch a playoff berth, let alone the division.
So much of this has to do with their schedule. They’ve played through one of the league’s five toughest schedules. Give them a slightly simpler slate, and they’ve probably already earned a division title.
Nevertheless, the Saints’ hold on the AFC South is pretty tight. They are 2-0 against the second-place Panthers, so they have that tiebreaker wrapped up. They’re down 1-0 to the Falcons, but their final matchup (Week 16) comes in New Orleans, where the Saints have verged on unbeatable.
Bet on them winning the division (-170) and cruising into the postseason with home-field advantage in the Wild Card round.
Carolina Panthers (+2200)
Is picking the Panthers over the Falcons controversial? Not in the slightest.
Carolina has a 1-0 lead in the season series over Atlanta, with a Week 17 face-off on tap. And this means the Falcons will close the year playing two of their final three tilts against the Saints and Panthers. Good luck with that—especially Matt Ryan laying complete eggs behind center in each of his last two games.
To be clear: You shouldn’t be counting on the Panthers (+300) to grab the AFC South from the Saints. They’re 0-2 season record against New Orleans renders a division title basically impossible. But you can, and should, pencil them in for the postseason.
Seattle Seahawks (+1800)
Now we get to the controversy.
The Falcons could just as easily be slotted here over the Seahawks. They have the better conference record, at 7-2…for now.
Going toe-to-toe with the Panthers and Saints to wrap the season really hurts the Falcons. Meanwhile, after facing the Rams, the Seahawks get two should-be rollovers in the Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys. It helps, too, that a victory over the Rams in Week 15 puts them in control of the NFC West division, thereby forcing the Falcons to butt heads with a Los Angeles team in possession of advantages across the board.
If you’re feeling gutsy, the Seahawks at +130 to win the NFC West is a worthy gamble. But if you’re just in this to keep track of squads who will get a chance to play into the Super Bowl tournament, well, here you go: The Seahawks will creep in by way of wild card or division title.
*All stats come courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference and are accurate leading into games being played during Week 15.
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