In the first round of the 2022 NFL Playoffs, Ross Williams picks out a best bet in three of the Super Wildcard Round’s knockout match-ups.
2pts Over 0.5 interceptions – Kyler Murray (Cardinals) at 10/11 (bet365)
2pts Under 43.5 points – New England Patriots @ Buffalo Bills at 10/11 (General)
2pts Philadelphia Eagles (+8.5) to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 10/11 (General)
Whether you like the idea of a Monday night playoff game or not, there’s no denying that the NFL has saved the best until last on Super Wildcard Weekend.
This all-NFC West clash is a juggernaut of a matchup, involving two rivals that have split games this season, making this one a rubber match as well as a crucial playoff tie.
The result is more than up for debate and incredibly hard to predict a few days out, so I’ve scoured the player props for some value in this one.
No matter what happens, I do believe that Kyler Murray will ultimately decide this game. The Cardinals QB was right in the MVP discussion until a midseason injury forced him to have some time on the side-line, but it’s not all been sunshine and rainbows for the former #1 overall draft pick.
Murray has had his troubles along the way – albeit minor – and he has come unstuck against a few defences.
On Monday night, he will be expected to match (and beat) a Los Angeles offence that averages 27.1 points per game and that will almost certainly cause Murray to take chances through the air, in the hope of finding the likes of Christian Kirk under the deep ball.
He will also be under a tonne of pressure from one of the league’s most ferocious defensive fronts, led by Aaron Donald.
Murray has only thrown ten interceptions this season, but two of those did come against the Rams just a month ago, in a game where he was forced to throw ball 49 times – his season-high.
Although he may not throw the ball quite as much in the pressure cooker of the playoff arena, I do fancy the likes of Jalen Ramsey to force at least one turnover on the night and an interception certainly won’t seem like a stretch if the Rams pick up an early lead and the Cardinals have to chase down their rivals, away from home.
Murray may come good and do the business when all is said and done, but playoff football is different, and he’s never had a taste of how the NFL do things in the postseason. 10/11 seems a pretty nice price for the 24-year-old to make just one mistake in his playoff debut.
Although Buffalo came away with a 33-21 win over their bitter AFC East rivals on Boxing Day, the first of this season’s Bills-Patriots clashes, three weeks earlier at Orchard Park, was something of an oddity. In the freezing cold of western New York, just 24 points were scored as Bill Belichick pulled off something of a coaching masterclass.
This week, New England once again travel to Buffalo and the circumstances surrounding this playoff matchup can’t help but make you consider a low-scoring repeat.
The weather – and how the teams navigated it – decided the first contest between these two teams and I suspect something similar on Saturday. Early indications are that the thermometers will hit zero around the time of kick-off, which instantly creates an image of tired bodies, lethargy and conservative football.
But here’s the thing. This is America we’re talking about, a country where they measure their degrees in Fahrenheit.
Indeed, in British metric terms, the temperature in Buffalo is expected to be around -17. This borders on madness, and could go down as one of the coldest NFL games on record.
Don’t expect flash plays in this one. A game in these conditions is quite literally survival of the fittest, and the best way to tire out your opponent is on the ground. Expect a heavy emphasis on the run game – especially from the Patriots – and therefore a game that should produce a total points score way below the league average.
A year ago, Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl run suffered an almighty scare at the hands of the completely unfancied Washington Football Team.
The Bucs came out victorious in the end, on their way to a world championship, but Taylor Heinicke did some serious damage in the wildcard round, leaving many pundits less than impressed with Tampa’s chances.
A year later, I’m fancying history to repeat itself as another NFC East team takes on the Buccaneers in the first round of the playoffs.
To bet against Tom Brady in January is beyond foolish, so I’m not insisting the Eagles will go into Tampa and upset the reigning champions. However, the handicapper has been pretty kind to Philadelphia, giving them an 8.5 point start at the time of writing.
This seems a lot – it’s the second-largest spread of the weekend – and it’s especially generous when you unravel the matchup.
Sustained winds and rain are expected to be a feature of the game, which immediately affects Tampa’s ability to move the ball through the air. By definition, this reduces the amount of points on offer for the Buccaneers, adding to their existing woes brought about by injuries to key players in the passing game such as Chris Godwin.
The run game should be a massive factor in this one if the forecast holds and this opens the door – at least slightly ajar – for the Eagles. After a relatively slow start, Philadelphia finally committed to the run game as they hit the second third of the season and they never looked back. In terms of both yardage and touchdowns, no team in the NFL ran the ball better than Nick Sirianni’s Eagles in 2021.
An outright win for the Eagles will no doubt rely on Jalen Hurts playing supremely well in his maiden playoff start, and outduelling Tom Brady in his 46th postseason appearance. Anyone with an ounce of NFL knowledge knows that the likelihood of that is slim, but can Hurts at least set up a one-score dogfight with Brady in the fourth quarter, backed by his run game? Absolutely.
Odds correct at 1500 GMT (14/01/21)
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