The NFL play-offs get underway this weekend and Paul Higham has his picks and best bets from all four games.
For details of advised bookmakers and each-way terms, visit our transparent tipping record
Minnesota Vikings @ New Orleans Saints
If any team’s due some play-off luck it’s the Saints, who lost out to the ‘Miracle in Minneapolis’ a couple of years’ ago and to a woeful no-call against the Rams last season – and this year they get to exact some revenge on the Vikings.
It’d be easy for Saints fans to get the hump with the play-offs recently – those last two defeats have been real sucker punches. A 61-yard TD on the final play of the game like in Minnesota just does not happen.
There’s also the fact that they’ve been unlucky again this year not to get a bye with 13 wins – it’s just the third time a 13-win side hasn’t got a first round bye, and two of those have been New Orleans!
There’s another 40-something at quarterback but Drew Brees is playing some of his best stuff right now after tossing 15 TDs and zero picks in December and now has dual-threat running back Alvin Kamara at full steam to compliment dominant receiver Michael Thomas.
Tight end Jared Cook is now also one to watch having risen to prominence following a slow start – he’s got seven touchdowns in his last seven games.
That’s a lot to handle for a visiting defence against a cacophony of noise inside the Superdome as one of the better home advantages in the league. Well-paid Vikings QB Kirk Cousins also has to try and shake-off his big-game under achiever’s tag.
On the plus side for Cousins and Minnesota, their own star rusher Dalvin Cook has looked unstoppable at times, and his battle with a Saints run defence that’s topped the league in the last two seasons will be absolutely crucial.
Home advantage will do the trick here for the Saints but winning by more than a touchdown might be a stretch in a hard-fought play-off game.
Best bet: Saints -5 to beat the Vikings at 8/13
Touchdown tip: Jared Cook & Dalvin Cook both to score touchdowns at 9/2
Seattle Seahawks @ Philadelphia Eagles
The final game of wild card weekend and the closest one to call in terms of the market with the Seahawks just 1.5 point favourites to win again in Philadelphia as they did earlier in the season – and it’s clear the Eagles are still struggling hugely with injuries.
They do, though, have history on their side as 9-7 or worse teams playing home play-off games against 11-win opposition are 6-2 in the current play-off format despite being underdogs. Philly also have a perfect 5-0 record as home underdogs in the play-offs in the Super Bowl era.
So don’t underestimate a side that has made it to the post-season despite Carson Wentz (who is finally making his play-off debut) not having any decent receivers to throw to and having his best target, tight end Zach Ertz, being a big injury doubt.
Seattle won their week 12 clash 17-9 after coming in off a bye week so were fresh, and down the stretch they’ve lost to the Rams, Cardinals and 49ers to somewhat limp over the line, so there’s definite hope for the hosts.
Russell Wilson is the x-factor in this contest though, and if it’s a close contest late on he’ll usually find a way to get the job done. Seattle also went 7-1 on the road in the regular season and that’s a great record to take into the play-offs.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if either team won this contest but you’ve got to pick a winner somehow – and Philly have effectively been playing play-off games for a month now and that momentum, along with the home crowd at the Linc gives them the edge in my eyes.
Best bet: Eagles +1.5 and under 47.5pts at 2/1
Buffalo Bills @ Houston Texans
Two unfancied teams hoping to make a splash in the play-offs meet with both the Texans and Bills having rested plenty of players in defeats last week in order to arrive fresh into the post-season. Not many expect either of these to go much further than this game but then again they’ve both been underrated all season.
Buffalo are desperate for a play-off win to end the third-longest stretch without one – they’ve not won a post-season game since 1995 just after their famed but ultimately flawed team of the 1990s that reached four consecutive Super Bowls only to lose every single one of them.
This Bills side certainly has the advantage in terms of defence, they’re second in the league with them conceding just 16.2 points a game, but it’s Houston who have the better offence and QB Deshaun Watson is a year older and wiser than his poor play-off debut last season.
Buffalo’s Josh Allen is making his play-off debut this season as two multi-faceted triggermen do battle. Post-season football is a different game to regular season matches, and Houston having JJ Watt back will make it even more uncomfortable for Allen.
It’s a tight one to call with Houston only just favoured by a field goal, but Buffalo have been better offensively on the road than at home this season, they’re due a play-off win and in these tight play-off games a defence like theirs can often be the difference.
Best bet: Bills to beat the Texans at 5/4
Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots
Could this be Tom Brady’s farewell? The great man is being written off again and one of these years they’ll all be right! And after a sloppy loss to Miami last week condemned the Pats to a first wild card game in a decade he’s got it all to do to make a third straight Super Bowl.
A well-rounded and dangerous Titans team arrive with the NFL rushing champ Derrick Henry the clear and present danger to the usual Patriots’ game of clocking up home play-off wins for fun. They’re up to 12 post-season wins on the spin at Gillette Stadium.
The Pats had gone out to 20/1 in America to win retain their Super Bowl crown, that’s the longest they’ve been at any time during the last decade and the biggest price ever under Brady and Bill Belichick entering the play-offs. They’ve limped into the post-season but that doesn’t mean they can’t win this one.
We’ve just seen this so many times before, a well-fancied opposition rides into town with everything going for them – in this case a decent Titans defence, unstoppable running back and better-than-expected quarterback in Ryan Tannehill who has a better corps available to him than Brady.
It should, and will, be a rough ride the Patriots are in for, but Belichick has taken away so many weapons over the years that it’s almost inconceivable that he won’t be able to limited Henry’s production and make Tannehill try and win the game.
He’s capable, but he’s 0-6 in the Patriots in a so-so career that is only now yielding a play-off appearance after eight years. Away in Foxborough against a Belichick defence is not the place to do it.
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