Free NFL betting tips for Sunday's action in the Wild Card play-offs

Cam Newton and Carolina can bounce back from last week's poor effort
Cam Newton and Carolina can bounce back from last week's poor effort

Carolina are fancied by David John to spring an upset when they face New Orleans on Sunday in the NFL Wild Card play-offs.

Buffalo at Jacksonville (1805GMT, Sky Sports Main Event, Action and Mix)

Sunday evening’s first game sees two of the NFL’s lesser lights go head to head in north Florida.

Both have considerable flaws and are not expected to make a serious assault on next month’s Super Bowl - Jacksonville are 20/1 and Buffalo 125s to win it all - but that should not detract from an interesting encounter with the team best able to put together a solid 60 minutes set to move on.

The Jaguars will kick off as 8.5-point favourites and will lean heavily on a defense that has finally discovered an identity in 2017.

They finished the regular season ranked second overall, first against the pass, second in takeaways and second in sacks as they emerged from years of being the butt of many jokes with a 10-6 record, good enough to capture the AFC South.

Some high-profile free agent arrivals on the defensive side all clicked into gear at the same time for once and the results have been scarily good from the get-go having posted 10 sacks in their September opener against Houston.

An aggressive secondary has taken over the mantle of the best around from Denver’s "No-Fly Zone" so the pieces are in place on that side of the ball for a strong bid to win it all - as they say, defense does win championships.

Their issues rest on offense, specifically with quarterback Blake Bortles.

Erratic does not come close to describing his career thus far and his fourth season out of Central Florida has been little different.

For a three-game spell last month he looked like Dan Marino in wins over Indianapolis, Seattle and Houston that sealed their divisional honours but he inexplicably reverted to type by throwing five picks to close out the campaign against San Francisco and Tennessee.

Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey of the latter summed up the situation and observed: "As long as he (Bortles) is back there, if the ball game is in his hands, he is going to choke."

The solution then is to lean heavily on the defense, allow Bortles to get some confidence and let him run his side of the ball with a lead.

If they can get 10-0 or 14-0 ahead early on then that could mean big trouble for Buffalo’s 29th-ranked offense in the NFL, despite the euphoria in upstate New York of ending a spell without an appearance in the play-offs stretching back to 1999.

It took a cataclysmic late meltdown last week from Baltimore for the Bills to sneak into the post-season after what has been a very steep learning curve for first-year head coach Sean McDermott.

There have been some extremely embarrassing lows along the way - McDermott’s decision to go with Nathan Peterman at quarterback in week 11 at the Chargers followed immediately by a humiliating home defeat to New Orleans - but the team has stuck together to win three of their last four games.

Fortune has not favoured them though after running back and best player LeSean McCoy suffered an ankle sprain last week in Miami and is extremely unlikely to be anywhere near 100 per cent if suiting up.

That will mean quarterback Tyrod Taylor needing to play the game of his life against this defense, motivation indeed, but his body of work through seven years as a pro suggests he is going to fall short.

This is rarefied air for both teams with plenty of nerves to overcome and I would not put anyone off going on the low side in terms of total points in a game that hardly screams offensive fireworks.

The pair managed 40 interceptions between them during the regular season plus another 33 forced fumbles so either capitalising and weighing in with a defensive touchdown could land as well at 7/4.

Prediction: Buffalo 12-20 Jacksonville

Can Blake Bortles take the pressure in the play-offs?
Can Blake Bortles take the pressure in the play-offs?

Carolina at New Orleans (2140, Sky Sports Main Event and Action)

While the evening’s earlier clash seems highly unlikely to break any scoring records, two big NFC South rivals are well capable of lighting things up to round off the weekend in Louisiana.

The hosting Saints were another candidate whose prospects of reaching this stage seemed relatively slim at the start of the campaign but they not only made the post-season, they won the most competitive division in football ahead of Saturday’s rivals and Atlanta.

Head coach Sean Payton and ageless quarterback Drew Brees have been here before after winning it all back in the 2009 season but an influx of young talent on both sides of the ball means they are on the verge of another realistic shot at going all the way as 11/1 fourth favourites in the outright Super Bowl betting.

I have spoken previously about the insane ability of rookies Alvin Kamara and Marshon Lattimore at running back and cornerback respectively and the pair have provided an unexpected spark for the rest of the team to rally around.

Brees remains one of the game’s premier performers but a combination of Kamara and Mark Ingram has taken much of the pressure off of his shoulders to go out and win the game without losing any of his ability to pick apart a weakness in an opposing defense.

Those analytical skills will need to be finely tuned once more against a rival they know extremely well and have already beaten twice this season.

On both occasions, they have managed to put north of 30 points on the Panthers and it is their head-to-head record that means this game is being staged at a deafening Mercedes-Benz Superdome rather than across the country - and outdoors - in Charlotte.

New Orleans will have to give up 6.5 points on the spread which takes into account as well a feeble effort from Cam Newton and the Carolina offense in their regular-season finale at Atlanta.

They were up against a desperate Falcons team fighting for their play-off lives but Newton had a shocker, completing just 14 of 34 pass attempts with three interceptions and looking out of kilter on more than one occasion with the rest of the offense.

I doubt there is a starting quarterback in the league who has a greater disparity between his best and worst efforts on the football field, and although some observers feel his insipid display against Atlanta will carry over to this week, I expect to see Newton somewhere near the peak of his powers.

"This is where the real football starts," he said when quizzed by the media after practice on Wednesday. "We hope to shine like diamonds on Sunday."

Laying an egg last weekend was not ideal but the memory can be erased thanks to this shot at redemption and a chance to get one over the Saints when it matters most as the loser packs up and goes home.

Newton remains an integral part of the running game but getting Jonathan Stewart back from injury is a big boost while the Panthers defence is hugely amped up to have another crack at finally stopping Brees, Kamara and company.

This will be close and I am prepared to take a shot on the visitors springing an upset with a small investment on their money line odds.

Prediction: Carolina 24-20 New Orleans

Recommended bets: Sunday NFL

2pts under 39.5 total points in Buffalo at Jacksonville at 11/12

1pt a defensive touchdown in Buffalo at Jacksonville at 7/4

1pt Carolina to beat New Orleans at 45/17

Click here for our transparent tipping record.

Posted at 1915 GMT on 04/01/18.

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