The top seeds enter the play-off mix in the Divisional Round and Paul Higham is predicting some epic contests in his preview & best bets.
For details of advised bookmakers and each-way terms, visit our transparent tipping record
Houston Texans @ Kansas City Chiefs
- Match odds: 2/9 | 7/2
- Points spread: Texans +9 (10/11) | Chiefs -9 (10/11)
- Total points 51.5: Under 10/11 | Over 10/11
The poor old Houston Texans aren't getting much love after their brilliant comeback and late victory over the Buffalo Bills, as represented by them being big underdogs here, but that seems fair given they're probably the weakest team left in the play-offs.
Deshaun Watson is a special talent, there is just a suggestion that his elusiveness comes from him hanging onto the ball a tad too long, but you can't argue with the way he finished the game against the Bills last week.
The problem is they let a middle-of-the-road attack like Buffalo's get so far ahead in the first place, and anything like that display again and they'll find themselves in another big hole, and against Patrick Mahomes and his elite group of skill players the comeback just simply won't happen.
Houston's seconadry is a real cause for concern, you can't afford to switch off against these Chiefs, as even just a few blown coverages can result in six points with Mahomes firing darts to his track team of a receiving corps filled with speedsters Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Mecole Hardman.
This could actually get ugly in a hurry if Houston aren't careful, and falling behind early would be a nightmare to this well-rested team of big-play artists. The Texans won at Arrowhead earlier in the season of course, but they've been nowhere near consistent enough and KC finished the season like a train - the hosts are going to the AFC title game.
Seattle Seahawks @ Green Bay Packers
- Match odds: 7/4 | 10/21
- Points spread: Seahawks +4 (10/11) | Packers +4 (10/11)
- Total points 46: Under 10/11 | Over 10/11
This could well be the best game of the weekend, it's certainly the most intriguing and hardest to call given the Seahawks keep surprising us all and have been the true road warriors of the season, so making the trip to Lambeau won't worry them.
The recent numbers stack up well for the Packers though - who've won eight straight games against Seattle at home while the Seahawks have a real mental block in away games at this stage with eight straight defeats in divisional road trips.
Things could have been so different had Seattle got that one extra yard against San Francisco - they'd have then been top seeds and have their fierce home backing behind them. They'd then be favourites instead of four-point underdogs, but regardless of the venue Russell Wilson taking on Aaron Rodgers is always a must-see occasion.
There are so many factors and the teams are so evenly matched that this is a real puzzler. Pete Carroll's play calling has been questioned more than once, but he's facig first-year head coach Matt LaFleur here who is untested at this level.
Both teams are susceptible to the run so this one could go quickly with both sides pounding the rock as much as possible, ironically limiting the impact Rodgers and Wilson will have early on, but it's still pretty likely that whoever has the ball in their hands last will have a chance to go and win the game with it. And that's a tantalising prospect regardless of which quarterback has that honour.
I like the under on match points more than trying to pick a winner, but again the week off and home advantage must come into account, and although Seattle have been excellent in close games this season there are enough question marks about them to give the nod to the hosts to cover - just!
Minnesota Vikings @ San Francisco 49ers
- Match odds: 1/3 | 5/2
- Points spread: Vikings +7 (5/6) |49ers -7 (Evens)
- Total points 44: Under Evens | Over 5/6
The Vikings produced a big upset last weekend when knocking out the Saints in the cauldron of the Superdome in New Orleans, and compared to that the atmosphere in San Francisco will hold no fear for them, but the rested 49er should!
Two things impressed me most about the Vikings last week – the way the defence totally shut down what had previously been a free-wheeling and free-scoring Saints offence, and the way Kirk Cousins showed that ‘clutch’ ability that had previously been lacking from his otherwise excellent quarterbacking repertoire.
If Cousins adds that skill of making the crucial plays at the crucial times, coupled with Dalvin Cook’s running ability then Minnesota will give the top NFC seeds all they can handle in Santa Clara.
The first round bye can sometimes work against you, bring some rustiness into play, but the Niners needed that break to get healthy and have a breather after a tough finish to the season.
Had Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan had his way Cousins would be dressed in red for the game but Jimmy Garoppolo has been doing just fine and if he and the offence execute their head coach’s innovative plays then they should have just enough to get beyond Mike Zimmer’s improving Vikings D.
A first play-off game since 2013 does bring nerves into play for the hosts, and the seven-point favouritism they’re holding does seem a bit large given their final five games of the season were all decided by a touchdown or less – and this is play-off football after all.
Minnesota haven’t won two play-off games in a season since 1987, going 0-8 since then, and I expect the 49ers to get the job done, via their own defence, run game and top-ranked pass defence. Cook is the man to side with in the touchdown market though, scoring twice last week, 13 during the season and only failing to find the endzone in three games.
Touchdowns: Dalvin Cook anytime at 6/5
Tennessee Titans @ Baltimore Ravens
- Match odds: 2/9 | 7/2
- Points spread: Titans +10.5 (10/11) |Ravens -10.5 (10/11)
- Total points 47: Under 10/11 | Over 10/11
Can the Titans repeat their shock victory of last weekend and topple the top dogs in the AFC? It’ll probably be a bigger upset than seeing off the slumping Patriots if they can shackle Lamar Jackson after Baltimore’s week off.
The MVP elect has been a phenomenon this season when leading a prolific offence – the only one in the league to reach 500 points. Jackson’s display is even more eye-watering when you consider he led the league in passing and total touchdowns despite missing over two games in total.
Jackson sat out week 17 but also two other fourth quarters and came out early in three other games with Baltimore building big leads at will, so those numbers are spectacular. The one caveat is that he’s not finished many full 60-minute games so there could be a question mark there if this one goes the distance.
This should be a good old-fashioned fist fight between two power running teams, and if that's your bag it doesn't get much better than Jackson and Mark Ingram for the Ravens and Derrick Henry for the Titans smashing their opposition in the mouth all day long in a test of wills.
You've got to go with the Ravens to win that slugfest - Jackson is not only a great runner but he's improved hugely with his arm, and you'd have to take him to outgun Ryan Tannehill if it came down to it. Tannehill had under 100 yards passing and Tennessee only put up 14 points last week, that won't be anywhere near enough this time around.
10.5 points is a lot in the play-off game, but the Ravens have interestingly never lost as double-digit favourites (36-0), and the three previous teams to beat Tom Brady in a WIldcard Weekend game all lost and failed to cover in the next game.
Touchdowns: Lamar Jackson anytime at 13/10
NFL play-off schedule/results bracket 2019/20
Saturday January 11
- Minnesota Vikings 10-27 San Francisco 49ers
- Tennessee Titans 28-12 Baltimore Ravens
Sunday January 12
- Houston Texans @ Kansas City Chiefs 8.05pm
- Seattle Seahawks @ Green Bay Packers 11.40pm
Wildcard weekend results
Saturday January 4 (AFC)
- Buffalo Bills (5) 19-22 Houston Texans (4) 9.35pm
- Tennessee Titans (6) 20-13 New England Patriots (3) 1.15am (Sun)
Sunday January 5 (NFC)
- Minnesota Vikings (6) 26-20 New Orleans Saints (3) 6.05pm
- Seattle Seahawks (5) 17-9 Philadelphia Eagles (4) 9.40pm
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