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Odds Analysis & Picks For Saturday's NFL Wild-Card Games

NFL Wild Card Weekend is a time for underdogs and UNDERS – well, according to recent trends, it is, anyway. 

Over the past four years the UNDER went 12-3-1 in wild-card games and in the past three years underdogs went 7-3-2 ATS (against the spread). Those are some profitable records. 

Last season, all four visiting teams won outright during the first week of the playoffs. And if you think the feat will be repeated, a parlay on all four road dogs this week would pay around 150-1. That’d likely be enough to pay off your Christmas credit card bills. 

But that one is a long shot for a reason so let’s take a closer betting look at each wild-card matchup and see if we can earn some wins. Here’s a look at Saturday’s matchups below (and click here for a look at Sunday's games with picks also):  

Raiders at Texans -4, 36.5

My take on the odds: 

Houston opened -1.5, which is right where I would have put this line. If Derek Carr were playing, we could expect the Raiders favored at -2.5 or -3 and I’d happily lay the points.

I’m not surprised the early money is betting against a Raiders team here that is forced to send rookie QB Connor Cook out to make his first NFL start. I am surprised, however, that the line moved this much in favor of a Houston team that had a minus-49 point differential this season – the fourth-worst among playoff teams since divisional realignment in 2002. 

Think the total of 36.5 sounds low? It’s low but it ain’t the lowest. That honor for an NFL playoff game – in our OddsShark database – belongs to the Panthers-Bears matchup back on Jan. 15, 2006. The Panthers won 29-21 and the game o-shiterated the total (30.5). 

Betting keys to the game: 

It’s no secret the Raiders are in tough. Rookie QBs are 8-14 straight up since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. But Connor Cook should be given a chance to give his best game – whatever that might be – behind what NFL.com ranks as the best offensive line in the NFL. The Raiders allowed the fewest sacks (18) and fewest QB hits (41) in the league this year. 

That said, the Raiders go up against a defense that’s No. 1 in total yards allowed per game (301.3) and No. 2 in passing yards allowed per game (201.6). So we might have a bit of a stalemate situation here. Throw in the fact Houston barfed out the fourth-lowest scoring team in the NFL this season and you can see why this OVER/UNDER number is low. 

My pick:

UNDER and the Raiders +4 on a small one. This Houston passing game isn’t good enough (fourth-worst in the NFL)  to take advantage of Oakland’s secondary, which has been its weak spot most of the season. 

Lions at Seahawks -9, 43

My take on the odds:

The Seahawks opened as 7.5-point favorites and that hook (the half-point added to the key number of 7) was there to make bettors uncomfortable. If they open at 7, it would attract far too much Seahawks money because Seattle bettors would feel like they at least get a cushion of a push if their team wins by a TD. Well, the hook proved to be kind of irrelevant in this case as Seattle money poured in. The Seahawks on home field are just too tempting for many bettors. Light snow and cold temperatures are expected, which I’m sure brought this OVER/UNDER down to a lower number. 

My betting take on the game: 

Let’s talk trends for a second. The Seahawks have won their last seven games against teams from the eastern time zone. The Lions are 0-8 in the playoffs. The Seahawks are 20-4-2 ATS in their last 26 games at night (7 p.m. ET or later). And the Lions have failed to cover in four straight games entering Saturday. 

For many bettors, that’s enough to take the Seahawks, especially on teasers and straight-up parlay bets. But I think injuries may be what ultimately decides this game. Matt Stafford wrecked the middle finger of his throwing hand 15 quarters ago and he has six turnovers and no covered spreads since. The Seahawks, meanwhile, haven’t been right since losing Earl Thomas, probably their most important player on defense. 

Seattle is 2-2 straight up & ATS since losing Thomas for the season with a broken tibia. The Seahawks have given up 24.5 points per game over those four compared with just 15.6 points per game – which was the best in the NFL – when he was healthy. 

My pick:

Lions +9. If Thomas were playing, I think the Seahawks would deserve to be at least 10-point favorites here. Without him, I think this game plays close. 

Follow me on Twitter @JonnyOddsShark

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