It’s hard to say which playoff team got more disrespect this season, the New York Giants or the Minnesota Vikings.
It was probably the Vikings, whose fans had to be reminded every week that their division-winning team had a negative point differential and an absolutely unsustainable record in close games. Like the Vikings, the Giants had to keep hearing how their advanced stats indicated they weren’t nearly as good as their record. The Giants fell off a bit after a hot start, so everyone stopped complaining about them.
Even if both teams have been the subject of some derision during their successful seasons, they might give us the best matchup of wild-card weekend.
The first meeting between the teams, in Week 16, was very good. The Vikings scored with about three minutes left, the Giants tied it with a touchdown and two-point conversion about a minute later, and then Minnesota hit a 61-yard field goal as time expired to win, 27-24.
It was a fairly typical Vikings victory, making things closer than they had to be before pulling a win out of the fire. But the Giants outplayed the Vikings for most of the game. They had 445 yards, to 353 for the Vikings. Two turnovers and a blocked punt were the reason Minnesota got a close win. You can’t count on that every week.
The Giants should be rested. Several key players sat last week with the No. 6 seed locked up, which was smart. A pseudo bye week is a late gift in a grueling season. The Vikings’ starters played for much of their game against the Chicago Bears last week with a small hope of getting the No. 2 seeds. That won’t make the difference in who wins, but it’s a small edge to the Giants.
The Giants are a 3-point underdog at BetMGM and I’ll take them. I think the Giants can get the straight-up win. I don’t want to pile on the Vikings, who have had a really fun and fantastic season, but we all know this is not a dominant team. The Vikings are beatable. The Giants showed that a few weeks ago. This time, maybe they’ll finish the job.
Here are the rest of the picks against the spread for the wild-card round (we’ll save our official Dallas Cowboys-Tampa Bay Buccaneers pick and breakdown for Monday’s Daily Sweat):
Regular-season meetings don’t always predict what will happen in the playoffs, but they can offer clues about the matchup. And the most telling clue from the first two Seahawks-49ers games is that Seattle could not move the ball on San Francisco’s defense.
In the first meeting the Seahawks got just 216 yards and the team’s only points came on a blocked field goal. In the second meeting the Seahawks got 277 yards and the only touchdown came with 3:35 left and the 49ers holding a 21-6 lead. Seattle’s offense was overmatched.
The 49ers have been great lately. They’ve covered the spread in seven of their last eight games. In that stretch only one game was decided by less than eight points. This looks like a big spread for a playoff game but Seattle hasn’t looked very good for many weeks and the 49ers are playing like Super Bowl contenders. Maybe rookie Brock Purdy falls apart in his first playoff game, but you’ve already lost a lot if you’ve been betting on Purdy turning into a pumpkin. Maybe it just isn’t going to happen this season.
Jaguars (+2) over Chargers
It was a little surprising to see the Chargers open as favorites. When the two teams faced each other earlier this season, the Jaguars won in Los Angeles, 38-10. If anything has changed dramatically since then, it’s that the Jaguars have gotten better.
It’s not like the Chargers’ advanced stats are overly impressive. They have a lot of stars and that has shown up at times, but not enough to fully believe this is the year they make a playoff run. The Jaguars did look jittery last week in a win over the Titans, but it was the first huge game for a young team. That experience, playing in what amounted to a playoff game, should benefit them this week.
Of course, the Chargers’ decision to play starters in Week 18 robbed them of the potential advantage of rest. It appears Mike Williams and Joey Bosa avoided major injuries, but they also might not be 100 percent. The Chargers have many good players and perhaps this is their big breakthrough, but a lot of signs point to Jacksonville moving on.
Dolphins (+13) over Bills
This line jumped after Tua Tagovailoa was ruled out, and it’s enough to take Miami. There’s clearly the possibility that Buffalo blows out the Dolphins, like the Bills blew out the Patriots on wild-card weekend last season. But this is a Dolphins team that beat Buffalo 21-19 early in the season and came close to sweeping the Bills but lost 32-29 in Week 15. There will be offensive issues with Skylar Thompson at quarterback and running back Raheem Mostert probably out with a broken thumb. But 13 points is a lot for a playoff game.
According to Stathead, there have been only 23 playoff games with a spread of 13 points or more in the Super Bowl era, and only three since the end of the 2007 season. The bad news for the Dolphins is that huge underdogs are 9-14 against the spread and 2-21 straight up (the two wins: New York Jets in Super Bowl III and New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI). While acknowledging the game could get out of hand and the history of favorites of 13 or more has not been great, I have to take the points with a Dolphins team that has shown it can compete with the Bills.
Ravens (+8.5) over Bengals
It’s hard to take the Ravens without much clarity on their quarterback situation. This is mostly a pick for Baltimore’s defense and John Harbaugh.
The Ravens defense fared well in both meetings against Cincinnati, including in Week 18. It’s fair to say that Cincinnati didn’t put up huge yardage against Baltimore last week because they built an early lead and shut it down a bit after that. But Baltimore will fight, even without Lamar Jackson. There have been no indications that Jackson will play, and that story with Jackson, his knee injury and upcoming contract talks will be a hot one for another day. Tyler Huntley has an injured shoulder, so undrafted rookie Anthony Brown could get the start. That is scary against a Bengals team that was excellent against the spread this season. I just have blind faith in the Ravens figuring out a way to keep it close.
Last week: 9-7
Final regular-season record: 138-127-4