My NFL Wild Card Picks from the Pound looks at all three Sunday matchups. I have a free pick from the Ravens at Titans and 10 picks total this weekend, including four Max Plays.
When a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) breaks out of the block with an impressive win streak, they take on an identity. If an unbeaten streak reaches all the way to December, the team seems almost invincible.
Once the Steelers did crack, it was easy to point out flaws — too many drops, no running game. Or make excuses — too many injuries, quirky schedule. But through 17 weeks, Mike Tomlin’s veteran squad are division champs.
- Home favorites that won more than seven consecutive games at any point throughout the season are 16-30 ATS in the playoffs.
New Orleans (12-4) played seven straight OVERS to start, with games averaging 57.6 total points. Their record was 1-2 SU, with losses in Las Vegas and at home to Green Bay. Then slowly through a combination of offense, defense, scheduling and opponent misfortune (read, Denver), the Saints had won nine in a row.
Sean Payton has been in this spot five times before. His record is 4-1 SU and 1-4 ATS. He has also beaten the Bears six consecutive times since 2011, outscoring them 28.2-17.7. In other words, a margin of 10.5 points per game. Boy these oddsmakers are good.
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Free NFL Wild Card Picks
I offer free picks in pro and college sports every week at Wunderdog, sent right to your inbox. As we countdown towards kickoff, my free Wild Card Weekend NFL pick is from the Ravens and Titans!
(5) Baltimore at (4) Tennessee
Sunday, 01/10, 1:05 PM Eastern
Line: Ravens -3 and O/U 54.5
Baltimore won its final five consecutive games to make it into the postseason. The Ravens have allowed a total of only 30 points their last three games as their defense is peaking, and they finished with a classic, 38-3 blowout of the Bengals in Week 17. Just like old times.
Tennessee stumbled in Week 16 but they entered the playoffs having won three of their first four. The Titans allow 27.4 points on the season, although they have given up an average of 34.3 points their last three games.
This is a revenge game for Baltimore after it lost 30-24 in overtime to the Titans on November 22. Oh yeah, and there’s also that small matter of a playoff game between these two in Baltimore last season. Tennessee shocked everyone with a Wild Card win at New England, following it up with a 28-12 upset over the rested Ravens. This game is going to get heated.
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(7) Chicago at (2) New Orleans
Sunday, 01/10, 4:40 PM Eastern
Line: Saints -10 and O/U 47
Saints RB Alvin Kamara (Covid-19) and WR Michael Thomas (high ankle) are game time decisions, but it seems likely that both will be available on Sunday. The Bears were Top 10 against the run, pass and strength of schedule, but they are banged up on defense. CB Buster Skrine (concussion) is OUT and leading tackler Roquan Smith (elbow) questionable.
New Orleans comes into this game off blowout win over Carolina, while the Bears were smacked around by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. It activates this first half system that is 63% ATS.
- Play ON home faves of -2 to -6 points in the first half off a double-digit win, when hosting an opponent off a double-digit loss.
- The Bears are 2-6 ATS in eight playoff games since 2002, and both covers were on home field.
(6) Cleveland at (3) Pittsburgh
Sunday, 01/10, 8:15 PM Eastern
Line: Steelers -6 and O/U 47.5
It’s really quite ironic. The biggest reason Cleveland made the playoffs this season is thanks to their first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski. Unfortunately, Stefanski is unable to man the sidelines thanks to Covid, and the outbreak at Cleveland’s facility prevented them from having a single practice until Friday. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer will act as head coach Sunday, assuming nothing happens to him over the next 48 hours. Browns O-Co Alex Van Pelt will call the plays into QB Baker Mayfield, which should be a seamless transition.
- Cleveland averaged 25.5 points per game (PPG) this season. Away from home, their defense allowed 29.6 points — most among all playoff teams.
Against teams like the Browns, Pittsburgh went 6-1 SU and 7-0 ATS during the 2020 season. The only straight up loss was last weekend in Cleveland, when the Steelers were resting a handful of key starters on both sides of the ball. Pittsburgh still covered and if you take Week 17 out of the equation, the Steelers outscored the other six opponents 30.8-20.2, a margin of 10.6 PPG.
Note that the line here was inflated by one game in particular. That game? Week 6, at home against the Browns. The Steelers were laying -4.5 points and clobbered Cleveland 38-7.
Strangely enough, the record for playoff favorites that recently beat their opponent by a huge margin of 30-plus points is 15-4 SU but only 7-12 ATS. The average line in these 19 games was -7.1, which is where this line is headed, but the faves only won by an average margin of 4.1 points. Very close to where this game opened.