By Danny Carrington
Last Updated: 3rd January 2020
January heralds the start of the NFL Playoffs as the top 12 teams battle it out for the chance to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The top two seeds from each conference get a bye for the wildcard round, but this weekend features four excellent match-ups for fans to enjoy. We preview all four opening playoff fixtures.
Buffalo Bills at Houston Texans
Buffalo Bills enter the playoffs as the fifth seed after a very credible 10-win season and are rewarded with a trip to AFC South champions Houston Texans. Both sides have young franchise quarterbacks, good defences and are well coached. Houston enter as 20/29 favourites with homefield advantage, while the visiting Bills are 5/4.
The spread sits at 2.5 points, but from the looks of it Buffalo could offer a very tricky assignment for Houston. While Deshaun Watson can move in the pocket, Buffalo’s defence will be ready for any mobile play and the opportunistic secondary has been one of the most impressive in the league this season. Josh Allen is 15/8 to score anytime, which is good value for the dynamic dual-threat QB, as is Allen to score a touchdown and Buffalo to win at 5/1.
Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots
Tennessee Titans face the tricky trip to Foxboro to take on a New England Patriots side who are in their first Wildcard Weekend in a decade, which is testament to their continued success. Any trip to Foxboro is tough, but especially in the playoffs, where the Bill Belichick and Tom Brady combination comes alive. Former Patriots stalwart turned Titans coach Mike Vrabel will have a tough task on his hands and will rely heavily on Derrick Henry to run the ball well and manage the clock. Tennessee have looked reborn with Ryan Tannehill under centre, but New England’s defence has operated at the highest level possible for large portions of the season.
The Titans are 39/20 to win, while the Pats are 10/23, but it would take a brave person to bet against Brady in the post-season. Back the Patriots to beat the Titans and cover the spread (-5) at 10/11.
Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints
This is a rematch of the famed Minneapolis Miracle game two seasons ago, though things could end up differently this time. New Orleans Saints look a real force to be reckoned with, while No. 1 receiver Michael Thomas has had statistically one of the greatest ever seasons. Minnesota Vikings remain a somewhat inconsistent team, but have one of the best backs in the nation in Dalvin Cook. Minnesota will go to the Superdome as 33/10 underdogs, while New Orleans are 10/41 home favourites. The spread sits at 7.5, which is a big margin for a playoff game, so the Vikings could offer value on that at 10/11.
The explosive Saints offence could have a field day against the Vikings, especially if Drew Brees can find his rhythm early. The Saints to score over 29.5 points is 20/21, which looks achievable for a team that can score quickly and often.
Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles
The final game of the weekend sees Seattle Seahawks travel to Philadelphia, this time as 4/5 away favourites. Philadelphia Eagles managed a late charge to secure the NFC East title and a playoff spot, but most would agree it is one of the weakest divisions in the league currently. The Eagles are 21/20 to win at Lincoln Financial Field, while the spread sits at 1.5 in favour of the Seahawks.
Seattle have stuttered in the last few weeks, but should be strong enough to overcome a Philly team that has struggled immensely at the wide receiver position this year. Marshawn Lynch was back with a bang last week, scoring on his return to the Pacific Coast, and ‘Beast Mode’ is 11/8 to score anytime on Sunday, and should see plenty of goal-to-go carries.