Coach’s Picks: Best Bets Against The Spread, NFL Wild Card Round

Each week throughout the 2023 NFL Season, coach Kevin Kelley will give a coach’s perspective and provide analysis for a few games against the spread.

I am going to hit this article a different way this week, posting a play for a game and then a prop inside that game as well that is a key for the game.  

Buffalo Bills vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Spread Prediction:

Look for the Bills to cover as 9.5-point home favorites against the Steelers.

» Bet the Bills -9.5 now!

Why I like the Bills to cover against the Steelers in the Wild Card Round:

I am not sure how often it needs to be pointed out that the Buffalo Bills offense has been very efficient. They are so efficient that they can go into Miami, turn the ball over MORE than the Dolphins which usually loses the game over 75% of the time…..and win!

This is an odd game. It had to be moved to Monday afternoon because of the weather concerns, and while it should be better Monday afternoon, those weather concerns are likely to persist.

Everyone is saying that the Bills will have to run the ball a lot because of the conditions. I believe they will try. I think part of their run game will be when Josh Allen drops back on true pass plays and runs the ball against a Steelers team that will have to pick their battle.

Without T.J. Watt, the Steelers drop off in EPA more than any defense with any other player off the field in the league. So do you go two high on first down and hope that you can stop the run, or do they come down into 1 high and let Stefon Diggs and Khalil Shakir run into the seams and catch balls and hope the wind is the defense?

Shakir had 6 receptions for 105 yards last week and looks to be more involved when they do pass as Gabe Davis has been ruled out, which I think is a good thing. I am a little worried that they will try their best to take the ball out of Allen’s hands, but with James Cook averaging 4.7 YPC, that will lead to some good play action plays.

Even in the cold, this is my first wager: Shakir over 29.5 yards receiving.

I think he can get that one of three ways. They like to throw him little short passes and he is fully able to make good yards on those, and with the wind, this will be one way to “hand off” the ball. I think he can simply get it by more targets with Davis being out and the Steelers having to creep guys up to blitz with Watt out. I think he could simply catch one 30-yard pass and do it. I like having those three outs. Allen is who he is. He wants to take a couple of shots.

The Steelers have been a little lucky in my opinion in their last two games with Mason Rudolph at quarterback. He had 152 yards against a Baltimore Raven team that didn’t play all the starters because they had nothing to gain. 71 of that came on one pass to Diontae Johnson. Two weeks ago, he had a slant that turned into an 86-yard TD. Those large plays are not sustainable in the NFL.

I sure don’t think they get even close to that here with the Bills having the No. 4 pass rush win rate in the league. I think the Bills know they have to stop the run game, and I think the Steelers know they have to run the ball at all costs, shorten the game, and hope they have a chance for a big play on defense. That chance goes way down without Watt.

Meanwhile, the Bills Defense is allowing 18 PPG this year, and that’s in good weather. I just do not see the Steelers scoring more than one TD, and I think FGs are going to be hard to come by.

This game looks to be in the 27-7 range for me, so give me the Bills -9.5.

For a prop, I’ll take the Khalil Shakir over 29.5 yards receiving.

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Detriot Lions vs. Los Angeles Rams Spread Prediction:

Look for the Lions to cover as 3-point home favorites against the Rams.

» Bet the Lions -3 now!

Why I like the Lions to cover against the Rams in the Wild Card Round:

Where to start is the question.

The storyline is Matthew Stafford coming back “home” and Jared Goff facing his old team. It is actually the first time in NFL history that both QBs are facing their former team in the same game in the playoffs.

The storyline really should be that neither team is particularly great on defense but both are ranked in the top seven in offensive DVOA, with the Rams being No. 7. The Lions defense is almost middle of the pack at No. 13 with the Rams coming in at No. 22 in defensive DVOA.

The Rams with Kyren Williams in the game are No. 4 in EPA. That is incredible! It is caused by him being such a good fit in their style of running that teams have had to really commit to stopping him which opens up play action.

With Puka Nacua and Cooper Kupp, many choose to take out a linebacker and play nickel early. That’s still not enough to stop them often. But the unsung hero in their offense is Demarcus Robinson. In his last five games, he has averaged 6.8 targets, 4.2 catches, and has scored a TD in four of five games. He actually has more red zone targets than Kupp and Nacua in those games.

I like Robinson to go over 3.5 receptions for plus money (+105). Again, I like to play props that I believe have several ways to hit. I think above is a lot of proof. I also think the Rams get behind in this game and have to play catchup which will help as well.

With both teams being similar, it makes it hard for me to play the over although that is my tendency with the Lions averaging over 35 PPG at home this year and the Rams being so efficient. They may know just enough about each other to be a little more dangerous than most on defense.

The Rams are No. 4 in the league in explosive plays, and the Lions are not far behind with Amon-Ra St. Brown, Sam LaPorta (looks like he will play), Jameson Williams, and Jahmyr Gibbs. Basically, both teams have tons of weapons and have a great offense to highlight them all in different ways.

This game comes down to a couple of things for me.

First, I love Dan Campbell in this situation. He has been true to playing the analytics and being aggressive in the tightest of situations (see going for two for the win against Dallas even though they got moved back to the 8 on a penalty). I also think he truly has these guys thinking they are on a mission. They haven’t won a playoff game this century, and they have talked about that all year long.

I love that they are playing at home. The crowd at Ford Field has never been known as crazy, but if it ever will be, this would be the week.

I love that Sean McVay still has a horrible habit of using timeouts in the dumbest of situations including, just to save 5 yards on a 2nd and 10, on a 4th down, fake it, and then punt, no matter which half, and mostly because the Rams just take too long to get the play in a lot of times. Those could be crucial IF this game is a tight one.

I think the game changers are Williams and Gibbs. If Ben Johnson doesn’t have something designed for both of them to have a shot to use their speed in an unusual play, I will be severely upset.

The Rams defense is their Achilles heel. Take Aaron Donald out, who is quietly having another great year, and their defense is actually quite bad. I think the Lions jump out to a two-TD lead and then hold the Rams off the rest of the game. Lions by 10 in this one.

Give me the Lions -3.
Give me Robinson over 3 ½ receptions.

Bonus NFL Best Bets for Wild Card Round:

  • Jordan Love over 1.5 TD passes
  • Jayden Reed anytime TD
  • CeeDee Lamb over 98.5 yards receiving
  • Eagles -3 Tampa Bay

Throw some Chick-fil-A money on them!