The NFL postseason is upon us and 12 teams are playing for February and the right to be crowned Super Bowl champions. To get there, they will have to face some of the toughest competition they have all year, both in conference and out.
For eight of these teams, that journey to the Lombardi Trophy begins this weekend in the first or wildcard round of the playoffs.
Since each conference has a ton of storylines, more than could possibly be fit in one preview, we decided to break things up and make things a little easier to follow. We’ll start with the AFC playoff preview, which features the Oakland Raiders kicking things off against the Houston Texans on Saturday (4:35 PM ET) and the Miami Dolphins taking on the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday (1:05 PM).
AFC Betting Odds
Before we get into the nitty gritty of this weekend’s games however, let’s take a look at the overall odds each of the six teams has of winning the Super Bowl.
Leading the way for all NFL teams is unsurprisingly the New England Patriots (+190 to win the SB, -180 to win the AFC Championship). The Patriots will be looking for their second Super Bowl win in three years. Their road to the title is made much easier by the fact that last year’s defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, did not reach the field of 12 and will not even be in the playoffs this year.
New England, winners of 14 total games, including seven in a row and 10 of their last 11, found a way to weather the storm despite time missed by Tom Brady (pictured), Rob Gronkowski and Dion Lewis. Somehow, it seems this team always does, no matter the adversity put in front of them. Once again, the Patriots put forth an excellent season and are the hottest team in football. They look primed and poised for another title run and the top sportsbooks can’t help but agree.
However, if you’re not sold on New England winning the Super Bowl, then there are teams like the Dallas Cowboys (+425) and Green Bay Packers (+700) to consider. The second favorite with the oddsmakers are the Steelers (+375), followed by the Kansas City Chiefs (+425), who earned the other bye, the Raiders (+2800), the Texans (+2800) and finally the Dolphins (+4000).
Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans Preview, Betting Predictions & Picks
Just a month ago, people were going so far as to say that this was going to be Oakland’s year. Winners of 12 games and led by a young QB who was possibly on a track to the MVP, Oakland looked like they were going to win their division en route to a lengthy playoff run. But all of that came crashing down when Carr suffered a devastating injury on Christmas Eve and is likely out for the remainder of the season.
Without Carr, it seems the Raiders chances are about as slim as it was when Leicester City won the Premier League. Okay, so probably not quite that bad, but Carr was the cog that held this team together and it will be tough for them to play without him.
Oakland is starting the rookie Connor Cook in Carr’s place and while he’s probably not a doomsday device, he is certainly a true wildcard. He has a strong arm and succeeded in a pro-style offense, leading Michigan State to two Big 10 title wins and five victories over top-10 teams. But none of that equates to pro experience or making your NFL debut in the playoffs, which is the first your team has reached since 2002. To say there’s pressure on the 23-year-old might be an understatement.
Speaking of pressure, internal is not the only kind Cook will face as against the Texans hard-hitting D, chances are he’ll be challenged in the box all game.
Houston finished the season as the NFL’s best defense and considering they accomplished that without JJ Watt for much of the year, is an even bigger accolade. The Texans defense stood tall throughout the season, managing to carry the team’s limping offense on its back to a playoff berth and divisional championship. In a way, they are a dumbed down version of what the Broncos had last year when the team won the Super Bowl, just minus some of the offensive talent.
Take nothing away from this defense though because they are a rock solid unit and one that would cause even the most veteran of quarterbacks trouble. Cook is not that and if the rookie doesn’t manage to adjust quickly to the pressure Houston brings, it’s unlikely the Raiders will get to a point where Carr could even get a chance to return and lead the offense.
- Take the Texans -3.5pts @ -112 betting odds with BetOnline Sportsbook to pull off the victory over Oakland. It is -4pts @ -110 with Bovada.
- As for the total points to be scored, it is set low at 37 but if Houston wins this game it will be because they limited the points put on the board. Take the under 37pts @ -110 with BetOnline. It is -115 for the same spread with Bovada.
Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers Predictions, Picks & Betting Preview
One of these years Pittsburgh is going to win the Super Bowl again. I mean how could they not given they boast top-five players at each of the major skill positions in Ben Roethlisberger at QB, Antonio Brown at WR and LeVeon Bell at RB.
On Sunday they’ll face a team with just as good a running back in Jay Ajayi, who broke out for 204 rushing yards the last time these two teams played in week six of the NFL season. Ajayi is a tough guy to take down as the Steelers defense learned and the improvements the team has made defensively, especially up front, will be tested by the powerful running and agile style of Miami’s best weapon.
At quarterback, the Dolphins probably would have rivaled the Steelers too but Miami, like Oakland, took a big dash to their playoff chances when Ryan Tannehill got injured. Replacing him in Sunday’s game is Matt Moore, a journeyman who will be making his first ever playoff start.
Moore isn’t anything spectacular offensively and the best hope Miami can have is that he’ll be able to stand up long enough to keep the running game an option. Moore is not really downfield thrower and if Pittsburgh can crowd the box, something they couldn’t do against Tannehill, Ajayi could have some trouble. Given the Steelers defense has gone into ‘lock all windows and doors’ mode as of the second half of the season, Ajayi could be hamstrung regardless.
The biggest thing in Miami’s favor is defensively as Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh are an incredible pass rush off the edge and up the middle. They will present the biggest challenge Roethlisberger has faced this year and if they can force him to short throws and keep Brown’s impact limited, the Dolphins could have a chance. Otherwise, Miami’s backfield is porous and Brown could be set for a big day if Roethlisberger has time to find the field.
- Pittsburgh is favored by a whopping 10 points in this one, which is the largest spread of wildcard weekend. Could Miami cover that? Potentially. But the Steelers have been hot and have been playing their best football of the season recently. So the verdict of this preview, and our betting pick here, is to bet on Pittsburgh -10pts @ -120 odds with BetOnline. It is -10.5pts @ -110 with Bovada.
- Additionally, our betting prediction for the total points to be scored is to take the over 46pts @ -110 with either Bovada Sportsbook or BetOnline.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.