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Last Updated Jan 13, 2022, 09:38 AM

Total Talk - Wild Card Games

We're down to 14 combatants vying for the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13, 2022 at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, and 12 of those teams will be in action during AFC and NFC wild-card weekend, with the action spilling over into Monday for the first time ever.

Thank you for reading this season, as it has been a pleasure getting an opportunity to restore Total Talk, a long running piece at VegasInsider.com, back to its former and much-deserved glory.

There was actually a lot of news this week, from COVID activations, injury news and signings. It's going to be an interesting week to watch, for sure.

The Dallas Cowboys activated stud rookie LB Micah Parsons and OT Tyron Smith from the reserve/COVID-19 list, so they'll be ready to play in Sunday's NFC wild-card game against the San Francisco 49ers. S Jayron Kearse remains in the COVID protocol, although he still has a very good chance of playing.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did a little activating of their own, welcoming LB Shaquil Barrett back from the reserve/COVID-19 list on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the team designated RBs Giovanni Bernard and Leonard Fournette to return, opening a 21-day window to decide when to activate them. LB Lavonte David was also designated to return, so the defending champs could be getting some key personnel back for what they hope is another deep run into the playoffs in defense of their crowd. More importantly, two key members of the run game would help the offense score points, affecting totals. It would be big, too, as RB Ronald Jones II (ankle) is considered doubtful to play against Philadelphia, as is WR Cyril Grayson (hamstring), who has emerged down the stretch.

The Arizona Cardinals will remain without WR DeAndre Hopkins (knee) for at least the wild-card round, but DE J.J. Watt (shoulder) might be able to return to practice this week with an eye on playing and aiding the defense Monday against the Los Angeles Rams.

The Green Bay Packers might be able to get EDGE Za'Darius Smith (back) into the mix again. He had back surgery in October, but was expected to return to practice this week. His addition would be a giant boost for the Packers D.

Speaking of defensive boosts, the Los Angeles Rams coaxed S Eric Weddle out of retirement, and he joins the team for its playoff run, bolstering the back end of the D.

LARGEST MOVEMENT

Philadelphia at Tampa Bay (Sunday, 1 p.m ET, FOX): The biggest movement so far, in terms of the total, is in the Eagles-Bucs game. This total opened at 48.5 and 49 at some shops, but it has plummeted quickly to 46, and as low as 45.5.

The Eagles defense was sharp in five games from Weeks 12 through 17, allowing just 13, 18, 17, 10 and 16 in five outings, although every one of those performances came against non-playoff teams. And the offense has been good for 26, 20, 34, 27 and 33 across the past five, with the OVER cashing in four of the previous five games. The Dallas Cowboys, a playoff team, hung 51 points on the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field last Saturday in the regular-season finale.

Perhaps it is the fact the Buccaneers have so many injuries scaring away the OVER bettors. But as mentioned above, Fournette and/or Bernard could be back to bolster the run game. If not, QB Tom Brady will be tasked with slinging it early and often. Yes, Grayson has been good down the stretch while filling in, and he is doubtful to play, but WR Mike Evans is still there. TE Rob Gronkowski is still there. WR Breshad Perriman gained some trust in the season finale, too, while WR Tyler Johnson could also play a role.

It should be noted the UNDER is 4-0 in the past four wild-card games for the Eagles, but that's also a four-game span dating all the way back to 2010. QB Jalen Hurts was 11 when that trend started, so yeah, you can toss that out for the most part. More recently, and much more importantly, the OVER is 4-1 in Philly's past five games, while going 4-1 in the past five against winning teams, too. 

For the Bucs, the OVER is 13-5 in the past 18 games as a home favorite, while going 4-0 in the past four against teams with a winning overall record. And the Buccaneers did hit the OVER in the wild-card round last season at Washington, while going 2-1 in the three postseason games leading up to Super Bowl LV.

These teams did play in Week 6 on a Thursday night in Philadelphia, with the Bucs winning 28-22 as the UNDER (53) cashed.

SATURDAY'S WILD-CARD GAMES

Las Vegas at Cincinnati (Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET, NBC): Like the Eagles-Bucs above, this is a rematch of a regular-season meeting with a venue change. These teams met at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas in Week 11, with the Bengals burying the Raiders 32-13 as the UNDER (51) connected.

The Raiders defense was stout down the stretch, save for an epic showdown elimination game in the regular-season finale against the Los Angeles Chargers. Vegas allowed 32 in the OT win in Week 18, but just 20, 13 and 14 in the previus three outings, albeit against non-playoff teams. The past five games against teams in the playoff field saw the OVER go 4-1 for the Raiders, with the lone exception, its Week 11 matchup with Cincinnati.

The Bengals saw the UNDER cash in four of six games against teams in the current playoff field, with the OVER-UNDER splitting 2-2 in four games at Paul Brown Stadium against playoff teams.

The UNDER is 4-0 in the past four wild-card round games for the Bengals, although this is QB Joe Burrow's first foray into the postseason, so what QB Carson Palmer, QB Andy Dalton or, yes, QB A.J. McCarron, the Bengals most recent QB starter in a playoff game, did in past playoff games shouldn't sway your pick one way or the other. In fact, this is the first playoff game since 2015 for Cincinnati, a home loss to the Steelers. Burrow was 19 and in his first year on campus at The Ohio State University, just for perspective.

New England at Buffalo (Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET, CBS): Ahh, a January playoff game in Buffalo. You remember these teams played in Week 13 on a Monday night. The winds were howling, it was icy, snowy and just downright frigid. The Patriots passed just three times total in that game, a 14-10 win and UNDER result. Well, get ready for Part II.

The forecast for Buffalo on Saturday has a high temperature of just 10 degrees during the day, with temperatures rising and snow showers arriving by 7 p.m. ET, just in time for kickoff. We could see snow totals of a half-inch per hour by the second half.

While it's still just Wednesday, and obviously weather forecasts change by the day, circle back and double-check the forecast, but that should drive your decision significantly. A snow game would likely mean a lot less passing, again, and a mostly ground-based attack with Bills RB Devin Singletary and QB Josh Allen the most important pieces. Motor has really come on for the Bills lately in the ground game. For the Patriots, RBs Damien HarrisRhamondre Stevenson (if healthy) and perhaps RB Brandon Bolden would each be tasked with a heavier workload, as well.

The UNDER cashed in the final two regular-season games for Buffalo, both at home, while the UNDER was 3-1 in its final four home games. The Patriots hit the UNDER in four of the final five road games this season, and it's rather surprising this total is holding steady at 44. It could drop like the temperature as the weather forecast is fine tuned.

SUNDAY'S WILD-CARD GAMES

San Francisco at Dallas (Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET, CBS): For anyone who grew up in the 1980's and 1990's, a playoff matchup between these teams brings back a lot of memories. These teams have met seven previous times in the postseason, with the Cowboys holding a 5-2 advantage in this games. Of course, the most recent playoff meeting was a 38-28 win by the 49ers on Jan. 15, 1995, so yeah, it's been a while.

These teams have 10 total Super Bowl championships between them, but times have been tough for both in that department, especially for the Cowboys. In fact, their last Super Bowl win came in Feb. 1995. the 49ers have been to the Super Bowl twice in recent years, 2012 and 2019, but their last Super Bowl championship was 1994, so it's fitting that these two organizations will meet for the chance to move on in this season's playoffs.

The 49ers cashed the OVER last week against the Los Angeles Rams, a 27-24 overtime win at SoFi Stadium, where they hope to be next month for the Super Bowl. The UNDER is 5-3 in eight games against teams in the current playoff field, with the UNDER going 4-1 in five road games vs. playoff teams this season.

For the Cowboys, OVER is 5-2 in seven games against playoff teams, including a 51-26 spanking of the Eagles in Philadelphia in Week 18. The most recent home game against a playoff team was in Week 17, a 25-22 loss to the Arizona Cardinals which was a rare UNDER result against playoff teams, although the UNDER is 8-3 in 11 games overall for Dallas.

Pittsburgh at Kansas City (Sunday, 8:15 p.m. ET, NBC): The Steelers and Chiefs is another game we've seen during the regular season, and rather recently. The Chiefs manhandled the Steelers 36-10 in Week 16 as 10.5-point favorite as the OVER (44.5) connected. In fact, Kansas City has hit the OVER in five consecutive games, scoring 28, 31, 36, 34 and 48 during the five-game run. Remember when the offense was struggling, and the Chiefs were routinely ticking off UNDER results? It appears those days are in the rear-view mirror, and the offense is peaking at the right time.

The offense hasn't been as prolific for QB Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. And, in every game the aforementioned takes the field, it could be his last, as he is expected to retire. The offense has 16, 26, 10 and 19 across the past four outings, hitting the UNDER in three of the past four outings. The only OVER result during the span the loss in Kansas City.

The OVER is 5-2-1 in the past eight wild-card weekends for the Steelers, including last season's bow out against the Cleveland Browns at home.

The UNDER is 4-1 in the past five wild-card weekends for the Chiefs, although this is the first time Kansas City has played in a wild-card game since Jan. 6, 2019, a 22-21 home loss to the Tennessee Titans.

MONDAY'S WILD-CARD GAME

Arizona at L.A. Rams (Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC/ESPN+): This is the trilogy in this NFC West rivalry, which continues to grow as both teams continue to be contenders. This will also be the first-ever Monday night wild-card game, so there is a little added excitement surrounding this one.

The Cardinals won 37-20 in Week 4 at SoFi Stadium in the first meeting between these teams as the OVER (54) connected. The Rams returned the favor in a Monday night game in Week 14, winning 30-23 in Arizona as the OVER (51) also just came in.

Since that Week 14 loss, the UNDER is 3-1 for Arizona, as the offense has totaled 83 points, or an average of just 20.8 PPG. The defense has been very giving, however, yielding 30, 22, 22, 30, 30 and 22 across the past six outings. That is cause for concern for anybody contemplating the UNDER here.

The Rams have scored 20 or more points in seven straight outings, ironing out some issues it had back in November when the offense was sputtering during a three-game losing streak. The Rams have alternated the OVER and UNDER in each of the past eight games, hitting the OVER in the regular-season finale against San Francisco, a 27-24 overtime loss.

FEARLESS PREDICTIONS

Last week's predictions were rough, going 1-3 (-220in Week 18. There are no excuses here, but the final regular-season weekend is traditionally more difficult to forecast. That's OK, as that's still a season total 24-19-1 (55.8%) and (+615). Let's keep building that bankroll for the wild-card round and Super Bowl.

  • Best Over: Over 49.5 Arizona at L.A. Rams
  • Best Under: Under 44 New England at Buffalo
  • Best First-Half Total: Under 22.5 New England at Buffalo

Three-Team Total Teaser (+7, +135)

  • Under 56 Las Vegas at Cincinnati
  • Under 51 New England at Buffalo
  • Over 42.5 Arizona at L.A. Rams
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