It's been a truly incredible start to the NFL playoffs through two days. Of the five games we've seen so far, only one of them ended up in a blowout. However, the final margin in San Francisco's win over Seattle wasn't exactly reflective of the game. Seattle led at halftime and was within a score entering the fourth quarter before things fell apart. Outside of that game, we saw miraculous comebacks, underdogs pulling off outright upsets and big favorites being pushed to the brink.
Wild-card weekend wraps up on Monday with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers playing host to the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas is a 2.5-point road favorite. Before that game, let's take a look back at a wild weekend from a betting perspective.
Overs go perfect 5-0
During the NFL regular season, unders went 149-119-3, which was good for a 55.6% win rate. It was an extremely low-scoring season as oddsmakers continued to adjust totals downward, but unders still managed to cash more often than not.
Playoff football has a reputation of being a different brand of football. Games are usually tighter, teams run the ball more, defenses are more physical and the weather is colder. However, if you expected the trend of low-scoring games to transfer over from the regular season, you had a rough weekend.
All five games to this point have gone over the total. Outside of the game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens, it hasn't been particularly close either. The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks combined for 64 points despite the total closing at just 42 points. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Los Angeles Chargers went 14 points over the closing total. Buffalo and Miami combined for 65 points despite the total closing at 43.5 points.
A lot of quarterbacks performed better than expected. Brock Purdy threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns in his playoff debut. Geno Smith threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns against the tough San Francisco defense. Trevor Lawrence rebounded from throwing four early interceptions by throwing four touchdowns. Skylar Thompson and the Dolphins somehow hung 31 points on the board. Daniel Jones had nearly 400 all-purpose yards. Even Tyler Huntley was better than most people expected.
It's been a rough season for bettors who lean towards betting overs. They finally had their breakthrough on the biggest stage.
Underdogs have good showing
Much like under bettors, bettors who side with the underdog had a very successful regular season. Underdogs went 141-118-8 during the season, cashing for bettors at a solid 54.4% rate. However, unlike under bettors, underdog bettors saw their success carry over into the postseason.
Underdogs went 4-1 against the spread on the first weekend of the NFL playoffs. Two of those underdogs won outright.
The only favorite to cover the spread was the San Francisco 49ers. However, it wasn't a smooth ride. The 49ers went up 10-0 in the first quarter, and it looked like Seattle was over their skis. However, the Seahawks settled down and actually took a 17-16 lead into halftime. Entering the fourth quarter, San Francisco was up just 23-16. Ultimately, the 49ers went on an 18-0 run in the fourth quarter to open up a massive lead and ensure the cover.
In the Saturday night game, the Jacksonville Jaguars closed as 2.5-point underdogs. After four early interceptions from Trevor Lawrence, the Jaguars fell behind 27-0. Jacksonville was 18-to-1 to come back and win the game on the live moneyline. That's exactly what they did, outscoring the Los Angeles Chargers 31-3 in the final 30 minutes and 30 seconds of the game.
On Sunday, the Buffalo Bills opened up an early 17-0 lead and it looked like they were going to roll as 13.5-point favorites. At BetMGM, 85% of bets and 91% of the money was backing the Bills to cover. However, a series of drops, turnovers and mistakes let Miami right back into the game. The Dolphins tied it up temporarily right before halftime and then hung around the entirety of the second half. Buffalo got the win, but nowhere near convincingly enough for their backers.
The New York Giants were 3-point underdogs on the road against the Minnesota Vikings but cashed as a +135 underdog on the moneyline for their backers. New York took an early 17-7 lead but Minnesota evened the score at 24 in the fourth quarter. Saquon Barkley scored the eventual game-winning touchdown as the Giants pulled off the outright upset.
In the night game, Joe Burrow carried his perfect 4-0 against-the-spread playoff record into battle against the Baltimore Ravens. Cincinnati closed as an 8.5-point favorite with 75% of bets backing the Bengals. Cincinnati opened up an early 9-0 lead but Baltimore hung around. With the game tied at 17 in the fourth quarter, it looked like Baltimore was going in to take the lead. However, Tyler Huntley fumbled the ball trying to extend it over the goal line and Sam Hubbard returned the fumble 98 yards for a Bengals touchdown. That ended up being the final score. Cincinnati won, but Baltimore covered. Joe Burrow dropped to 4-1 against the spread in his NFL playoff career.
Young quarterbacks buck the trend
Entering Sunday, quarterbacks making their first career playoff start against a quarterback with previous playoff experience struggled mightily. Since 2002, young quarterbacks in that position had gone just 17-36-1 against the spread, including an 0-3 showing last season.
In all three games on Sunday, this situation was in play. Skylar Thompson was making his playoff debut against the experienced Josh Allen. Daniel Jones was getting his first playoff start against the veteran Kirk Cousins. Tyler Huntley was thrust into his first playoff action against reigning AFC champion Joe Burrow.
However, young quarterbacks bucked the trend this year. All three neophyte quarterbacks covered the spread and Jones and the Giants even pulled off the outright upset as an underdog. Thompson and Huntley covered the spread in losing efforts.
Chalky first TD weekend, except one bad beat
If you like quick action, betting on the first touchdown scorer is probably right up your alley. The payouts are higher and you get your result rather quickly. It's one of the more popular props for every NFL game, especially in prime-time games.
The weekend got off to a rather chalky start. Christian McCaffrey scored the first touchdown in the Seattle-San Francisco game. He was a +250 favorite. Austin Ekeler kicked things off on Saturday night. Once again, another chalky pick as he's been living in the end zone for the last two seasons. Ekeler was +500.
Dawson Knox was a bit of a longshot to score the first touchdown in the Bills-Dolphins game at 11-to-1. However, Knox has been on a touchdown heater and has now scored in five straight games. It wasn't a surprising result and the odds weren't anything crazy. In the Sunday night game, Ja'Marr Chase, one of the league's top receivers, scored the first touchdown and cashed at +600 odds.
However, what happened in the Giants-Vikings game definitely resulted in some wild swings. Minnesota got the ball first and drove down the field. Kirk Cousins found Justin Jefferson on a quick route and Jefferson turned up field and reached the ball towards the goal line while getting tackled. On the field, it was ruled that Jefferson scored. Jefferson is arguably the best receiver in football and was certainly a popular bet to score the first touchdown at +700.
However, the play was reviewed and it was determined that Jefferson was down just inside the 1-yard line. On the ensuing play, Kirk Cousins scored via quarterback sneak. Cousins scored just two rushing touchdowns this season and has just six touchdowns in the last five seasons. He was 40-to-1 to score the first touchdown of the game.
I'm sure a lot fewer people had Cousins scoring the first touchdown compared to Jefferson. It was a bad beat for Jefferson bettors. However, if you lucked out by cashing a Kirk Cousins ticket at 40-to-1, it was a good day.
Bills first half was a horrid beat
The Buffalo Bills were big favorites to beat the Miami Dolphins. They were also expected to get off to a hot start. Buffalo was favored to win the first half by 7.5 points at BetMGM.
Things got off to a great start for Buffalo. Dawson Knox and James Cook found the end zone to open up an early 14-0 lead. Then, it looked like Knox had his second touchdown of the game to open up a 21-0 lead. However, after review, it was ruled that Knox didn't secure the catch. Buffalo had to settle for a field goal, but they were still up 17-0. If you had them to win the first half by at least eight points, you had to be feeling good.
On the ensuing kickoff, Tyler Bass kicked off out of bounds, giving Miami a short field. The defense looked like it was going to hold, forcing a third-and-19. However, Miami converted that with a play to Tyreek Hill. Miami eventually settled for a field goal to cut the lead to 17-3. On Buffalo's next possession, Josh Allen tried going deep to John Brown. Xavien Howard intercepted the ball inside the 5-yard line and returned it past midfield.
The Bills defense once again stepped up, forcing a fourth-and-8. Miami kept the offense on the field and threw a pass to Jeff Wilson Jr. behind the line of scrimmage. Wilson forced a few people to miss and somehow picked up the first down. Miami eventually settled for another field goal, cutting the lead to 17-6.
On Buffalo's ensuing drive, it looked like Allen found Khalil Shakir for a 54-yard gain on third down. However, once again, replay took the catch off the board as Shakir didn't complete the catch. Buffalo punted and the Dolphins returned it to midfield. With 1:15 left in the first half, the Dolphins kicked their third field goal to cut the lead to 17-9.
It wasn't a great end to the first half for the Bills, but they were still up by eight points and covering the first-half spread. They had the ball with just over a minute left. If they didn't score, at the very least, they should be able to run out the clock and head to halftime up eight.
Not so fast. Allen threw another interception that was returned inside the red zone. Skylar Thompson found Mike Gesicki for a touchdown. A two-point conversion to Tyreek Hill was successful. Suddenly, the game was tied.
Buffalo kicked a field goal before halftime to regain the lead, but it wasn't enough for bettors who backed them on the first-half spread. The damage was done.
James Cook rushing prop was a wild ride and bad beat
Over the last few weeks of the regular season, rookie running back James Cook was carving out more of a role in the Buffalo offense. On Sunday, Cook scored a rushing touchdown and continued to be very involved. However, if you bet on Cook to go over 39.5 rushing yards, the second half was a rough experience.
On his seventh carry of the game, Cook picked up two yards to go from 38 yards to 40 yards and therefore presumably cashing the over. However, it's never that easy.
On his next rush, Josh Allen seemingly ran the wrong play. It looked like Allen was supposed to keep the ball as the line was blocking in one direction. Instead, he handed it off to Cook heading the opposite direction, where he was tackled by an unblocked defender for a loss of five yards. Suddenly, Cook was back down to 35 yards.
On his next two carries, Cook gained six yards to get back up to 41 yards. The over was back to the winning side. On his 11th carry of the game, Cook lost a yard. Back down to 40, but still on the right side. Then, with just a little over two minutes left, Cook got the ball trying to run out the clock. He was immediately stuffed for a loss of a yard.
The Bills pivoted to Devin Singletary for the rest of the game, and Cook finished the game with 39 rushing yards. In the second half, he went over, back under, back over, and then back under. His last carry of the game took him from cashing the over to a heartbreaking under.
Two 99% props lose
Two prop bets at BetMGM this weekend had 99% of the betting action siding with the over. Both props lost.
On Saturday, 99% of the action was backing Keenan Allen to go over 6.5 receptions. He had 13 targets but finished with just six receptions. The most obvious miss was Justin Herbert overthrowing a wide-open Allen in the end zone. Not only did this miss cost Allen prop bettors, but it very well could have cost the Chargers the game.
Justin Herbert misses a wide open Keenan Allen in the end zone on 3rd down after the Chargers forced a 5th turnover and took possession at the Jaguars 6 yard line pic.twitter.com/9cUhOSHAcD
— Main Team (@MainTeamSports) January 15, 2023
On Sunday, bettors pivoted to Mr. Reliable himself. At BetMGM, 99% of bets were backing Justin Tucker to go over 1.5 field goals made. It made sense. Most expected Tyler Huntley to struggle moving the ball, and with Baltimore's anticipated need for points, we know Tucker's range is over 60 yards.
However, Tucker had just one field goal attempt. Baltimore went for it on fourth down a few times. They capped two drives off in the end zone. Of course, if Huntley didn't fumble in the fourth quarter, there's a good chance Tucker would have been called on to give Baltimore the lead.
It wasn't meant to be. Even the most reliable player in the sport couldn't get the job done for bettors.