Super Wild Card Weekend is upon us, and DraftKings has added to the excitement with a variety of novel bets, including several that cover the whole of Wild Card Weekend. The first article in The Professor’s Wild Card Games of the Week covered Saturday’s games between the Raiders and Bengals and Patriots and Bills before diving into the props for Most Passing Yards and Team Scoring Specials available on DraftKings.
While this article will analyze the Eagles at Buccaneers, the 49ers at the Cowboys, the Steelers at the Chiefs, and Monday Night’s matchup between the Cardinals and Rams through the lens of the DraftKings Wildcard Player Specials available for each game. All spreads and totals are provided by DraftKings.
Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (TB -9.5, Total 46)
Tampa Bay is down two star receivers in Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, but as this DraftKings prop reminds us, quarterback Tom Brady still has two targets who could join him in Canton one day in Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski, and either one has the potential for a huge game.
While Brady, Evans, and Gronkowski are the big names on the offense, the game against Philadelphia, and the chances for either player to top 125 yards receiving, will depend heavily on the outcome of the battle in the trenches, which features several of the NFL’s elite players. NFL fans are familiar with standout Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox from his work in their Super Bowl run, but they may not know as much about his running mate, Javon Hargrave, who was signed away from the Steelers in free agency two years ago or ascending defensive end Josh Sweat, who signed a huge contract extension earlier this season. Hargrave possesses absurd quickness for a 6’2, 305-pound man, and has snaps where he mauls opponent linemen in a way few NFL players can, while Sweat is a long, angular edge rusher with a knack for turning the edge on offensive tackles.
The pair combined for Philadelphia’s team lead with 7.5 sacks, but will have their work cut out for them against a Tampa Bay line that features, among others, center Ryan Jensen, whose barroom brawler mentality could make for an incredible matchup with Hargrave and Cox on the interior. This Eagles front is going to get their wins, but Tampa Bay’s line should do enough to let Brady move the offense, which puts 125 yards in play for either of his targets. Gronk has posted games of 90, 115, 123, and 137 yards in his 12 games this season, while Evans has games of 89, 91, 99, 106, and 113 yards while suiting up for all 16. It would take a special day for either player, but at +200, we only need this to hit one out of three times to be profitable; The Professor likes this one, particularly as Tampa’s running back situation is tenuous with Leonard Fournette coming off a significant hamstring injury.
If the Bucs offense gets going, Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia offense will need to play better than they did the first time these teams met, when the Eagles went down 28-7 before rallying to make the final score close at 28-22. Hurts did throw for one touchdown and run for two others in that game, but it was one of only two times that Hurts had at least one passing and rushing touchdown in a game during the NFL season, which makes this bet a dubious proposition at +250. Philadelphia’s offensive line is stacked, with veterans in center Jason Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson along with two massive young players on the left side in tackle Jordan Mailata and guard Landon Dickerson, but while that group should hold their own against Tampa Bay’s loaded defensive front, Hurts and his skill players may struggle against a Bucs secondary that has Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting back in the fold at cornerback. It would be a massive upset to see the second-year Hurts go on the road and defeat Brady in his first playoff game, but Hurts has wildly exceeded the expectations draft analysts had for him coming out of college; Tampa Bay certainly won’t take him lightly.
San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys (DAL -3, Total 50.5)
Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott’s passing yards prop for this game is set at 282.5 yards, with the price at -115 to either side, and his passing touchdowns prop is set at 1.5 with a price of -210 for the over, which makes this DraftKings Wildcard Player Special an interesting opportunity to “go big or go home” on the Cowboys quarterback. Prescott’s passing total, which was discussed in the Most Passing Yards prop in the first article in this series, projects at 295 yards in The Professor’s model, and he is projected for 2.0 passing touchdowns.
That makes the passing touchdowns the dicier part of this prop, and the urgency for Prescott to hit that number could be driven by how the Deebo Samuel-led 49ers offense fares against the Dallas defense, particularly because that is the matchup that will dictate the pace of the game. If left tackle Trent Williams is healthy for this one, the 49ers should be able to put significant pressure on the Dallas defensive front with the run game, and the explosive plays that would come off play-action could turn this into a shootout, which would help Prescott and Samuel’s props.
It may come as a surprise, but Samuel only has one game with both a rushing and receiving touchdown during this NFL season, though he racked up six touchdowns on the ground and eight through the air in addition to throwing a touchdown on a trick play against the 49ers last week. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who is in limbo when San Francisco’s playoff run ends, gets a lot of the attention when it comes to the 49ers’ offense, and tight end George Kittle is an All-Pro caliber player in his own right, but it’s Samuel who makes this thing go, and head coach Kyle Shannahan is likely to put the offense on Deebo’s shoulders with everything on the line. There are a lot of ways this game could go, but as these two props would help each other by pushing the opponents’ offense, The Professor would look to play both and pair them with the over on the game’s total of 50.5 points. With Prescott’s special at +400 and Samuel’s at +700, winning either special and losing the other along with the total remains profitable, and if the stars align for a shootout, it would make a spectacularly entertaining game even more fun to watch for a bettor who could see all three of these plays hit together.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs (KC -12.5, Total 45.5)
DraftKings took the fun out of this Chiefs bet, as any NFL fan who watched receiver Tyreek Hill hobbling onto the field for Kansas City knows that the speedster is dealing with a serious lower-body injury and won’t be at his best for this game. Tight end Travis Kelce’s prop bet for 3+ TDs is set at +2200 on DraftKings, and The Professor would prefer to take those odds for Kelce to score all three touchdowns, which is likely what would need to happen for this prop to hit unless the Chiefs feature a one-legged Hill as a goal-line target.
The bet would have been more interesting if receiver Mecole Hardman had been included rather than Hill because while the guy throwing the passes will be missing his superstar receiver, quarterback Patrick Mahomes lit up the Steelers without Kelce the last time these teams played and given his prowess from December on in his young NFL career, there’s little reason to expect Mahomes won’t repeat the performance this time out. Steelers defenders T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward will likely make their presence felt, but as good as that duo is, there are too many holes for Mahomes to exploit in the rest of the defense to expect those two to keep this offense in check.
Those circumstances help the prop on the Steelers side because quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of the offense have to know playing it safe isn’t going to cut it against the Chiefs if Mahomes is hot. Based on Roethlisberger’s tongue-in-cheek comments about the Steelers being 20-point underdogs in this game, the future Hall of Famer is looking forward to cutting it loose at least one more time in the NFL Playoffs. The Professor’s model has Roethlisberger’s mean projection at 237.6 passing yards, but a significant portion of that production is allocated to his top two receivers, with Diontae Johnson’s mean projection at 59.2 receiving yards and Chase Claypool’s mean projection at 53.0. At +330, this prop needs to hit roughly one out of four times to be profitable; given that Johnson has topped 90 yards on his own in six games this season, this appeared to be a solid prop, but then news broke that slot receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was designated to return from IR. Smith-Schuster’s return does not impact Johnson and Claypool’s projections in The Professor’s model because they are currently ahead of Smith-Schuster in the target rankings and “eat first”, but with his trusted slot receiver in the fold, it is less likely that Roethlisberger will give any one receiver a monster target share, and Smith-Schuster is the type of third receiver who can become the number one in a given game. It would have been a fun way to spice up what could be garbage time in the Sunday Night game, but if Smith-Schuster suits up, The Professor would pass on this play.
Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams (LAR -4, Total 49)
The prop on Rams receiver Cooper Kupp brings to mind an old episode of Seinfeld where Kramer promises a kid in the hospital that Yankees outfielder Paul O’Neill will hit two home runs for him. After Kramer somehow manages to infiltrate the Yankees’ clubhouse to inform O’Neill of this obligation, part of O’Neill’s flabbergasted response is “That’s ridiculous, I’m not a home-run hitter.”
It’s not that Kupp can’t pull off a 50-yard catch (or that O’Neill couldn’t hit a home run), but Kupp posted only three catches of over 50 yards on his 145 receptions as he secured the NFL’s receiving triple crown this season, and he has 11 such catches in 74 career games, which makes the +350 price tough to swallow. He is likely to play a significant role in this game, particularly after catching 13 of his 15 targets for 123 yards and a touchdown in the Rams’ most recent matchup with the Cardinals, but Kupp does his best work in the short-to-intermediate areas and is unlikely to break off a 50-yarder barring a spectacular catch-and-run, so The Professor would prefer a Same Game Parlay on Kupp to score a touchdown and go for over 124.5 receiving yards, which is priced at +270 on DraftKings. The winnings aren’t quite as big, but if quarterback Matthew Stafford is in the sort of rhythm he was the last time these teams faced off, Kupp has an excellent chance to hit those numbers.
One obstacle that could prevent that from happening is Arizona pass rusher Chandler Jones, who capped off a 10.5 sack season with a strip-sack of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson early in last week’s game, which defensive end Zach Allen returned for a touchdown. There is an outside chance that fellow pass-rusher J.J. Watt could return from his pectoral injury for this game, but barring that, the Cardinals needs Jones to shine and keep the Rams offense in check, because his quarterback, Kyler Murray, will have his hands full on the other side against defensive tackle Aaron Donald and the rest of the Rams defense.
Murray did throw for at least two touchdowns and run for another in the first two games of the season, but he did that in games against the Titans and Vikings, who did not present the type of challenge that the Rams will, and Murray no longer has receiver DeAndre Hopkins as his top target, which has had a detrimental ripple effect on the rest of an Arizona receiving group that has struggled to step up in their leader’s absence. At +500, it is tough to argue bettors are getting any sort of significant edge on this Murray prop, but the DraftKings spread of Rams -4 and total of 49.5 gives Arizona an implied score of 22.75 points, so getting the three touchdowns isn’t a reach, but ensuring that none of them goes to running back James Conner could be, as Conner racked up 15 rushing touchdowns this season. Still, this is a reasonably priced bet on Murray that could bring a big return to close out your Super Wild Card Weekend on Monday Night, so while The Professor wouldn’t put significant units on this, it would be an entertaining play at an acceptable price.
This article previewed four prominent NFL matchups for the coming week and talked about how to bet them. For more content from The Professor, including the rest of his game previews and his fantasy content, check out The Professor on BeerLife Sports!
Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.
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