There is nothing quite like that initial rush of excitement when the board starts lighting up with the opening lines for NFL wild-card weekend. Now that everybody has made it through the craziness that comes with Week 18, we can turn the page and focus on meaningful games where motivation is as high as it gets. A wave of anticipation is followed by a brief pause and a deep exhale. The realization starts to settle as we remind ourselves of the trade-off for betting on the NFL playoffs — the edges are very small. The sportsbooks have crafted power ratings over the past four months with data from a full season. There are no secrets in the second season, and the remaining 14 teams are what they are, so the desire to beat the market on Mondays gets replaced by tracking the initial line moves.
My best bets on sides will come later in the week, but that doesn't mean there aren't wagers to be made right now. We finished the season on a 9-4 run on totals, and here are two overs starting with the very first game on Saturday's slate.
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers (over 43)
A total of 43 with this 49ers offense against Seattle's defense? Sign me up. Brock Purdy has five starts since taking over as San Francisco's starter. With Purdy at the helm, the 49ers' offense has posted a league-best mark in EPA per play (0.166) and has only been under 35 points in one game: A 21-13 win over the Seattle Seahawks. A few factors played into the Niners' "down week" from a scoring perspective, and not much has to do with Seattle's defense.
First, San Francisco was on a short week without their biggest playmaker, Deebo Samuel. Also, Purdy fought through an oblique injury in his first career road start. I recall the game very well because I made the mistake of fading the 49ers that night. San Francisco moved the ball well, gaining 6.2 yards per play, which is higher than every team's average for the season except for Kansas City (6.4).
There might be some light rain, but without weather being a factor, I am not sure how Seattle can stop San Francisco from scoring in the 31-35 range. A few weeks back, Seattle allowed 30 points to Carolina while getting trucked for 223 yards on the ground. Since then, the Seahawks have lost leading tackler Jordyn Brooks to a torn ACL. I confidently bet the over with the expectation that Geno Smith can muster up a few touchdowns, but a 38-7 49ers win still gets to the window with a winner.
New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings (over 48.5)
We have all had fun fading the Minnesota defense over the second half of the season, so why stop now? Week 18's 29-13 win over the Nathan Peterman-led Chicago Bears fell a half point below the final closing total of 42.5, snapping a 6-0 run to the over for the Vikings. These two teams played in Minnesota only three weeks ago and combined for 51 points. Both quarterbacks balled out, with Giants QB Daniel Jones completing over 70% of his passes and throwing for 334 yards against Minnesota's 31st-ranked defense.
The total in that game closed at this same number (48.5), and I am willing to bet neither of these defenses can put on a better showing. In addition, the Giants have the second-worst coverage grade in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. That should allow Minnesota to get Justin Jefferson involved in the offense early, opening everything up for the Vikings on that side of the ball.
There is a chance both coaches could get conservative in their first taste of playoff football, but I believe we will see the opposite. Both Brian Daboll and Kevin O'Connell have to realize they are playing with house money in the NFC playoff landscape, and a few trick plays from these young coaches wouldn't surprise me in the least. Minnesota is 6-2 to the over when it closes at 47 or above, so I will keep fading these two bad defenses.
Stats provided by Football Outsiders, PFF, rbsdm, teamrankings.com