The NFL Playoffs are on the way, as a Saturday doubleheader kicks off Wild Card Weekend with AFC action, followed by two more NFC contests on Sunday.
The Sunday slate is particularly intriguing for sports bettors, what with two 10+ win teams forced to hit the road, a nine-win division winner hosting a home game, and a powerhouse with 13 wins boxed out of the pivotal first-round bye.
All told, Wild Card Weekend’s finale features three of the last 10 Super Bowl champions in the New Orleans Saints (2009), Seattle Seahawks (2013), and Philadelphia Eagles (2017). That level of depth in the NFC should set the stage for a thrilling Sunday of playoff fun for fans and bettors alike.
With that in mind, the game previews below will focus on the most entertaining storylines and impactful statistics going into game time – along with the latest point spreads and moneyline odds posted by online sportsbook Bovada.
#6 Minnesota Vikings (10-6) @ #3 New Orleans Saints (13-3)
Sunday at 1:05 p.m. EST on FOX
It was only two years ago that the Vikings ousted the Saints from the 2017 Divisional Round courtesy of the aptly named “Minneapolis Miracle”.
Chances to play in the Conference Championship are rare commodities, so that stunning last-second play undoubtedly lingers in the minds of Saints head coach Sean Payton and his Hall of Fame bound quarterback Drew Brees. As does the NFL’s repeated failure to uphold its pass interference rules in situations that matter most to the Saints, a pattern which cost New Orleans the NFC Championship last year.
This season is no different either, as a crucial non-call in the Seattle v. San Francisco season finale sent the 49ers a first-round bye that would’ve otherwise gone to the Saints.
Sufficed to say, New Orleans won’t lack for motivation when Minnesota enters the ear drum shattering Superdome on Sunday.
As if playing in one of football’s most hostile climates wasn’t difficult enough, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins must contend with his personal history of coming up short on the big stage.
Cousins infamously boasts a dreadful win rate when playing against teams with a winning record, going just 4-24 in his career. He’s also put up a lackluster 7-15 record in primetime games overall, and while this one takes place in the afternoon, Cousins and his Vikings will have the playoff spotlight solely to themselves on Sunday.
The oddsmakers clearly don’t believe Cousins has what it takes to buck those disturbing trends, especially going up against a Saints team that has rolled to three straight wins by a combined margin of 114-45.
New Orleans is laying (-8) as heavy home favorites here, while the respective moneylines on the Saints and Vikings are set at (-420) and (+310).
#5 Seattle Seahawks (11-5) @ #3 Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)
Sunday at 4:40 p.m. EST on NBC
It was only two weeks ago that Seattle surged to 11-3 while Philadelphia won just to reach 7-7 and the .500 plateau.
Fast forward to the New Year, however, and the Seahawks limp into the playoffs as losers of their last two. Conversely, the Eagles won two in a row to steal the NFC East title from Dallas, despite dealing with an injury-ravaged roster lined with practice squad players and free agents off the street.
Two teams heading in different directions will meet at Lincoln Financial Field in Philly, but both boast Super Bowl winning head coaches to even the score.
With his running back core decimated by injuries, Pete Carroll injected this year’s version of the Seahawks with a jolt of nostalgia – not to mention a potential “Beast-Quake” touchdown in the making on every carry – by re-signing Marshawn Lynch last week. Lynch looked rusty in his Week 17 debut though, rushing for just 34 yards on 12 carries while adding one crowd-pleasing touchdown leap from the goal line.
As for Doug Pederson and the Eagles, season-ending injuries to key contributors like wideouts Alshon Jeffrey and DeSean Jackson, running backs Darren Sproles and Corey Clement, and cornerback Ronald Darby couldn’t derail the team’s pursuit of a playoff spot.
But with vital players including offensive tackle Lane Johnson, running back Miles Sanders, wide receiver Nelson Agholor, and tight end Zach Ertz all listed as questionable for Sunday’s game, Pederson will need to put on a coaching clinic to survive.
That may be difficult to do with a revitalized Russell Wilson slinging the rock at an MVP level all season for the Seahawks. Wilson’s playoff bona fides (8-5 record in the postseason), coupled with his dominance over the Eagles (4-0, 7 touchdowns, 1 interception, 98.9 passer rating), surely gives him an edge over Philadelphia QB Carson Wentz.
While he might have a Super Bowl ring thanks to Nick Foles’ torrid run two seasons ago, Wentz will be making his first career playoff start on Sunday. Given that disparity in experience, Seattle gets the nod as the only road favorites of Wild Card Weekend laying (-2.5) in the Linc. The Seahawks are priced at (-145) on the moneyline to the Eagles’ number of (+125).