The wild-card weekend matchups took a long time to finalize because the Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders flirted with a tie that would have advanced both teams to the playoffs. Most expected to see the Indianapolis Colts among the 14 playoff teams, and they would have been arguably the most dangerous wild card, but losing to the Jacksonville Jaguars seems like grounds for not being in the postseason.
We go from 16 games down to six this week, so the card should be easier to handicap. But these are pretty tight lines and many of the games are rematches. Now that the dust has settled and the lines have had a little bit of time to marinate, here are some early lines I like for wild-card weekend.
Las Vegas Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals (-6, 49), 1:30 p.m. PST, Saturday, Ch. 4
My two favorite plays this week come from the Saturday games. The Bengals are in such an advantageous spot here against the Raiders and the line is not properly accounting for it. Las Vegas is on a short week after playing five quarters on "Sunday Night Football" plus the long travel to Ohio.
This is a dome team going outdoors in January, with temperatures expected to be around 40 degrees with possible precipitation. It is a Raiders team that just had to defend 88 total plays from the Chargers and blew a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter, only to survive in overtime.
Aside from what happened in Week 18, the Raiders are also minus-65 in point differential. This is a gritty, gutsy football team, but also not a very good one. Cincinnati, meanwhile, had one of the most potent offenses in the NFL and takes on a Raiders team that allowed 439 points this season. The Bengals rested just about every key guy in last week’s loss to the Cleveland Browns. The Raiders had to play everybody for an extended period of time to clinch a playoff berth.
This just looks all-around bad for the Raiders and Cincinnati’s more aggressive approach late in the season gives them a better chance at covering this spread.
Pick: Bengals -6
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills (-4 1/2, 43 1/2), 5:15 p.m. PST, Saturday, Ch. 2
You can even find this number a little bit lower if you shop around across the market, but the Bills have a much higher ceiling than the Patriots and we can throw out one of the two data points from this season. That first game in Buffalo was played in awful conditions and the Bills really need to be able to throw the football in order to have success. What we saw in the second game is much more indicative of what we should expect.
In the first game, Buffalo was favored, but New England was favored in the second game at home. Buffalo did struggle to stop the run in both matchups, but Josh Allen threw for 314 yards when the game wasn’t played in a wind tunnel and also had 64 yards on the ground.
Buffalo has the better offense, the better defense and a quarterback with more experience in these types of games at the NFL level. New England will get respect because of the Bill Belichick coaching factor and that strong ground game, but Buffalo did a number on rookie quarterback Mac Jones in the second meeting and running back Damien Harris had one big run that made his numbers look better than they were.
Pick: Bills -4.5
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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.