NFL Wild Card Weekend Preview
It used to be automatic: Just pick the NFL Wild Card teams over the division winners during Wild Card Weekend. This is the time of year when “recreational bettors” start throwing their money around, and generally speaking they tend to overbet the favorites – usually the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds who won their divisions. Fading the public isn’t so automatic anymore, but it was the right thing to do last year, when the Wild Card teams went 2-2 SU and 4-0 ATS.
Chances are we’ll see at least one Wild Card team advance to the Divisional Round this year. Three of this weekend’s four games have sports bettors favorite Bookmaker.eu spreads of 2.5 points in favor of divisional champions. But it’s the fourth game that gives us the best value pick on the NFL odds board. The Philadelphia Eagles, defending Super Bowl champions, opened as 5.5-point road dogs for Sunday’s game (4:40 p.m. ET, NBC) against the NFC North-winning Chicago Bears. Not only are the Eagles the right pick for Wild Card Weekend, they’re the right pick to go all the way and win Super Bowl LIII.
The circumstances surrounding this year’s Eagles squad are eerily similar to last year. Starting QB Carson Wentz was a late-season casualty both times; in this case, Wentz was shut down after Week 14 with a fractured vertebra. Once again, Nick Foles (last year’s Super Bowl MVP) is here to save Philadelphia’s bacon. He led the Eagles to three straight wins at 3-0 ATS to sneak into the playoffs at 9-7 (7-9 ATS) with the No. 6 seed in the NFC.
The difference in public perception between Wentz and Foles might not be as dramatic as it was last year, but it’s still the primary reason the Eagles have all this betting value. Wentz, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, was hyped up as an MVP candidate in 2017, earning a Pro Bowl invite even though he’d torn his left ACL – also in Week 14. Foles, a third-round pick in 2012, was a Pro Bowler for the Eagles in 2013 after a surprisingly good season in relief of injured starter Michael Vick. Then he regressed in 2014 and bounced around the league as a back-up before landing back in Philly two years ago.
Chip and a Chair
Aside from the Wentz-Foles dynamic, this Philadelphia team doesn’t look quite the same as last year’s 11-3 squad that ran away with the NFC East. Their defense and their running game have both slipped in quality, thanks to a spate of injuries; 11 Eagles were lost for the season, including FS Rodney McLeod (MCL), CB Ronald Darby (ACL), CB Jalen Mills (foot), and RB Jay Ajayi (ACL). Combined with the loss of RB LeGarrette Blount to the Detroit Lions in free agency, that leaves Foles with an extra-heavy load to carry if he wants to win another title.
Which arguably makes the Eagles an even better Super Bowl value this year. At press time, they’re the longest shots on Bookmaker’s NFL futures market at +3500, but that’s a bargain price for a team that’s gone 4-1 SU and ATS with Foles at the wheel. Football spins around the axis created by the quarterback and the head coach, Doug Pederson, is still the man under the headset in Philly, and he proved last year that he was capable of getting the best out of Foles – much like Chip Kelly back in 2013, although Kelly was run out of town in 2015, the same year he traded Foles to the St. Louis Rams for Sam Bradford.
There’s still a very good chance the Eagles won’t even make it past Chicago (12-4 SU and ATS) on Sunday. The Bears have the best defense in the NFL this year, and they’re mostly healthy going into Wild Card Weekend. But their offense remains a question mark with sophomore QB Mitchell Trubisky, and the Eagles shouldn’t have much trouble dealing with whatever weather conditions await them at Soldier Field. It could be the first step in yet another Super Bowl MVP journey for Foles. Will the Hall of Fame be next?