Pam Maldonado and Frank Schwab break down their best bets for all three NFL playoff games on Sunday. Will Big Ben and the Steelers pull off the upset? Who will win in the classic matchup between the 49ers and Cowboys?
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FRANK SCHWAB: Welcome to "Yahoo Sportsbook Daily." It is Friday, January 14, 2022. I'm your betting guide, Frank Schwab, and I'm here with Pamela Maldonado to preview the Sunday Wild Card NFL playoff slate. We're going to go through all three games, give you our best bet. So Pam, let's start off-- Eagles at Bucs. It's minus 8 and 1/2 for the Bucs. Over/under is 45 and 1/2. Look, for me, this is the game I'm least confident in, but I wonder, what is your angle here? Do you have any lean towards the Eagles? The Bucs? You over, you under?
PAMELA MALDONADO: I'm going to be looking to take the dog. I know that a lot of people-- the cheese stands alone, probably, on this match-up. But if you look at the Bucs, everyone wants to talk about of how great of a rush defense that they have. Absolutely. This year's defense does not quite compare to last year's defense, and the big difference here is in how successful of a ground game that the Eagles really have developed. From weeks one through six, the Eagles had a 58% pass rate. From that game to the end of the season, their pass rate was just 38%.
They are number one in rushing yards on the season, and if you look at the teams that Bucs have faced, they are giving up yardage on the ground. They gave up 110 to the Carolina Panthers. The Bucs also gave up 150 rushing yards to the New York Jets. And they also gave up an additional 173 yards to the Bills, who we know hasn't been one of the best rushing teams. And then, even to the Indianapolis Colts, another 107 rushing yards.
Teams are finding success. Jonathan Taylor had 83 rushing yards, one touchdown, 15 long. That is possible here against the Eagles' run offense, who is the best in the league at doing what they do. They have found their identity. They have stuck to it. I think that the Eagles are going to have some success on the ground. They're going to do what they know best, and that is keep it to the ground-- pound, pound, pound. Definitely they can keep within this number. I'm taking the Eagles plus the points.
FRANK SCHWAB: I think it's a great point. Real quick, but I'll be with you on this one. I do like the Eagles side too. Do you think there's any chance that they win this? I mean, is it worth the moneyline play here?
PAMELA MALDONADO: Crazier things have happened. It is Tom Brady, and he is at home. I'm going to say no. They have an opportunity. What we have seen from Tom Brady and the Bucs is that when they know they need to turn it on, that is what they do. And we saw that against the Jets. They were down. They were losing.
FRANK SCHWAB: Mm-hmm.
PAMELA MALDONADO: And what did he need? Get downfield. Find the way to get the score. They ended up winning by just four points to the lowly Jets. They turn it on when they need to. They have an opportunity here to do that once again. They are still the better team. You are still having the Super Bowl quarterback against Jalen Hurts, who has not been in this position before, so I don't think I would take the moneyline, but definitely keeping it within 8 and 1/2. That's what I like.
FRANK SCHWAB: Yeah, I'm with you here. And here's a thing that, I mean, we're going to be talking a lot about these playoffs, obviously-- and that's weather. 90% chance of rain on Sunday. It could be, one report says, winds of 20 miles an hour, gusting up to 30. Look, this isn't Bill's New England from a few weeks ago, but it's still-- when you get winds like that, what do teams want to do? They want to keep it on the ground. They're not going to want to pass it so much. And I think that favors the Eagles too. The reason I'm not as confident here is just because the Buccaneers, like you said, seem to turn it on when they have to, and maybe they've just been playing possum a little bit.
But even last week, they blew the doors off the Panthers. I realize the Panthers stink, but you just feel like this team has that gear and are getting guys back. Leonard Fournette has returned to practice. Shaq Barrett has been practicing. JPP is back at practice. They're getting healthier, and when this team is healthy, we know they could turn out the lights on you. So I'll take the Eagles plus 8 and 1/2, but I don't really feel great about it. And I feel like-- this is something I'm rushing a bit-- but I figure backed recovers, something like that. Because it always worries me when you take a team and you have no confidence that they can win on the moneyline.
And that's kind of where I'm at with the Eagles-- just like you, it seems-- where it's like, yeah, I like the points, but do I really believe the Eagles are going to win at the end of the day? It's no. So kind of a narrow runway to land on, where I think, well, yeah, they're going to lose, but by 8 and 1/2 or less. So it's a pick. It's not a very, very confident pick like these next two games. So let's just go on to the second game, which-- hey, I think this is the marquee game of the weekend-- 49ers at Cowboys. Cowboys a 3-point favorites. Over/under 50 and 1/2. Look, this is-- it just brings back such great memories of all those great games of 49ers-Cowboys past. And I think this one could be a classic too. Who do you got, Pam? What do you like in this one?
PAMELA MALDONADO: Man, I'm going to take the San Francisco 49ers. Taking the points with the underdog. I know Dallas Cowboys-- America's team. They are at home. They're at Jerry Jones' world. However, this is going to be a defensive game. I know that it is a high total-- two of the best defenses in the league. And I know-- did I just say Dallas has a great defense? They do. They have a great defense against the run. They are top 16 against the run, and that is the DNA of the San Francisco 49ers' offense.
The difference comes-- Dallas secondary. They are just gosh-darn awful. That is the opportunity where Jimmy G. can come in and exploit that secondary, put up some points. My favorite bet for this game, actually, is going to be-- the odds aren't available now, but what I'm going to be looking for is Jimmy Garoppolo to throw an interception. Why? Because Dallas is first in takeaways. That is the strength of this defense. They may be allowing and giving up yardage, but they are also number one in the league at forcing turnovers.
And you have Jimmy Garoppolo, who's kind of not immune to having some of those turnovers in big moments. Maybe the moment gets a little too big for him. He is playing in Dallas territory here. So that's going to be my best bet for this game, is Jimmy Garoppolo throwing at least one interception. But I do believe, because of the weakness of the Dallas secondary, Jimmy Garoppolo also has an ability here to come out, exploit that defense. And we just saw that Dallas is probably coming into this a little bit less prepared because they absolutely throttled their opponent last week, where San Francisco-- they already played a playoff game, defeating the Rams in a big-time match-up to get to this point. Who's coming into this with a better preparedness? I'm going to say it's the 49ers.
FRANK SCHWAB: Yeah, and this is my best bet of the week-- of Sunday, at least-- that's a 49ers plus 3. I'll have some on a moneyline, obviously, if you take a team of plus 3. I just think the 49ers are one of these teams that's peaking at the right time. Their last nine games are 7-2. And it's not just one of these Miami-Dolphins-type of runs where they're beating bad teams. They beat the Bengals in Cincinnati. They beat the Rams twice. This is a team that's really peaking. We talk so much about the Cowboys' pass rush-- oh, my goodness, Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence.
Well, you know who finished in top five in sacks this year? It wasn't Dallas Cowboys. It was San Francisco 49ers. I think they could really get to Dak, make him uncomfortable. Look, we've seen the Cowboys offense explode. I don't really count last week. Whatever. The Eagles didn't care about that game. The five touchdowns Dak threw doesn't even matter to me. But we've obviously seen the Cowboys' offense reach that top gear. But if you could get to Dak, you can make a player uncomfortable-- all of a sudden, this Cowboys offense isn't as great as we make it out to be, at least.
And I think that the 49ers keep this close, have a chance to win at the end. They have the playmakers to make the big plays-- Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel. We talk all the time about the Cowboys stars. Well, what about those three for the 49ers? I think they'll put up the points they need to put up. I think their defense is going to play really well. You make a good point about the Cowboys' run defense, but yet, I still think the 49ers can run the ball, can move the chains, keep Cowboys off the field. I really do like the spot here for the 49ers. As I wrote earlier this week, it's the worst match-up possible for either one.
Like, if you look at the wild-card teams, I think the 49ers are easily the best wild-card team in the field. But yet, do you really want to play the Cowboys? Wouldn't you play a somewhat banged up Buccaneers team? Wouldn't you rather play-- Yeah, it just makes sense that these two teams have to face because it's just one of those where I'd pick either one of these teams, probably, if they weren't playing each other. I got to pick one of them. I'll pick the 49ers. I just think-- I like the roll they've been on. Like you said, I like the fact that last week, they almost-- they were in a playoff game. They had to win that. They came back from 17-0 down. They drove the ball 88 yards in the final minute to tie it at the end of regulation.
I think they're ready for this moment. I think they can go in there. I think they can upset the Cowboys. At the very least, I'll take the 3-- you probably will find a plus 3 and 1/2 here. So that is my best bet for Sunday. Let's move on to the Steelers and Chiefs, which-- look, I mean, you know, they're not all going to be great, right? The Steelers are the biggest underdog of Wild Card Weekend ever. We've never seen one over 11-- 11 and 1/2, depending on which database you use. So 12 and 1/2 points. Biggest underdog Wild Card Weekend ever. And it's justified, I think. The Chiefs here are just the far superior team. What do you like in this game, Pam?
PAMELA MALDONADO: I'm looking to the under because I see two scenarios playing out with this game-- either the Steelers' defense is going to make it competitive and keep this under the total of 46 and 1/2, because we sure as heck know that it's not the offense that's going to be putting up points, or the Chiefs are absolutely going to blow them out, and Big Ben Roethlisberger is not going to be able to put up offensive points. But the Chiefs-- they are top five in time of possession. Their first drive in the last few games, if you look back at the box score-- eight minutes, eight minutes, six minutes, six minutes. They are putting long drives-- 17 plays, 15 plays, 14 plays to get downfield. And then maybe they don't always convert that into a touchdown-- maybe a field goal. And that's great if you have an under bet. And the Pittsburgh offense? Oh, my gosh. How bad has Ben Roethlisberger been?
FRANK SCHWAB: Yeah. It's rough.
PAMELA MALDONADO: They rank 31st in the NFL in success rate per play. They're 24th in the league in points per drive-- the lowest of all playoff teams. And the Steelers-- they led for just 21.8% of their offensive snaps this year ahead of only the Giants, the Lions, the Jets, and the Jags. They're 31st in first-half scoring, averaging 7 points in the first half of games. And the Chiefs' defense? They are actually fifth best in opponent scores in the second half. So you have Big Ben Roethlisberger, who can't put up points in the first half, and then facing a Chiefs defense who is top five for limiting points scored in the second half.
What does that yell to me? Taking an under. In the last 10, they have held opponents-- the Chiefs-- to 10 points or less in eight, seven, or six. I respect Big Ben. I respect Mike Tomlin. They have done amazing things to get to this point, but the Steelers have scored 20 points or less in five of their last seven games, and Roethlisberger has thrown only three touchdown passes in his last four games. So I like the under on this game. Steelers' defense has been the strength of this team. The Chiefs are coming into this maybe a little bit banged up, with Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Tyreek Hill, Darrel Williams all questionable on the list right now. Banged up. Give me the defense. Great defensive game. I'll take the under and 46 and 1/2.
FRANK SCHWAB: Yeah, I think you made some great points there. I mean, taking the under on any Steelers game seems smart because we've all watched this offense this year. It is not good. I'm going to look to the side here, and, as I just talked about with the Steelers being a historic Wild Card Weekend underdog, you look and there's only been 10 teams that have been double-digit underdogs on Wild Card Weekend. Well, those 10 teams are 2-8 against the spread. The two teams that covered were the "Beast Quake" game-- the Seattle team that beat the Saints-- and then last year, Washington covered against the Bucs but lost. And I think there's a reason for that.
Look, I don't really believe in historical trends that much, but this one kind of makes sense. When you just sneak into the playoffs, or you have some big injury issues or whatever, and you're playing, obviously, a really, really, good playoff team, you could get blown out. You might not be able to compete. And also, we have seen this game play out already. Just a few weeks ago, the Steelers went into Kansas City. They were down 36-3 in the fourth quarter. What's really changed since then? I don't know a big reason. I don't think Mike Tomlin can make any adjustment that's going to cut down a game that was once a 33-point deficit.
I think 12 and 1/2 is a lot, but I'll be laying it with the Chiefs. You know, you just have this thought in your head of, well, I can't lay double-digits against another playoff team. But we've seen the history, and we know that there are some teams that just sneak in. And the Steelers-- God bless them. They've had a good season. I respect the way they got into the playoffs. They fought hard every single week for everything they got. But I think the end of the road comes here. They're not a very good team. They wouldn't have even been in the playoffs if not for the expansion of the playoff field, and I just think that here's where it comes to roost right here.
I think they left it all on the field just to get to this point. And again, great job getting here, but here's where the Chiefs kind of take over. I do worry about their injuries, like you pointed out, on offense, but I still think they're going to be able to put up enough points. I don't think the Steelers can match them, especially if they fall behind quickly. If this thing is 14-0, I'm going to feel very good about holding that Chiefs minus 12 and 1/2 ticket because I just don't think the Steelers can rally. They've done it before, but I think they've kind of reached the end. I think they know.
They know what they're up against here, even after some of the comments of Ben of, like, hey, let's just go out there and just have fun and see whatever happens. I think they know they're really up against it in this game, and, like I said, we saw this game play out a couple of weeks ago. The Chiefs were far superior than the Steelers, and I don't think really that much has changed. Do you have any lean on the side here in this game? I know you love the under.
PAMELA MALDONADO: Oh, man. No. I'm going to lay off, only because I do want to see Big Ben be successful. He's the underdog story that I love to root for, so if he could make this game competitive, that's what I could wish for. Do they come out with a win? Highly unlikely. It's probably not. But if they do, it is because it's going to be T.J. Watt getting to them. It's going to be because the Pittsburgh defense we have seen from this team-- that the defense is coming together as a unit because they know that they have shortcomings there at the offense. And if you have a team that is that wholeheartedly-- they believe in Big Ben. They believe in Roethlisberger. They believe in this product. They believe in Tomlin. This is a unit, and that is why they are here. So look at me getting all emotional. Come on, Big Ben! But no, I'm not going to be putting my money on it. I'll be a fan.
FRANK SCHWAB: [LAUGHS] Sounds good. Let's recap what we got. First, our best bets-- mine is San Francisco plus 3, and I think they got a shot at the upset here. For Pam, it's Chiefs-Steelers under 46 and 1/2. With the other games, we both lean towards the Eagles plus 8 and 1/2 with them being able to maybe run the ball, keep that thing close. Pam likes Jimmy Garoppolo to throw an interception somewhere in this game. Hopefully it's just one. I don't need multiple ones because of my 49ers bet. Then we get the Steelers-Chiefs. I like the Chiefs minus 12 and 1/2 just because of the history of these big double-digit dogs in Wild Card Weekend. You can follow me over on Twitter @yahooschwab. Pam is @pamelam35. And follow all of our content over at @YahooSportsbook.
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