Bit of a challenge here in that there are just four wild-card games this weekend, and I've been given the assignment in finding the riskiest ones to bet. I frankly believe both NFC favorites will win, so I'm sticking to the AFC on my risky scale.
I don't know what the least intriguing wild-card matchup in NFL history is, but I can make an argument for this game on Saturday afternoon between the wild-card Raiders and the AFC South champion Texans. This will easily be the worst-rated game of the weekend television-wise and probably draw the fewest action in NFL betting. ESPN got stuck with this one and pays $100 million annually to show one wild-card game. I've seen some reports that the Disney will lose $75 million on this one. I can't remember seeing a total that low this decade.
Quarterbacks are the star power of the NFL and that's what this game is lacking. For the Raiders, it apparently be rookie fourth-round pick Connor Cook starting under center. Of course MVP candidate Derek Carr broke his leg in Week 16. Backup Matt McGloin, an undrafted free agent, started Week 17 at Denver, wasn't very good and then left in the second quarter with a shoulder injury. Cook replaced him and was 14-for-21 for 150 yards with a TD, interception and a lost fumble in Oakland's 24-6 loss. The Raiders had just 221 yards against a Broncos team with nothing to play for. Had Oakland won that game, it would be the AFC West champion and off this week and McGloin might be ready. But as of this writing, it will be Cook as the first quarterback to make his first NFL start in a playoff game in the Super Bowl era. Did I mention that Houston has the NFL's No. 2 pass defense?
But on the flip side, how confident are you in Houston's Brock Osweiler? He was benched in Week 15 for unheralded Tom Savage and is only getting the starting job back because Savage suffered a concussion in Week 17 at Tennessee -- why was he even playing in a meaningless game? Coach Bill O'Brien decided not to wait and named Osweiler his starter, with Savage as the backup if healthy. Osweiler was the NFL's second-lowest-rated starting QB this season, ahead of only the Jets' Ryan Fitzpatrick. And Osweiler absolutely can't throw downfield. Since downfield tracking was first kept in 2006, his 27 percent completions on throws 15-plus yards downfield is the second-worst rate in a single season. Osweiler averaged just 5.80 yards per attempt. Great for a running back, not a quarterback.
What will this line be for Sunday's early matchup if it's determined that Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill can return from his knee injury? That would have to be worth a few points, right? He has missed the past three games due to a sprained ACL and MCL in his left knee and isn't considered likely to play, but it hasn't been ruled out as of this writing. Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing if backup Matt Moore stats again. He is 2-1 in Tannehill's spot and has thrown for 721 yards with eight touchdowns, three interceptions and a 105.6 quarterback rating. Tannehill's rating this year was 93.5.
Dolphins head coach Adam Gase has given the Steelers' defense fits before. The last three times he coached against Pittsburgh, earlier this season and twice before that as an offensive assistant coach with Denver, his teams have averaged 30 points and more than 7 yards per play. Also note this game is five years to the day that Tim Tebow's Broncos upset the Steelers 29-23 on wild-card weekend. Denver had 447 yards of offense that day and Gase was the team's QBs coach.
The AFC North champion Steelers are certainly going to be a confident bunch on a seven-game winning streak and largely healthy -- other than perhaps tight end Ladarius Green, who is trying to recover from a concussion -- after resting starters in Week 17. But should they be a double-digit favorite after losing in Miami 30-15 in Week 6? That was a pretty thorough a**-kicking for the Dolphins. Jay Ajayi rushed for 204 yards, fourth-most ever against the Steelers. Pittsburgh had been much better against the run until Week 16 vs. Baltimore (122 yards) and Week 17 vs. Cleveland (231 yards). Also keep in mind the Steelers have failed to cover on NFL picks in their past five playoff games.