Before the NFL playoffs begin is oftentimes the best time to place your bets for conference winners and a Super Bowl champion.
With the pool of 14 teams all alive, odds tend to skew after Wild Card Weekend. In an effort to acquaint ourselves with every team, their playoff path and their future odds, we will walk through each and offer our favorite bets. starting in the NFC.
In case you're unfamiliar with the NFL playoff format, there is one team that gets a bye, and they face off against the lowest seed left in the Divisional Round.
When projecting a playoff path for a team, it's important to acknowledge that neither Tampa Bay nor Dallas can play Green Bay in the next round if they win on Wild Card Weekend.
In some ways, that's extremely noteworthy for each team's betting odds. Without having to face the NFC's best until the conference championship, their path becomes more manageable.
That's always my approach when placing a future bet - what is their path?
I love what the Eagles have done to close out the season as a "run-down-your-throat" offense, but are they going to topple Tampa Bay, Green Bay and then another team, all on the road?
Tampa Bay is guaranteed a second home game if they win this weekend, something that no other team can say.
Keep all of these factors in mind when placing your own bets.
#7 Philadelphia Eagles vs #2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
#6 San Francisco 49ers vs #3 Dallas Cowboys
#5 Arizona Cardinals vs #4 Los Angeles Rams
Bye: #1 Green Bay Packers
To Win NFC
It's no surprise to see Green Bay own the best odds to win the NFC, given they have one less game to accomplish the feat. If you're a Packers believer, now is likely the time to place your bets. As the field gets smaller, their odds figure to drift closer to +100 or worse.
As mentioned, Philadelphia will have the toughest road to the Super Bowl, given that all three of their games would come on the road.
To Win Super Bowl
#2 Tampa Bay over #7 Philadelphia
The Eagles have an identity and a culture that should be lauded. Jalen Hurts has shown he deserves another year, and to reach the playoffs in a year that was billed a rebuild is a major win for the organization.
This is a different team than when these two last played in Week 6, a 28-22 Tampa win that wasn't nearly as close as the score suggests.
Philadelphia ran just nine times with their running backs, contrasted with a team that is now tied for the most rushing attempts per game.
Where the good vibes end is likely Tampa, with their stout run defense that can take away the Eagles' edge. Additionally, you won't find a team that has gotten gashed by the tight end position more than Philly, Rob Gronkowski is poised to have his way in this one.
If you like Philly in the first round, they suddenly become a team worth a look to win the conference at +2800.
The reasoning there is built on Green Bay's biggest weakness: slowing down the run. The Packers rank 28th in rushing defense DVOA, an efficiency metric from Football Outsiders, and allow the third-most rush yards per attempt.
The Packers are the ideal matchup for Philly's brand of football, and if you think they pull the upset this weekend, it's worth consideration to bet on a magical run.
#6 San Francisco over #3 Dallas
I see this as potentially the most entertaining game on Wild Card Weekend, with two explosive offenses and defenses that field playmakers.
Analytical sites like Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders have these teams closer than you might think on both sides of the ball.
To me, I see a San Francisco team that can beat you in more ways. Their offense sports one of the most unique groupings of weapons in the NFL.
George Kittle is one of the best tight ends in football. Deebo Samuel is a Swiss Army Knife. Brandon Aiyuk has picked it up recently, going for 90+ yards in two straight. It doesn't seem to matter who the running back is, they'll be gashing you on the ground.
The X-factor is quarterback play, but Jimmy Garoppolo has been here before and can get the ball to his weapons and let them do the work.
Dak Prescott had a solid season finale performance, throwing for five touchdowns, albeit against Philadelphia's backups.
The Cowboys defense has generated turnovers at an impressive clip, ranking first in the NFL in takeaways per game (2.0).
Still, I think this is where their season ends. San Francisco is 6-3 on the road this year.
#5 Arizona over #4 Los Angeles
Speaking of road warriors, no team has been better away from home than Arizona's 8-1 road record. The Cardinals are the lone team coming into the NFC field with a record worse than 4-1 in their last five, so that's worth acknowledging.
In the rubber match between these two NFC West teams, I'm rolling with the Cardinals. This was a team that was the NFL's elite to start the year before cooling off, winning just one of their last five.
What I've seen from the Rams to close out the season hasn't elicited much confidence, so in many ways this is a Fade L.A. pick more than anything else.
Los Angeles blew a 17-0 lead last week to fall to the 49ers. They scraped by an injury-depleted Baltimore team starting a backup QB in Week 17.
There was also a stretch there where the Rams lost three straight games to playoff teams (Titans-49ers-Packers). Couple that with Matthew Stafford piling on interceptions of late, and I don't think this team has enough to put together a Super Bowl run.
If by some miracle DeAndre Hopkins can return, that would be a major boost to Kyler Murray and this offense. Even without him, I think it's Murray's time to showcase he's a quarterback you can win in the postseason with.
#6 San Francisco over #1 Green Bay
There are only two teams I think Green Bay can struggle against in these playoffs: San Francisco and Philadelphia.
I've touched on the reasoning above, which is their weak run defense. Both of these teams, who just so happen to be the lowest seeds in the NFC field, have the ability to pile up rushing yards in a hurry and keep MVP-favorite Aaron Rodgers off the field.
If you don't agree with my Niners upset in the Wild Card, then Green Bay likely becomes your best option to win the NFC, at +175 odds.
They are well-equipped to slow down the other offenses in the NFC who prefer to do their damage through the air.
San Francisco sports the best rush-blocking offensive line in the league, according to PFF, along with a top five DVOA rushing offense.
Running back Elijah Mitchell has had a strong season for the 49ers, averaging nearly five yards per carry. If this is the matchup, which it likely will be if San Fran wins against Dallas, I think they keep their momentum rolling with another upset.
#2 Tampa Bay over #5 Arizona
Sometimes it's best to not overthink things when it comes to Tom Brady in the playoffs. You don't need me telling you what he's done, and despite the loss of both Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, Brady has done more with less in previous postseason runs.
Tampa was my boring safe bet to win the NFC before the season started because of continuity. No team has ever returned all 22 starters from a Super Bowl-winning roster before the Bucs did it this offseason. This team from top-to-bottom is built to repeat, and I think they'll handle business against Arizona, L.A. or Dallas in this game.
Tampa Bay +330
In the scenario outlined above, it would be Buccaneers vs 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, in Tampa Bay.
That's a very winnable game for Tampa, who can slow down the 49ers explosive offense and take advantage of a middling pass defense.
This is more than a simple bracket predictor game. I believe Tampa Bay has the most manageable path to the Super Bowl.
They start with the "weakest" playoff team in the Eagles, a game they are currently 8.5-point favorites. They would then get a second home game in the Divisional Round at minimum and would be in a position to host the NFCCG if Green Bay loses.
Even if Aaron Rodgers and the Packers win their first game, the Bucs went and won in Lambeau last January and have the ability to do so again.
I'm not betting against Tom Brady.
Honorable mention bets: 49ers to win NFC +1200
On the topic of continuity, consider that San Francisco was the NFC's Super Bowl representative just two years ago. They had poor injury luck in 2020 that kept them out of the playoffs, but with their health back, you see them back in the playoffs. This team can piece together a run.