SharpClarke's Best Wildcard Weekend Bet: GB @ DAL

Jan 11, 2024
SharpClarke's Best Wildcard Weekend Bet: GB @ DAL

Unlike a lot of bettors who scale down their sides and totals bets in the playoffs, I typically like to lean hard into the angles I find at this point in the season. I probably do not have a lot of company in being a person who has watched and graded every snap that every team has played this season. I have a very strong sense of who these teams are and what conditions they need to succeed or fail. Of course, Thursday NFL sides markets are quite efficient so always bet responsibly. But I really like a side in the Packers-Cowboys wildcard matchup. Let's dive in.

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Matchup Breakdown

DAL offense v. GB defense

The Cowboys have a very efficient offense that does particularly well against bad defenses and particularly well at home. The Packers' defense has struggled under Joe Barry, including games where they made Tommy DeVito and Bryce Young look like all-pros for three hours. When Dak Prescott has a friendly environment, he can operate well at the line of scrimmage, and the play-calling by Mike McCarthy has been generally very good. But overall, the Cowboys' metrics are a little skewed by a friendly schedule. In particular, when I was doing some research on quarterback performance splits, I discovered that Prescott has played a massive amount of his passing snaps against bad defenses. Specifically, he has played 487 snaps against bottom-12 defenses and only 149 snaps against top-12 defenses (in EPA/play) this season. That split is massive, and none of the other playoff quarterbacks have a split even close to that range. The quarterback with the next most favorable split is Patrick Mahomes, who has played 320 snaps against bottom-12 defense and 229 against top-12 defenses. Prescott has played legitimately well, but the metrics might be a little misleading.

The Packers' defense did play two solid games to close the year out, with Jaire Alexander finally coming back from injury, as well as some other players in the linebacker unit and secondary. They seem to have their swagger back, and while they probably won't have much of a chance to stop the Cowboys consistently, they should be able to disrupt a few drives here and there. In addition, as I have written about in the past, good offenses can sometimes slow themselves down against bad defenses with drops, penalties, and other mistakes that do not bear on the quality of the opponent. The Packers will need to play a top-level game on defense, and they have the talent to do so. Whether they can go toe-to-toe in terms of scheme is an open question (probably not). Still, variance favors them, and if they can win just a few high-variance moments, that might be enough against a team with an inflated spread.

GB offense v. DAL defense

This side of the ball is ultimately why I like the Packers in this game. Jordan Love has been tremendous over the second half of the season, passing both the statistical test (2nd in EPA/play and 3rd in dropback success rate since Week 9) and the eye test (5 games with a PFF grade of 83+ since Week 9, and my own eyes). He may even have a full complement of weapons at his disposal, and Aaron Jones is fully healthy. The offensive line is giving him time and opening up running lanes. Love is playing confidently and loves to take deep shots to create explosive plays. But he also has been quietly really good at avoiding negative plays, taking only 29 sacks and charting only 17 turnover-worthy plays, per PFF, despite having an aggressive average depth of target. He makes good decisions, has good pocket presence, and has the confidence of his teammates and coach.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys' defense is a paper tiger. They have the 4th-best defense in terms of EPA/play on the season, yet only nine teams have allowed a higher success rate than the Cowboys' defense. This is because they have a whopping six defensive touchdowns on only 17 interceptions. They have been extremely opportunistic in turning negative plays into massive swings (or, in most cases, burying an opponent that has already lost). But Love does not give away many of these opportunities. The Cowboys have been middle-of-the-pack in exerting pressure on the quarterback, and the Packers have a great pass-blocking line. Mistakes will be hard to come by, and the Cowboys have also allowed the highest rushing success rate to opposing running backs out of every team in the league. Aaron Jones will certainly help take some pressure off Love, and keep the clock churning. The Packers chewed up so much clock against Kansas City in the regular season that they only let them get the ball twice in the first half. I could see a similar result here.

Market Evaluation

The market opened this one around -7.5. The +8s and -7s got bought early on, creating an equilibrium. But today, the +7.5s for Green Bay got bought across the board, bringing the line down to GB +7. It's an encouraging move for someone who already bet GB +7.5 and GB +7 -105, signaling some Thursday action on the Packers. But the question is: are the Packers still playable at +7? In my opinion, they are. I make the game DAL -5.5, so I would expect money to continue to come in on Green Bay at this number and I am happy taking a position even at the worse price. I would expect some of the resistance on Dallas comes from their relative playoff experience and significant home-field advantage. But I do not factor those into my line as much as some and am happy to fade that sentiment.

Best Bet

I think the Packers can win outright, but with 7 points at my disposal, the spread is how I want to play this.

GB +7 (-110) (FanDuel, DraftKings, Circa, BetMGM, Bet365, and if you have Bookmaker you can currently get -105)

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