Wild cards ride on icy weather, hot QBs

A chilling wind will sweep across the field in Philadelphia, dropping temperatures into the teens, and history indicates the elements are the best defense against New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

It’s almost always sunny in Las Vegas. But in faraway places, there are people shoveling snow today, and the weather forecast could be a significant factor in three of four NFL wild-card playoff games this weekend.

Most likely, the games will be decided by the quarterbacks who can keep a hot hand.

“Brees is tough. I would never discount him,” said Nick Bogdanovich, director of William Hill sports books. “It’s not just the fact the Saints are playing on the road. The Eagles are not chopped liver.”

The Eagles could use some help from the weather Saturday, though, because they do have the worst-ranked pass defense in the league. The Saints are 2½-point underdogs to Philadelphia, which recently suffered through a 10-game home losing streak.

Handicapping the NFL can be as challenging as reciting the alphabet backward, and it gets no easier in the postseason. For every positive trend there is a negative one. Brees against the Eagles defense reads as a mismatch on paper. But the Saints, unbeatable at home, are 1-7 against the spread on the road, where Brees’ numbers lose their luster.

Philadelphia features the league’s leading rusher, LeSean McCoy, and a quarterback, Nick Foles, who has totaled 27 touchdown passes and two interceptions. No matter which way you look at it, it’s not an easy call.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in these games, and when guys say they know what’s going to happen, they don’t know,” South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro said.

“The regular season on the road is completely different than when you prepare for this. It’s a one-and-done game, and it’s a different mentality. You’ve got Brees against Foles in a one-and-out situation.”

It’s tempting to side with Brees, but too tricky to back the Saints, who never have won a road playoff game in five previous tries. I’ll make them prove they can do it, so it’s Eagles or pass.

“I anticipate drawing Philly money,” Bogdanovich said. “That’s how I think people will bet.”

Only polar bears would feel at home in Green Bay, where the kickoff temperature Sunday is supposed to be below zero with a wind chill of about minus-30. A deep freeze favors the Packers, who are underdogs of 2½ to 3 points to San Francisco.

It’s Aaron Rodgers against 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in a one-and-done situation. Rodgers eliminated the Chicago Bears with one big play, but he’ll need more than that to beat San Francisco’s fifth-ranked defense. The cold will be a factor.

“I think the bigger factor is Rodgers,” Bogdanovich said. “How rusty is he? If he’s sharp, the Niners will get all they can handle.”

William Hill’s books, which draw heavy 49ers action in the Reno area, are “already buried” in San Francisco money, Bogdanovich said.

“The betting is rather slow,” he said. “But there are some good college football games on the board, and once we get to Saturday, everybody will be talking NFL.”

The wagering will pick up, and history indicates that if you just pick the winners, you don’t need to sweat the point spreads. According to Byeweekpicks.com, since 1993 in the wild-card round, the straight-up winners are 82-8-3 ATS, including 24-0 the past six years. Also, favorites are 7-1 ATS in this round the past two seasons.

Those trends seem to bode well for the Cincinnati Bengals, who are 8-0 straight up and ATS at home this season and laying 7 points to the San Diego Chargers.

Vaccaro is anticipating balanced action on each of the four games, meaning none will be make-or-break results for the books.

“I don’t think any one game will be a monster decision,” he said. “But I don’t think you could ask for a better wild-card weekend with competitive games and marquee teams playing. I’m looking for a big handle once we get to the weekend.”

In Saturday’s opener, the only game in which weather won’t matter, Indianapolis is a 1½-point home favorite over Kansas City. I’m leaning to the Chiefs, or at least a Chiefs-Bengals teaser.

“Kansas City is taking some sharp money so far,” Bogdanovich said, “but the public could wind up on either side.”

It’s easier to be a weatherman than a winning handicapper. My forecast calls for the Eagles, 49ers, Bengals and Chiefs to advance.

■ BOTTOM LINES — David Frohardt-Lane, a 36-year-old trader from Chicago, made NFL handicapping look simple this season. He finished 55-26-4 (67.9 percent) to win the LVH SuperContest and the $542,850 top prize. The field had a record 1,034 entrants.

He said his top plays for this week are the Chiefs and Packers.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.