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Bring on the Wild Card weekend action
This, without question, is the best sporting weekend of the year - for a football fan.
And the best news? It should only get better from here as the playoffs get underway.
Regular readers of our NFL coverage on the Cloudbet Blog will know that for all 17 weeks of the regular 2020-21 season we’ve been offering views on three special prop markets.
We’re now putting the focus back on straight-up handicap outcomes, pointing you to the right side of the spread - but please check match pages for all available prop markets.
For the six Wild Card games, we’ve provided the main line odds at the top, and our specific handicap selection at the bottom - some of which are alternative lines, proving yet again that Cloudbet is your number one site for bitcoin betting on the NFL. For good measure, we're also providing odds on each team taking their respective AFC or NFC Championship titles.
As ever, all odds quoted are correct at the time of writing but will move, so check out the site for the latest numbers.
This writer is the first to admit to not being particularly thrilled by the extra playoff places this year, but as we look ahead to the six meaningful games this weekend, the excitement is undeniable.
It’s Wild Card weekend, where the true geniuses of the sport come out and, with well-oiled game plans, task the players who’ve got them this far to take them that one step further.
Welcome friends to the business end of both the NFL campaign and the NFL betting season.
Indianapolis Colts @ Buffalo Bills
The fun thing about this game, apart from the fact it could well be Philip Rivers’ last NFL appearance, is that Buffalo are welcoming fans into New Era Field for this one - meaning home field advantage in this matchup is actually relevant.
The Colts know they can’t afford to rely on beating the Bills in 11 personnel because Buffalo are both too good in nickel and too instinctive to hand easy pass play recognition to.
If Indianapolis are to get a result here, they’ll have to both control the clock and ensure there’s enough of a running game in passing formations to utilise play-action against the Buffalo base defense.
And for Buffalo? Well, unless Matt Eberfluss concocts the game plan of all game plans to counter Brian Daboll’s IQ (they’re both interviewing for Head Coach positions after this game), they simply won’t be able to stop the diverse manner in which the Bills move the ball.
Frank Reich would be wise to take possession in the first half, and even then it may not be enough due to their lack of ability to extend plays.
Selection: Take the main line on Buffalo at -6 (1.89).
Los Angeles Rams @ Seattle Seahawks
The Rams have the most explosive defensive unit in the NFL bar none.
A common theme that will start to become apparent across the playoff previews we’ll be writing from here on will be to mention those coordinators who are in line for Head Coach offers at the end of the season - and Brandon Staley is no different.
Jared Goff is questionable at best to be at the peak of his powers, but the Rams know that they have never relied solely on him to win playoff games.
Seattle rely on big plays rather than marching the ball down the field methodically, but taking shots against Los Angeles has proven to be folly all year. What’s most exciting about this game, however, is the teams’ familiarity with each other given they both come from the NFC West.
While it may sound simple, it’ll come down to which side can actively introduce wrinkles when most needed. Brian Schottenheimer is probably not the answer, so we’re siding with the Rams to not only cover, but to advance.
Selection: Take the main line on the Rams at +3 (2.03).
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Washington Football Team
In a rare situation, an 11-win team travels to a sub-.500 franchise in the NFL playoffs. If you don’t like it, have a word with Commissioner Goodell; we’re sold on the importance of winning a division, so you’ll hear no complaints from us.
But what we like the most in this situation is how different these teams are. One has speed at the linebacker position and the other relies on individual pass rush to force throws into a disciplined secondary.
Tom Brady doesn’t have the control over motion as much as he did in New England, and quite frankly, he doesn’t have that chess piece in Julian Edelman to motion and cause confusion at the line of scrimmage.
But what he does have is an opponent that really isn’t playoff ready at any skill position bar defensive front. Even the flashy play of Kamren Curl will be exposed here.
Selection: Take the alternative line on Tampa Bay at -8.5 (2.05).
Baltimore Ravens @ Tennessee Titans
If smashmouth, roll-out, play-action but run-first football is your cup of tea, then be assured that what’s coming up in this AFC Wild Card matchup is nothing short of manna from heaven.
Greg Roman comes up against Arthur Smith in one of the most tactically rich clashes a fan could wish for. Not only are both of these offenses unpredictable, but they’re a rarity in that both coordinators use the run game more than the league average and very rarely run empty-sets that you frequently see in Kansas City and Pittsburgh.
While the Titans have been knocking on the door, there’s always been a sense that they’re little more than also-rans - even after a huge victory in Foxboro last year. Defeat to the Chiefs in the AFC title game after being up big means there’s a sizeable monkey that needs removing from Titan backs.
But the same can easily be said of Lamar Jackson, who, despite winning the 2019 league MVP has failed in the playoffs on each occasion – raising questions over his ability to outperform great defensive minds.
Tennessee’s defense is more complex than most up front, and with the emergence of Jeffery Simmonds at defensive tackle, it feels like Lamar won’t have an easy out through the A gap when the pocket collapses around him.
And while there isn’t a single player who can tackle Derrick Henry one-on-one, it’s the poise and know-how of Mike Vrabel that makes us feel that the margins will favour the hosts.
Selection: Take the main line on Tennessee at +3 (2.01).
Chicago Bears @ New Orleans Saints
The Saints are a unit who are capable of winning a Super Bowl based solely on talent, but their coaching and scheme has always left a lot to be desired.
Chicago have a counterpoint to Alvin Kamara in Eddie Jackson if they need to go man coverage, yet if they just rest on their excellent defensive showings to date with a basic scheme, we see severe issues for a banged-up Drew Brees to move the ball.
In fact, there’s every chance Sean Payton tries to utilise Taysom Hill in a must-win game for no good reason again and it will end up costing them. The weak element of this Saints defense lies in its heart - no real pound-the-run mike linebacker to slow down David Montgomery and a real issue with escaping blocks against the opposing center.
The Bears know they haven’t got a huge arsenal, but hammering Montgomery enough on early downs should lead to opportunities for Allen Robinson to test Marshon Lattimore in single coverage if he travels with him - and that’s a jump-ball situation where we see the advantage with the receiver.
Can Chicago cause an upset? Yes, but even still, the fact they’re not diverse enough, or possess a quarterback who knows how to limit mistakes, means their in-game adjustments will be minimal. And of course, they cannot chase a lead or they’re in serious trouble.
All that being said, trust Matt Nagy to get them close.
Selection: Take the alternative line on Chicago at +8.5 (2.05).
Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers
A lot is made of Staley’s defensive unit in Los Angeles or the Chiefs’ offensive capabilities under Bieniemy, but in this writer’s opinion, the best-coached facet of any team is the Cleveland offensive line.
Sometimes you can eliminate pass rush just by running the ball effectively, and in a division that features both the Baltimore Ravens and this very opponent, it always felt like investing in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt would pay dividends.
Well, we’re about to find out.
Pittsburgh are something of a piecemeal structure of late. Their 10-0 start turned heads, but at no point in the season did any analyst say they were the best team in the NFL - and for good reason. We’re not convinced they’re even the best team in this matchup.
The Steelers’ inability to run the ball is problematic, but even more so is the fact that Big Ben won’t have those wide-open windows to throw into like he does so often because teams are afraid of the Steelers’ speed at receiver.
Cleveland possess two elite cover corners, and when they press plays break down quickly. If Cleveland can control the clock - and that will absolutely be their aim, Stefanski or no Stefanski - then this won’t go the way Pittsburgh anticipate.
Selection: Take the alternative line on Cleveland at +5.5 (1.98).
AFC Championship winners odds
Some might find value in taking positions on the AFC Championship winner ahead of this round of matches being played.
With a pass from this round, the Kansas City Chiefs are favourites at odds of 1.95. Buffalo sits behind them at 3.83, followed by the Ravens (6.69), Steelers (11.1), Titans (17.4), Colts (20.1) and lastly, the Browns, with the widest odds of 24.3.
NFC Championship winners odds
If you prefer to focus on the NFC Championship winner, the Packers lead at odds of 2.45, followed by the Saints (3.65), Buccs (5.04), Seahawks (5.73) and Rams (13.5), while Washington and the Bears round out the group, both at 42.7.
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