Jim O'Donnell: A simple formula for picking winners on Wild Card Weekend

  • The Bears and Saints renew acquaintances in a Sunday Wild Card game in New Orleans.

    The Bears and Saints renew acquaintances in a Sunday Wild Card game in New Orleans. Associated Press

Updated 1/6/2021 2:59 PM

WEEK 18 OF THE 2020 NFL SEASON could be called a lot of things.

At Halas Hall, George McCaskey and his bottom-lining Bears buds might opt for "Ball of Confusion."


Nationwide, the NFL has been kind enough to stick with "Wild Card Weekend," pandemic be damned.

There are significant self-serving tweaks by the league and its broadcast partners, most prominently the addition of two extra teams and two additional games.

Projection conspiracists, ahem, think that Roger Goodell and his instant myth makers have two imagineering goals in the 2020 postseason:

• A new-age "Ice Bowl" in Green Bay Jan. 24 to decide the NFC championship; and,

• A Super Bowl 55 in Tampa two weeks later starring video game weaver Patrick Mahomes and his red-velvet Chiefs against quick-draw Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

A SB 55 with GB-KC on the billboard would recall Super Bowl I.

That was the cornerstone January Sunday when Vince Lombardi's brute Packers -- 14-point favorites -- toyed with Hank Stram and the Chiefs for a half and then blew to a 35-10 victory.

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Goodell and his billionaires club love flashing back to the NFL's "hungry years."

Some old-style gamblers also say those were the days.

Limited information. No confusing and repetitive waves of immersive electronic babble.

Follow your own antennae, pick a team, make a bet.

Today, there are literally millions and millions of words picking and poking at this weekend's 12 play-ons.

And yet, predicated on WCW results from the past two years, there's a very simple empirical dictum to select winners: Bet equally on all of the underdogs.

In 2018-19, blindly following that axiom would have produced a 6-2 record straight up, a 7-1 mark against the spread and a profit of about 74% on gross money wagered.


Last January, with four games on the card, 'dog chasing would have produced three outright winners -- Seattle, Tennessee and Minnesota -- and a lone bill-burner when Buffalo (+2½) lost in OT to Houston, 22-19.

One year before, bowwow winners included the Colts, the Chargers and the Eagles (who were plus-6 and would have produced a profit for bettors even if Cody Parkey went doink-good for the Bears at the end).

In Game 4 of 2018, the Seahawks (+2½) were a cashable despite losing to Dallas, 24-22.

A midweek peek at the WCW card:


Indianapolis at Buffalo (-6½)

(CBS, 12:05 p.m.; Ian Eagle, Charles Davis)

• Josh Allen and the Bills seem so close to a Super Bowl that there have been reports of Marv Levy sightings in Orchard Park. ... Rumors that Phillip Rivers could be headed for the Fox NFL scheme soon. ... He'd also do fine as a statue on the porch of the Benjamin Harrison home in north central Indy.

L.A. Rams at Seattle (-4)

(Fox, 3:40 p.m.; Joe Buck, Troy Aikman)

• Sean McVay isn't fully cooked as a prime-time NFL coach yet and Pete Carroll is approaching Pensioned Seagull Way. ... In the booth, Aikman continues to baffle -- he can say remarkably insightful things one moment and then drift into disconnected cliché for stretches that seem as long as a poetry reading by Billy Ray Cyrus.

Tampa (-8 ½) at Washington

(NBC; Mike Tirico, Tony Dungy; 7:15 p.m.)

• Surprising that with Tom Brady positioned to star, "Antiques Roadshow" hasn't been included in TV coverage. ... Question about Tirico still lingers: Is he benignly inoffensive or inoffensively benign?


Baltimore (-3) at Tennessee

(ESPN / ABC, 12:05 p.m.; Steve Levy, Brian Griese, Louis Riddick)

• Isn't there some kind of Geneva Convention/humanitarian thing banning Levy from calling an NFL playoff game? ... Riddick continues his on-air auditioning for a GM job. ... Still, very difficult to tell whether it's Riddick or Griese speaking, unless the subject is Nick Foles on Matt Nagy's play-calling.

Bears at New Orleans (-10)

(CBS, 3:40 p.m.; Jim Nantz, Tony Romo; Nickelodeon -- Noah Eagle, Nate Burleson, Gabrielle Nevaeh Green)

• Romo missed last week's Cards-Rams game because of COVID precautions and Boomer Esiason filled in. ... This weekend, Romo may work from a studio near his suburban Dallas home. ... The experimental SpongeBob-themed Nickelodeon simulcast could be the perfect out-of-body tonic for Bears fans if things get out of hand.

Cleveland at Pittsburgh (-6)

(NBC, 7:15 p.m.; Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth)

• Rust Belt Trilogy will end with this interstate love song between two reeling football teams. ... It's a shame Ben Roethlisberger mentally checked out five weeks ago and the Browns are being rocked by COVID problems. ... Collinsworth's extensive prep always shows and he will be deep into a power alley with this AFC North frost bowl.

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com.

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