Pickswise NFL debate: Which plus-money team has the best chance of making the NFL playoffs?

Sep 12, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (22) with the ball as New York Jets cornerback Javelin Guidry (40) defends in the fourth quarter at Bank of America Stadium.
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Andrew Wilsher


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Managing Editor of Pickswise. Born and raised in jolly old London, England, with an undying love for the NFL, NBA, soccer and horse racing. A big-time sports bettor who loves futures markets and backing underdogs. Long-suffering New York Jets fan. For Andrew Wilsher media enquiries, please email contact@pickswise.com.
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Welcome to the Pickswise NFL debate, where three of our experts give their thoughts on a big talking point.

With Week 2 now officially in the books, we’re looking ahead all the way to January and the playoffs. We’ve had time to digest how good/bad some teams are shaping up, and it’s time to see if our experts can eke out any value with their best outsider bets for who will make the playoffs. Have sportsbooks overreacted to teams who have dropped games in unfortunate circumstances (looking at you, Minnesota Vikings)? Or is there a team that’s showing a lot more potential than people are giving credit for? Our NFL experts — Jared Smith, Andrew Ortenberg, and Ricky Dimon — give their thoughts and their best value pick for who will reach the NFL playoffs.

Jared Smith: Carolina Panthers (+130)

Things are getting spicy in Charlotte, almost as spicy as the Carolina BBQ sauce I put on my wings last night. The Panthers are tied at the top of Net Yards Per Play rankings with the Rams and Eagles after two weeks. They will also likely keep racking up wins as they should be favored in 5 of their next 6 games before a very telling game against Sam Darnold’s former tormentors, the New England Patriots, in Week 9.

Their defense has emerged as a top flight unit and Darnold looks right at home with a competent offensive coordinator (Joe Brady) at the helm with a full arsenal of weapons (CMC, Robbie Anderson, D.J. Moore). Another correlated bet to make here is Matt Rhule to win Coach of the Year at +1600. If Carolina gets into the playoffs and contends for the division, Rhule is in prime position to win that award after recording just 5 wins last season.

Check out our full game preview for TNF between the Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans

Andrew Ortenberg: Minnesota Vikings (+225)

Getting +225 here is too good to pass up. There might be teams at +120 with slightly better chances of making it, but the value is with Minnesota at north of 2/1. The Vikings are a controversial Dalvin Cook fumble call and a missed 37-yard field goal at the end of Sunday’s game away from being 2-0. Despite the Packers beating the lowly Lions on Monday Night Football, I’m still pretty low on Green Bay overall.

As such, I still believe the Vikings are the most talented team in the NFC North. Minnesota just shot themselves in the foot with too many penalties in Week 1, and in Week 2 they played a very good Cardinals team down to the wire on the road and had probably an 85 percent chance to win in the final seconds as Greg Joseph lined up for his ill-fated kick.

Mike Zimmer has a lot of new faces and young pieces on his defense, so I expect that unit to get better as the season goes on. With Cook, Adam Thielen, and Justin Jefferson, they’ve got all the skill position talent you can ask for.

Ricky Dimon: Las Vegas Raiders (+100)

I recognize that this isn’t going out on a limb with Las Vegas right on the plus-money number (+100 at DraftKings), but even this price has solid value. Derek Carr and the Raiders have me firmly on their bandwagon after improving to 2-0 with Sunday’s 26-17 victory over Pittsburgh. No team has a better resume through 2 weeks than beating Baltimore (which proceeded to upset Kansas City in Week 2) and winning at Pittsburgh.

Carr is an awesome leader, Henry Ruggs III (22.7 ypc) provides explosiveness, and an improved defense boasts a nice mix of young guys (like Maxx Crosby) and veterans (like Denzel Perryman).

The schedule is favorable, as well. Two of the Raiders’ next 3 games come at home against Miami and Chicago, with a winnable date at the Chargers sandwiched in between. At worst they should be 4-1, and 5-0 certainly isn’t out of the question. Head coach Jon Gruden’s crew also gets to play all 4 teams from the NFC East (LOL) between now and Week 13.

Make sure you read our MNF reaction, where problems persist for the Packers despite their victory

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