NFL Wild Card Weekend first touchdown predictions
I have to admit, this was not my favorite NFL season. My Patriots were abysmal, yet not abysmal enough to grab the #1 overall pick, Bill Belichick is likely gone, and to make matters worse, Tom Brady didn’t even un-retire. The only thing that brought me joy this year was betting on first touchdowns. I managed to cash at least one ticket every week, highlighted by Week 17 when I cashed five. My strategy was to track every first touchdown from every team and use that data to narrow the field to the better FTD (first touchdown) team. I’ll give my thoughts on all of the Wild Card games in a moment, but if you want to check out the tracker and make your own picks, you can find it here.
Before we look ahead, let’s look at the best and worst of the 2023 season…
The best teams: Six teams were in a different class this year with FTD rates above 60%, but none were better than the Ravens who finished at an astounding 82.4%. They only failed to score the game’s first touchdown three times. I cashed Ravens tickets multiple times this season. Right under Baltimore is the 49ers who scored first 76.5% of the time, followed by the Chiefs at 70.6%, and then the Cowboys, Packers and Raiders who were all at 64.7%. The great news for us FTD bettors is that five of these teams are in the playoffs and we can keep capitalizing.
The worst teams: One playoff team falls into this category, as the Buccaneers only scored the first touchdown five times for a 29.4% success rate. I can’t wait to keep fading them. Also at that pitiful percentage we have the Patriots and Commanders. That shouldn’t be surprising to anyone with how bad those teams looked all season. But even worse than those teams came the Panthers, Giants, and Jets who were all at 23.5%, meaning they scored the first touchdown just four times. Carolina was so bad at finding the endzone down the stretch, they didn’t score a TD whatsoever in four of their last five games. It was fun betting on their opponents while we could.
The best players: There were several players in competition for what I call the “FTD King” down the stretch, and both of which were definitely not on our radar before the season began. Browns RB Jerome Ford and Raiders WR Jakobi Meyers both had seven TFTDs (team-first touchdowns), and they both had six game-firsts. Ford took over in Cleveland after Nick Chubb (one of last year’s FTD studs) went down with a nasty knee injury. Considering Ford only had nine total touchdowns this season, him sharing the crown this year is quite impressive. Meanwhile, Meyers switched teams in the offseason, leaving the Patriots for the very team he had an embarrassing turnover against in 2022, the Raiders. Meyers wasn’t exactly a superstar in New England, why would he be one in Las Vegas? Well, the change of scenery proved to be a good thing for Meyers, and us FTD bettors. Meyers scored the Raiders’ first touchdown in six of their first nine games. He was an auto-bet for me for a while. Sadly, Meyers’ season is over, but Ford’s isn’t! Let’s go Brownies!
Honorable mentions: A few other players had notable FTD seasons and deserve their flowers. Cowboys WR CeeDee Lamb scored five FTDs and seven TFTDs. This included five straight team-firsts at one point. Colts RB Jonathan Taylor also scored five FTDs and had six TFTDs. What’s most impressive about Taylor, is he scored the Colts’ first touchdown in all six of the games he played down the stretch, five of which were the first of the game. And finally, the FTD Rookie of the Year, Packers WR Jayden Reed who finished with five team-firsts, all of which were the first of the game. The only player with at least five who had a perfect ratio. The Packers scored the game’s first TD in eight straight games to close out the regular season, and half of those were at the hands of Reed. Go Pack Go!
Here are all of this week’s Wild Card matchups with their FTD success rates along with my thoughts on all of them:
Browns (52.9%) at Texans (47.1%) – Saturday, 4:30 PM ET
Cleveland was the slightly better FTD team this season and they also have one of the aforementioned FTD Kings of the season so I’m happy to bet on only Browns players in this one. Jerome Ford will likely be the favorite and that’s okay. If you forget about Week 18, when they literally didn’t try, he scored the game’s first TD in four of their last seven games. I’ll also get involved with David Njoku who has shown a real connection with Joe Flacco. He has at least six receptions in his last four games, four of which were touchdowns, including two FTDs. The only player I’d consider on the Texans is Nico Collins. He had an absolute breakout season, 80 receptions for 1,297 yards and eight touchdowns, three of which were FTDs.
Dolphins (58.8%) at Chiefs (70.6%) – Saturday, 8 PM ET
Despite the Chiefs significantly better FTD success rate, I will have tickets on both teams here based on the Dolphins’ consistency when it comes to scorers. Tyreek Hill (6) and Raheem Mostert (5) make up 11 of the Dolphins 17 TFTDs, that’s 65%. If Hill plays, I’ll have tickets on both. For Kansas City, I love Isiah Pacheco. He had six team-firsts and four game-firsts. He runs like he hates the ground, and I’d hate to not have a bet on him as he sheds five tackles and makes his way into the end zone. And I still have my eye on one of the 2022 FTD Kings, Travis Kelce. He has not had the Chiefs’ first touchdown ONCE this season! The sportsbooks haven’t noticed either, his odds never seemed to be higher than +600. If he scores this week, I will miss out because I can’t buy in on a player who has zero FTDs this season, despite the star power.
Steelers (41.2%) at Bills (47.1%) – Sunday, 1 PM ET
If we had this matchup a few weeks ago, I’d probably have a very different batch of picks. The Steelers were one of the worst FTD teams until Week 15, having just scored the game’s first touchdown in three of 13 games. Since then, they’ve gone undefeated here with four straight FTDs. Meanwhile, the Bills have been heading in the wrong direction, failing to score first in three straight now. They’ve been inconsistent all season, never being able to string three straight games together with a game-first, and no player had more than two to his name. The player I like the most is Najee Harris. His production has exploded over the last the games, with 312 rushing yards and four touchdowns, which includes four team-firsts and three game-firsts. Jaylen Warren will be my insurance bet. He’s taken a bit of a backseat in the run game lately, but still a big factor when it comes to the passing game. Warren has at least four receptions in his last five games. He’s got a shot to be the guy this week.
Packers (64.7%) at Cowboys (64.7%) – Sunday, 4:30 PM ET
This game hurts my soul. Identical FTD success rates, and both are very hot entering the playoffs. As I mentioned above, both Jayden Reed and CeeDee Lamb have been rockstars this season. Both teams have loved scoring early though the air, scoring their team-first touchdowns via wide receivers and tight ends in 13 of 17 games. I cannot recommend any running backs or quarterbacks less. I’ll be on Reed and Lamb, possibly two units each.
Rams (47.1%) at Lions (58.8%) – Sunday, 8 PM ET
Similar to the Dolphins-Chiefs game, despite a discrepancy in success rates, the consistency of players used means I like players on both teams. For the Rams, Kyren Williams and Puka Nacua scored six of their final eight first touchdowns. They’ll be short shots, but I’ll be on both of them. On the Lions side, I wish I could go with Sam LaPorta, who was one of the FTD rookies of the year, but he won’t be in action. That makes me like their running backs even more. David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs combined for eight of Detroit’s team-firsts this year. Four players is a lot to pick, but all have odds at +550 or more right now at DraftKings, meaning we can still make a profit even if the shortest shot hits.
Eagles (58.8%) at Buccaneers (29.4%) – Monday, 8:15 PM ET
I am going to cross my fingers and hope Jalen Hurts’ finger doesn’t impact this game too much, because he is my top pick here. He scored first for Philly six times this season, four of which were the first of the game. As long as they can get into tush-push range in the redzone, he should be fine. I will also have a chunk on D’Andre Swift. He only had six touchdowns this year, but with Hurts’ finger hurting, the run game will probably be more active than usual. The Buccaneers were awful this year, don’t be tempted!
That’s it for this week, follow me on X (@billzinmepocket) to see my official plays ahead of the games!