Playoffs Playoffs Playoffs! Wild Card Weekend PicksPosted: January 2, 2015
We are not gamblers. That doesn’t mean we can’t pretend. Some of these choices have actual thought put into them. More of these choices were made with gut, intuition, and a little thing called grit.
Employ these recommendations at your own peril. Gambling is ungentlemanly.
[Home team in caps. All lines per VegasInsider.com consensus.]
CAROLINA (-6.5) vs. Arizona
Carolina: 7-8-1, 1st NFC South, #16 total offense, #19 scoring offense, #10 total defense, #21 scoring defense
Arizona: 11-5, 2nd NFC West, #24 total offense, #24 scoring offense, #24 total defense, #5 scoring defense
Derek: IT’S THE OVERREACTION BOWL!!! As a professional wrestling fan, I’m accustomed to some overreactions from time to time, but this is a little much.
Yes, the Cardinals aren’t as good with Ryan Lindley at the helm. Yes, the Panthers are on a four game winning streak. But come on. Considering the body of work of these two teams, dost thou expect me to lay 6.5 points with the Panthers because they beat New Orleans (7-9), Tampa Bay (2-14), Cleveland (7-9, in a five game losing streak), and Atlanta (6-10)?
Don’t get me wrong, the Panthers may very well win this game. In fact, I kind of think they will. The Panthers offense definitely has the upper hand. After watching what Luke Willson did to Arizona, I’m excited to see what Greg Olsen could do. The Panthers are at home, and they’re hot. But 6.5 points? No can do. I’ll take the Cardinals.
Will: I’m choosing these games with the caveat that I hate all of them, so any mistakes I inevitably make are due to that and that alone. This game may be the dumbest of the bunch: a division champ with a losing record and an 11-win team that would be lucky to win eight if the season restarted.
Carolina seems like the sound favorite to me straight-up. Cam Newton should be the single best offensive player in the game, and their defense allowed 17 points or less in their final four regular season games. The only question is whether or not the Cats will cover.
With apologies to Ryan Lindley, Arizona will need multiple non-offensive touchdowns to have a chance in this one. Their offensive attack has all the punch of Glass Joe. With all that in mind, I like Carolina.
PITTSBURGH (-3) vs. Baltimore
Pittsburgh: 11-5, 1st AFC North, #2 total offense, #7 scoring offense, #18 total defense, #18 scoring defense
Baltimore: 10-6, 3rd AFC North, #12 total offense, #8 scoring offense, #8 total defense, #6 scoring defense
Derek: With all the talk of the Cardinals fading down the stretch, the Ravens’ own end-of-the-season tailspin has been overlooked. They lost to Case Keenum. They struggled with the Jaguars. They struggled with Connor Shaw. I mean, it was arguably the most unimpressive 2-1 finish conceivable.
The Steelers, on the other hand, have won four in a row. They also don’t have any more games against bad teams that they can mail in. They’re probably the most scary team playing this weekend. This seems a little too easy.
“But wait!” you shout at your computer monitor/mobile device. “Le’Veon Bell probably isn’t going to play, and he was the NFL’s second leading rusher! What do you say to that, guy?”
Well, I don’t care about that. Have you seen Baltimore’s secondary? Antonio Bryant might have 200 yards. Martavis Bryant has a three catch, 150 yard, two touchdown game in him. Pittsburgh’s defense hasn’t been great either, but that doesn’t look like something Joe Flacco can exploit at the moment. Gimme the Steelers.
Will: Boy oh boy do I hate both of these teams. This is the sort of contest during which I root not for either team, but for a blackout or utility failure to derail the entire stadium production.
Alas, I am contractually obligated to offer some sort of analysis here. I agree with everything that you said; Pittsburgh’s offense is explosive, Baltimore’s everything is inconsistent, and the Steelers are definitely the team with the higher ceiling.
Much will be said about the Ravens-Steelers rivalry: no love will be lost, helmet straps will be tight, and hits will be hard. Cliche as it is, it’s kinda legit with these squads. Before their two matchups this season, each of the last five games was decided by a field goal or less. I’m rolling with the foolproof logic that past results dictate future performance, and taking the points; Ravens cover.
INDIANAPOLIS (-3) vs. Cincinnati
Indianapolis: 11-5, 1st AFC South, #3 total offense, #6 scoring offense, #11 total defense, #19 scoring defense
Cincinnati: 10-5-1, 2nd AFC North, #15 total offense, #15 scoring offense, #22 total defense, #12 scoring defense
Derek: This game terrifies me. It seems so easy. Andy Dalton vs. Andrew Luck in a playoff game. Indianapolis won 27-0 when they played the Bengals earlier this year, and it wasn’t even that close. What’s there to think about?
Well, a couple of things. The Colts are in the playoffs because they beat up on their crappy division and some other bad teams. They’re 2-4 against teams who made the playoffs. In their four losses (@Denver, @Pittsburgh, vs. New England, @Dallas) they lost 31-24, 51-34, 42-20, and 42-7. In other words, they typically got their asses kicked when they played good teams.
Second, there’s a stat I read that doesn’t seem right but I don’t have the time to fact check it so I’m just going to include it. Apparently, since 2002, there have been 41 playoff games that featured a non-divisional rematch of a regular season game at the same site as the regular season game. In those games, the team that won the first game is 13-27-1 against the spread. There have been 143 playoff games since 2002, and 41 non-divisional rematches on the same field kind of seems like a lot, but it makes sense. It’s harder to beat teams a second time, and it’s definitely harder to blow teams out a second time. It happened last year, when Seattle beat New Orleans 34-7 in the regular season on Monday Night Football, but failed to cover when they beat New Orleans 23-15 in the playoffs.
But … Andy Dalton, on the road, in a playoff game? I can’t support that. Colts it is. Now I’ll just sit back and watch Jeremy Hill ruin my day again, as he managed to do in several fantasy football matchups.
Will: Ugh make these games stop. Andrew Luck is lovely, but even he can’t make me care about this matchup.
I’m not going to overthink this one. It’s only three points, and it’s Andy Dalton on the road. He won on Monday Night once this season, and I think that surpasses his quota for the decade. Colts all the way.
DALLAS (-6.5) vs. Detroit
Dallas: 12-4, 1st NFC East, #7 total offense, #5 scoring offense, #19 total defense, #15 scoring defense
Detroit: 11-5, 2nd NFC North, #19 total offense, #22 scoring offense, #2 total defense, #3 scoring defense
Derek: Tough call. Two teams that are famous for imploding under pressure. The Cowboys are 2-4 against the spread as home favorites this year. The Lions 2-3 against the spread as road underdogs.
I really don’t have any read on this game. I think Dallas will win, but this covering business is difficult to peg. I’m just going to take the points.
Will: Now this is at least a decent game. Two beleaguered franchises with mildly beleaguered quarterbacks. Each team has a wideout that may or may not be superhuman. There is some honest-to-goodness intrigue in this one.
We waited all December for the Cowboy collapse that never came. We have wondered if this is the year when they pull it all together. Maybe this is it!
That spread is huge, though. I kind of like these Cowboys, if only because Romo gets more crap than he deserves, but I’m not ready to pick them to win by a touchdown. Unless Ndamukong Suh does something heinous enough to merit an outright Lion forfeit, I like Detroit to cover.
Enjoy the weekend, gang. May your picks be better than ours.