Divisional Weekend PicksPosted: January 16, 2016
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.]
NEW ENGLAND (-5) vs. Kansas City
Derek: Ah, who could forget the last time these two teams squared off? The day the Patriots dynasty ended, sort of. Now the Patriots seek revenge on a Chiefs team that hasn’t lost since October 19.
Well, I’m afraid that’s going to come to an end on Saturday. The Chiefs’ streak, though impressive, has mostly come against weaker competition. Two of their wins were against Pittsburgh and Denver, but Landry Jones started one of them and Peyton Manning had one of the worst games a quarterback has ever had in the other one. I want the Chiefs to win, but on the road and possibly without Jeremy Maclin, I don’t see a win or a cover. I’ll take New England.
Will: I’m inclined to agree with you. Of the Chiefs’ last four games — against the Raiders, Browns, Ravens, and Chargers — only a 34-14 win over Baltimore was a blowout. (Their 23-17 victory over Oakland was comfortable as well.) The Pats didn’t close the season nearly as strongly as they began it, but they’ve made four straight AFC Championship games. That earns them a little credit. Pats cover.
ARIZONA (-7) vs. Green Bay
Derek: I don’t trust the Cardinals. They’ve quietly been incredibly inconsistent this year. They’ve looked like the best team in the league at times, and absolutely terrible at others. Carson Palmer has never won a playoff game. Aside from Larry Fitzgerald, most of the Cardinals lack postseason experience. Now they’re facing a ton of pressure because everybody expects them to beat Green Bay by 30 again.
I have my doubts. Some notable rematches have gone the other way recently. The Falcons didn’t look like they belonged on the same field as the Panthers, then handed them their first loss two weeks later. Same with the Seahawks and Vikings last week, though it’s tough to say how much the weather affected the outcome of that one.
I like getting seven points with Aaron Rodgers and the experienced Packers. I still think Arizona will find a way to pull it out, but Green Bay covers.
Will: I could see all of that, but I keep coming back to Arizona’s defense — particularly its pass rush. Their 36 total sacks this season were only about league average, but we saw this team sack Rodgers eight times three weeks ago. They finished third in pressure percentage, per ESPN. The Packers’ offensive line will be nearer full health this week than the last time these teams met. I remain skeptical. Just as you distrust the Cardinals, I distrust the Packers. Arizona takes it.
CAROLINA (-2) vs. Seattle
Derek: Are you kidding? Of course I’m taking Seattle! I’m not betting against my team in the biggest game of the year (so far) no matter what!
If you want some #analysis, I’ll just say that the Panthers haven’t played a good team since the Packers on November 9. Then there’s my aforementioned comment about games going the other way in the rematch. Seattle had Carolina on the ropes earlier this year and let them steal it. And while it probably doesn’t matter, the Panthers were bounced by a Wild Card team in the Divisional round in their previous two opportunities. Same goes for their two playoff games against Seattle.
Then again, I’d say Minnesota’s history didn’t matter when Blair Walsh lined for the game-winning field goal last week, and look how that turned out. Homerism!
CAM DOESN’T STAND A CHANCE.
Will: This line only being two points is amazing. The Panthers are a 15-1 team playing at home, but Seattle isn’t being given the standard three points as a road team…and I think it makes sense. Seattle surged into the playoffs, winning four of their last five games, and all by at least 17 points. They were the DVOA champs again. Russell Wilson is playing better than ever, as is Doug Baldwin. Carolina, meanwhile, has lost Peanut Tillman for the season to an ACL injury. I also like Seattle.
DENVER (-7) vs. Pittsburgh
Derek: I thought for sure I’d pick the Steelers against Denver if I had the opportunity, but last week’s injuries have me cooling my jets. A hobbled Ben Roethlisberger is typically a horrendous Ben Roethlisberger, and the Landry Jones alternative is even less appealing. Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams could both miss the game. I just don’t see anything to get excited about with Pittsburgh other than the hope that Manning turns the ball over seven times. I expect the Broncos will be running a lot and the Steelers won’t be scoring much in a Denver win and cover.
Will: This spread has moved to eight in some places. Brown and Williams are indeed out, while Roethlisberger won’t be able to feel half of his body. But you know what? Peyton Manning won’t be able to feel half of his body either. It’s going to be cold, and I think both quarterbacks are going to get hit a lot. Roethlisberger has taken a beating, yet I feel oddly confident that he’ll be able to conjure enough points to keep this one semi-close. This is completely a gut pick: Steelers.