NFL Playoff Picks: Wildcard Weekend

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NFL PLAYOFF PICKS: WILDCARD WEEKEND

Well NFL fans, my apologies for the very short post week 16, and the non-existent post week 17. My record over those two weeks was only 3-5, so perhaps it was better that way…

Our final record for the season? 31-29. Pretty lousy if you ask me, but it was a strange year in the NFL, with a lot of inconsistency week to week and very few teams we could count on regularly.

My playoff predictions (done week 13), however, were pretty damned close. In the AFC, my only miss was saying New England would be the 1 seed, but I think I can be forgiven for that—not in my wildest dreams did I think they’d lose two in a row down the stretch, especially if someone told me that the second team would be Miami.

In the NFC, I bet on Rodgers and lost, thinking they’d beat the Vikings in that week 17 matchup and secure the 3 seed. Obviously, those two got swapped around, but the rest of my predictions held up.

So what the hell is going to happen in these playoffs? TO THE PICKS!

Kansas City at HOUSTON (+3.5)

I like Houston in this one, especially getting points at home. Kansas City may be the better team, but they thrive on short passes, running the ball, and creating turnovers on defense (+14 turnover margin).

Unfortunately, the Texans aren’t particularly weak in any of those areas. They defend the run adequately (10th in yards per game, no worse, statistically, than the Chiefs), are phenomenal at defending the short pass (4th best in the league), and don’t turn the ball over as frequently as Kansas City might hope. Thus far, Hoyer has yet to throw more than one pick in any game this season, a season in which the Texans boast a +5 turnover margin.

Now hey, the Chiefs are a good team, on a big winning streak and no one should underestimate them. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Chiefs beat the Texans handily—indeed I think they’ll probably win the game.

The question is by how much? Ultimately, that’s why I like Houston here. Getting 3.5 at home, against a team that doesn’t tend to blow people out, the chances they lose by less than four or win straight up seem higher than the other way around.

Chiefs win, 23-21—Texans cover.

PITTSBURGH (-2.5) at Cincinnati

Love Big Ben and Pittsburgh in this one for the exact opposite reason—their chances to beat Cincinnati by more than three are much higher than the other way around.

Obviously, we know the Steelers can score points. We also know their defense is suspect at best. The problem for Cincinnati is that they won’t be able to exploit Pittsburgh’s biggest weakness: their secondary.

Let’s remember, AJ McCarron is a backup quarterback for a reason. Sure, he’s adequate in that role, but this is the playoffs. In the three games he’s started this season, he’s never thrown for more than 200 yards and two touchdowns. To his credit, he has yet to throw a pick, but even if he keeps a clean sheet in that department, matching Pittsburgh’s offense is going to require more like 300 yards and three touchdowns—a quarterback with a hot hand—not a game manager.

Are there other scenarios that might play out? Of course. Maybe Roethlisberger throws a couple picks? Maybe Cincinnati’s defense goes to the next level? And who knows, maybe McCarron is aided by the poor Pittsburgh secondary and goes off, helping the Bengals win their first playoff game since 1992…

But are you going to bet on those things happening? I’m not.

Pittsburgh pulls away late and covers, 33-24.

Seattle at MINNESOTA (+6.5)

This is a tricky little pick, but I’m going with Minnesota.

I know that’s not popular, and I’m well aware that the Seahawks are capable of absolutely blowing the Vikings out as they did during the regular season.

But my guess is Minnesota, even if they don’t win, covers on Sunday. The big news in this one is that it’s going to be ass cold at game time—like zero degrees. If you’ve ever been out in that sort of weather, you know it’s no joke. That kind of cold saps your will to live, let alone play football, a sport on which every play your smashing into people wearing body armor, much of it hard plastic.

The other thing about the cold is that it makes passing the ball problematic. At that low temperature, a football becomes rock hard, which means gripping, throwing, and catching all become that much more difficult. Statistically, in the 10 coldest games in NFL history, quarterbacks have a completion percentage of just 51%–and if we pair down to the five coldest (all playoff games, btw), it drops to 48.7%. Problem for Seattle is that the passing game has been their offense this year. Sure, they get Marshawn Lynch back this week, but who knows what impact he’ll have? He hasn’t played since the first third of the season.

Speaking of the cold, guess who plays really well in it so far in his young career? Teddy Bridgewater. In the two coldest games he’s played in at TCF Bank Stadium, he “was a combined 30-for-46 (65.2 percent) with three TDs and no interceptions.” The Vikings are also 2-0 in those games, outscoring their opponents 80-30.

Also, if we look at the five coldest games ever played in the history of the NFL, the average combined score for both teams was 30.4.

So Sunday’s game looks something like this: low scoring, difficult to pass, more turnovers than average (50 total in the 10 coldest games), and yet one team needs to win by at least a touchdown to cover? Oh, and another thing—it’s a 1 o’clock start (10am Pacific), a schedule that has been historically brutal on west coast teams going East, the Seahawks in this case.

I’m taking the home dog getting 6.5! Hell, I’m calling the upset: Minnesota wins 20-16.

GREEN BAY (+1.5) at Washington

Call me crazy, but I’m going with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in this one. With the spread this low, I treat the game as a pick ‘em, and I just don’t trust Washington to win. Yes, they’ve been hot; yes, they’re at home; and yes, Cousins has played very well at quarterback.

But he’s not Aaron Rodgers, and these Deadskins aren’t the Green Bay Packers, whose players and coaches have playoff experience, and a better record during the regular season, with more wins against quality teams than Washington (best win was against Buffalo, a .500 team–every other team they beat had a losing record).

Two particular concerns for the Washington? The first has to be their rush defense, which ranks 26th in the league, giving up over 120 yards per game. If Green Bay can get Eddy Lacy going, the Deadskins are in trouble, because it gives the defense a blow and sets up the play action pass.

In that regard, the second concern for Washington is their pass defense, which ranks 25th at around 250 yards, on average, per game. That’s bad.

So as it’s unlikely Washington is going to be effective at stopping the Packers’ offense, the Deadskins are going have to win a shootout against Rodgers and company.

Frankly, I just don’t see that happening.

Packers win, 31-21.

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About The Author: Jay Scott

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