After a very entertaining regular season (and hopefully for you gamblers – a profitable one), we have finally reached the NFL playoffs. With that, we say goodbye to 14 point underdogs (ie. Kansas City) and prepare for inclement weather, unlikely heroes and epic collapses.
This week, I decided to include my picks against the spread. However, I will preface them by saying – I do not believe in spread betting. I always think you’re better taking the money line and dealing with the odds.
As my good friend Herm Edwards once said, “you play to win the game.”
1. Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers
A lot of people look at last week and suggest the Packers could be in trouble.
In reality, the Vikings had their backs against the wall in a must-win home game. They also had Adrian Peterson playing like a man possessed in pursuit of Eric Dickerson’s rushing record.
Of course, it’s not like the Packers had nothing to play for. They lost a first round bye as a result.
That being said, the Packers are 7-1 this season at Lambeau Field. For the first time all season, Aaron Rodgers will have his full receiving core in the lineup. While Minnesota’s secondary has been playing well, they’re not very deep.
With the quiet home crowd, Rodgers will be able to effortlessly audible at the line of scrimmage. And while Adrian Peterson will likely rush for at least 100 yards, Ponder won’t be able to make the plays in the air.
Straight Up: Packers
Spread: Packers (-7.5)
2. Seattle Seahawks @ Washington Redskins
These teams are very similar. Both are red hot (a combined 14-2 in their last 8 games), with mobile rookie quarterbacks to thank for their success. Their starting running backs finished 2nd and 3rd, respectively, in league rushing. The bread-and-butter for both offenses is the read option.
A healthy RGIII would make a big difference, but based on last week, Russell Wilson should be ‘faster’ than Griffin. Seattle tackles well and have big, physical corners who can press. This should limit the effectiveness of the Redskins’ bubble screens and hitch passes.
I expect Pete Carroll to focus on stopping Alfred Morris (even if it means letting RG3 loose a few times). While Griffin’s world-class speed makes him an exceptional quarterback, his knee-injury should humanize him.
Straight Up: Seahawks
Spread: Seahawks (-2.5)
3. Indianapolis Colts @ Baltimore Ravens
Can Andrew Luck go into Baltimore and win a playoff game, on the road, as a rookie?
I wouldn’t rule it out. The Colts are playing inspired football and ‘Chuckstrong’ has been their rallying call.
Conversely, the Ravens have struggled down the stretch. An elderly Ray Lewis and a banged-up Terrell Suggs aren’t scaring anyone. However, Ed Reed is a playoff monster and should bait the rookie into at least one turnover.
If the Ravens win, the difference will be Ray Rice. John Harbaugh needs to give him 25+ touches. Anything less and it’s a mistake.
For you casual NFL fans, you may not know that Colts coach Chuck Pagano spent the last 3 years on the Ravens’ defensive staff. He knows the players’ strengths and weaknesses. While this doesn’t mean his players will execute their assignments, he should still have a strong game-plan going in.
Ultimately, the Colts are a different team on the road (4-4) than they are at home (7-1). With a rookie QB, it makes sense. They had the league’s easiest schedule and finished with a point differential of -30 (the sixth-lowest figure for a playoff team since 1990).
Still feel confident?
Each of the five teams that posted a point differential less than -30 won in the wild-card round and lost in the divisional round.
Straight Up: Ravens
Spread: Ravens (-6.5)
Cincinnati Bengals @ Houston Texans
This won’t be a repeat of last year’s wild card match-up.
The Bengals are one of the hottest teams in football, while the Texans have been average (at best) in the second half of 2012. Cornerbacks (and former teammates) Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph will have an uphill task as they cover Andre Johnson and AJ Green, respectively.
For the Bengals, the running game is an issue. BenJarvus Green-Ellis isn’t the fastest or most powerful runner, but his ability to hold onto the football made him valuable. Unfortunately, he’s fumbled three times this season, and will face one of the NFL’s best run defenses.
It’s time for Matt Schaub to take the next step. He missed his opportunity last season due to injury. He’ll relish this chance.
Dalton is a solid player, but I expect the Texans to take away the run and force the Bengals to become one dimensional.
Can Dalton throw for 300+ yards and two touchdowns without turning the ball over?
Perhaps, but I’m not betting on it.
Straight Up: Texans
Spread: Texans (-4.5)