Like your drunken uncle at a wedding, the Steelers have unfortunately found their way to the dance floor again. (Photo by Erik Drost)
The 2015-16 NFL season has been pretty crazy from the start and things aren’t about to change as we roll into the opening weekend of the playoffs. The four division format has produced some pretty mediocre playoff teams over the years, but it’s been a while since we’ve seen something like this – FOUR home underdogs! That’s right, every road team is favored to advance to the divisional round. Plus with Minnesota getting 5.5 points, we’ve got the biggest home underdog in the playoffs since the 2010 Seahawks were +10 (!) at home against the Saints. And of course the Seahawks won outright.
Some of these games are sure to be ugly (looking at you, Chiefs/Texans) and betting the road favorite has always been risky in the NFL playoffs, just ask the 2008 Cardinals. I’m not saying the underdogs pull off a clean sweep this weekend, but it seems unlikely that all four road teams advance. If you listened to our Sons of the Spectrum podcast, you have an idea which way I’m leaning, but let’s get a little more in-depth with these games and look at some potential props and futures bets as well. (All points spreads, O/U totals, props, and futures numbers from sportsbook.ag)
Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans (+3, O/U 40)
Regular Season: Chiefs beat Texans 27-20 in Week 1
On October 12th, the Chiefs blew a 17-3 lead in the final three minutes of a game against the Bears to fall to 1-4. On top of that, they lost star RB Jamaal Charles to a season-ending ACL injury. But while your fantasy team may have been crippled by this devastating turn of events, Andy Reid was not. In fact, after a 16-10 loss to Minnesota in Week 6, the Chiefs turned on God mode and ripped off 10 straight wins to close the year, nearly usurping the Broncos as AFC West Champion. They’ve allowed just 12.8 points per game during their streak and QB Alex Smith has only thrown four INTs .. The addition of Jeremy Maclin has definitely helped Smith, but this team still lives and dies with defense.
They’ll be taking on another of the AFC’s dominant defenses in Houston. Like the Chiefs, the Texans started 2-5, lost their starting RB (Arian Foster), and looked absolutely dead. Then they won 7 of their last 9 and clinched the AFC South over the heavily-favored Colts. Since losing 27-6 to the Pats in Week 15, the Texans have outscored their opponents 80-22 and wrapped up their division crown with BRANDON WEEDEN quarterbacking two of the final three games. Cowboys fans must have been delighted.
Like everyone else, I’m still expecting a defensive struggle filled with punts and field goals. Neither of these teams can run the ball effectively and the quarterbacks are basically journeymen. But the Chiefs have a little more experience, a little better coaching, and fought through a bit more adversity to get to this point, so they’re my pick in this game. Yep that’s right, I’m picking Andy Reid in the playoffs as a road favorite. Prepare my NFL prognosticator obituary. (Note: You’re going to be tempted to take the under in this one, but be careful, it seems a little too obvious. Vegas always knows.)
PICK: CHIEFS -3
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals (+3, O/U 45.5)
Regular Season: Bengals won 16-10 in Week 8, Steelers won 33-20 in Week 14
The Steelers and Bengals meet for the third time this season, with each team winning on the road in their two regular season games. This meeting will again be in Cincinnati, but the Bengals will be without starting QB Andy Dalton. Instead, AJ McCarron again gets the call against a Steelers secondary that my Steelers fan roommate calls “bad, and not good”.
The Steelers aren’t without their own injury concerns as starting RB DeAngelo Williams (who’s only starting because of the injury to Leveon Bell) will miss the game with a foot injury. Fitzgerald Toussaint, who may or may not be a real person, will start in his place. But regardless of who’s running the ball for Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger still has his full arsenal of receivers to work with and that should keep the Bengals playing catch-up for most of the evening.
To win this game, the Bengals will need to pound the ball and control the clock. The strength of the Steelers defense is the front seven, but if the Bengals become one-dimensional and force McCarron into 40 attempts, things probably go downhill in a hurry. And let’s not ignore this fact – the Bengals have yet to win a playoff game under Marvin Lewis and now face their most hated rival without their starting quarterback. I’m crazy, but not “Bet on Marvin Lewis with a Backup QB” crazy.
PICK: STEELERS -3
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS AT MINNESOTA VIKINGS (+5, O/U 39.5)
Regular Season: Seahawks won 38-7 in Week 13
The Vikings are your surprise NFC North Champion after knocking off the Packers in Week 17 and sending Green Bay on a trip to the nation’s capital. The reward for their hard work? A visit from the defending NFC Champs. Oh, and the high temperature in Minny on Sunday is 5 degrees. Playoff football!
The Seahawks are the heavy favorite here and for good reason. They steamrolled Minnesota in their regular season meeting and if you take away their inexplicable loss to the Rams in Week 16, Seattle’s outscored opponents 207-75 since Week 11. Yes, 207 to 75. But a closer look shows how similar the 2015 Vikings are to the 2012 Seahawks. Both relied heavily on their All-Pro running back. Both had unproven quarterbacks. Both relied on defense to keep games close.
But despite all evidence to the contrary, I’m taking the points. The 2015 Vikings show a lot of similarities to the 2012 Seahawks. Both relied heavily on their All-Pro running back. Both had unproven quarterbacks. Both depended on defense to keep games close. Road favorites getting this many points make me nervous and Minnesota is entering this game on a comparable hot streak to Seattle. Add in frigid temperatures and no Marshawn Lynch for the Seahawks and I lean not only towards the points, but an OUTRIGHT Minnesota win.
PICK: VIKINGS +5
GREEN BAY PACKERS AT WASHINGTON REDSKINS (+1, O/U 45.5)
Regular Season: No game
The Packers are a weird team. They have the best quarterback on the planet, yet scored fewer than 20 points six different times this year (1-5 record in those games). They’re 23rd in the NFL in total offense, which is worse than the Cowboys, Ravens, Texans, and Bears. Even the Eagles averaged more yards per game AND points per game than the Packers this season. What the hell is going on in Green Bay?
The Redskins, on the other hand, enter the game winners of 5 of their last 6 and with an offense scoring 34+ points in each of their last three. Kirk Cousins actually looks like a competent NFL quarterback and Jordan Reed has emerged as one of the NFL’s best tight ends. Washington may only be the NFC East champion, but they’re scoring points like a juggernaut, especially at home.
I can’t believe I’m picking both the Seahawks and Packers to go home early, but Green Bay can’t be trusted right now. They’ve lost 6 of their last 10 and Aaron Rodgers looks downright pissed sometimes at the lack of separation his receivers get. I thought Randall Cobb could take Jordy Nelson’s spot as the #1 in Green Bay, but he’s been a disappointment and Davante Adams has been just awful. When your best pass-catching option is a tight end not named Gronkowski, Reed, or Graham, it usually means bad things. Sorry Eagles fans, we’re gonna be stuck with the Skins for another week.
PICK: REDSKINS +1
PROPS, FUTURES, AND OTHER ASSORTED BETS
Here’s a few more things I have my eye on this weekend. Obviously not going to be playing all of these, but I found them intriguing and worthy of at least a little consideration.
- DeAndre Hopkins UNDER 7 receptions – Hopkins will be shadowed by Marcus Peters all afternoon. Nuke will get his targets, but he’d need to haul in 8 passes to hit the over here. That’s a lot to ask going up against Peters, take the under.
- OVER 45.5 points in Packers-Redskins game – The Packers were shut down in consecutive weeks by the Cardinals and Vikings, but the Redskins defense is a far cry from those two units. Aaron Rodgers won’t be quiet three weeks in a row and I could see both teams scoring into the high 20s with ease. This game has the most potential to turn into a shootout, so I like the over here.
- Russell Wilson UNDER 240.5 passing yards – I did mention it’s going to be -900 degrees in Minnesota tomorrow, right? This is also a decent hedge if you’re betting Vikings +5.
- Giovanni Bernard OVER 3 receptions – Bernard has caught at least 3 passes in 3 of the 4 games AJ McCarron has played. Bengals need to keep up with the Steelers offense, so McCarron will get his attempts in this one and I think it’s a safe bet he’ll check down at least 3 times.
- Patriots +175 to win the AFC – Yes, it’s boring, but the Patriots are the only futures play worth making this year. You’re actually getting good value here since they lost last week and fell to the #2 seed, but the Pats have no fears about going into Denver and beating Peyton Manning. Pittsburgh is the trendy pick in the AFC at +400, but they struggle against Manning in Denver and Bill Belichick is Steeler kryptonite. Don’t be a hero, take the Pats.
I’ll be back next week to talk NFL Divisional Round games. If I go 4 for 4 in picks, we’d have the following match-ups: Steelers at Broncos, Chiefs at Patriots, Redskins at Panthers, and Vikings at Cardinals. Right now I’d lean towards Steelers over Broncos and then the three home teams, but we’ll see what happens (since there’s no way in hell I go 4 for 4 anyway). Also, be sure to check out our first Sons of the Spectrum podcast here on Pattison Ave where we discuss these NFL Wildcard games and the travelling circus that is the Eagles coaching search. Who’s ready for the Doug Pederson Era?!