Wild Card Weekend Picks: Saturday

Posted: 01/06/2017 by levcohen in Football

I advertised Week 17 as one that would lack intrigue, and it lived up to that billing. The one game that really mattered, Detroit-Green Bay, no longer mattered as much after the Redskins lost to the Giants, clinching playoff spots for both teams. The Lions led by four points at halftime, but the Packers always seemed more likely to win and led by 14 until Detroit tacked on a meaningless touchdown inside the last 30 seconds. In the AFC, the battle for the BYEs was also anticlimactic. The Patriots obliterated the Dolphins early and clinched the #1 seed. Then the Raiders looked abysmal without quarterback Derek Carr and lost to the Broncos, while the Chiefs cruised past the Chargers. We’re left with an AFC playoff group that’s as shallow as I can remember. It’s really a three team race: New England will likely play the winner of Pittsburgh-Kansas City in the AFC Championship game. The NFC is more intriguing. I would argue that five of the six teams — the Lions are the exception — have legitimate chances to make the Super Bowl. Could we be gearing up for Brady vs. Eli Chapter 3?? Probably not (Football Outsiders gives it a 3.1% chance). But there’s a darn good chance that we’ll be gearing up for Brady vs. someone. FO gives the Patriots a 60.1% chance to make the Super Bowl.

Of course, the least meaningful game of the season was also my best against the spread. Hey, at least I finished the season strong. If you bet against the spread on every single NFL game this season based on my predictions, you would have made money, even when deducting the vig!

11-5 straight up… 154-100-2 for the season
12-4 against the spread… 134-114-8
12-4 over/under… 135-116-5

1-3 on upset picks… 24-35-1
1-0 on lock… 12-5

Best picks of the week:
Falcons 38, Saints 31… Actual result: Falcons 38, Saints 32
Packers 31, Lions 23… Actual result: Packers 31, Lions 24
Browns 23, Steelers 21… Actual result: Steelers 26, Browns 23 (because the Browns should have won)
Eagles 23, Cowboys 14… Actual result: Eagles 27, Cowboys 13
Colts 28, Jaguars 24… Actual result: Colts 24, Jaguars 20 (it was a good week)

Worst picks:
Raiders 21, Broncos 16… Actual result: Broncos 24, Raiders 6
Seahawks 31, Niners 14… Actual result: Seahawks 25, Niners 23
Redskins 24, Giants 20… Actual result: Giants 19, Redskins 10

Let’s get to tomorrow’s games.

Oakland Raiders (12-4, 10-6 against the spread) at Houston Texans (9-7, 7-8-1):
Spread: Texans favored by 3.5
Over/under: 36.5
My prediction: I’m far from the first person who has said this, but I think it’s the best way to describe this game: this is the NFL’s version of a play-in game between 16-seeds in the NCAA tournament for the right to get demolished in the next round. It didn’t have to be this way. The Raiders were exciting and dangerous with Derek Carr, a real threat to knock off the Patriots in a shootout. They have a very talented offense, with an offensive line they’ve invested heavily in (it shows), running backs who racked up the sixth most yards in the NFL, and two explosive receivers (Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree). But they don’t have Carr, and they don’t even have his backup, Matt McGloin (limited in practice, not starting). They have Connor Cook, a rookie quarterback who I know best for being inaccurate when he played for Michigan State. I held out hope that they could have a functional run-first offense without Carr, but that was pretty clearly not the case in Denver. It’s also probably not going to be the case in Houston. Left tackle Donald Penn is out this week, and the Texans have a strong defense and an especially scary pass rush. Oakland’s defense against the pass would also be a problem, but less so given that they’re playing Houston.

I would say that the Raiders have no chance… except for the fact that Houston’s starting quarterback is (again) Brock Osweiler. Seriously. We’re going to see Cook-Osweiler IN THE PLAYOFFS. There’s a reason that this game has the lowest over/under of the season. The Texans will at least have the benefit of playing at home, where they’re 7-1. They gave up just 16.6 points per game at home this year. They also have a rested Lamar Miller. But let’s not kid ourselves here. Osweiler is atrocious, and this offense has no chance of having a big game, even against the Raiders’ bad defense.

Both teams are going to have a lot of trouble scoring. The difference will be that Houston is used to having trouble scoring, while Oakland isn’t. The Raiders were shell-shocked last week, and it has to be tough to get over the loss of your franchise quarterback. Texans win 20-14.
Texans cover
Under

Detroit Lions (9-7, 8-7-1) at Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1, 7-9):
Spread: Seahawks favored by 8
Over/under: 44
My prediction: I was not impressed by the Seahawks this season and especially over the last month. But they’re a heck of a lot better than the Lions. Detroit’s lost three games in a row and won one game this season by more than a touchdown. They also have a banged-up quarterback, as Matthew Stafford has been clearly hampered by his finger injury. They don’t have a run game, and they’re not going to be able to put up a lot of points in Seattle. I see this going the way Detroit’s games against Dallas and Green Bay went. The Lions will hang around for a while, and then it will become apparent that their offense is nowhere near good enough to keep up with an opposing offense that has the benefit of playing their defense.

The Lions are dead-last in defensive DVOA this year, and it isn’t even close. They have the second-worst defense against the pass of the 21st century — only last year’s Saints were worse. That will be music to Russell Wilson’s ears. I know the Seahawks have lost some playmakers, but it won’t matter against Detroit. They still have Wilson, Jimmy Graham, and Doug Baldwin. They always perform well in the playoffs, getting great performances out of bench players. I don’t think their offense is all that good, but it’ll look like Atlanta’s offense this week.

I expect the Seahawks to win this game easily. It might be like the Detroit-Green Bay game, with the Lions scoring a late touchdown to make it a one score game, but the outcome will never be in doubt. This isn’t to say that I think Seattle will make a run in the playoffs; in fact, I believe they’re very likely to lose to the Falcons in the second round. The losses of Tyler Lockett, C.J. Prosise, and especially Earl Thomas will be evident against more talented teams. They’ll be hardly noticeable against the Lions, who have had a nice season but who just don’t have the talent on either side of the ball to challenge the Seahawks in Seattle. Seahawks win 31-17.
Seahawks cover
Over

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