The first week of the NFL Playoffs is here and I’ll be breaking down all of this weekend’s games from a betting perspective. After back-to-back winning weeks, I turned in a dud in Week 17, finishing 2-3 ATS on The Nickel Package podcast and 3-4 ATS with my Recommended Wagers. I was a little bit unlucky to lose with Vikings -3, especially since the Vikings were available at an underdog price on Sunday morning, so I’m not really all that disappointed with my ATS mark last week. The Cardinals also probably deserved to beat the 49ers but Jay Feely decided he was going to crap himself on a couple of occasions.
Anyways, there’s no point in living in the past. There are four games on the slate this weekend, and in all honesty, I’m not really in love with any of them. I’ll make my case for the team that I believe to be the right side in each contest, but as of now, I only plan on making one play in the NFL this weekend.
The Nickel Package Record: 48-34-3 ATS (58%)
As always, you can check out The Nickel Package podcast. Each week – even through the playoffs - Joe Fortenbaugh from the National Football Post joins me to analyze those picks and provide additional insight to the games I’ve selected. You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, listen to the player below or download the MP3 file here.
Recommended Wagers Record: 61-48-3 ATS (56%)
Kansas City Chiefs @ Indianapolis Colts
Friday Line: Colts -1, total of 46.5
Public Consensus: 56% on the Colts, 55% on the over
The Pick: The Colts weren’t given much of a chance when they went into Kansas City as a seven-point underdog in Week 16. Many people—myself included—believed that the Chiefs would steamroll an inconsistent Colts’ squad, but that wasn’t the case as Indianapolis pulled off a 23-7 upset, limiting Kansas City’s offense to just 287 total yards. This time around, the roles are reversed, and I’m not quite sure how I feel about that. Kansas City clearly limped into the playoffs, winning just two of their final seven games following their Week 10 bye week. Once considered to have one of the top defenses in the league, the Chiefs were ripped apart in the last month of the season, surrendering big games to Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, and the inept Matt McGloin (albeit they won that game handily). A big reason for the Chiefs’ defensive failure was their lack of a pass rush in the second half of the year, and those struggles coincided with the loss of premier pass rusher Justin Houston back in Week 12. Opposing offenses no longer had to worry about two strong pass rushers, and devised game plans to double-team Tamba Hali on the outside. With Houston returning from his elbow injury this week, that will no longer be the case, and subsequently, Andrew Luck will feel a ton of pressure in this contest. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, Luck has thrived under these conditions in his young career. Luck has led the Colts to victories over the Broncos, Seahawks, and 49ers this season; arguably the best three teams in the NFL. The former first-overall pick has also been exceptional at home in his first couple of seasons, leading the Colts to 13 wins in 16 games, and providing bettors with some big profits thanks to a 12-4 ATS mark at Lucas Oil Stadium.
At the end of the day, Kansas City’s results this season have been directly correlated with their turnover margin. The Chiefs led the league with a plus 22 turnover ratio, but unfortunately for Kansas City, the Colts were pretty good in the same aspect of the game. Indianapolis committed the least turnover in the league, giving up possession just 14 times all year long. Even with the return of Houston, I’m struggling to get behind a defense that has surrendered 27.7 points per game since their bye week. Indianapolis is capable of playing from behind—I can’t say the same for the Chiefs and Alex Smith if they get behind the eight ball early. Colts 23, Chiefs 20
The Wager: This is the game that I’m struggling with the most this weekend. Indianapolis is far too inconsistent to be trusted in this spot, but their success at home in the past couple of seasons really tempts me to lay the short price. Sharp money poured in on Kansas City on Thursday afternoon, and although I’m not scared to bet against sharp money, I just don’t think this is the right spot to do so. Pass
The Trend: The Chiefs are 2-6 ATS in their last 8 games against a team with a winning record.
New Orleans Saints @ Philadelphia Eagles
Friday Line: Eagles -2, total of 54
Public Consensus: 51% on the Eagles, 62% on the over
The Pick: If you’ve read any of my articles this season, you’re probably aware that I love fading the Saints on the road. New Orleans finished the year with an 11-5 record, but all five of those losses came away from home, where the Saints sported an ugly 3-5 mark. Despite their road struggles however, I think the Saints are the vastly superior team in this matchup. Drew Brees’ play on the road has been called into question many times in recent weeks, but it’s not as if Brees is a scrub outside of the Superdome. Brees’ home numbers are absurd—27 touchdowns to 3 interceptions—which makes his 84.8 QB rating and 12:9 touchdown-to-interception ratio on the road look a hell of a lot worse than they really are. Philadelphia boasts the worst pass defense in the league, yielding 289.8 yards per game (yes, worse than the Vikings, Cowboys, Chargers, and Broncos), so you’d have to assume that this is going to be easy pickings Brees, especially since the Eagles have no one that can cover Jimmy Graham one-on-one. Weather could play a factor in Philadelphia on Saturday night but Brees played fairly well in a freaking monsoon in Carolina two weeks ago, so that’s not a big concern for me either. On the other side of things, the Eagles have a pretty good quarterback of their own in Nick Foles, but it remains to be seen whether or not he can handle the pressure of a playoff game. Foles’ numbers against the Cowboys last week are very misleading as he didn’t have a good game. In the face of Dallas’ pass rush, Foles frequently took his eyes off of his receivers downfield, and consequently, was sacked five times in the process. The Saints finished fourth in the league this season with a whopping 49 sacks, and they can easily replicate the Cowboys’ game plan from last weekend.
The last 17 quarterbacks to make their first playoff start at home are just 4-13 ATS in those games; 3-10 ATS when they’re favored. Foles barely led his team to victory over Kyle Orton in a must-win game last week, so I’m not particularly confident in his ability to match up with Brees. The Saints’ road woes are often publicized, but let’s also not forget that the Eagles don’t have much of a home-field advantage, covering the spread in just 6 of their last 27 games at Lincoln Financial Field. Saints 27, Eagles 24
The Wager: It’s not often that you find the team with the better coach, quarterback, and defense as the underdog in a playoff affair, but that’s the case here. While it’s very tempting to grab the points with New Orleans, I hate betting against strong trends, especially when I’ve been using that trend to my advantage all season long. The Saints have lost road games to the Jets and the Rams this season, which is ultimately the deciding factor in passing on this game. Pass
The Trend: The Eagles are 3-10-1 ATS in their last 14 games against a team with a winning record.
San Diego Chargers @ Cincinnati Bengals
Friday Line: Bengals -6.5, total of 47
Public Consensus: 53% on the Chargers, 79% on the over
The Pick: There are a ton of factors and trends favoring the Bengals in this matchup. For starters, Cincinnati was arguably the most dominant home team in the league this season, winning and covering in every single home game this season. It’s not like Cincinnati has been beating creampuffs at home either—they’ve defeated the Steelers, Packers, Patriots, Colts, and Ravens are Paul Brown Stadium. In their last five home contests, they’ve outscored the opposition by a remarkable average of 24 points per game. The main reason for Cincinnati’s success at home is the play of their quarterback, Andy Dalton. Dalton boasts a stellar 20:9 touchdown-to-interception ratio in home games this season, while maintaining a solid 98.4 QB rating. Compare those to numbers to his 13:11 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 80.8 QB rating on the road, and it’s no wonder that Cincinnati has been dominant at home this year. The Bengals should have no issues moving the ball through the air against a Chargers’ pass defense that surrenders a whopping 8.0 yards per attempt, the second-worst average in the league. San Diego also struggles to get to the quarterback, generating a paltry 35 sacks in 16 regular season games, essentially ensuring that Dalton will have time in the pocket to find open receivers downfield. The Chargers couldn’t find a way to shut down Chase Daniel and Knile Davis is a must-win game last week, so it’s pretty unrealistic to believe that they’ll be able to shut down a high-calibre offense. While the Chargers’ defense is a complete abomination, the Bengals finished with the top defense in the AFC, allowing a measly 305.5 yards per game. Cincinnati already held San Diego to just 10 points earlier this season, and they’ll have similar success against a Chargers’ offense that’s likely to be sluggish having to play a 1:00 p.m. game in the Eastern Time Zone (which will feel like 10 a.m.).
In my eyes, this is a complete mismatch. Most arguments against Cincinnati are based on the fact that they haven’t won a playoff game in forever, but this is a different Bengals’ squad from years past. The Bengals sports a top-10 offense and a top-3 defense, which makes them one of the more balanced teams in the league. The same can’t be said for the Chargers, who don’t have the defense to allow them to be competitive in this matchup. Bengals 31, Chargers 14
The Wager: The oddsmakers have successfully baited the public into backing the Chargers on the road here, but this spread is nowhere near big enough. All season long I’ve been advocating that the Bengals are undervalued at home and I think that’s the case once again this week. The Bengals were a mediocre road team this year and managed to win by a touchdown in San Diego—I don’t see why they can’t do the same at home. Bengals -6.5 (SIA), I like the Bengals at -7 as well but obviously prefer -6.5
The Trend: The Chargers are 3-9-1 ATS in their last 13 games following a win.
San Francisco 49ers @ Green Bay Packers
Friday Line: 49ers -2.5, total of 47
Public Consensus: 62% on the 49ers, 65% on the under
The Pick: The 49ers have enjoyed some dominance over the Packers in the last couple of seasons. In Week 1 of last season, San Francisco went to Lambeau Field as a 6-point underdog and knocked off the Green Bay 30-22, running for a whopping 186 yards in the process. The Packers had their chance at revenge in the postseason, but were embarrassed 45-31 on the road. Colin Kaepernick accounted for four touchdowns in that contest as the 49ers’ offense gashed the Packers’ defense for an insane 323 rushing yards on 43 carries. Once more, the Packers had their shot at redemption this season, but once again, they fell short, dropping a 34-28 in San Francisco in Week 1. I’m not a big believer in revenge spots—I’m more inclined to believe that if a team has proven dominant over another, that they’re likely to impose their will once again. However, looking back at their matchup from earlier this season, the Packers did a surprisingly good job of stopping the run, limiting the 49ers to just 90 yards on 34 carries (2.65 ypc). Things have obviously changed since then—the injury to Clay Matthews being the most significant difference—but Green Bay will still find solace in the fact that they were successful against San Francisco’s running game this season. Kaepernick lit up the Packers’ pass defense for 412 yards in that opening contest, and while the former Nevada standout has played well recently, he’s demonstrated extreme inconsistency all year long. Kaepernick went through a stretch this season where he posted a quarterback rating above 100 just twice in eight games. It will be crucial for Kaepernick to put in a strong performance here because he’ll have to match the output of Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers was alright in his first game back from injury, and you’d have to imagine that he’ll improve with another week of practice under his belt. Rodgers threw for 333 yards and three touchdowns in the first meeting between these two teams this season.
There are many conflicting factors working against each other here. The 49ers have won six straight games and have covered in their last seven away games. Meanwhile, the Packers managed to stay afloat without their stud quarterback for the majority of the second half of the season, and now find themselves hosting a playoff game in one of the toughest environments in football. On the strength of home-field advantage and quarterback play, I’ll take the Packers in a tightly contested affair. Packers 26, 49ers 23
The Wager: I think the wrong team is favored in this game. San Francisco was a 3-point favorite at home back in Week 1, and now they’re a 3-point favorite (in some spots) on the road. Green Bay is without Clay Matthews and Jermichael Finley but that hardly warrants a six-point change in the spread. With that being said, I can’t get behind the Packers here. I’d love to, but just can’t find the testicular fortitude to so with their recent lack of success against the 9ers. Mike McCarthy is a horrible head coach and could very easily find a way to cost the Packers the game. Pass
The Trend: The Packers are 5-2 ATS in their last 7 playoff games.