The Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs is here and I’ll be breaking down all of this weekend’s games from a betting perspective. I only recommended one wager last week, and unfortunately, finished 0-1 ATS as the Bengals crumbled at home against the Chargers. In last week’s blog I mentioned that I was having a difficult time handicapping the board, but I did manage to finish 2-1-1 ATS (using closing lines) with my four predictions. I feel slightly more confident in my predictions this week, so hopefully a big rebound is in the cards.
The Nickel Package Record: 48-35-3 ATS
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. You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, listen to the player below or download the MP3 file here.
Recommended Wagers Record: 61-49-3 ATS
New Orleans Saints @ Seattle Seahawks
Friday Line: Seahawks -8, total of 46
Public Consensus: 57% on the Saints, 57% on the under
The Pick: New Orleans’ last trip to Seattle resulted in an absolute beatdown as the Saints were trounced 34-7, while only mustering 188 total yards in the process. History hasn’t been kind to New Orleans in Seattle either, with their last playoff visit to CenturyLink Field marking an epic moment in NFL history. The 10-point favored Saints lost 41-36 in what will forever be remembered as the day that Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks’ fans caused an earthquake in Seattle. I’m not a big believer in revenge factors in sports—I’m more inclined to believe that the team that’s enjoyed success in prior matchups is more likely to enjoy success again the second (or third, or fourth) time around. That’s the case here. New Orleans doesn’t match up very well with Seattle. Although the Saints got over their hurdle of winning on the road last week in Philadelphia, there’s a big difference between the Eagles and Seahawks. Seattle allowed a measly 179 passing yards per game this season, which spells trouble for a New Orleans’ offense that is predicated on moving the ball through the air. Sure, the Saints were able to run the ball last week against a porous Eagles’ defense, but that same game plan isn’t likely to pay dividends against a Seahawks’ run defense that is pretty stingy, allowing just 3.9 yards per carry this season. In addition to surrendering minimal yardage, the Seahawks lead the league with a whopping 39 takeaways this season. New Orleans is averaging just 15.8 points per game in their last five road games, largely in part to the subpar play of Drew Brees, who’s thrown 10 touchdowns and 9 interceptions in outdoor games this season. The Saints also have some issues on the defensive side of the ball. Cornerback Keenan Lewis is expected to play after suffering a concussion in last week’s victory, but if he suffers any sort of setback, the Saints are in some deep water. New Orleans is extremely thin in the secondary, having had to place Jabari Greer, Patrick Robinson, and Kenny Vaccaro on injured reserve this season. The Saints have held up admirably under Rob Ryan’s game plans, but they’ll be hard pressed to cover both Golden Tate and the returning Percy Harvin this week. To make matters worse for New Orleans, they have little to no hope of containing Marshawn Lynch in the running game, especially since they allowed 4.6 yards per carry throughout the regular season. Lynch is the type of bruising back that has the ability to wear down the Saints’ defense.
I gave a lot of thought to taking the Saints to pull off the upset here but as I sat down and started writing I found it extremely difficult to make a case for New Orleans. The fact of the matter is that the Seahawks are the superior team with a huge home-field edge. They’re also coming in on extra rest; the same situation they were in when they smacked around New Orleans earlier in the season. Seahawks 24, Saints 13
The Wager: As much as I think Seattle is the right side here, I can’t bring myself to lay eight points in this contest. The Seahawks are definitely capable of blowing out the Saints (as we’ve already seen), but Brees has strong backdoor cover potential. I don’t trust Seattle’s offense enough to build up a margin that makes me comfortable. Pass. On a side note, these defenses allowed the fewest and second-fewest passing yards per game this season, so the under could be worth a look.
The Trend: The Seahawks are 11-0 ATS in their last 11 games against teams that average 7+ pass yards per attempt.
Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots
Friday Line: Patriots -7, total of 52
Public Consensus: 59% on the Colts, 55% on the over
The Pick: Indianapolis pulled off the second-largest comeback win in playoff history last week, rallying to knock off the Chiefs 45-44 despite trailing by 28 points in the third quarter. At the end of the day, the Colts received a season’s worth of luck in that one game (no pun intended) as the Chiefs finished the game without Jamaal Charles, Donnie Avery, Brandon Flowers, Justin Houston, Dwayne Bowe, and Knile Davis. We’ll never know if the Colts would or wouldn’t have been able to pull off the victory with all of those players healthy, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt. Unfortunately, the Colts are about to get a dose of reality. The media really played up Tom Brady’s “struggles” for the majority of the year—especially with his top receivers sidelined for extended periods—but the Patriots still finished the year with the third-ranked scoring offense, putting up an average of 27.8 points per game. Brady has been able to rely heavily on a resourceful running game that features three completely different backs in Shane Vereen, LeGarrette Blount, and Stevan Ridley. New England should have no issues pounding the rock against a Colts’ defense that yields 4.5 yards per carry and 125.1 yards per game on the ground. The Patriots have scored 18 rushing touchdowns in their last 11 contests, and a number of those scores have come against teams that actually have some semblance of a run defense. New England’s ability to run the ball will allow for Brady to work the play-action passing game and take advantage of a Colts’ defense that will need to play their safeties closer to the line of scrimmage. The Chiefs’ dink-and-dunk offense was able to put up 44 points in Indianapolis last week, so you can only imagine what New England can do to this unsound Colts’ stop unit. On the other side of things, the Patriots also have some question marks with their run defense, as significant injuries on the defensive side of the ball have dropped New England to just 30th against the run. With that being said, the Colts aren’t very likely to exploit this weakness. The combination of Donald Brown and Trent Richardson isn’t going to strike fear into the Patriots, as they’ll focus their efforts on shutting down Andrew Luck. Since Reggie Wayne went down with a torn ACL, the Colts’ offense has averaged just 22.7 points per game; a far cry from the 26.7 points per game with Wayne in the lineup. New England is pretty strong against the pass and they’ve intercepted opposing quarterbacks 17 times this season, which doesn’t bode well for a Colts’ offense that needs to move the ball through the air to be successful.
In Luck’s rookie year, the Colts went to New England and were annihilated by the Patriots, 59-24. Luck is much different than the quarterback he was in his rookie season, but the preamble leading up to that game was very similar to the preamble leading up to this one. Bill Belichick has had a full two weeks to prepare for a Colts’ squad that’s been winning with smoke and mirrors for the majority of the season. I don’t see this ending well for Chuck Pagano’s squad. Patriots 38, Colts 21
The Wager: New England has often been scrutinized by the media this year, but the fact of the matter is that they went a perfect 8-0 at home, including 6-2 ATS in those contests. That’s particularly impressive when you consider that the Patriots’ home lines are often inflated because the public loves to back Brady at home. With that being said, this situation presents the same issue as the Seahawks/Saints matchup. Indianapolis has strong back door cover potential, so unless this spread drops to -6.5, I’m going to lay off. Pass
The Trend: The last 16 teams to score 40+ points in a game are 3-13 ATS in their next game.
San Francisco 49ers @ Carolina Panthers
Friday Line: 49ers -1, total of 41
Public Consensus: 79% on the 49ers, 57% on the under
The Pick: I can’t help but feel that the Panthers are being greatly disrespected heading into this game. All Carolina did was finish the season with 11 wins in their final 12 games, outscoring their opponents by an average of 9 points per game, yet somehow they find themselves as home underdogs to the 49ers this week. Even Ric Flair has been disrespecting Carolina; turning his back on the Panthers by paying a visit to the 49ers’ locker room before their game at Lambeau Field last weekend. Many people believe that the Panthers’ 10-9 victory over the 49ers earlier this season could be chalked up to luck, as the ‘9ers couldn’t get anything going offensively after Vernon Davis left the game with a concussion. Michael Crabtree was also absent from that game, which left Colin Kaepernick with only one reliable target down the field in Anquan Boldin. Davis and Crabtree are both fully healthy for this week’s matchup, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee success for the 49ers’ offense. San Francisco was only able to muster 23 points against an abysmal Packers’ defense last week, and now they face a Carolina defense that topped the league in fewest point allowed at home (yes, better than Seattle), giving up just 12.0 points per game at Bank of America Stadium. 13% of Carolina’s drives have started in opposing territory this season, which is a testament to how strong their defense actually is. Unfortunately for the Panthers, games aren’t won solely on the play of a defense. Carolina’s offense was stuck in neutral for the majority of their contest with the 49ers earlier in the season, and they’ve suffered from a lack of consistency all year long. Cam Newton will be making his first career postseason start, and although Newton has been involved in big collegiate games at Auburn (including winning a BCS National Championship), the track record for NFL quarterbacks making their first career playoff start is not good (see Nick Foles). San Francisco’s boasts arguably the best linebacking core in the league and they’ll surely make life difficult for Newton, just as they did earlier in the year. Carolina may be able to find some success on the ground though, as Green Bay was able to pick up 112 yards on 28 rushes last week.
At the end of the day, I feel as though San Francisco’s string of recent games has taken a toll on them—a hard-fought win over Atlanta on Monday Night Football, a tight overtime victory in Arizona, and a last-second victory over the Packers in one of the coldest games in recent memory. Carolina is well-rested and has already proven it can play with the big boys, defeating the 49ers, Patriots, and Saints this season. Panthers 20, 49ers 17
The Wager: Both of these teams are pretty even, so this spread makes absolutely no sense to me. I’m not saying the oddsmakers have done a bad job—they needed to have the 49ers as road favorites here or San Francisco would have taken in even more action than they already have—but I think the public is severely underrating the Panthers. San Francisco has already lost on the road to a pair of top-five defense in the Saints and Seahawks. I think the true line in this game is closer to Panthers -3, so I’ll gladly get behind Carolina in this one. Panthers +3 (BoDog), I like the Panthers at any pick’em or underdog price. If Carolina were to shift to the favorite I’d play Panthers ML.
The Trend: The 49ers are 3-13 ATS in the last 16 meetings between these two teams.
San Diego Chargers @ Denver Broncos
Friday Line: Broncos -9, total of 54
Public Consensus: 59% on the Chargers, 55% on the over
The Pick: I made the mistake of undervaluing the Chargers last week, but I won’t do so again this time around. As George Bush once famously said, “fool me once, shame on—shame on you. Fool me—you can’t get fooled again”. San Diego has been playing “must-win” games for over a month now, and they’ve consistently been producing results, winning five straight contests. The key ingredient in the Chargers’ success has been their running game, producing a stellar 170 rushing yards per game in their last five games. According to the numbers, Denver’s run defense is actually pretty good but that’s mainly due to the fact that the Broncos’ opponents are constantly playing from behind and have to throw the ball more. San Diego already set this blueprint back in early December, when they held the ball for 38 minutes and knocked off the Broncos 27-20 in Denver. The Chargers should be able to move the ball consistently through the air as well. Denver’s stop unit is a shell of the defense that they were last season—Von Miller is on injured reserve, Elvis Dumervil is in Baltimore, and Champ Bailey has somehow managed to age ten years in the span of one calendar year. As much as I can’t stand Philip Rivers and his incessant yelling at everyone on the field (that’s a story for another day), he completed an unbelievable 71.5% of his passes away from home this season. Regardless of Rivers’ play though, the Chargers’ defense will need to find a way to slow down Peyton Manning, which may be easier than it sounds. San Diego limited the Broncos’ offense to 28 and 20 points in their two matchups this season, which just so happened to be Denver’s two of the Broncos’ three lowest scoring games this season. The Chargers have a huge advantage in having Mike McCoy as the head coach of their team, as McCoy was the Broncos’ offensive coordinator for the past four years and is very familiar with Manning. Defensive coordinator John Pagano is also a huge asset for the Chargers as he was on San Diego’s coaching staff under Norv Turner, who always seemed to give Manning fits. And then there’s the cold factor. You can choose to ignore it or call it hogwash, but for some reason or another, Manning just isn’t the same quarterback in cold weather.
I’m not sold on the Broncos. Of all of the remaining playoff teams, they may have the weakest unit on one side of the bal, with their defense being a complete abomination. This comes down to Peyton Manning… in the playoffs (9-11 career, 5-11 excluding the Super Bowl run)… in the cold… coming off a bye (1-4 in playoff career)… against a 3-4 defense… against a coaching staff that knows him inside and out. I can’t believe I’m doing this. Chargers 27, Broncos 24
The Wager: I don’t necessarily disagree with the spread that oddsmakers have posted, but I just feel as though San Diego is the worst possible matchup for Denver right now. The Chargers have been written off many times this season (including by me), but they seem to constantly find a way to come through. I see this being a close game from start to finish, so I’ll gladly grab the points. Chargers +10 (5 Dimes), I like anything above +7.5 but obviously feel more confident with +10. Small play on Chargers +330 ML (BetOnline)
The Trend: The Chargers are 9-3-1 ATS in their last 13 games as an underdog.