2018 NFL Mock Draft

1. Cleveland Browns – QB Josh Allen (Wyoming)

It’s tough to project where the quarterbacks are going to go this early in the process because there will be more veteran quarterbacks on the move this off-season than normal, but one thing is clear and that’s that the Browns need to find a difference maker at quarterback this off-season. They may go after a veteran like Alex Smith or Tyrod Taylor, but either of those guys would probably be nothing more than a stopgap, so bringing in either one of them would not preclude the Browns from taking a quarterback early in the draft, especially if there’s one they are in love with. Early reports suggest that the Browns like Josh Allen, but that could definitely change between now and draft day.

2. New York Giants – QB Josh Rosen (UCLA)

The Giants don’t have as dire of a need at the quarterback position as the Browns, but they could still use this pick on a quarterback if there is one they love, especially given how infrequently they have chances to pick in the top-5. Eli Manning should be a capable stopgap for another couple years and they used a 3rd round pick on Davis Webb last year, but they were not eager to get Webb on the field even in a lost season and a quarterback like Rosen would allow them to move on from the declining and expensive Manning sooner rather than later.

3. Indianapolis Colts – RB Saquon Barkley (Penn State)

The only team in the top-6 without a need at quarterback, the Colts can take whoever they feel the best non-quarterback is at 3. A defensive player is definitely a possibility here, but owner Jim Irsay spoke at length in his season ending press conference about their need to add a running back, even referencing the Colts’ selection of Edgerrin James with the 4th pick back in 1999 and how much that improved their offense. If Irsay gets involved in the draft process, Barkley will likely be his guy and the front office could have similar feelings, given that Barkley is an Ezekiel Elliott level running back prospect. Frank Gore is a free agent who will be 35 in May and 2017 4th round pick Marlon Mack didn’t impress in limited action as a rookie.

4. Buffalo Bills (TRADE) – QB Sam Darnold (USC)

With 2 picks in the top-5, the Browns are a strong candidate to move down and pick up multiple high picks. The Bills have a pair of first round picks this year after moving down last year to allow the Chiefs to select quarterback Patrick Mahomes. In this trade, they package those two picks together with a future first to move up and get their quarterback, a year after passing on Mahomes. I’m not sure that Darnold is their guy, but I could see the Bills doing something similar to this to get one of the top quarterbacks in this draft. Tyrod Taylor is a stopgap that they aren’t excited about paying starters’ money, while Nathan Peterman was a mere 5th round pick last year and struggled mightily in limited action as a rookie. Darnold could be a week 1 starter for them.

5. Denver Broncos – QB Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma)

Outside of the Browns and maybe the Jets, the Broncos have the worst quarterback situation in the NFL. Trevor Siemian has shown himself to be nothing more than a backup caliber player. Paxton Lynch was a first round pick in 2016, but he hasn’t been able to beat out Siemian in either of the past two off-seasons and has struggled mightily in limited action in 2 seasons in the league. Brock Osweiler, meanwhile, is a veteran journeyman who isn’t even a stopgap starter. They’d be the perfect fit for a guy like Alex Smith, because they have a defense that is ready to win now and just need a quarterback to manage the game and avoid turnovers, but the Chiefs might be hesitant to trade him in the division, so the Broncos may have to settle for a combination of a quarterback like Tyrod Taylor and a high upside rookie like Baker Mayfield. For what it’s worth, the Broncos’ coaching staff specifically requested Mayfield on their Senior Bowl team.

6. New York Jets – OLB Bradley Chubb (NC State)

The Jets also have a major need at quarterback, but the top-4 guys are off the board at this point. That has a good chance to be the case on draft day, so I expect the Jets, who have a ton of cap flexibility this off-season, to be serious players for Kirk Cousins if he hits the open market this off-season. Outside of the Browns, no quarterback needy team can offer Cousins as much as the Jets. Without a quarterback available here at 6, the Jets take the top defensive player in the draft, Bradley Chubb, who could go as high as 3 to the Colts. The Jets had the 5th fewest sacks in the league last season and didn’t have an edge rusher with more than 3.5, so they could definitely use someone like Chubb.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – CB Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama)

Fitzpatrick is a bit of a tweener, but his versatility to play outside cornerback, slot cornerback, and safety should make him very appealing to a team like the Buccaneers, who desperately need help on the backend. The Buccaneers took cornerback Vernon Hargreaves in the first round in 2016, but he’s been disappointing through 2 seasons in the league, while fellow starter Brent Grimes is a free agent going into his age 35 season this off-season. Fitzpatrick would also be an upgrade at safety, even though the Buccaneers took Justin Evans in the second round last year, and he’d be a massive upgrade in sub packages as a nickel cornerback.

8. Chicago Bears – WR Calvin Ridley (Alabama)

The Bears used the 7th overall pick on Kevin White in 2015, but that pick has gone about as badly as possible, as he’s played in just five games in three seasons in the league, including just one last season. Without White and Cameron Meredith in 2017, the Bears had arguably the worst receiving corps in the NFL. Both should be healthy for training camp, but Meredith is a #2 caliber receiver and White is a completely mystery given how little he’s played thus far in his career. The Bears need a long-term #1 receiver for Mitch Trubisky and are a strong candidate to take this draft class’ top receiver Calvin Ridley with the 8th pick.

9. San Francisco 49ers – CB Denzel Ward (Ohio State)

The 49ers have used their last 5 first round picks on defensive players, but the last three have been on the defensive line and the previous two were safeties, so the 49ers still have a glaring need at cornerback. Ahkello Witherspoon had an impressive rookie season in 2017 after the 49ers drafted him in the 3rd round, but they don’t have a good option opposite him. Ward is the top cornerback prospect in the draft and could be a week 1 starter for a team on the rise.

10. Oakland Raiders – MLB Roquan Smith (Georgia)

The Raiders had major issues in their back seven in 2017. They used their first two draft picks on the secondary last year and should be better in the secondary in 2018 if they can stay healthier, so linebacker is much more of a pressing need, especially with NaVorro Bowman set to hit free agency, after giving them a boost against the run as a mid-season addition. Smith is the top linebacker prospect in the draft and one of the cleanest linebacker prospects in years. He’s a strong candidate to go here at 10 to one of the neediest linebacker teams in the league.

11. Miami Dolphins – G Quenton Nelson (Notre Dame)

The Dolphins have had major problems on the offensive line for years. They used first round picks on tackles in 2014 (JuWuan James) and 2016 (Laremy Tunsil) and they have formed a nice bookend, but they have big holes at both guard spots. Jermon Bushrod, Jesse Davis, Anthony Steen, and Ted Larsen all struggled mightily as starting guards this season. Nelson would be a major immediate upgrade at either guard spot and is easily the top interior offensive line prospect in the draft. He’s a good bet to go in the top-15.

12. Cincinnati Bengals – S Derwin James (Florida State)

The Bengals have a desperate need on the offensive line and are likely hoping that Quenton Nelson is available here at 12, but, with him off the board and no offensive tackle worth grabbing here at 12, the Bengals go with value over need and take Derwin James, who could easily be a top-10 pick. Safety isn’t a pressing need for the Bengals, but James would be an upgrade over Shawn Williams and would pair nicely with fellow starter George Iloka.

13. Washington Redskins – QB Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State)

The Redskins really screwed themselves by lowballing Kirk Cousins last off-season. After Cousins had a 3rd straight solid season in 2017, despite his weakest supporting cast to date, and the Redskins are really only left with three options unless Cousins agrees to a below market value deal before free agency, which is unlikely. They can franchise tag him again, but the franchise tag would cost them about 34 million this time around and would only be a short-term solution. They could transition tag him, but that would still guarantee him about 28 million in 2018 and the Redskins would be forced to match any deal he’s offered on the open market or risk losing him for nothing, meaning he’d be much more expensive than he would have been last off-season. Or they could let him leave and start over at the position, which might be the most likely outcome at this point. Obviously, Cousins’ status will affect what they do with this pick, as a quarterback would become a real option if Cousins leaves. Mason Rudolph is not a lock to go in the first round, but could if a team falls in love with him. In Washington, he could develop behind a veteran free agent addition like Sam Bradford or Tyrod Taylor or behind incumbent backup Colt McCoy.

14. Green Bay Packers – OLB Harold Landry (Boston College)

Clay Matthews and Nick Perry are a capable starting duo at outside linebacker, but Perry has missed 24 games in 6 seasons in the league with injury and has never played in all 16 games once, while Matthews is going into his age 32 season and is owed 11.375 million non-guaranteed in the final year of his contract in 2018. They could use young depth behind them. Landry could play a rotational role as a rookie and then become a full-time starter in 2018 if the Packers want to move on from Matthews or Perry (owed 11 million non-guaranteed in 2019).

15. Arizona Cardinals – CB Josh Jackson (Iowa)

The Cardinals can lock down one wide receiver with Patrick Peterson and have good slot cover guys and safeties, but they badly need another cornerback outside opposite Peterson, after having to resort to signing veteran Tramon Williams mid-season this year. Williams did a solid job, but is not a long-term solution, as he will be 35 in 2018 and is not under contract for next season. Jackson gives them a legitimate #2 cornerback and someone who could develop into half of a dangerous cornerback duo with Peterson if he fulfills his upside.

16. Baltimore Ravens – WR Courtland Sutton (SMU)

Like the Bears, the Ravens used a first round pick on a wide receiver 3 years ago, but Breshad Perriman has been about as big of a disappointment as Kevin White, arguably even more so. Unlike White, he’s been able to stay relatively healthy, despite missing his entire rookie year with injury, but he’s been so bad over the last 2 seasons that he was a healthy scratch down the stretch in 2017. In 27 career games, he has just 43 catches and averages just 5.76 yards per target. With veterans Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin both possibly on their way out, as a free agent and a cap casualty respectively, wide receiver is a huge need for the Ravens this off-season.

17. Los Angeles Chargers – DT Da’Ron Payne (Alabama)

The Chargers’ defense took a major step forward in 2017, but that was primarily because of their pass defense, as the Chargers have a strong duo of edge rushers and a talented secondary. They were still one of the worst run defenses in the league, in large part because veteran nose tackle Brandon Mebane struggled mightily. Expect a big run stuffing nose tackle like Da’Ron Payne to be high on their shopping list this off-season.

18. Seattle Seahawks – DE Arden Key (LSU)

Arden Key is a top-5 talent, but has off-the-field issues that could keep him out of the first round. Some teams are more comfortable in their ability to coach up and manage players like Key than others and the Seahawks have been one of those teams in the Pete Carroll era. With Cliff Avril possibly retiring because of a neck injury and Michael Bennett possibly not being brought back for his age 33 season, the Seahawks have a major need at defensive end. If Key pans out, he can bookend Frank Clark long-term in Seattle.

19. Dallas Cowboys – OT Orlando Brown (Oklahoma)

Given how much emphasis the Cowboys have put on having a strong offensive line, it would not surprise me if the Cowboys used another first round pick on an offensive lineman, after a disappointing season upfront in 2017. Brown can be an immediate starter at right tackle, which would allow La’El Collins to kick back inside to left guard where he’s more comfortable. He would also give them a better insurance in case left tackle Tyron Smith gets hurt again. Their offense looked lost when he was out of the lineup this season, even after Ezekiel Elliott returned from suspension.

20. Detroit Lions – RB Derrius Guice (LSU)

The Lions used a 2nd round pick on Ameer Abdullah in 2015 to be their feature back, but that never panned out, thanks to a combination of injury and ineffectiveness. Abdullah appeared to be getting fazed out of the offense down the stretch, getting just 21 carries in his final 4 games of the season and losing carries to passing down back Theo Riddick and undrafted free agent Tion Green, neither of whom are the long-term answer. With a new coaching staff in place, the Lions could add a potential new long-term feature back early in the draft.

21. Cleveland Browns (TRADE) – CB Mike Hughes (Central Florida)

The Browns get both of the Bills’ first round picks in their trade down, giving them 3 picks in the first round and 3 picks in the second round this year, as well as an exact first rounder in 2019. It’s going to take hitting on most of those picks to turn this team around after an 0-16 season, though finding a quarterback is obviously their biggest priority. After quarterback, finding a #1 cornerback is probably their biggest need. Jason McCourty had a solid year, but will be in an age 31 contract year in 2018, so he’s not a long-term solution, while Jamar Taylor is a #2 cornerback at best and Briean Boddy-Calhoun is a slot specialist. Hughes has the tools to develop into a #1 cornerback in the NFL long-term and gives them valuable depth in the meantime.

22. Cleveland Browns (TRADE) – OT Mike McGlinchey (Notre Dame)

Offensive tackle should also be a priority for the Browns, with Joe Thomas going into his age 35 contract year and coming off of a major injury. Thomas has not confirmed he will be back in 2018 and, even if he is, the Browns still have to start planning for life after him. If Thomas returns for 2018, McGlinchey can plug in at right tackle in the meantime, where he’d be an upgrade over Shon Coleman, before becoming the left tackle in 2019 or 2020.

23. Los Angeles Rams – OLB Marcus Davenport (UT-San Antonio)

The Rams had a surprise breakout year in 2017, but could take a step backward in 2018, given how many key players they have set to hit free agency, including top cornerback Trumaine Johnson, safety LaMarcus Joyner, outside linebacker Connor Barwin, wide receiver Sammy Watkins, and center John Sullivan. Where they go with this pick will likely be dependent on who they lose in free agency, but, even if they bring Barwin back, an edge rusher like Davenport makes some sense. Barwin isn’t much of a pass rusher at this stage of his career (age 32 in 2018) and they need a long-term edge rusher opposite Robert Quinn.

24. Carolina Panthers – S Ronnie Harrison (Alabama)

Mike Adams was the Panthers’ best safety in 2017, but he’ll be in his age 37 contract year in 2018, so he’s not a long-term solution. Fellow starter Kurt Coleman has struggled since signing a 3-year extension following a strong 2015 season and could be cut in either of the next two off-seasons, owed 4.1 million non-guaranteed in 2018 and 4.375 million non-guaranteed in 2019. Safety should be high on their list of needs this off-season.

25. Tennessee Titans – MLB Tremaine Edwards (Virginia Tech)

The Titans are another team that could lose several starters in free agency, with wide receiver Eric Decker, guard Josh Kline, defensive end DaQuan Jones, and middle linebacker Avery Williamson all set to hit free agency this off-season. Even if Williamson returns, they could use a middle linebacker like Tremaine Edwards, as 2017 5th round pick Jayon Brown struggled mightily as a rookie and veteran Wesley Woodyard is just a base package run stuffer at this stage of his career (age 32 in 2018).

26. Atlanta Falcons – DT Vita Vea (Washington)

Dontari Poe was a nice addition last off-season, but he was only brought in on a one-year deal and could leave for more money now that he’s another year removed from his back injury. Vita Vea is a massive run stuffer that could replace him well and he’s a great value at this stage of the draft. Even if Poe is brought back, the Falcons rotate a lot of defensive linemen, so Vea could still be useful in a rotational role behind Poe and Grady Jarrett.

27. New Orleans Saints – WR Christian Kirk (Texas A&M)

When the Saints traded Brandin Cooks to the Patriots for a first round pick, they were likely envisioning Willie Snead stepping up and having a bigger role in his 3rd season in the league. Instead, he caught just 8 passes in 11 games thanks to suspension and injuries. He could bounce back in his contract year in 2018, but the Saints could still take a wide receiver early in the draft. After Michael Thomas, running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, and soon-to-be-33-year-old Ted Ginn, the Saints didn’t have a player with more than 364 receiving yards in 2017.

28. Pittsburgh Steelers – MLB Rashaan Evans (Alabama)

What happened to Ryan Shazier was awful, but the NFL is a brutal business sometimes and the Steelers can’t count on Shazier ever returning. It would not surprise me if they drafted his replacement early this year. If Shazier can make a miraculous return to the field, he and Rashaan Evans can play inside together in Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defense. Vince Williams was the other starter this season, but he’s best as a pure base package run stuffer. Evans is an every down player who can fill Shazier’s role on the field.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars – C Billy Price (Ohio State)

Blake Bortles wasn’t great in 2017, but he was good enough that he should keep his job in 2018, especially since the Jaguars are not going to be in position to draft one of the top quarterback prospects in the draft. Given that, the Jaguars will likely focus on improving around Bortles on offense this off-season. Guard was a problem at both spots this season, as both Patrick Omameh and AJ Cann were mediocre starters. Omameh is a free agent this off-season and Cann is one next off-season. Price could allow center Brandon Linder to move back to his natural position of guard or Price could slot in at guard himself, as he can play all 3 positions on the interior.

30. Minnesota Vikings – DT Mo Hurst (Michigan)

The Vikings used a first round pick on Sharrif Floyd in 2013 and he got off to a promising start to his career, but he’s missed every game since week 1 of 2016 with a leg injury and is a major question mark going forward. The Vikings could use a complement inside next to Linval Joseph and Hurst could have an immediate role. Tom Johnson, who played a big role inside in 2017, will be 34 next season and is a free agent this off-season.

31. Philadelphia Eagles – OT Brian O’Neill (Pittsburgh)

Jason Peters’ future is up in the air, as he’ll be in his age 36 season in 2018 and is coming off of a torn ACL that ended his 2017 season prematurely. Halapoulivaati Vaitai struggled on the blindside in his absence and looks like a swing tackle going forward, so the Eagles could use an early pick on an offensive tackle. O’Neill might be a better fit at right tackle than left tackle, but the Eagles could flip right tackle Lane Johnson over to the left side this off-season, as he has a left tackle’s skill set and a left tackle’s salary.

32. New England Patriots – DE Sam Hubbard (Ohio State)

The Patriots had a respectable 42 sacks this season, but that was largely as a result of frequently playing with a lead, as they struggled to get consistent pressure all season long. Even with the favorable game situations, they didn’t have anyone with more than 6.5 sacks. Getting last year’s 3rd round pick Derek Rivers back from a torn ACL in 2018 will help, but the Patriots could use another defensive end either way, especially with Trey Flowers going into a contract year in 2018.

Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots: 2017 AFC Championship Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (12-6) at New England Patriots (14-3)

I made a big play on the Jaguars last week as 7.5 point underdogs in Pittsburgh, but I am much less excited to do the same with the Jaguars here as 7.5 point underdogs in New England. While Pittsburgh had just 5 regular season wins by more than a touchdown, the Patriots had 9 and then had another one last week in a 35-14 victory over the Tennessee Titans. The Steelers were also never the same team after losing Ryan Shazier for the season, while the Patriots enter the playoffs relatively healthy, even if Tom Brady did miss some practice time this week with a cut finger.

The Jaguars could keep this game close because of their incredible defense, especially since they can get pressure on Tom Brady without blitzing, which has always been the formula to beat Tom Brady. Even if the Jaguars don’t have an answer for Rob Gronkowski on defense and even if the Patriots consistently move the chains with runs and passes to running backs, the Jaguars’ defense should be able to keep the Patriots from putting up too high of a number by pressuring him and locking down his outside receivers. However, the Jaguars’ offense is not that complex and could have trouble against a well coached New England defense that has played a lot better in since the first half of the season. I’m taking the Jaguars at 7.5, but if this line moves to 7 by the morning I would take the Patriots. That’s how close this one is for me.

New England Patriots 27 Jacksonville Jaguars 20

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +7.5

Confidence: None

Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles: 2017 NFC Championship Pick

Minnesota Vikings (14-3) at Philadelphia Eagles (14-3)

I am kicking myself for not betting on the Eagles as 3-point home underdogs last week. I knew the Eagles had a great chance to cover and even win straight up if the Falcons played like they had all season, but was hesitant to bet on the Eagles because of the possibility that the Falcons would start to click and play like they did last season, when they made the Super Bowl with essentially the same core of the team. The Falcons never really found their Super Bowl form all season and thus were eliminated in Philadelphia by the final score of 15-10.

The Eagles will try to follow the same formula this week, hiding Nick Foles with their defense and running game. Even without Carson Wentz, the Eagles still have a lot of talent on this roster. Because of their supporting cast, I picked the Eagles to get a first round bye before the season started and I wasn’t even completely sold on Wentz at the time. Given that, I wouldn’t be shocked if they were able to advance to the Super Bowl with Nick Foles, especially since they are at home, where their top level defense has allowed just 13.00 points per game this season. The Eagles get a tougher opponent this week, as the Vikings are a step up in class from the Falcons, so I’m not that excited to take the Eagles as 3-point underdogs, but I do think we are getting some line value with Philadelphia.

Outside of the quarterback position, I have these two teams about even and, while the Vikings have the edge under center, I don’t think Keenum has enough of an advantage over Foles to justify the Vikings being favored by a field goal on the road. Keenum has been impressive this season, but he hasn’t had to play in a lot of tough situations and could struggle on the road against a tough Philadelphia defense. He’s also coming off of a relatively weak performance in the wild card round and was really saved by that miraculous play at the end. I’m not that confident in the Eagles unless you can still get +3.5, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Minnesota Vikings 17 Philadelphia Eagles 16

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +3

Confidence: Low

Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots: 2017 AFC Divisional Round Pick

Tennessee Titans (10-7) at New England Patriots (13-3)

The Titans pulled off a stunning upset in Kansas City last week, not only winning straight up as 8-point road underdogs, but coming back from down 21-3 at the half. I wasn’t that impressed with their performance though. I’ve thought for a while that the Chiefs were an overrated team and, even still, the Titans likely would not have had a real chance to come back if the Chiefs didn’t lose tight end Travis Kelce with an injury late in the first half. Losing him completely shut down their offense and even one good drive in the second half probably would have been enough to ice the game, given that the game was only decided by a point. Even without Kelce, you could argue the Chiefs deserved to win because of a few questionable calls by the officials that did not go their way.

On paper, the Titans have a solid roster, but they are poorly coached, especially on offense, where offensive minded head coach Mike Mularkey and offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie have been unable to design an offense that suits quarterback Marcus Mariota’s skill set. They went 9-7 in the regular season, but were tied with the Jaguars for the easiest schedule in the NFL and still finished with a -22 point differential, by far the worst among remaining playoff teams (the Patriots finished first at +162). This line is substantial at -13 and the Titans are still a talented team on paper, so I am not that confident in the Patriots, but this should still be a relatively easy playoff win for New England.

New England Patriots 34 Tennessee Titans 20

Pick against the spread: New England -13

Confidence: Low

Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles: 2017 NFC Divisional Round Pick

Atlanta Falcons (11-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)

I’ve gone back and forth on this one all week and I have good arguments for both sides. On one hand, while the Eagles are obviously not the same team without Carson Wentz, they still have a strong supporting cast, including a top level defense, and they are at home, where they’ve had a ton of success this season, especially defensively (13.4 points per game allowed at home). Because of their supporting cast, I picked the Eagles to get a first round bye before the season started and I wasn’t even completely sold on Wentz at the time.

They have a ton of talent on this roster and are above average at every position except quarterback. Casual bettors and fans get fixated on the quarterback position and don’t think Foles has a shot to win a playoff game, betting the Falcons heavily as 3-point road favorites, but even worse quarterbacks like Tim Tebow and TJ Yates have won home playoff games in recent years and they did so with less of a supporting cast than Foles has.

The Eagles also get a fairly easy matchup in this playoff game, as the Falcons finished the regular season 11th in point differential at +38 and 11th in first down rate differential at +1.28%, both of which are 7th among the 8 remaining playoff teams, only ahead of the Titans. The Falcons actually have just 3 road wins by more than a field goal this season, beating the Bears, Lions, and Jets by 6 points, 4 points, and 5 points respectively and in all 3 games the opposing team had the ball with an opportunity to win on their final drive, including drives that went down to the goal line against the Bears and Lions. About 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less, so the Eagles have a decent chance to cover or push even if they can’t win outright.

On the other hand, the Falcons are significantly more talented than they’ve played this season. They’ve underperformed and they are not nearly as well coached as they were last season with Kyle Shanahan as their offensive coordinator, but they still have the same core as last season’s Super Bowl team and they may have turned a corner following their 26-13 win in Los Angeles over the Rams last week, even if the Falcons did get some help from fluky special teams fumbles.

The Eagles had a relatively easy regular season schedule and didn’t play a single game against any of the remaining other 7 playoff teams, so, if the Falcons can play like they can, it shouldn’t be too hard for them to win by at least a field goal in this one, but that’s far from a sure thing. I’m actually taking the Eagles, mostly to be contrarian and fade the public, but this is a no confidence pick. In fact, I think this one has a very good chance to be a push.

Atlanta Falcons 23 Philadelphia Eagles 20

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +3

Confidence: None

New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings: 2017 NFC Divisional Round Pick

New Orleans Saints (12-5) at Minnesota Vikings (13-3)

These two teams met way back in week 1, with Minnesota winning 29-19 at home, but so much has changed since then. At the time, that game was seen as a breakout game for both Minnesota quarterback Sam Bradford (346 passing yards, 3 TDs) and Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook (137 yards from scrimmage) and yet another example of the Saints struggling defensively, as they had for years. Bradford and Cook combined to play just 4 games the rest of the way due to knee injuries, while the Saints’ defense finished in the middle of the pack statistically this season thanks to breakout performances by rookie defensive backs Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams, who both got better as the season went on.

The Vikings’ offense obviously managed pretty well without Bradford and Cook, but they too finished middle of the pack, despite looking like potentially a top offense back in week 1. The Vikings would go on to win 13 games with Case Keenum under center and Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray as their backs, but their defense was the primary reason they were winning games, as they finished 2nd in first down rate allowed, only behind the Jaguars.

On top of that, the Saints’ leading rusher week 1 was Adrian Peterson with 18 rushing yards and he is no longer on the team, getting traded to the Cardinals back in week 6, which cleared the way for Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara (who combined for just 35 rushing yards on 13 carries back in week 1) to become the first running back duo ever to both compile 1,500 yards from scrimmage. After losing their first 2 games of the season to teams that would finish 13-3 (Minnesota and New England), the Saints ripped off 8 straight wins and finished as 11-5 champions of the NFC South, despite having the toughest schedule in the league by opponents’ record.

After all that’s changed with these teams, these two teams are the best in the NFC and very evenly matched on paper. The Vikings have a dominant defense and a capable offense, while the Saints have a dominant offense and a capable defense. It’s a shame that these two teams had to meet before the NFC Championship and I think the winner of this game will be playing in the Super Bowl in 3 weeks. I said last week that I think the Saints are the most complete team in the NFC and I stand by that, but the Vikings are very close.

I give the edge to the Saints because of experience. Case Keenum is starting his first ever playoff game and quarterbacks do not have a good track record in their first playoff start, while the Saints are easily the most experienced team in the NFC, with the duo of Drew Brees and Sean Payton together for 11 playoff games since they united in 2006. The Vikings obviously have homefield advantage, which could end up being the deciding factor in this game, but the Saints have a good chance to cover this 4-point spread even if they can’t quite pull the upset, as about 30% of games are decided by 4 points. The money line is also worth a bet because this game is close to a toss up.

New Orleans Saints 24 Minnesota Vikings 23 Upset Pick +170

Pick against the spread: New Orleans +4

Confidence: High

Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2017 AFC Divisional Round Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (11-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)

The Steelers finished the regular season 13-3, but are more vulnerable heading into the post-season than that suggests. They finished the regular season with a +91 point differential, 6th out of the 8 remaining playoff teams, as 8 of their 13 wins came by 7 points or fewer, including 5 wins by 3 points or fewer. In their final 9 games of the regular season, they won by more than a touchdown just twice, once against the TJ Yates led Texans and once at home on a short week against the Titans in a game that was still close in the 3rd quarter. Their defense has also been significantly worse since losing Ryan Shazier.

Their lack of blowout wins is especially relevant considering this line is 7.5. That’s way too high, as the Jaguars are more than a capable opponent. They finished the regular season 3rd in point differential at +149 and 2nd in first down rate at +5.95%, both higher than the Steelers. They benefited from a slightly easier schedule than the Steelers, but they blew out most of the teams they beat (average margin of victory of 20.20 points per game in the regular season), while the Steelers had trouble with teams like the Browns, Bears, Colts, and Bengals (one win by more than a touchdown in 6 games against those teams).

The Jaguars also beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh this season. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Jaguars will win again, as the team that previously won only wins at a 63.1% rate in non-divisional playoff rematches (48.3% rate as underdogs), but the Jaguars don’t have to win straight up to cover this spread, given how much cushion we are getting. I have this line at Pittsburgh -4, so we are getting significant value with the visitors at 7.5. This is a high confidence pick.

Pittsburgh Steelers 20 Jacksonville Jaguars 16

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +7.5

Confidence: High