Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings: 2015 NFC Wild Card Pick

Seattle Seahawks (10-6) at Minnesota Vikings (11-5)

The Seahawks smoked the Vikings in Minnesota back in week 13, winning 38-7. However, the trio of linebacker Anthony Barr, safety Harrison Smith, and defensive tackle Linval Joseph, arguably the Vikings’ 3 best defensive players, played a combined 19 snaps in that one, thanks to injury. Joseph was out completely, while Barr and Smith both got knocked out with injuries early, after 8 snaps and 11 snaps respectively. The Vikings are, unsurprisingly, a much better team when those 3 are healthy. In fact, in the 13 games where at least 2 of the 3 have been healthy, the Vikings allow their opponents to move the chains at a mere 68.17% rate, as opposed to 79.38% in their other 3 games, which includes their embarrassing home blowout loss to these Seahawks. They’re better than their 12th place finish in rate of moving the chains differential suggests.

The Seahawks are still the better team, ranking 3rd in that metric, but they’re the ones that are banged up this time around. Running back Thomas Rawls, a key part of the Seahawks’ earlier win in Minnesota, will miss his 4th straight game this week. He rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries the last time these two met. Meanwhile, running back Marshawn Lynch, who was expected to return from a 7 game absence with a sports hernia this week, did not travel with the team, leaving them once again thin at running back.

Besides, teams are 29-14 ATS since 1989 in the playoffs in a same season, same site, non-divisional rematch against a team that beat them previously, so the Vikings will likely keep this game much more competitive than the last one, at the very least. Despite all of this, the public is all over the Seahawks as 5 point road favorites, as they’re seemingly way too caught up in what happened between these two teams week 13. I love fading the public whenever it makes sense, as they always lose money in the long run, and it does here. This line is way too high at 5, given that about 3 in 10 games are decided by 4 points or fewer. Worst case scenario, I like the odds of a backdoor cover.

Seattle Seahawks 17 Minnesota Vikings 16

Pick against the spread: Minnesota +5

Confidence: Medium

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Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals: 2015 AFC Wild Card Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (12-4)

This is the game that I have the least strong opinion on. The Bengals rank 5th in rate of moving the chains differential on the season, while the Steelers rank 9th, but the Steelers have been far better offensively in the 12 games where Ben Roethlisberger has led them in pass attempts, as opposed to their other 4 games when he was hurt. In those 12 games, they moved the chains at a 75.00% rate, as opposed to 63.64% in those other 4 games. On the flip side, the Bengals will be without starting quarterback Andy Dalton for essentially the 5th straight game, as he went down with a broken thumb early in the Bengals’ week 14 home loss to the these Steelers. In their last 4 games, they’ve moved the chains at a mere 70.25% rate, as opposed to 76.19% through their first 12 games.

This line would have seemed too high if it was a field goal because the Bengals are essentially at full strength aside from Dalton and have arguably the most talented roster in football top to bottom. However, at 2.5, I’m going to take the Steelers. I have Pittsburgh winning by a field goal exactly. AJ McCarron is just too limited of a quarterback to be picked to beat a strong team like the Steelers, as talented as his supporting cast here. The Steelers, with Roethlisberger, have one of the best offenses in football and their defense is solid. It’s a no confidence pick though.

Pittsburgh Steelers 23 Cincinnati Bengals 20

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -2.5

Confidence: None

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Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans: 2015 AFC Wild Card Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at Houston Texans (9-7)

The Chiefs are favored by 3.5 points here in Houston. It’s not hard to understand why that’s the case. The Texans are seen as a team that’s only in the playoffs by default, after winning the weak NFC South; they’ve also already lost to the Chiefs at home this season, 27-20 back in week 1.The Chiefs, meanwhile, are seen as a legitimate team, coming into the playoffs with an 11-5 record and a 10 game winning streak. Despite the fact that the Chiefs are favored by more than a field goal on the road, when close to 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less, the public is still all over Kansas City.

They seem to be falling into the odds makers’ trap, as they often do. I think the Texans are actually the better team here. Like the Chiefs, they survived a rough start and got better as the season went on, starting 2-5 and winning 7 of their next 9 games. Like the Chiefs, they’ve gotten better as the season has gone on, largely because quarterback Brian Hoyer has stabilized the quarterback position, and they’ve quietly become a legitimately tough team to face in the playoffs. A strong defense has led them to a 7th place rank in rate of moving the chains differential and they’re a better offense with Brian Hoyer, as they’ve moved the chains at a 70.11% rate in the 11 games Hoyer has led them in pass attempts, as opposed to 68.57% in their other 5 games. The Chiefs, meanwhile, rank 8th in rate of moving the chains differential, which is impressive, but this line is way off.

It’s true that the Chiefs did win 27-20 in Houston earlier this year, but I think the public has gotten too caught up in that. Teams are 29-14 ATS since 1989 in the playoffs in a same season, same site, non-divisional rematch against a team that beat them previously. The Chiefs’ 10 game winning streak is another thing the public seems to have gotten too caught up in, as teams are 10-21 ATS in the playoffs on a 7+ game winning streak, including 6-17 ATS as favorites. The Chiefs are overrated and I’ll gladly take the points. The Texans have some key injuries to left tackle Duane Brown and outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, while the Chiefs get outside linebacker Justin Houston back from a 5 game absence, but the Chiefs are missing their other starting outside linebacker Tamba Hali and center Mitch Morse is expected to join him. There’s still enough here to make Houston my top pick this week.

Houston Texans 17 Kansas City Chiefs 13 Upset Pick +150

Pick against the spread: Houston +3.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

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Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts: 2015 Week 17 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (3-13) at Indianapolis Colts (7-8)

This is another one where I wouldn’t touch either side with money. Both teams have serious quarterback problems. The Colts are on to their 4th quarterback of the year, Josh Freeman. Matt Hasselbeck was playing in the absence of starting quarterback Andrew Luck, but he got hurt last week and Charlie Whitehurst finished out. However, Whitehurst got hurt too, leaving the Colts with the choice between Stephen Morris, a 2014 undrafted free agent signed off of Philadelphia’s practice squad last week, Ryan Lindley, signed this week, and Josh Freeman, signed this week. They ultimately seem to have settled on Freeman as their best option, even though he wasn’t signed until Tuesday and definitely doesn’t know the playbook well enough to play yet. The Colts just didn’t have another option.

Freeman hasn’t seen regular season action since 2013, when he completed 42.9% of his passes for an average of 5.18 YPA, 2 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions across 4 games with two teams. A capable quarterback as recently as 2012, Freeman is only 27 (28 next week), but saw his NFL career go south in a hurry and hasn’t been nearly impressive enough to make anyone’s roster since. His last NFL start came week 7 in 2013 for the Minnesota Vikings, who had just signed him less than 2 weeks prior, and it showed, as he completed 20 of 53 for 190 yards and an interception in what stands as the worst quarterback performance of the past few years. This time taking the field after just 5 days with the team, I wouldn’t rule out him being comparably bad. Hopefully he won’t have to pass as much this time.

The Titans, meanwhile, will start backup quarterback Zach Mettenberger in this one, with starter Marcus Mariota dealing with a knee injury. Mettenberger, a 2014 6th round pick, has completed 61.1% of his passes for an average of 6.96 YPA, 12 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions in 2 years in the league. He’s the better of the two quarterbacks in the game, but this might be the first time in his career you can say that about him. The Titans have moved the chains at a 56.88% rate this season in the 4 games where he’s led the team in pass attempts, as opposed to 72.78% in the other 11 games where Mariota was healthy.

The Colts have the better defense (ranking 14th in rate of moving the chains differential, as opposed to 23rd for the Titans) and more supporting talent on offense, but it’s hard to have any confidence in them given their quarterback situation, even in what figures to be a low scoring game that they could control with running and defense. Both of these teams are also likely in their final game with their current coach. Mike Mularkey has been the Titans’ interim Head Coach for 7 weeks since Ken Whisenhunt was fired, but doesn’t really have much of a shot of getting the long-term gig.

Meanwhile, Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano is at the end of his contract and isn’t expected back after a down year and a falling out with the front office. The line on this one is 3.5, so for me to take the Colts, I’d have to be at least somewhat confident they could win by more than a field goal. I’m not, so I’m going the other way. Close to 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less. I can’t have any confidence in Tennessee either though.

Indianapolis Colts 13 Tennessee Titans 10

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +3.5

Confidence: None

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Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs: 2015 Week 17 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (7-8) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-5)

This is another one I don’t have a good feel for. The Chiefs are favored by a touchdown, which I think is a little much, considering the Chiefs rank 10th in rate of moving the chains differential, while the Raiders rank 15th. The Chiefs could also be missing outside linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, huge parts of their defense, for the 5th and 2nd straight game respectively. It’s not enough for me to have any sort of confidence in Oakland, but they’re my pick here.

Kansas City Chiefs 23 Oakland Raiders 17

Pick against the spread: Oakland +7

Confidence: None

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Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns: 2015 Week 17 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6) at Cleveland Browns (3-12)

The Steelers lost last week as huge road favorites in Baltimore, but they get a 2nd chance this week and I like their chances of bouncing back this week as 11 point favorites in Cleveland. The Browns rank 29th in rate of moving the chains differential, while the Steelers rank 9th. That doesn’t suggest an 11 point line is appropriate, but the Steelers are better than their rank because they’ve moved the chains at a 75.53% rate in the 11 games Ben Roethlisberger has played, as opposed to 63.64% in the 4 he missed.

Cleveland, meanwhile, is on their 3rd quarterback of the year, as Austin Davis will make his 2nd start of the season, in place of an injured Johnny Manziel. Manziel was playing decent in recent weeks, while Davis really struggled in his first start of the season a few weeks back and I’m not expecting a lot out of the Browns this week, especially since Head Coach Mike Pettine and GM Ray Farmer are expected to be fired after the game. I can’t be confident in Pittsburgh, but they’re my pick.

Pittsburgh Steelers 27 Cleveland Browns 13

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -11

Confidence: None

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers: 2015 Week 17 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9) at Carolina Panthers (14-1)

The Panthers’ undefeated season attempt ended with last week’s road loss in Atlanta, but that doesn’t mean that the Panthers are going take it easy in their final regular season game this week. In fact, it likely means the opposite because now their week 17 game is meaningful, as they need a win to hold onto the #1 seed. A loss at home to the Buccaneers, coupled with an Arizona home win over the Seattle Seahawks, drops Carolina into the #2 seed.

Fortunately for them, the Panthers have a pretty easy matchup, hosting Tampa Bay, who ranks 21st in rate of moving the chains differential. The Panthers, who rank 2nd in that metric, are favored by 10.5 points here. Given that, I think it’s more of a question of how much the Panthers will win by, as opposed to whether or not they’ll win. The Panthers are kind of banged up right now, especially relative to the rest of the season, as they’ve overall benefitted from good health. Now, running back Jonathan Stewart, safety Kurt Coleman, and wide receiver Ted Ginn are all out. I’m still laying the 10.5 points with Carolina, but not with any confidence.

Carolina Panthers 24 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13

Pick against the spread: Carolina -10.5

Confidence: None

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