2013 NFL Draft Redo

1. Kansas City Chiefs – OT David Bakhtiari (Colorado)

The Chiefs used this pick on left tackle Eric Fisher originally and are clearly pretty happy with his development, giving him a 4-year, 48 million dollar extension two off-seasons ago. However, in this re-mock, they can get a clear upgrade, as David Bakhtiari, originally a 4th round pick by the Packers, has developed into arguably the best left tackle in football. The Chiefs have a number of good options with this pick, but left tackle is a very important position and was a huge need for them.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars – RB Le’Veon Bell (Michigan State)

Le’Veon Bell might be the most talented player from this draft, but the Chiefs still had two good years left of Jamaal Charles, which allows him to fall to the Jaguars, who were still relying on a broken down Maurice Jones-Drew in 2013 (3.43 YPC on 234 carries), before releasing him the following off-season. Bell would obviously have had a huge impact on Jacksonville’s offense, much more than original draft pick Luke Joeckel, who struggled in right tackle, left tackle, and left guard in 4 seasons with the team before being let go last off-season.

3. Miami Dolphins – OT Lane Johnson (Oklahoma)

When the Dolphins originally moved up to 3, many assumed it was to take Lane Johnson to fill a major hole on their offensive line. Instead, they took defensive end Dion Jordan, who had just 3 sacks in 2 seasons with the Dolphins due to injuries, off-the-field issues, and ineffectiveness. Johnson, meanwhile, went 4th to the Eagles and has developed into one of the best offensive linemen in the league. He’s capable of playing both right tackle and left tackle for the Dolphins and would have been a huge boost to their offensive line.

4. Philadelphia Eagles – DT Kawann Short (Purdue)

The Eagles would have been happy to take Lane Johnson again, but he goes one pick earlier in this redraft. Instead, the Eagles take Kawann Short, arguably the best defensive player from this line, and put together a dangerous duo of Short and Fletcher Cox, their 2012 first round pick and one of the best defensive tackles in the league. Tim Jernigan did a solid job in 2017, but prior to that they lacked a capable counterpart to Cox.

5. Detroit Lions – CB Darius Slay (Mississippi State)

The Lions originally used a 2nd round pick on Darius Slay, but they have to use their first rounder to keep him in this redraft. Considering Slay has developed into one of the top cornerbacks in the league, the Lions probably wouldn’t mind. They signed him to a 4-year, 48.15 million dollar extension two off-seasons ago. They take him here over their original pick Ezekiel Ansah, who had an impressive start to his career, but has been slowed by injuries over the past 2 seasons. Slay is a much cleaner pick.

6. Cleveland Browns – WR DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson)

DeAndre Hopkins is definitely a top-5 talent, but there wasn’t a huge need for wide receivers in the top-5, so he falls to the Browns in this redraft. Considering the offensive issues they’ve had for years, they’d take Hopkins here in a heartbeat. Hopkins has developed into one of the best wide receivers in the league and has shown the ability to put up big numbers despite terrible quarterback play, which will be very important for him in Cleveland.

7. Arizona Cardinals – C Travis Frederick (Wisconsin)

Everyone laughed when the Cowboys traded back to the end of the first round and drafted Travis Frederick, a center who most expected to go in the 2nd or 3rd round. However, Frederick has since developed into arguably the best center in the league and would undoubtedly go higher in a redraft. The Cardinals originally drafted guard Jonathan Cooper here, making him the highest drafted interior offensive linemen in two decades. Cooper was never healthy for the Cardinals and was eventually sent to New England as a throw-in in the Chandler Jones deal and has since bounced around the league. In this redraft, they take Frederick and get a much needed Pro-Bowler on the inside of their offensive line.

8. St. Louis Rams – WR Keenan Allen (California)

The Rams traded up to draft Tavon Austin here in hopes that he’d upgrade a receiving corps that had desperately needed help for years. Instead, Austin maxed out at 509 receiving yards and the Rams continued to have issues in the receiving corps until signing Robert Woods, trading for Sammy Watkins, and drafting Cooper Kupp last off-season. Keenan Allen would have solved that problem earlier. He’s had injury issues throughout his career, but has averaged 74.26 receiving yards per game in 5 seasons in the league, 8th most by any player who has played at least 50 games over that stretch and most of anyone in this draft. He’s also still only going into his age 26 season and should be a #1 receiver for another 3-5 seasons if he can stay healthy.

9. New York Jets – CB Desmond Trufant (Washington)

The Jets had two first round picks in 2013 after trading Darrelle Revis to the Buccaneers for the 13th pick. Considering Revis lasted one season in Tampa Bay and was back with the Jets two years later, that was a wise trade. What was not wise is the Jets’ selection of Dee Milliner here at 9 as their replacement for Revis. Milliner played just 21 games in 3 injury plagued seasons for the Jets and is now out of the league entirely. In this redraft, they take Desmond Trufant instead. Trufant was the 22nd pick by the Falcons and has developed into a #1 cornerback.

10. Tennessee Titans – CB Xavier Rhodes (Florida State)

Xavier Rhodes is another talented cornerback from this draft class. Cornerback has been an issue for a while for the Titans. Rhodes would be a #1 cornerback for this team and would be a huge upgrade over both Chance Warmack, the guard they drafted 10th overall originally, and Blidi Wreh-Wilson, the cornerback the Titans selected in the 3rd round. He would have formed a talented duo with Jason McCourty before becoming the #1 guy.

11. San Diego Chargers – OT Ricky Wagner (Wisconsin)

The Chargers originally used this selection on DJ Fluker, but he spent just 4 seasons with the team and never developed into a starter at either right tackle or right guard. Wagner, meanwhile, is arguably the best right tackle in the league. The 2013 5th round pick didn’t play much as a rookie, but has been an above average starter in 4 seasons since and is coming off of his best season with the Detroit Lions, the season after the ex-Raven signed a 5-year, 47.5 million deal in free agency.

12. Oakland Raiders – TE Travis Kelce (Cincinnati)

The Raiders had a desperate need at tight end in 2013 and eventually took Mychal Rivera in the 6th round of the draft. They were so thin at the position that he led the team with 38 catches by a tight end as a rookie, but he never developed into a starting caliber player and was one of the least efficient tight ends in the league in his one full season as a starter in 2014. Travis Kelce not only gives them a much needed weapon in the passing game, but drafting him also keeps him away from a hated divisional rival.

13. New York Jets – S Tony Jefferson (Oklahoma)

The Jets originally doubled up on defense with their two first round picks, taking Milliner at 9 and Sheldon Richardson at 13. Richardson worked out better than Milliner did and had some dominant seasons early in his career, but had character issues later in his time with the Jets and eventually was traded to the Seahawks for a 2nd round pick. In hindsight, they’d probably take a different player. Jefferson would fill a big need for a team that started Antonio Allen and 31-year-old Dawan Landry at safety in 2013.

14. Carolina Panthers – DT Brandon Williams (Missouri Southern)

The Panthers originally took Star Lotulelei with this pick, but they can shoot higher in this redraft, as Lotulelei never developed into the kind of player that was worth the 14th overall pick. Ideally they’d be able to get Kawann Short, originally their 2nd round pick, but he’s too good to last to this point. Williams is more similar in skill set to Lotulelei and has developed into the player the Panthers were expecting Lotulelei to be. Given that they used their first two draft picks on defensive tackles in 2013, the position was clearly a need for them at the time.

15. New Orleans Saints – OT Terron Armstead (Arkansas-Pine Bluff)

The Saints originally used this pick on safety Kenny Vaccaro, who had an up and down 5 years in New Orleans. Terron Armstead, originally a 3rd round pick by the Saints, was a much better selection. They have to take him in the first round this time around to keep him, but he’s been a valuable blindside protector and much more valuable to this team than Vaccaro, so I think they’d be happy to take him here. Armstead would have likely been a top-10 pick if this redraft was done a couple years ago, but he has dealt with some injuries in the past two years that have keep him off the field and sapped his effectiveness somewhat. Only going into his age 27 season in 2018, Armstead could easily be a top level left tackle for 3-5 more years if he can stay healthy.

16. Buffalo Bills – WR Adam Thielen (Minnesota State)

The Bills have had issues at wide receiver for years. They were led in receiving by tight end Scott Chandler (655 yards) back in 2013 and then by tight end Charles Clay (558 yards) in 2017. The only pass catcher to exceed 700 yards for the Bills since the 2013 NFL Draft is Sammy Watkins, who they traded two first round picks to move up and draft before trading him away for a mere 2nd round pick last off-season. Addressing their wide receiver need in 2013 would have allowed them to avoid that. Adam Thielen was a late bloomer, which is why he falls a little bit. The former undrafted free agent had his first 1000+ yard season in 2017 (91/1276/4) and made his first All-Pro (2nd team).

17. Pittsburgh Steelers – MLB Jamie Collins (Southern Mississippi)

Jamie Collins would have been a top-10 pick if I did this two years ago, but Collins was traded by the Patriots to the Browns for a mere 3rd round pick in 2016 and hasn’t been the same player since being traded, including a 2017 season in which he struggled through injuries. Going into his age 29 season, there’s time for him to turn it around, but his redraft stock takes a hit. He fills a need for the Steelers, who desperately needed to get younger on defense at the time. They drafted Ryan Shazier in the first round in 2014, but he suffered a terrible spine injury last season and may never play again. Collins fixes their middle linebacker problem a year earlier and gives them a long-term solution.

18. San Francisco 49ers – TE Zach Ertz (Stanford)

I remember originally mocking Ertz to the 49ers in the first round because of the Jim Harbaugh/Stanford connection and because the 49ers didn’t have any obvious needs at the time. They didn’t have a good #2 tight end behind Vernon Davis at the time and would eventually use a 2nd round pick on Vance McDonald in 2014, which did not work out as well as Ertz would have. 2013 was also the last productive season Vernon Davis had for the 49ers, so Ertz would have filled a need that was bigger than they realized at the time.

19. New York Giants – G Justin Pugh (Syracuse)

The Giants stick with their original pick here. Justin Pugh has never been a dominant offensive lineman, but he’s been an above average starter at both right tackle and left guard, with his best play coming at left guard in 2015-2016. He was definitely worth the 19th overall pick in the draft and the Giants may franchise tag him this off-season. If he were to hit free agency, he’d be one of the highest valued offensive linemen available.

20. Chicago Bears – G Kyle Long (Oregon)

The Bears are another team that sticks with their original pick, though all of the injuries Kyle Long has suffered in his career have been concerning. He’s only missed 15 games in 5 seasons, but has had neck, shoulder, and ankle surgery in recent seasons and is already going into his age 30 season, so there are long-term durability concerns with him. His best season came in his 2nd season in the league in 2014 when he looked like one of the best right guards in football, but he wasn’t the same player at right tackle in 2015 and has had injury problems in each of the last 2 seasons. He’s played pretty well through the injuries through, so the Bears probably don’t regret this pick. Long likely would have gone higher two years ago.

21. Cincinnati Bengals – DE Ezekiel Ansah (BYU)

Ezekiel Ansah is another player who would have gone higher two seasons ago, when he was coming off of a breakout 2015 season, in which he was one of the best 4-3 defensive ends in football and totalled 14.5 sacks. However, he’s had just 14 sacks combined in the 2 seasons since, thanks to injuries. He’s also older than most of the players from this class, as he’s already going into his age 29 season this off-season. We will see if the Lions think he is worth the franchise tag. In this redraft, the Lions take cornerback Darius Slay over him at 5 and he slips because of teams having more pressing needs. The Bengals could have used a complement to Carlos Dunlap and Ansah would have been a great fit in the Bengals’ 4-3 defense.

22. Atlanta Falcons – CB Tyrann Mathieu (LSU)

The Falcons would have loved to have been able to keep Desmond Trufant, but he is too good to fall to 22 again. Instead, the Falcons take a different defensive back, Tyrann Mathieu. Mathieu had dominant seasons in 2013 and 2015, but tore his ACL at the end of both of those seasons and wasn’t the same in his other 3 seasons. Only going into his age 26 season, he may prove to be a steal, but he’s undersized at 5-9 186 and has had both knee and shoulder problems in his career. He can play both slot cornerback and safety.

23. Minnesota Vikings – DT Johnathan Hankins (Ohio State)

The Vikings’ original pick here was defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who looked like a great pick until he suffered a knee injury that has kept him out since week 1 of 2016. His long-term future is very much in doubt. Johnathan Hankins is a step down from what Floyd was as a player, but he doesn’t have Floyd’s injury issues. He’d form a dominant duo inside with Linval Joseph.

24. Indianapolis Colts – G Larry Warford (Kentucky)

Maybe if the Colts invested in the offensive line more, Andrew Luck’s career might not be in jeopardy because of a shoulder injury. Larry Warford was one of the best guards in the league as a rookie in 2013. Though he hasn’t been quite that good since, he’s still an above average right guard and is well worth the 4-year, 34 million dollar deal the Saints gave him in free agency last off-season. He would have been valuable in Indianapolis, where they’ve had a rotating door of players at every position except left tackle in Andrew Luck’s career.

25. Minnesota Vikings – CB Logan Ryan (Rutgers)

The Vikings can’t keep Xavier Rhodes in this redraft because he went in the top-10, so they take a different cornerback instead. Logan Ryan is a downgrade, but he still fills what was a big need at the time for the Vikings.

26. Green Bay Packers – TE Jordan Reed (Florida)

At his best, Jordan Reed is one of the best receiving tight ends in football and a matchup nightmare for any defense, because of his combination of speed and size. However, he isn’t much of a run blocker and has never been able to stay healthy, missing 28 games in 5 seasons in the league with a variety of injuries. His career high was 14 games in 2015, when he posted a dominant 87/952/11 line. He was limited to 27/211/2 in 6 games last season, so he falls in this redraft, but he and Aaron Rodgers could do some huge things together in the passing game, so the Packers would be happy to have him, even with the injuries. He gives them the pass catching tight end he’s never really had. He would have been an upgrade over Jermichael Finley and Jared Cook, their best pass catching tight ends in the Aaron Rodgers era.

27. Houston Texans – OT Ryan Schraeder (Valdosta State)

The Texans originally got a steal here with DeAndre Hopkins, but he goes much earlier this time around. Schraeder was originally undrafted, but he became a starter midway through his 2nd season in the league and has developed into one of the best right tackles in football. He’s worth a first round pick in a redraft and would be a good fit with the Texans, who have had multiple different starters at right tackle in recent seasons.

28. Denver Broncos – OT Eric Fisher (Central Michigan)

The Broncos had Ryan Clady at left tackle during this draft, but injuries limited him to 18 games from 2013-2015 and the Broncos then released him after the 2015 season, so left tackle, in hindsight, was a big need for the Broncos in this draft. Eric Fisher wasn’t worth the first overall pick, but he’s developed into a capable left tackle in recent seasons, after struggling early in his career. He’s still worth a first round pick and would be a nice addition by the Broncos, who have had a variety of different left tackles over the past 5 seasons.

29. Minnesota Vikings – WR Robert Woods (USC)

Cordarrelle Patterson never developed into anything more than a good return man for the Vikings and was let go after 4 seasons with the team. This time around, the Vikings take a better wide receiver. Robert Woods never put up huge numbers in his 4 seasons in Buffalo, but that was largely because he was stuck on a run heavy offense. In 2017, in his first season with the Rams, he had a 56/781/5 line in just 12 games. He’s also one of the youngest guys from this draft, still only going into his age 26 season, so he could continue getting better.

30. St. Louis Rams – MLB Alec Ogletree (Georgia)

The Rams stick with their original pick, even though Ogletree is coming off of a down year in his first season in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense. He’s a much better fit as a 4-3 linebacker. Despite that, the Rams locked him up long-term with a 4-year, 42.75 million dollar extension back in October, so they clearly value him highly.

31. Dallas Cowboys – S Jahleel Addae (Central Michigan)

The Cowboys don’t get Travis Frederick this time around, so they settle for upgrading their secondary, which has been a problem for them for a while. Addae, originally undrafted, was a late bloomer, which is why he’s available late in the first, but he’s been an above average starter for the Chargers in each of the past 2 seasons and has made 41 starts in the past 4 seasons. He’d be a welcome addition to the Cowboys.

32. Baltimore Ravens – S Micah Hyde (Iowa)

The Ravens completely whiffed on their first 2 picks in 2013, with Matt Elam and Arthur Brown, but they still came out of the draft with two players who have already been taken in this redraft, 3rd round pick Brandon Williams and 5th round pick Ricky Wagner. 4th round pick John Simon, 4th round pick Kyle Juszczyk, and 6th round pick Ryan Jensen have also developed into useful players. Micah Hyde was a useful player for 4 seasons with the Packers, despite being a mere 5th round pick, and then he took his game to the next level in his first season in Buffalo in 2017. He can play both cornerback and safety, but his best season was as a full-time safety. He’d be an obvious upgrade over Elam at a position of need.

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