Green Bay Packers at Washington Redskins: 2015 NFC Wild Card Pick

Green Bay Packers (10-6) at Washington Redskins (9-7)

The Redskins come out of the NFC East, arguably the weakest division in football, but they’ve turned into a pretty good team. They rank 14th in rate of moving the chains differential, worst among playoff teams, but they’re hot right now and have been since getting both tight end Jordan Reed and wide receiver DeSean Jackson back from injury. Their passing game has been on fire since then. They’ve moved the chains at a 72.96% rate in their last 9 games with those two healthy, as opposed to 71.30% in their previous 7 games.

The Packers are probably still the better team, ranking 10th in rate of moving the chains differential, but they’re the ones who are banged up now. Cornerback Sam Shields will miss his 4th straight game with a concussion, left tackle David Bakhtiari is a gametime decision at best, after missing the last 2 games with injury, and defensive end Datone Jones could also be out with a neck injury. I’m not that confident in Washington, but I have this as a field goal game, as about 1 in 6 games are, so I’ll take Washington as 1 point favorites for a low confidence pick.

Washington Redskins 23 Green Bay Packers 20

Pick against the spread: Washington -1

Confidence: Low

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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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