Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs: 2018 AFC Divisional Round Pick

Indianapolis Colts (11-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)

The Chiefs finished with the best record in the AFC, while the Colts snuck into the playoffs as the 6th seed on the NFL’s final weekend, but statistically the Colts have been the better of these two teams this season, ranking 5th in first down rate at +4.56%, while the Chiefs rank 9th at +2.98%. Not only do they have a significant edge in first downs (+56 on the year, as opposed to -35 for the Chiefs), but they also have a league leading +19 offensive touchdown margin, even better than Kansas City’s +17 offensive touchdown margin.

That’s even more impressive considering how slow the Colts started. After week 6, they sat at 1-5 and ranked just 18th in first down rate differential at -1.47%, but since then they lead the NFL in first down rate differential at +9.02% and they’ve won 10 of 11 games, including last week’s first round victory over the Texans. They have several young players who have gotten better as the season has gone on and their injury situation has improved significantly as well, as they are close to full strength right now, after they were arguably the best injury plagued team in the league to start the season. Andrew Luck has also gotten better as the year has gone along in his first year back from shoulder surgery, with arguably the best team he’s ever had around him.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, have gone in the opposite direction a little bit, starting out hot and then declining in recent weeks. The offense has remained strong, leading the league with a first down rate of 43.34% since week 10, but that’s down from an otherworldly 46.65% prior to week 10 and their defense has not gotten any better, allowing a first down rate of 42.21% since week 10 and a first down rate of 42.19% prior to week 10. They were expecting to get safety Eric Berry back from injury at some point, but he only played limited snaps in a few games down the stretch and seems to be shut down again, missing week 17 and barely practicing this week after the bye.

They may get a boost on offense with wide receiver Sammy Watkins possibly returning after missing all but a few snaps over the past 7 games, but he didn’t get in a full practice this week and would likely be less than 100% and at risk of an in-game setback even if he plays through his recurring foot problems. The loss of Watkins and running back Kareem Hunt (released for off-the-field issues with 5 games left in the season) are part of the reason why the offense slowed down a little down the stretch.

Without those two, even as talented as Pat Mahomes is, he’s had issues keeping pace with what his defense is allowing. They played 3 of their final 7 games against the Cardinals or Raiders, two of the worst teams in the league, and in their other 4 games they either lost or went to overtime. Granted, those four games were against the Seahawks, Chargers, Ravens, and Rams and the Chiefs were competitive in all 4 games, but the Colts are a tough test too and the you’d have to go back to the Chiefs’ 10-point week 1 victory over the Chargers to find a game the Chiefs have played against a top tier team like the Colts in which they would have covered this 5.5-point spread.

At the very least, these two teams are even right now, in which case the Chiefs should be favored by just 3 points at home, but there’s an argument to be made that the Colts are the better of these two teams at the moment, despite what their records say. The Colts also have the edge in quarterback experience, with Luck making his 8th career playoff start and Mahomes in his first. First time playoff starting quarterbacks are just 6-21 ATS at home since 2002, unless they’re facing another first time playoff starter.

We’ve already seen Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson, and Mitch Trubisky lose straight up as home favorites in their first career playoff start. Mahomes is on another level talent wise and it helps that he has an experienced coach in Andy Reid (even if Reid is just 11-13 with one Super Bowl appearance in 13 playoff trips), but the other three quarterbacks also had much stronger defenses supporting them and, even if Mahomes does pull out the win, he won’t necessarily cover this 5.5-point spread. I love the Colts’ chances of covering and I think they have a decent shot at pulling off the straight up upset as well.

Indianapolis Colts 31 Kansas City Chiefs 30 Upset Pick +195

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +5.5

Confidence: High

2018 NFL Wild Card Round Pick Results

Wild Card Round

Total Against the Spread: 3-0-1

High Confidence Picks: 1-0

Medium Confidence Picks: 2-0

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 3-0

Low Confidence Picks: 0-0-1

Upset Picks: 2-1

2018

Total Against the Spread: 150-99-11 (59.81%)

Pick of the Week: 10-6-1 (61.76%)

High Confidence Picks: 20-12-2 (61.76%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 40-26-1 (60.45%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 70-44-4 (61.02%)

Low Confidence Picks: 35-27-1 (56.35%)

No Confidence Picks: 45-28-6 (60.76%)

Upset Picks: 24-16-1 (59.76%)

All-Time (Since 2013)

Total Against the Spread: 841-707-47 (54.20%)

Pick of the Week: 61-40-3 (60.10%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 400-290-18 (57.77%)

Upset Picks: 131-152-1 (46.30%)

Philadelphia Eagles at Chicago Bears: 2018 NFC Wild Card Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) at Chicago Bears (12-4)

The Bears went 12-4 this season and were arguably even better than their record suggests. Those 4 losses came by a combined 14 points, with two of them coming in overtime, and they won the first down rate battle in 3 of those 4 games. In fact, the last time they didn’t win the first down rate battle was way back in the season opener in Green Bay, a 1-point loss. On the season, they finished first in the league in first down rate differential at +6.64%.

The schedule gets a lot harder for them in the playoffs though, as they finished with the 2nd easiest schedule in terms of opponents DVOA and played just 3 eventual playoff teams all season (2-1), which is tied for fewest among playoff qualifiers. Their opponents this week, the Philadelphia Eagles, finished the season 8th in first down rate differential at 2.99%, which ranks only behind the Rams among the Bears’ 2018 opponents.

I know the Eagles lost starting quarterback Carson Wentz to injury and have other key players on injured reserve, but this team has actually been playing better since Wentz went down, winning 3 straight games after their week 14 loss. Wentz wasn’t playing at 100% even when on the field and backup Nick Foles is an experienced starter who has been in this position before. They’ve especially been better defensively, with stud linebacker Jordan Hicks back from injury and their young injury plagued secondary playing much better in recent weeks.

The Eagles also seem to play harder with their backs up against the wall with a backup quarterback in the lineup, pulling the upset victory in all 4 games in which they’ve been an underdog with Foles under center over the past 2 seasons. The Eagles might not win straight up this week, but I like the Eagles’ chances of keeping this one close as 6.5-point underdogs. Their 9-7 record is worst among playoff qualifiers, but they’ve played a lot of close games, with just 2 of those losses coming by more than 6 points (relevant considering this line is 6.5). One of those losses by more than 6 points was a 7-point loss to the Cowboys and the other came in New Orleans, against arguably the best team in the league.

The Bears are also in a tough spot with a first time starting quarterback under center. Quarterbacks tend not to cover in their first career post-season start, especially at home, where they are 6-18 ATS since 2002 unless they’re playing another first time starter, which is not the case this week with Nick Foles making his 5th career playoff start. The Eagles are worth a bet at either +6 and +6.5 and are worth a bigger play if this line happens to move up to a full touchdown before gametime (unlikely). I’ll also consider bumping this up if Bears safety Eddie Jackson ends up not returning from a 2-game absence, after being limited in practice all week. He’s currently considered a game-time decision.

Chicago Bears 23 Philadelphia Eagles 20

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +6.5

Confidence: Medium

Los Angeles Chargers at Baltimore Ravens: 2018 AFC Wild Card Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (12-4) at Baltimore Ravens (10-6)

The Ravens beat the Chargers in Los Angeles a few weeks ago, but I’d be wary of extrapolating that result to this game, as that was just one game in a 16-game season. Just because a team wins a matchup in the regular season doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily win again in the post-season. Teams are 55-38 in the post-season over the past 30 seasons against non-divisional opponents who they previously beat in the regular season, but they are just 39-54 ATS. I know that Ravens/Chargers game was just a few weeks ago, but when you cut the sample size down to teams that previously won in a game week 12 or later, the numbers are even less in the Ravens’ favor, as those teams actually have a losing record at 16-18 in the playoff rematch and are just 12-22 ATS.

That isn’t evidence enough that the Chargers will win this rematch, but they were the significantly better team this season, ranking 2nd in first down rate differential at +5.86%, while the Ravens ranked 10th at +2.95%, so I like the Chargers’ chances of prevailing here. The Ravens have notably been 6-1 since making the swap from Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson under center during their week 10 bye, but they actually rank just 14th in first down rate differential since week 10 at 1.31%.

The Ravens’ defense remained dominant, but their offense has actually dropped from a 36.46% first down rate with Joe Flacco to 34.48% with Jackson. Their record is impressive, but they played a relatively easy schedule (5 of 7 games against teams with a losing record), won several games by a touchdown or less, and needed return touchdowns to push the margin of victory higher in the few games that did not have a close final score. For comparison, the Chargers rank 2nd in first down rate differential since week 10, at +6.87%.

This game is in Baltimore, while the first matchup was in Los Angeles, but that barely matters to the Chargers, who have remarkably gone 12-4 despite not having any homefield advantage in Los Angeles. They’ve been a dominant team outside of LA, going 8-0 (7-1 ATS) with an average margin of victory of 9.50 points per game. That is a trend that dates back to their final few years in San Diego, when they frequently had large visiting crowds, as they are 36-19-3 ATS away from home since 2012.

The Ravens are also at a disadvantage with a first time starting quarterback. Quarterbacks tend not to cover in their first career post-season start, especially at home, where they are 6-18 ATS since 2002 unless they’re playing another first time starter, which is not the case this week with the veteran Philip Rivers going into his 10th career playoff start. I’d bet on the Chargers this week at +2.5, but +3 is available is some places and I’d much prefer to have protection against a Baltimore win by a field goal, even if I have to pay higher juice. Either way, I like the Chargers to win this game straight up.

Los Angeles Chargers 20 Baltimore Ravens 16 Upset Pick +125

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +3

Confidence: High

Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys: 2018 NFC Wild Card Pick

Dallas Cowboys (10-6) at Seattle Seahawks (10-6)

The Seahawks got off to a slow start this year, starting 0-2 and sitting just 4-4 at the season’s midpoint, but they once again finished the season strong, something they’ve done pretty much every year in the Russell Wilson era, going 37-18-1 ATS in the second half of the regular season since 2012. The Seahawks went 6-2 straight up and ATS over the final 8 games of the 2018 season to finish at 10-6 and they rank 9th in first down rate differential since week 10 at +3.24%, after ranking 25th at -3.39% prior to week 10. This Seahawks team is not as talented as they were earlier in the Russell Wilson era, but they’re well coached and quarterbacked and there’s no reason to believe they will suddenly revert to their early season form in the playoffs, where they are 8-4 straight up since 2012.

The Cowboys have also had a strong second half of the season record wise, going 7-1 after a 3-5 start, but they actually rank just 21st in first down rate differential at -1.54%. Somewhat remarkably, all 7 of the Cowboys wins over that time period came by 8 points or fewer, while their one loss came by 23, giving them a point differential of just +12 over that time period (as opposed to +49 for the Seahawks).

Their offense has been better since acquiring Amari Cooper, picking up first downs at a 35.73% rate since week 10, as opposed to 34.03% prior to week 10, but their defense has gone in the opposite direction, allowing a first down rate of 37.27% since week 10, after allowing a first down rate of 32.73% before week 10. Their defense overperformed early in the season, but, aside from their nationally televised game against the Saints, they’ve largely fallen back to earth in recent weeks, allowing 23.3 points per game in their other 7 games. I think they’re a little overrated right now because casual bettors think they have an elite defense as a result of that Saints game.

The Seahawks also have the talent and experience edge. Not only is Russell Wilson going into his 13th playoff game with Pete Carroll already, but Carroll has also been a head coach in 5 other playoff games without Wilson (10-7 overall). On the other side, Jason Garrett is in just his 4th playoff game (1-2) and just his 2nd with Dak Prescott, who lost his first career playoff start in 2016. At +2, we’re not getting quite enough line value to take the Seahawks against the spread (especially since I will have bets on the other 3 games this week), but I like their chances of winning this game. Games rarely are decided by 1 point exactly, so the money line is a smarter play if you want to bet this game.

Seattle Seahawks 19 Dallas Cowboys 17 Upset Pick +110

Pick against the spread: Seattle +2

Confidence: Low

Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans: 2018 AFC Wild Card Pick

Indianapolis Colts (10-6) at Houston Texans (11-5)

The Texans finished with the better record of these two teams, winning the division and securing the 3rd seed, while the Colts are seeded 6th, but the Colts were statistically the better team this season. The Colts finished the season 5th in first down rate differential at +4.56% and 8th in point differential at +89, while the Texans finished 7th in first down rate differential at +2.99% and 8th in point differential at +86. Perhaps most remarkably, the Colts finished with a league leading +19 offensive touchdown margin, while the Texans were just +2.

Making that even more impressive is the fact that the Colts had a ton of injury problems in the first half of the season. Since returning from their week 9 bye, the Colts have a league best +8.51% first down rate differential and they’ve won 9 of 10 games overall. With Ryan Kelly expected to return from a neck injury this week, the Colts are arguably the healthiest they’ve been all season. The Texans have won 11 of 13 games overall, but they haven’t been nearly as dominant, ranking 10th in first down rate differential over the past 8 weeks at +2.85%, and they aren’t at full strength, missing #2 wide receiver Demaryius Thomas with a torn achilles that he suffered two weeks ago.

The Colts also have the edge in quarterback experience, with Andrew Luck going into his 7th post-season game (3-3), while Deshaun Watson is making his first career post-season start. Quarterbacks tend not to cover in their first career post-season start, especially at home, where they are 6-18 ATS since 2002 unless they’re playing another first time starter. Unfortunately, we’re not getting much line value with the Colts at +1.5, as the public seems to realize the Colts are the better of these two teams. It wouldn’t shock me if the Texans won this game, as they’re a solid team and playing at home, so I’m keeping this a smaller play, but the Colts are worth a bet and should win this game straight up.

Indianapolis Colts 23 Houston Texans 20 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +1.5

Confidence: Medium

2018 Week 17 NFL Picks

Pick of the Week

CLE +6 @ BAL

High Confidence Picks

BUF -5.5 vs. MIA

ATL +1.5 @ TB

Medium Confidence Picks

TEN +3.5 vs. IND

SEA -13 vs. ARZ

Low Confidence Picks

HOU -6.5 vs. JAX

NE -13 vs. NYJ

SF +10.5 @ LAR

LAC -6 @ DEN

GB -7.5 vs. DET

No Confidence Picks

OAK +14 @ KC

CIN +15 @ PIT

NO -7 vs. CAR

CHI +5 @ MIN

DAL +6 @ NYG

PHI -7 @ WAS

Upset Picks

ATL +105 @ TB