I hope all of you are having a great weekend and getting amped up for the upcoming NFL playoffs. Kudos to the NFL by moving the Wild Card round to MLK weekend. Should be a fun 3 days of football!
Of course one more week of regular season football must be played which I always find to be the oddest week of the sports calendar. There are several games that are meaningless in terms of playoff implications. In other games, there are key players who will squarely focus on reaching contract incentives or breaking NFL records so if you are playing fantasy football, make sure you carefully check to see who is close to reaching certain milestones.
The Big Five Picks for today will be geared towards teams that are in a must-win situation or have a golden opportunity to improve their playoff seeding. I will still be using the mode to guide my picks since it has worked well for us for most of this season. Notice I italicized most. Last week was awful with an 0-5 record. Some of the teams were very close to covering with Buffalo and Philadelphia each missing the cover by a 1/2 point. Rams and Bucs needed comebacks to win but of course had no chance of covering their large spreads. The Chiefs looked like a guarantee to cover for most of the game until the Bengals came roaring back with a 17-3 2nd half to win the game and assert itself as a force to be reckoned with in the AFC playoffs.
Overall the Big Five Picks record is 49-35-1. Still very good but probably would not cash in the Super Contest hosted by Westgate Casino in Las Vegas. My record would rank 155th. Maybe a 5-0 week is on the horizon. We shall see!
Here is a table displaying my model's output.
There are some teams I expect to win but not cover. There are also some games where the model heavily favors one team but the game in meaningless in terms of playoff implications. For example, my model likes Green Bay to win by more than 18 points while they are favored by just 3.5 points. With home field advantage already clinched, there is no reason for the Packers to play their starters, especially with having been so close to getting to the Super Bowl the last 2 years. The Packers primary focus to is stay healthy this month so that they can play in the big game next month in sunny and warm Los Angeles. Of course I am not going to bet on a shitty team like the Lions who could barely win any games this season and have been one of the worst teams in the NFL since Barry Sanders retired more than 20 years ago.
There are plenty of other games that are meaningless such as CHI-MIN and WAS-NYG so the Big Five Picks will steer away from such games. Logic says to take the Chiefs, Titans, and Bills given they all have weak opponents and are fighting for the top seed in the AFC playoffs. The problem is that their spreads are way too high and the model doesn't support them covering. Should each of those teams have sizable leads late in the game, it would not surprise me if they each let the foot off the pedal while we watch the back door covers slam right in our face. So how should we bet this peculiar week of football? Without further ado, here are the Big Five Picks for Week 18.
- Indianapolis -15
This one is a no-brainer. The Colts need to win to get to the postseason. The Jaguars are having an awful season and will need to find a new head coach to spark a fire in this team. The Colts run the ball extremely well and the Jaguars cannot stop anyone. You can bet that Jonathan Taylor will want to try to reach 2000 rushing yards. It won't be easy since he is 266 yards away but it's doable and Taylor has the talent to pull it off. Jaguars win big by pulverizing the Jaguars 34-14.
- New Orleans -3.5
For those who have been following my Big Five Picks this season, you should know quite well that the Saints have been my Achilles heel. Some weeks they look great (beating Tampa Bay twice, their 38-3 ass kicking of Green Bay to start the season, and a 28-13 win in New England) but the model didn't favor them to win. Other weeks you are left scratching your head such as their 27-25 loss at home to Atlanta during Week 9 when the model thought they would win by at least 2 TDs. The prior week, New Orleans beat Tampa Bay 36-27 so one would think the Saints would carry that momentum into the next game. The Saints have a chance to even the series against their division rival and the Falcons are reeling after another double digit loss to a playoff contender. The biggest issue the Saints have experienced this season is instability at the QB position. Clearly it's not easy to replace a future Hall of Fame QB like Drew Brees. The good news is that Taysom Hill returned last week who was Brees' understudy for 4 seasons. I expect this game to be ugly but the Saints don't mind and I don't either if I only have to give up 3.5 points. Saints win 24-10 with Alvin Kamara leading the way on offense and the Saints defense shutting the door on a Atlanta's dismal season.
- New England -6.5
Just like the Colts game, this one is also a no-brainer. The Patriots need to win to get the AFC East Crown (assuming Buffalo loses who play at the same time). Even if the Bills crush the NY Jets (which they should), the Patriots won't be fixated on the scoreboard for the other games. Bill Belichick will make sure his team is focused on playing its best football right before the playoffs. Just look at last week. Patriots win 50-10 against Jacksonville while the Dolphins had a similarly embarrassing loss to Tennessee (34-3). With the playoffs being so wide open, it's not inconceivable for the AFC Championship game to feature two wild card teams. Should the Patriots win tomorrow, they are guaranteed no worse than the 5th seed so they would host the AFC title game at Foxboro should the Colts or Chargers/Raiders get there as well. The Patriots will continue their winning ways with a 29-15 victory in South Florida.
- Tampa Bay -8
What a mess with the Antonio Brown situation. Now that he is gone, the Bucs have a major distracton removed and can now look towards a title defense. True, not having Brown hurts, especially with Chris Godwin out for the season. However, Mike Evans is very good and Rob Gronkowski is healthy. Leonard Fournette is trending in the right direction with his hamstring injury and the Bucs defense ranks as one of the best which was a big reason why Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl last year. You also have #12 behind center who is arguably the greatest QB of all time. The Bucs will be fine and probably even better without Brown. Tampa Bay will figure it out and should unleash their fury against a weak Carolina team that has looked lost all season. Keep in mind that Brady has a chance to break Peyton Manning's NFL record for passing yards in a season and that Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski have milestones/contract incentives to achieve. A win for Tampa Bay means they could earn the 2nd seed (Tampa Bay owns the tiebreaker over Dallas having beat them in the home opner) which means at least two home playoff games. That is a worthy goal for Tampa Bay. The Bucs get a big win on the road as they ramp up for a return trip to the Super Bowl. A 35-17 win sounds about right with Brady throwing for 5 TDs and the rest of the aerial attack lighting up the scoreboard.
- LA Chargers -3
This has to be a slap in face to Las Vegas. The Chargers and Raiders have identical records and the Raiders are hosting on Sunday Night Football. Shouldn't the Raiders be favored or the game at least be a pick 'em? This one has trap bet written all over it. I can see much of the money going towards Vegas (funny how this team plays next door to all of the major sportsbooks) later in the day tomorrow. However, my model likes the Chargers to win by 6 points and LA has the better QB. They also have the better RB and WR. Where the Chargers have a major issue is with defending the run game. However, I am not concerned. The Raiders rush offense ranks in the bottom 10 in the NFL and the Raiders have had an identity crisis since the Jon Gruden fallout. I am not sure what to make of the Raiders. It is impressive they have a shot of making the playoffs given Gruden's midseason firing and Henry Ruggs unfortunate DUI debacle which sadly killed a woman and ruined Ruggs' life. Still, their magic carpet ride ends tomorrow night. Justin Herbert will the Chargers to victory in Sin City with a 29-23 OT win.
All chalk but that's the way it goes when teams are trying to earn a playoff spot or jockeying for playoff positioning. The model supports these picks and the narratives make sense. Just roll with it before we head into the best part of the sports year: the NFL Playoffs! Good luck and we will check again early next week with a preview of the Wild Card round.