After 17 weeks of NFL prognostication, now we get to the really fun stuff: NFL PLAYOFFS!
This is where NFL bettors love to show off their skills at predicting winners and one can see a huge swing in his or her wagering balance once the dust settles.
Well, we are no different so here is our analysis of each NFL playoff game this weekend with our predictions.
- Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans (Saturday, January 7 at 1:35 PM PST on ESPN)
Vegas Line (Westgate Casino & Sportsbook): Houston -3.5, O/U 36.5
GE Line: Oakland -2.85, O/U 43.60
Personally, we were surprised by this line. Yes, no Derek Carr should impact this line but we don't think it should be impacted as much as Vegas and the general betting public think it should be. The GE model has the Raiders winning this game by about 3 points but that is based on the Raiders performance with Derek Carr behind center for most of the season. So you make an adjustment but not a 6 - 7 point adjustment. At worst, this game should be a pick 'em for the Raiders so we will gladly take +3.5. Raiders can lose by a field goal and we still cover.
Now, why do we think the Raiders can keep this game close or even win it? First off, Brock Osweiler stinks. Period. He is an overrated QB and if Tom Savage had not been concussed last week (in a meaningless game), we would probably feel differently about this game. The Raiders defense is nothing to write home about but it can put pressure on the QB. Khalil Mack is a very talented defensive end so as long as he is getting to Osweiler, we can see a good deal of turnovers by the Houston offense. In fact, Houston has the worst turnover ratio of all 12 playoff teams at -7. Raiders are tied with KC for #1 with +16.
Digging a bit deeper, Houston ranks 3rd to last in QB rating and this is playing 6 games in perhaps the weakest division in football (ranked 2nd to last in both wins and point differential). Oakland, on the other hand, played in the arguably the toughest division in football (2nd in wins and point differential) so this Raiders team is battle tested. They also beat the Texans in Mexico City earlier this season. We honestly don't see the Texans offense putting up much of a fight.
Now, how do the Raiders score points? They would be wise to commit to the run game early and often. They have a nice three-headed monster in the backfield with Latavius Murray, Jalen Richard, and DeAndre Washington. All three have been brilliant this year and the Raiders offensive line is awesome. It is probably the best line after the Cowboys with three Pro-Bowlers all at full health. In fact, the Raiders rank #1 in lowest allowed sack rate so one can argue that the Raiders are the best at pass protection which is a big reason why Derek Carr had such a good season before he was injured. You know who else was blessed to play with such a good line and run game in college not that long ago? Connor Cook!
Cook was a solid QB for Michigan State and faced NFL quality competition like Alabama, Stanford, Oregon, Michigan, and Ohio State. Essentially, he is a good game manager and with all of the other offensive pieces in place, he can keep the Raiders offensive engine running. He may not win this game with his arm but he sure can lean on the run game and avoid turnovers. The Texans defense is solid but it's not the same without JJ Watt and again the Raiders offensive line is very good at pass protection.
We expect this game to be low scoring but maybe not as low as the 36.5 O/U is indicating. This should be a kicking war and a battle for field position. We will take the Raiders offensive line and Khalil Mack and company to win this war in the trenches and the leg of Sebastian Janikowski to put up points instead of the mediocre lines from the Texans and a journeyman kicker in Nick Novak.
Prediction: Oakland 23 - Houston 20
- Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks (Saturday, January 7 at 5:15 PM PST on NBC)
Vegas Line (Westgate Casino & Sportsbook): Seattle -8, O/U 43.5
GE Line: Seattle -7.65, O/U 45.99
The Seahawks host a playoff game for the first time since their run to a 2nd consecutive Super Bowl two years ago. Century Link Field is arguably one of the toughest venues for road teams and we don't see how the Lions will make this any kind of game. First off, the Lions are an awful road team going 3-5. Four of those five road losses were against playoff teams. Secondly, this game is being played at night on the west coast and the Lions are accustomed to playing most of their games in the eastern time zone. Third, there is also lost time due to cross country travel and having played a Sunday night game which will surely impact the Lions preparation for this game.
Clearly the odds are stacked against the Lions but the biggest reason why we don't like the Lions is the fact that they are limping into the postseason. They have lost their last three games and really should not be in the postseason if the Redskins had taken care of business against the Giants. Seattle may not be the Seahawks of 2013 and 2014 but they are at home where they still play very well and several of their key players will be healthy for this affair. The key thing to watch out for is the Seahawks passing game. Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, and Jimmy Graham all have significantly better home numbers than road numbers this season. The Lions, on the other hand, have a terrible pass defense. The Lions rank dead last in QB passer rating allowed at 106.5 and 2nd to last in sacks with 26. Basically there is no pass rush for the Lions so even though the Seahawks have issues with their offensive line, those issues should not be a major problem on Saturday night.
The Lions also cannot run the ball which would be nice to have if they want to keep the Seahawks offense off the field and the Lions defense fresh. This game can get out of hand pretty quickly for the Lions so we see Seattle covering the line here.
Prediction: Seattle 28 - Detroit 17
- Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday, January 8 at 10:05 AM PST on CBS)
Vegas Line (Westgate Casino & Sportsbook): Pittsburgh -10, O/U 46
GE Line: Pittsburgh -9.03, O/U 46.38
Speaking of games getting out of hand quickly, the Dolphins are probably doomed in this game. Even though the Dolphins beat the Steelers earlier in the season and Jay Ajayi had over 200 yards rushing, that was when the entire Dolphins offensive line was healthy and Ben Roethlisberger was knocked out of the game. With Dolphins Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey still out and the core of the Steelers offense healthy (Big Ben, Bell, and AB), the line of -10 for Pittsburgh is justified. Plus this game is now in Pittsburgh, not Miami.
The player we feel who will shine on Sunday is Le'Veon Bell. He finally gets to participate in a playoff game and the guy is on fire right now. Plus the Dolphins rank 3rd to last in rushing yards allowed and in fact are very close to the 49ers in terms of yards per carry allowed (good for 2nd to last). Expect the Steelers to pound the rock early and often so that the passing offense is preserved for the future games against the Chiefs, Patriots, and Cowboys if the Steelers go all the way.
We admire the turnaround the Dolphins have made this year and ending their playoff drought. The future is bright for this team, especially if the entire offensive line can stay healthy for a full season. It's just they will run into a buzzsaw this Sunday at Heinz Field with a healthy, hungry, and very experienced Pittsburgh team that has been firing on all cylinders lately.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 31 - Miami 13
- New York Giants at Green Bay Packers (Sunday, January 8 at 1:40 PM PST on FOX)
Vegas Line (Westgate Casino & Sportsbook): Green Bay -4.5, O/U 44.5
GE Line: Green Bay -4.82, O/U 43.54
Kudos to the NFL scheduling committee for putting this game last in the Wild Card slate for this weekend. This is easily the most intriguing matchup of all four wild card games. Eli Manning has a history of winning close playoff games at Lambeau Field. The Giants have a really good pass rush which is what you need to cool down Aaron Rodgers who is probably the hottest QB right now (18 TDs and 0 INTs during the Packers recent 6 game winning streak). The problem with the Giants is the offense. Can they put up 20+ points? You kind of need to do that to win in the postseason unless you have a dominating defense like the '85 Bears or '00 Ravens (which the Giants don't, especially with Jason Pierre-Paul still out). The last time the Giants scored more than 20 points was the Sunday after Thanksgiving at Cleveland. We are talking about Cleveland here!
That is five straight games the Giants have not been able to score at least 20 points and this has to be worrisome. It also is perplexing given the fact that the Giants offense was solid in 2014 and 2015 which is when current head coach Ben McAdoo was the offensive coordinator and Odell Beckham Jr. introduced himself to the world. We like the rise of Paul Perkins and feel Eli Manning can just surprise us by playing like the Eli Manning of the past few years but for some reason the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde show continues for the younger Manning.
On the flip side, you cannot ignore how the Packers busted the door down into the postseason and the streak they have been on. The Packers heeded their leader's call by running the table and now they get a home playoff game. The defense is playing better, there seems to be some semblance of a running game, and the WRs are clicking with Rodgers at just the right time. This game should be close and fun to watch but we feel the Giants' inept offense and the Packers hot streak are just too much to ignore.
Prediction: Green Bay 24 - New York 20