Your Average Picks For the NFL Playoffs – Week 1
After a long, underwhelming/wonderful season depending on who you talk to, it’s playoff time for the NFL. Fantasy football championships have been decided, the weaker teams have been eliminated (RIP Bucs & 49ers) and the Patriots are probably going to win the Super Bowl again. Before we get to that, we have the first round matchups. Here are our picks (against the spread) for the winners and losers of round 1.
Oakland @ Houston (-3.5)
If you’re new to football or spreads in general, just look at it this way: the team with a minus number next to it starts the game with negative points. In this case, before the opening kickoff, the score of the game will be -3.5 to 0, or 3.5 to 0 in favor of Oakland.
I’m not sure if the NFL can see into the future or not, but it was very nice of them to put what is most likely going to be shittiest game of the weekend on first. Here’s what people will be thinking during this game:
The main reason for this? Five words: Brock Osweiler versus Connor Cook. Who are these two men, you might be saying to yourself. Are they famous chefs? Are they movie critics? Nope, Brock and Connor are the two starting quarterbacks for two playoffs teams. While Osweiler did have a decent run last year with the Broncos, he’s gone out of his way this year to prove that he should not be a starting QB for any extended period of time. Any QB that makes Deandre Hopkins look pedestrian deserves a slap in the face, so I hope Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin brought their dueling gloves. They combined for 18 sacks this season, but Houston’s offense line has been slightly better than middle of the pack. If they can get Lamar Miller some positive carries early on, this game could get ugly for the Raiders.
The Raiders offense is in a bit of disarray thanks to the season ending injury to QB Derek Carr. Third string rookie QB Connor Cook took over last week after Matt McGloin was injured, and he’ll be the signal caller against the Texans as well. I don’t want to be too hard on Cook, but anytime you use the words ‘behind Matt McGloin on the depth chart’ to describe a QB, it’s not a great start. His only regular season experience came last week against the Bronco’s top ranked pass defense, so who knows what he’s capable of. Working in his favor is one of the best offensive lines in all of football and the potential for a devastating clock managing running game with Latavius Murray. Oakland’s O-Line gave up the least amount of sacks this year, and Houston defensive line is obviously not the same without Mr. Wonderful JJ Watt.
Pick: If Pittsburgh beats Miami at home like everyone is predicting, this game will basically decide who New England murders next week. If that’s the case, I think it’d be nice for Brock to go to New England so Brady and the Pats can get some revenge.
Houston 24 Oakland 13
Detroit @ Seattle (-8)
While the Sunday matchups are much more intriguing, I think this game has the potential to be a lot of fun. Here’s how I see people reacting to this game:
Any talk about the Seahawks involves two things: Russell Wilson and their defense. Wilson has had a down year by his standards, but a lot has to do with Seattle having a terrible offensive line, no running game and Wilson’s multiple injuries. Wilson was sacked 41 times this year, and while a lot of the blame was placed on the offensive line, you have to imagine if Wilson was healthy he would’ve been able to scramble away from some of those potential sacks like he’s done in year’s past. The Seattle rushing game has been incredibly inconsistent this year, as Thomas Rawls’ injury forced Christine Michael to step up, but he was unable to do so and is no longer on the team. Rawls hasn’t been effective since returning, only averaging 3.2 yards per carry, and the Seahawks as a team average less than 100 yards on the ground per game. The key for the Seahawks will be getting Jimmy Graham involved, as he’s shown when he’s playing well he’s virtually un-guardable. The good news for Graham and the Seahawks is that the Lions are among the worst teams in the league versus tight ends, yielding 89 catches and 9 td’s on the year.
The Seattle defense is not the ‘Legion of Boom’ that we remember, but it was still good for the number five overall defense. They still have Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor anchoring the secondary, and they still have Bobby Wagner and Michael Bennett applying pressure. While it may seem like this game benefits Seattle on the defensive side being at home, Detroit QB Matt Stafford has been pretty consistent no matter where he’s played this year. Stafford has thrown more TD’s and less interceptions at home, but he’s thrown for more yards and has a better completion percentage on the road. His home/road QB rating (96.6/90.5) are also pretty consistent. The key for Detroit is going to be their emerging running back Zach Zenner. His stats don’t blow you away, but over his two last games, he’s run for 136 yards on 32 carries and three touchdowns. If he’s able to do something similar to that 4.25 yards per carry against Seattle, it will take a lot of the pressure off of Stafford.
Pick: While there’s always a chance that the Seahawks D dominates and this is a blowout, I don’t see that happening here. UPSET CITY.
Detroit 20 Seattle 17
Miami @ Pittsburgh (-10)
This is the one game this weekend that I could see getting out of hand. Here’s how I picture a Dolphins fan who isn’t watching the game reacting to being told the score:
If Ryan Tannehill was playing the Dolphins might have had a better shot, but I think this game is going to come down to Pittsburgh being at home. While Le’Veon Bell is unstoppable no matter where he plays, no QB has more drastic home/road splits than Big Ben. On the road, Ben has a 78.4 QB rating and a 9/8 TD/INT ratio. At home, those numbers change to 116.7 and 20/5. It’s literally night and day, and with weapons like the aforementioned Bell, Antonio Brown and a healthy Ladarius Green, I think Pittsburgh goes up big early.
If Pittsburgh goes up big early, it’ll be up to Matt Moore to lead the Dolphins comeback. While it’s possible that the Dolphins rely on Jay Ajayi, who has shown flashes of brilliance this year, he may not be the savior Fins fans are hoping for. The Dolphins will be without center Mike Pouncey, who is far and away the most important piece of the Dolphins rushing attack. In the five games Pouncey has played this season, Miami has rushed for 51, 222, 256, 137 and 231 yards. In the other 11 games, Miami failed to rushed for 100 yards in every game except for week 3 against Cleveland (115) and week 16 against Buffalo (261). Pittsburgh gave up an even 100 yards per game on the ground this season, which puts them in the top half of rushing defenses, so I have a feeling this game is going to fall squarely on the shoulders of Moore.
Pick: Pittsburgh 35 Dolphins 14
New York @ Green Bay (-4.5)
This is the game I’m the most excited for, and it’s probably going to be the best game of wildcard weekend. Here’s how I picture NFL fans reacting to this game:
The Packers are the hottest team in football, winning six straight thanks to the otherworldly quarterback play of Aaron Rodgers. Their defense has also played well, allowing just under 19 points per game during the win streak, which is even more impressive considering how fast paced Rodgers has run the offense. The Packers are also +8 in turnover margin, which works in their favor against turnover kingpin Eli Manning. Back to Rodgers – it didn’t really matter where he played this year, as his home/road splits were almost identical, but since this game takes place at Lambeau, I’ll throw in his home stats. He had a 106.5 rating with a 22/4 TD/INT ratio, and he completed 66% of his passes. While Rodgers has been great during this winning streak, the key for the Packers in this game is going to be receiver turned running back Ty Montgomery. Similar to Zach Zenner for Detroit, his stats don’t jump out at you (besides the Bears game) but he’s brought some stability to the Packers run game, which is something they struggled with the entire year.
The Giants had a pretty positive season, finishing 11-5, and most of that credit goes to their defense. While they were -2 on the year in turnover margin, some of that has to be attributed to Eli’s 16 picks 4 fumbles on offense. New York struggled to run the ball all year, and Eli Manning was his usual inconsistent self, but the offseason signings on defense made a huge difference. Free agent signee’s Oliver Vernon, Damon Harrison and Janoris Jenkins have all played exceptional, as has rookie Eli Apple and second year man Landon Collins. The results of this upgrade? The Giants going from the 32nd ranked defense in 2015 to the 10th ranked defense in 2016. It’s the largest jump in overall team defense rankings in NFL history, and it’s the main reason the Giants are even in the playoffs. They’ll have their hands full trying to stop the surging Packers, and the Giants D vs. the Packers O is my favorite matchup of the weekend. On the offensive side, the main (read: only) weapon is OBJ, and what a weapon he is. Beckham had 10 TDs and almost 1400 yards this season, and he’s proven in the pas that he can single handedly take over games. The Giants will need him to make as many big plays as possible against the Packers 31st ranked pass defense if they want to pull off the road upset.
Pick: I want to go with the Giants, but Aaron Rodgers at home with all the momentum is too tough to pass up.
Pick: Packers 31 Giants 17
Enjoy the football!