After 17 weeks of sometimes tantalizing, often frustrating foreplay, we’ve finally reached the main course. Welcome to the 2012 NFL Playoffs! (Or is it the 2013 NFL Playoffs? I can never figure that one out.)
Even though I’ve been following football more closely this year than at any other point in my life, I feel about as unprepared to predict the playoffs as I was for mostly every college exam. At least in college I could claim that I didn’t know the material because I never opened the books or went to class. With football, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’s watched more hours of games, highlights and analysis than me (just ask my girlfriend, who has put a sports ban on our TV starting promptly on February 4th and lasting until August).
During the regular season it was sometimes easy to predict which team would show up for a game and which team would completely flop. And with 14-16 games per week, I could always cover up my mistakes in a few games with wins in the others. But now we’re at the point where one or two slip-ups in a week will ruin your picks for the entire playoffs. It’s a very stressful time to gamble on the NFL, don’t you think?
While I plan to forge on with my usual weekly picks against the spread during this month of playoffs, I also wanted to use this first postseason blog to try to predict each winner of the 11 playoff games. I also found some very interesting prop bets on my gambling website, and I’ll discuss which ones I think are worth taking a flier on and why.
I gotta tell ya, it’s extremely intriguing to take all of the underdogs this weekend. As you’ll see below, I’m not officially going with that strategy, but you can be sure that I’ll be putting a small wager on a four-team all-underdog parlay (currently paying off at about 11:1 odds). I’m so nervous that we’re heading for a crazy weekend that once the moneyline odds come out on Friday, I’m probably going to do a small bet on all four underdogs to win outright (update: the moneylines are out. A four-team parlay on the moneyline for each underdog pays off at about 86:1 odds). It’s money that I know I’ll never see again, but I’d love to be that guy who can say he saw it coming if they all somehow win.
So why are the underdogs so intriguing to me this weekend? Well just look at these favorites and I’m sure you can see the obvious flaws and warning signs that make the dogs so attractive.
- #3 Houston – Lost three of last four, going from a certain #1 seed to having to play on opening weekend. They don’t seem to be doing anything well over the past month.
- #4 Baltimore – Lost four of last five, continue to be extremely unhealthy, not as scary at home as you might think.
- #3 Green Bay – The surest thing of the favorites, but they have been so schizophrenic all season long. And they just lost to Minnesota six days before this upcoming rematch. Plus, they have to deal with the two scariest words in all of football: Adrian Peterson.
- #5 Seattle – Yes, the on-the-road, wildcard Seahawks are three-point favorites over the NFC Champion Redskins. That’s reason enough to be skeptical of the ‘Hawks ability to move on. We all know they’ve been a lot worse on the road than at home this year.
I know it won’t happen, but a guy can dream, can’t he?
Anyway, let’s move on to the individual picks:
Cincinnati @ Houston (-4.5) – Saturday, 1:30pm PT
My good friend Bill Simmons calls this “The Vegas Zone.” It’s a reference to when the oddsmakers have no idea what the line should be, so they put it in this weird 4.5-5.5 point area. Should it be closer to a field goal? More like a full touchdown? Who knows? So they put it in the middle. Now if someone could honestly tell me that a month ago they predicted the Texans would get a line in “The Vegas Zone” for a home playoff game against the Bengals, then you can take this blog over and make all of my readers a lot richer than I can. Oh how the mighty have fallen. The crazy thing is these two teams really are about even when you look at most stats. The Texans’ point differential for the regular season is only 14 more than Cincinnati’s. And if you’re the type of person who believes in the DVOA rankings from footballoutsiders.com, then you should already know that Houston finished the season as the 11th-best team in the league, and Cincinnati finished right behind them at #12. If you believe that stuff, then it’s a no-brainer that you’re taking the Bengals.
Two things give me pause when it comes to taking Cincy: 1). During their 7-1 run over the second half of the season, they really only beat one quality team, the Giants, and 2). Their offense kinda sucks. You almost have to be sure that their defense can hold Houston to 20 points or less if you’re taking the Bengals this weekend.
Here’s an obscure stat you may not know that could swing this game: The Texans were ranked dead last in the NFL in special teams this year. The Bengals finished in the top 10.
If I was picking with my heart: I’d go with Cincinnati. Doesn’t this franchise deserve their first playoff win since 1990? It feels like they’ve done a lot of right things lately like sticking with Marvin Lewis (a decent coach, not as big of a disaster as we once thought), drafting a legit stud in A.J. Green, sticking to their guns with Drew Dalton over Carson Palmer last year, and getting BenJarvus Green-Ellis, not a Pro Bowl caliber guy, but a running back they desperately needed. They’ve done enough to finally deserve a January win.
The actual pick against the spread: Cincinnati. Too much Bengal defense. Too much on Matt Schaub’s shoulders.
The straight-up pick: Cincinnati 17, Houston 15 (ugly, ugly game me thinks)
Minnesota @ Green Bay (-9) – Saturday, 5pm PT
Of course the easiest way to screw this pick up is to rely only on what you saw when these teams played each other just five days ago. Minnesota beat Green Bay at home by three in one of the best games of the year. So why should we think that just because the rematch is in Wisconsin the Packers are suddenly 12 points better than what they showed in week 17? If you take the Vikings and base your pick only on that, I won’t call you crazy. Sometimes it really is that simple. And by picking the Vikings you also get to laugh at all the idiots who picked against Adrian Peterson if he goes off for 360 yards on the way to carrying his team to an improbable win. Rooting for him is fun (another simple, straight-forward reason to pick Minnesota).
But there are more than a couple legitimate reasons to go with the Packers on Saturday night. First of all, even though Green Bay had something to play for in that loss last week, they looked more concerned with getting injured players healthy and giving recently-back-to-being-healthy players some limited practice reps. It feels like they’ll be healthier than they’ve been in a while for this game, and they seem like the type of team that can flip the switch and really turn it on now that they have no other choice. Secondly, the Vikings have been soooo much better at home than on the road this year. They lost road games by 12, 10, 18 and 9 points in the regular season. Yes, both Cincinnati and Minnesota have been on fire lately. And both have second-year quarterbacks leading them. But don’t mistakenly think they’re equally capable of pulling off the road upset. Cincy has a very good defense anchoring them. They also have a quarterback who you could at least describe as “competent.” They also have a game-changing wide receiver. Minnesota has none of those things. Sure, they have the regular season MVP in Peterson, but I’m still dubious about how far a stud running back can take a team that has one of the worst QB/WR combos in the NFL.
If I was picking with my heart: Of course I’d be taking the Vikings to win another epic battle that comes down to a last-minute field goal (or better yet, an Adrian Peterson game-winning run). My dream scenario in the NFC Championship game is Minnesota @ Washington.
The actual pick against the spread: Hate to do it…nine points is a lot…but Green Bay is the pick.
The straight-up pick: I was motivated enough to look back over the past six NFL wildcard rounds, and every year there was at least one blowout (usually two or three of them). I feel like this is the one: Green Bay 31, Minnesota 10.
Indianapolis @ Baltimore (-6.5) – Sunday, 10am PT
There are a few storylines in this game that have nothing to do with stats, right? Chuck Pagano’s fight with leukemia…Ray Lewis’ fight with father time…Something about the Colts formerly being in Baltimore back in caveman times…Pagano was one of the Ravens’ coaches just a year ago, right? These are things that really won’t affect the outcome of the game, but you can’t turn on a TV this week without hearing about them. By the way, I’d like to think the Ravens players are as sick of the whole Ray Lewis schtick as I am and therefore they’re prepared to throw the game to end his career as soon as humanly possible. I bet there’s at least a couple Ravens players who’d consider sacrificing playoff wins in order to get his overrated ass out of that lockeroom once and for all.
On one side of this game you have a Colts team that is less talented, less seasoned, but extremely healthy. On the other side you have a Ravens team that is redefining what it means to be unhealthy, but they’re more talented and have a ton of veteran guys who have been doing this playoff thing for a long time. The Ravens backed their way into the playoffs in losing four of their last five. The Colts not only came in the front door of the playoffs, but they actually used one of those door-ramming devices you see cops use in the movie to get in…winning five of their last six to leave no question about their playoff worth (Battering ram is the answer. I should have just called it a battering ram).
This game really boils down to one question: Is Baltimore really that much better of a home team than a road team? For all the talk about how good they are in Maryland, go back and look at the results from this season. They’ve lost two of their last three at home. They won three home games by a touchdown or less… You know when they’ve looked great at home? When they destroyed Oakland in week 10. That’s about it.
If I was picking with my heart: At this point I think you understand that all the “with my heart” picks would be for the underdog. Especially in this game…I dislike the Ravens; I like Andrew Luck; I like the Pagano story; I want to see the Colts face Peyton Manning.
The actual pick against the spread: Colts cover! The Ravens aren’t scaring anyone this time around! By the way, the Ravens have the worst record against the spread (6-9-1) out of all the teams playing this weekend.
The straight-up pick: Baltimore 30, Indianapolis 27. Sadly I can’t pick Indy to pull off the full upset. I hope I’m wrong, but their miracle run has to come to an end some time, and I think it’ll be in a valiant effort at Baltimore (tear).
Seattle @ Washington (+3) – Sunday, 1:30pm PT
If Molly was still alive, I’d be letting her pick this game…Sorry, bad joke. Molly is still alive. But she’s in semi-retirement for the postseason. She loves her 12-4 regular season record and always said that she’d rather go out on top than turn into this decade’s Brett Favre (she can be a real ball buster huh?). Anyway, I’d love for her to pick this game because I just can’t figure it out. With the Redskins being a three-point underdog, this really feels like a coin flip.
Let’s just try to hammer this out in my stream of consciousness mode:
“The Redskins are at home against a team that’s notorious for being bad on the road. How are they getting three points? But the Seahawks have proven to be one of the best teams in the league…the best team in the league according to footballoutsiders.com. But Washington is on such a roll. And that home crowd is going to be crazy for the first meaningful playoff game in D.C. in about 13 years. But Seattle’s defense might shut the ‘Skins down completely. And the Seahawks have beat teams like San Francisco, New England and Green Bay this year. Oh cut it out, we all know those were home games and the Green Bay game was a farce. They’ve lost road games to Arizona, Detroit, St. Louis and Miami this year…all worse opponents than Washington. And that Redskins defense has come a long way since the early part of the season…And Washington’s basically been playing a playoff game each of the last five weeks…And if you think about it, the Redskins were a stupid Josh Morgan penalty and a brief RGIII injury away from being 12-4 this year (would have won the St. Louis and Atlanta games). And sure, the Seahawks could have one more loss because of the replacement ref game, but they also were a lucky bounce or one more play away from wins in just about all of their losses. And the Seahawks were a solid 11-5 against the spread this year…Wait, so were the Redskins.”
You can see how I’m losing my mind here, right?
If I was picking with my heart: C’mon. You’re talking about the guy who has had an irrational hatred towards the Seahawks all year. Of course I’d blindly be picking the ‘Skins if it was all about my emotions.
The actual pick against the spread: I keep coming back to two things…the home field advantage Washington will absolutely have on Sunday afternoon (I think it’ll be equal to a typical Seattle home field advantage) , and how stupid it seems to bet against RGIII. I genuinely get goosebumps every time he talks to the media. The guy just seems to have the right blend of talent, intelligence, passion and understanding of the moment. I’m not going against that.
The straight-up pick: Washington 31, Seattle 30. Hail To The Redskins??
Beyond WildCard Weekend
Let’s see how poorly I can do at picking the entire playoff bracket through the Super Bowl before the first game is played.
In the AFC, I’ve got:
-#6 Cincinnati over #3 Houston
-#4 Baltimore over #5 Indianapolis
#1 Denver over #6 Cincinnati
#2 New England over #4 Baltimore
#2 New England over #1 Denver (AFC Championship Game)
In the NFC, I’ve got:
#3 Green Bay over #6 Minnesota
#4 Washington over #5 Seattle
#2 San Franisco over #3 Green Bay
#4 Washington over #1 Atlanta
#2 San Francisco over #4 Washington (NFC Championship Game)
And of course I have New England over San Francisco in the Super Bowl. The rematch that every fan base who doesn’t have a horse in this playoff race wants to see. By the way, I know it’s absolutely crazy to put Washington in the NFC Championship game, but I feel like some goofy team that shouldn’t be there has to advance a couple rounds this year. My two college friends who are huge ‘Skins fans gotta be cringing at this right now. Sorry, guys. RGII and company won me plenty of money on my preseason “Washington to win the division” bet. I feel like I owe it to them to be an honorary fan.
Wildcard Weekend Prop Bets
And finally here are some prop bets I found for this weekend that intrigue me enough that I’ll probably be putting a small wager on each.
1). Who will record the most passing yards during wildcard weekend?
- Andrew Luck (7/2): Feeling like they will have to throw a lot to make it a game. He’s more than capable of putting up 350 in a loss. He’s got better odds than Aaron Rodgers, the other obvious candidate for this bet.
2). Who will have more sacks in the game? Cincinnati (+160) or Houston (-200)
- Cincinnati (+160): The Bengals had seven more sacks than Houston in the regular season. The Bengals offensive line is equal to or better than the Texans offensive line. What am I missing here? Why are they giving us such favorable odds on Cincy?
3). Will Ed Reed get an interception in the game? Yes (+250) or No (-400)
- Yes (+250): You just know he will. It’s Ed Reed vs a rookie QB in a home playoff game. This is like free money.
Enjoy the first weekend of meaningful football. And be sure to check back on the WBFF blog for all your playoff coverage.