2018 NFL Wild Card Weekend Picks: Three Dogs and (D)a Bear(s)
Last Week: 12-4
My griping about the general inconsistency of Week 17 was followed closely by our best single-week performance of the season. Now, with only 11 games left, we have very little margin for error if we’re going to break .500 for the year. Luckily, the gambling gods have smiled on us, giving us three superior teams listed as underdogs and the single best team playing this weekend favored by less than a touchdown against the single worst. To the picks!
Indianapolis Colts +2.5 at Houston Texans
These two teams played each other to a 58-58 tie over the course of two regular season meetings, and I’d be surprised if this game turned into a blowout in either team’s favor. Houston gets to play at home, but I’ve never thought of them having a particularly large home-field advantage. The quarterback position is a draw, with Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson both playing at a high level and pulling small miracles from seemingly hopeless situations. Frank Reich has done a better job in his first year as a head coach of putting Luck in those situations less frequently, and Houston’s offensive line woes will be their undoing here. The Texans have the league’s worst adjusted sack rate allowed, and it’s going to force them into too many third-and-longs to keep up with Indianapolis’s efficient offense. Colts win in a nail-biter, 28-24.
Seattle Seahawks +2.5 at Dallas Cowboys
Getting points with the Seahawks is a real gift this week, after a season in which they’ve outplayed the Cowboys from start to finish, including an early-season win in Seattle. We’ve seen the Cowboys struggle when they can’t run all over an opponent, and the Seahawks have been good enough throughout the season to take away the other team’s best weapons. Perhaps most importantly, Seattle has an edge at both quarterback and head coach; how do you think Cowboys fans will feel when Russell Wilson connects on a deep ball to take the lead with a few minutes left in the 4th quarter? Seahawks win this one on the road, 24-17.
Los Angeles Chargers +2.5 at Baltimore Ravens
Easily the premiere game based on DVOA, Chargers-Ravens gives us a rematch of a game from just a few weeks ago. Baltimore beat the Chargers in L.A. just two weeks ago by a score of 22-10, a huge victory that vaulted them into first place in the AFC North and kept Los Angeles out of the top seed in the AFC. There are a few factors, though, that make me skeptical of a repeat performance. While Baltimore’s defense has been terrific all season, they started the Week 16 game off with an interception and finished it with a fumble recovery touchdown after Philip Rivers completed a pass to the Baltimore 38-yard line. If Antonio Gates hangs on to the ball, the Chargers are looking at a manageable 2nd down with a chance to take the lead late in the game. Add in the non-existent home field advantage in L.A., and the circumstances aren’t as dire as they appear. I think the Chargers will get out to a lead in Baltimore, and clamp down on the Ravens’ old school offense from there, hanging on for a 20-13 victory.
Chicago Bears -5.5 vs. Philadelphia Eagles
On one side, the league’s best defense (by a long way), and on the other, Super Bowl MVP and possibly glitch-in-the-matrix Nick Foles. I wouldn’t recommend making sense of the Nick Foles career arc; you might end up in an asylum after finding yourself back where you started five times. It wouldn’t be nearly as surprising if he just hadn’t played so terribly in the Eagles’ first two games, throwing for 5.5 yards per attempt with 1 TD and 1 INT against two of the league’s worst defenses, Atlanta and Tampa Bay. Since returning to the starting lineup in Week 15, he’s averaging 8.5 yards per attempt with 6 TDs and 3 INTs, winning three games in a row to secure Philadelphia’s playoff berth. Unfortunately for him, the Bears’ defense puts everything he’s faced this year to shame. Wild-looking deep shots to Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor have played a huge part in Philly’s three-game win streak to end the season; Chicago ranks 1st against deep passes, nearly twice as strong as New England’s 2nd-place finish. His three interceptions in 113 attempts don’t bode well against a Bears’ defense that pulled down 27 picks on the season, 6 (28%) ahead of 2nd-place Miami. Chicago’s 2nd-ranked rush defense shouldn’t have any problem bottling up Wendell Smallwood either. Of course, the Bears will need to score points if they’re going to cover a 5.5-point spread, which is where Mitch Trubisky comes in and ruins my admittedly biased optimism. He’s played well over the past few weeks, and he’s looked better than I had hoped when they gave up too much draft capital to take him, but at this point I still view him as a liability. Philadelphia’s defensive line has looked scary in their recent run, helping to make up for an injured and ineffective secondary vulnerable to deep passes. Trubisky isn’t known for his downfield accuracy, and the Bears offensive line has been merely average most of the season. When all is said and done, I think the Bears’ advantage on defense will get them at least one non-offensive touchdown, and Matt Nagy’s creativity will help them break 20 points. The saga of Nick Foles ends here, with a convincing 24-10 home win for Chicago.
That's all for this week! Kick back, grab a drink, and feel free to blame me if you put money on these picks and come out behind. I won't compensate you, but maybe your significant others will send their wrath in my direction instead of yours.