"It’s the most wonderful time of the year". No, I am not talking about Christmas or New Years Day or that annoying song we have to hear Andy Williams sing over and over again during the holidays. I am talking about that special time of the year that brings sports bettors and their millions of dollars together: The NFL playoffs! In fact, betting action on the Superbowl alone may top $100,000,000 dollars this year. Keep in mind that this is only accounting for "legal" sports betting action. Add up all the under the table action that goes on between bookies and friends and some say that betting on the NFL playoffs may be a billion dollar industry. So it is pretty easy to see why people take these games so seriously when there is so much money on the line. I am going to try my best to make sense of the first round of the playoffs and pick the winners against the spread while hopefully making myself some money in the process. So without further ado, let the madness begin:
*home team in CAPS
GAME 1: Cincinnati Bengals vs. HOUSTON TEXANS
LINE: TEXANS -3
MY PICK: Houston Texans
SCORE: Houston 17 Cincinnati 10
I will start out by saying that this was the toughest game for me to pick. Being successful in the playoffs is all about peaking at the right time and neither of these teams come into this game peaking. In fact, they are doing the opposite. Houston comes into the game limping into the playoffs. They have lost their last three games and have had the benefit of playing in one of the weakest divisions in football. The AFC south has a combined record of 26-38. Meanwhile, the Bengals backed into the playoffs by losing a "must-win" game against the Baltimore Ravens and somehow still got in with the help of some other teams. On top of that, their best win of the entire year was against the Tennessee Titans who did not even make the playoffs. This really is a terrible game and whichever team wins is definitely one and done. That being said, I like the Texans to win and cover. It looks like T.J. Yates will play after suffering a separated left shoulder in week 17. He has shown glimpses of being a respectable QB with wins over both Atlanta and Cincinnati during the year. This will be the Texans first playoff game in franchise history so I am expecting the crowd to be pumped up and ready to make some noise and that should spell trouble for first year quarterback Andy Dalton. I am predicting a low scoring game being that both defenses are legit and both quarterbacks are unproven in the playoffs. It will be a battle of wills but I think that the Texans come out on top 17-10.
GAME 2: Detroit Lions vs. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
LINE: SAINTS -10.5
MY PICK: LIONS
SCORE: Saints 38 Lions 31
This game is going to be a shootout! I am not a big fan of betting the over/under in games but as of right now the line is at 58.5 and I don’t see a way that these teams do not put up at least 60 points combined. It is a battle of great quarterbacks and terrible pass defenses. The Saints are ranked 30th in pass defense while the Lions are 22nd. Meanwhile quarterbacks on both teams are putting up numbers that are just sick. Drew Brees broke Dan Marino's long standing record for most passing yards thrown for in a single season. Meanwhile, Stafford has quietly thrown for over 5000 yards this season. I don't believe that either defense will play well and because of the high powered offenses on each team I expect a close scoring shootout that results in a Saints win but a Lions cover.
GAME 3: Atlanta Falcons vs NEW YORK GIANTS
LINE: GIANTS -3
MY PICK: NEW YORK GIANTS
SCORE: Giants 30 Falcons 17
When these two teams meet in New York on Sunday my guess is that it will not be pretty. The weather in New York is expected to be cold and wet as the forecast calls for highs in the low 40's and lots of rain. So why is this important? It is a fact that the QB for Atlanta, Matt Ryan, fares much better indoors than he does outdoors. Ryan has one of the lowest QB ratings in the NFL during outdoor games. Nobody knows for sure why Ryan is affected so much by playing outside but I am sure it has a lot to do with him playing all of his home games in a dome. In the 11 games that the Falcons played indoors this season, they had a combined record of 8-3. In contrast, the 5 games they played outdoors they had a record of 2-3 which includes a win against the Seattle Seahawks that could have gone either way. So in reality this Falcons team has only one quality win playing on an outdoor field for the entire year. On top of that, the Giants may have the best pass rush in the NFL. Pro-bowler Jason Pierre-Paul leads the Giants pass rush attack with 16.5 sacks. Combine that with Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck and I get the feeling that the Falcons are going to be in for a long day. I picked the Giants to win by just 13 points based on their inconsistency throughout the year as well but do not be surprised if this game turns out to be a blowout.
GAME 4: Pittsburg Steelers vs. DENVER BRONCOS
LINE: STEELERS -9
MY PICK: STEELERS
SCORE: STEELERS 20 DENVER 10
The last game of what is sure to be a crazy wild-card weekend puts the Pittsburgh Steelers up against Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos. Will Tebow lead the Broncos to another improbable win or has he run out of miracles? Even though I don't like giving all those points to a stingy Denver defense, I think that when it is all said and done, the Steelers will just barely cover. The Steelers come into this game extremely beat up. Rashard Mendenhall is done for the year and Roethlisberger is literally limping into the playoffs. On top of that, their safety Ryan Clark will not be allowed to travel to Denver because of a rare sickle cell disease that can flare up in high altitude. The reason I am still sticking with the Steelers even though they are so beat up is simple: DEFENSE. Pittsburgh has the best pass defense in the entire NFL. Combine that with Tebows poor accuracy and I think it is going to be very hard for the Broncos to get into the end-zone. They are going to have to lean solely on their defense and I just don't see them shutting down Roethlisberger for the entire game even if he is hurt.
While I feel more strongly about my picks for the Giants and the Lions than the Steelers and Texans, one thing is for sure: Anything can happen on wildcard weekend and we see upsets year after year. The only underdog I have covering this week are the Detroit Lions and I don't even have them winning the game. Are all 4 favorites really going to win their games? Who knows, but anything could happen. Thanks for reading and be sure to let me know what you think about the games!