Happy New Year! Which also means, Happy Playoffs!
The 2018 season ended on a high note, as I went 50-30-6 ATS (62.5%) in my picks this season, including an incredible 18-2-2 ATS & 16-6 SU stretch over my L/22 underdog plays. And while many believe it’s unsustainable, it’s not. At least not this week. Not in these playoffs.
When entering the new year, and the new season that is the NFL Playoffs, you have to forget everything you think you know about each team, while simultaneously remembering all of it. Sounds impossible, but again, it’s not. I’ve always tried to approach the playoffs much like I do the regular season; like one of those constantly changing stories, where you make different decisions, and it changes what door you go through, or who the killer is. Except the killer in this story, wins the Super Bowl.
First, you have to have an idea of how the story is going to play out, and while the Wild Card Round is technically the beginning of the playoffs, we need to envision who will match up in the Divisional Round, as those are the real contenders. That will play a big part in my picks, among other things, and it’s something to remain mindful of.
Let’s get things started with our first two Wild Card matchups, and write the first chapter of our own story of playoff triumph.
We’ll call it 11-0, since that’s the goal now.
11-0: An Undefeated Playoff Story
Colts (+2) @ Texans
I love Andrew Luck this year, and really have since his days at Stanford under the tutelage of Jim Harbaugh. The grizzly neck beard, the structural engineering degree, the cannons for arms, his toughness, his arm strength, his surprising mobility for his size; I could go on. Above all else, though, is his incredibly high football IQ, his command of this team, and his genuine love for the game. That, to me, makes him the best quarterback south of 30 years old, and when the old guard retires, Andrew Luck will take the reigns.
This team sorely missed him in his last two injury plagued years, and for a moment, it looked as if the league would be robbed of another incredible talent. Many wrote Luck off after a 1-5 start to the year, citing the significant decline in arm strength following shoulder surgery, as well as overall mobility. He has since knocked all the rust off, leading Indy to an insane 9-1 finish, and a 10-6 record on the season, capped off by a 33-17 win in Tennessee to secure the #6 seed. He’s a lock for Comeback Player of the Year, further supported by his 39 passing TDs (2nd behind Patrick Mahomes’ unbelievable 50).
Indy returns to the playoffs for the first time since the infamous Deflategate game, where playing with a beachball couldn’t have prevented the 45-7 slaughtering the received at the hands of the eventual Super Bowl Champion Patriots. Additionally, a 12-year old girl disproved the notion that New England was at fault, with a science project, so I think it’s fair to say it needs to be put to bed.
They’ll be tasked with a familiar opponent in the Houston Texans, and a pleasantly familiar stadium in NRG, where they’ve gone 5-1 in their last six trips. Houston finished the season similarly strong, going 11-2 after an 0-3 start, but two of those losses came in the last four games.
Their are many reasons I like Indy here, primarily because of the mismatches between their passing game and the Texans’ secondary (Luck threw 6 TDs and averaged 431.5 YPG in two games vs. Houston), as well as the Colts’ strong defensive front against Houston’s weak offensive line. Rookie linebacker Darius Leonard is a beast, and will be charged with containing DeShaun Watson, while the secondary will do everything they can to contain DeAndre Hopkins. While those aren’t easy tasks, I believe this balanced Colts team is up to them, and we will see Houston struggle to move the ball with limited weapons. They’ve lost Demaryius Thomas, who was meant to help ease the loss of Will Fuller, and I don’t believe this Texans squad can handle a third matchup with these Colts. Further assisting Indy here is head coach Frank Reich’s playoff experience from his time as OC with the Eagles during their Super Bowl run last year. He has no doubt reminded his team that anything can happen in the playoffs, but it all starts with a win here.
Given the holiday festivities of the playoffs, along with a small slate of games, I will also be giving out plays on each game’s total. I like the under here. These teams have already met twice this year, (37-34 Texans win & 24-21 Colts win), and I believe it will be even lower, as some familiarity and struggles will lead to some conservative play-calling. Additionally, the Colts’ defense has held opponents to 14.2 PPG over their last five games, while Houston’s D has surrendered just 13.3 PPG in their last three home games, which have averaged 42.8 PPG overall this season.
Pick: Under 48.5
Final Score Prediction: 23-16 Colts
If you need a stat:
-Indy is 5-1 SU in their L/6 in Houston.
-5 of the last 7 Colts games have gone UNDER the total (39.71)
-4 of the last 5 matchups between these teams have gone UNDER the total (44.8)
Seahawks @ Cowboys (-2.5)
I may not have another novel to write about this one, because it really begins and ends with my confidence in each team, particularly their head coaches and quarterbacks.
I can’t take dud Jason Garrett and inconsistent Dak Prescott to beat an experienced and balanced Seattle team, led by a forever-poised Russel Wilson, and a gum-smacking Pete Carroll.
These Seahawks missed the playoffs last year for the first time since 2011, then shipped Richard Sherman to division-rival San Fransisco in the off-season, lost Kam Chancellor to injury, and then Earl Thomas to boot (or flip-off). Needless to say, it looked to be a rebuilding year, and Pete Carroll’s job was on life support.
Seattle responded with a repectable 10-6 record, on the back of the league’s leading rushing attack (160 YPG), and a rejuvenated defense that helped them lead the NFL in turnover differential (+15), while playing with one less hand than the rest of the league.
Dallas has had a solid season, thanks in large part to the arrival and emergence of Amari Cooper, but in all reality has Philly’s tough season to thank more, as they conceded the NFC East long ago, as well as both matchups between the two. Still, Dallas won the division by just a game, and I’m honestly just not a believer. Not in Dak. Not in Garrett. Not in Jerry.
The last time these two met was in Seattle back in Week 4, a 24-13 Seahawks victory that saw Dak Prescott throw for just 168 yards, with one touchdown, and two interceptions, while posting a 54.5 QBR. I believe he’ll play better here at home, but the playoffs are a strange place to this young Dallas team, and experience will make a big difference.
There is everything to like about these Seahawks and this unexpected revival. Maybe it was the passing of owner Paul Allen, or maybe Pete Carroll is chewing on more than just gum. Whatever it is, it’s working, and I’m confident it will translate to at least one playoff victory. Brass decided to extend Carroll’s contract, and he’ll prove to them it was the smart move.
As mentioned above, I’m giving out plays on the totals as well, and while I’m admittedly much better ATS, I’m confident in the over here. Many will expect a lot of rushing, and so will I, but that will translate to big plays in the passing game. Jason Garrett will also undoubtedly try to prove wrong those who call him too conservative, while Pete Carroll will be excited to dial up whatever plays get the win.
Huh, look at that, I guess I did have another novel in me.
Seahawks win on the back of Russell Wilson’s game-winning drive.
Pick: Seahawks (+2.5)
Pick: OVER 43
Final Score Prediction: 30-23 Seahawks
If you need a stat:
-Seattle is 25-6-4 ATS in their L/35 night games, including 11-2 ATS in their L/13 as underdogs under the big lights.
-Seattle is 5-0 ATS as an underdog this season.
-The total has gone OVER in 7 of Seattle’s last 8 games.
-The total has gone OVER in 5 of the last 7 games in Dallas.
Here’s my Wild Card Round picks so far:
IND/HOU UNDER 48.5
SEA/DAL OVER 43