Shreding the Spread One NFL Game at a Time: Wild-Card Weekend Edition

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Shreding the Spread One NFL Game at a Time: Wild-Card Weekend Edition

The first games of wild-card weekend are almost here, and I’m sitting here trying to narrow down the games and find something I like to bet on. This is no ordinary week, as I only have four games to look at instead of the usual 16.

Normally, I try to narrow it down to a handful of games I like and maybe bet a couple of them or throw three together into a parlay. With only four games, I’m trying to resist the temptation to bet the board and SO FAR, I’ve only put down some dough on one of these games this weekend. 

What makes this week even more unordinary is the fact that when I started checking the lines early this week I saw four road favourites and wild-card teams staring back at me.

Odds-makers clearly had a tough time putting up the numbers this week, as every game opened at -3 or lower and it wouldn’t have been surprising in my opinion to see the opposite team slightly favoured in some of these matchups.

The public on the other hand has had no problem making their selections. Not surprisingly all four road favs have seen intense public action so far. While these teams all made it to the annual playoff dance by virtue of the wild card, the public hasn’t been scared off, possibly with visions of past wild-cards teams Pittsburgh and the Giants winning the Super Bowl still fresh in their minds. 

Here is the public consensus for each game from a few sites I check out:

Atlanta = 61-78%

Indy = 69-88%

Baltimore = 66-84%

Philly = 73-90%

 

AFC    No. 6 Baltimore Ravens (11-5) @ No. 3 Miami Dolphins (11-5)

The Ravens are a team I’m going to be watching closely throughout these playoffs.  In my opinion they’ve flown slightly under the radar and are really just as good as almost any team in the league.

I heard Dallas fans I know telling me Dallas was a lock to make the playoffs in Week 16 as they only had to face the Ravens and Eagles still. At the time I warned that while I wasn’t sure if the Ravens would win SU in Dallas, I knew they would be no pushovers as their offense is actually ranked in the top half of the league to go with a stellar defense. 

Turns out they did win SU and if they had a call go their way against Pittsburgh, the week prior, they may have been sitting with a first round bye this week. The Ravens defense speaks for itself. Fourth vs the run, third vs the pass, third in sacks, and they allow the third fewest points per game.

The Dolphins will have a tough time scoring points this week as they only rank 21st in offensive points per game. Where Miami may find some success would be to unleash Joey Porter and put some quick pressure on Ravens QB Joe Flacco.

Miami is seventh in the league in sacks while Baltimore ranks only 22nd in protecting their QB. Trying to get outside the Ravens' O-Line would probably be best as Miami’s lighter D-line and LB’s may have a tough time taking the Ravens beefy O-line head on.

Let’s look at how both these teams got here as well. 

While both teams share 11-5 records the Ravens by far had the tougher road to this playoff matchup.  Ravens opponents had a 112-94-2 record (.543 winning %), while the Dolphins faced teams with a 91-117 record (.437 winning %.).

While it could be argued Baltimore lost to many teams with winning records this year, they kept things extremely close twice with the Steelers and as well as with the Titans, two teams they may meet again in these playoffs.

Looking down the stats from many of Miami’s games, while they may have won nine of their past 10 games, most of which were far from pretty. In many of those contests, they were outplayed in key categories such as first downs, total net yards, and time of possession, as well as failing to cover in several of those games.

Below is a chart with some key statistical comparisons between the two teams. The chart shows the surface each team plays on at home and each number is that team's league ranking for that category at the end of the regular season.

Team

Surface

Rush yards

Rush yrds allw

Pass yards

Pass yrds allw

Turnovers

Sacks for

Sacks agst

Pts for

Pts agst

Ravens

Turf

4

3

28

2

+13

14

22

11

3

Dolphins

grass

11

10

10

25

+17

7

11

21

9

 

In Week SEven, Baltimore handled the Fins quite nicely to the tune of a 27-13 victory.  Statistically the game was played fairly evenly but this game was essentially a spring board game with sent both teams on impressive runs throughout the second portion of the season.

Another matchup to watch could be in the trenches when the Dolphins have the ball.  Fins C Samson Satele 6-3 300 pounds, is quick and athletic and should be their C for years to come. 

However, he sometimes has trouble taking on big tackles and in the Ravens Haloti Ngata 6'4" 340 pounds he will certainly see that.

One final thought is that listening to Dolphin’s quotes this week most of them seem to sound like the Fins are just happy about their turnaround, beating the Jets and making the playoffs.  They’ll need a much more focused attitude should they hope to upset the Ravens.

This game immediately seemed to jump out to me when the lines first came out this week. When I first saw it, it sat at Ravens -3.  Unfortunately I waited a couple days and saw the line move up to -3.5. 

This line looked like it would keep moving up throughout the week as I saw more and more -3s turning into -3.5s.  While I certainly would’ve preferred the -3, I still think the Ravens are the play here and I laid some money earlier in the week with Baltimore -3.5 @ 2.5 units.

Right now that is my only strong opinion for the weekend, however I will leave you with a few thoughts and rankings for the remaining games.

 

NFC    No. 5 Atlanta Falcons (11-5) @ No. 4 Arizona Cardinals (9-7)

In this game we get two teams who are the complete opposite.  The Falcons will pound it on the ground most of the game and then sprinkle a few passes in with offensive rookie of the year Matt Ryan.

The Cardinals would just as soon disregard the run completely and pass all day long to a star studded cast of receivers. Atlanta certainly had the tougher road to the playoffs playing in the NFC South where the Saints had the worst record at 8-8.  Arizona has been coasting for weeks now after they easily locked up the putrid NFC West. 

Six of Arizona’s nine wins came vs NFC West opponents and another vs Buffalo. It can be argued that 'Zona’s only good wins this year came against Dallas and Miami.

The Falcons travelling a couple time zones over to the desert could be of concern where Arizona was 6-2 this year. Cardinals WRs Fitzgerald,  Boldin, Urban and TE Pope all are at least six-feet tall and over 200 pounds. 

They are a tough group to handle in general and could be even tougher for a much smaller Falcons secondary whose only starter of comparable size is Lawyer Milloy who is questionable as of now with a back injury. 

Also on the injury front for Atlanta is DE Jamaal Anderson who is looking doubtful with an ankle injury.

The difference in style in this game is that while Atlanta is a power running team but they can pass (14th in the league) if need be. If the Cardinals' Edgerrin James doesn’t perform well like he did in Week 17, or if Whisenhunt decides to abandon the run completely, 'Zona will quickly become very one-dimensional. Arizona boasts a larger O-line compared to many Falcon defenders but if they decide not to run at all the advantage could be wasted.

The bottom line is this: If the Cardinals come out guns blazing and have success through the air and build a quick lead, they will have a good chance to win this game.  However, I believe the more battle tested (season wise) Falcons can keep this game close with a relentless run game. 

The Cards' Travis LaBoy is also questionable with an ankle injury this week which will only help Atlanta’s cause. Like I said earlier, the Cards have flopped HARD when faced with any serious competition and a convincing Falcon win would not surprise me at all.

It says here the Falcons at -2.5 is the pick for this game.

 

Team

Surface

Rush yards

Rush yrds allw

Pass yards

Pass yrds allw

Turnovers

Sacks for

Sacks agst

Pts for

Pts agst

Falcons

Turf/dome

2

25

14

21

-3

17

6

10

11

Cardinals

Grass/RD

32

16

2

22

0

20

7

Tied 3

28

 

*retractable dome

 

AFC   No. 5 Indianapolis Colts (12-4) @ No. 4 San Diego Chargers (8-8)

These two teams have become a serious rivalry of late.  San Diego eliminated Indy from the playoffs last year, but Indy got some revenge this year in Week 12 with a 23-20 win in San Diego. 

After that loss, the Chargers lost another to Atlanta and looked left for dead.  However 4 straight wins crowned them as AFC west champs. They may have the worst record in these playoffs but they are playing like the team everyone expected them to be at the beginning of the year getting hot at just the right time.  

However if you think about it, the Chargers were almost not in this position as they should’ve lost to KC in Week 15. 

The Colts have been hot most of the season. After a slow start they have reeled off nine straight wins culminating with a 23-0 win over the Titans and Manning being named league MVP. 

San Diego has some size advantage to throw around in the trenches and WR Vincent Jackson towers over most of the Colt’s secondary. If Bob Sanders is kept out, that matchup will be even more appealing.

For the Chargers all eyes will be on whether Tomlinson and Gates are able to suit up for this one as they are battling some injuries of their own and haven't practiced all week.

I think this is pretty tough to call but while the public is all over Indy, some sharp money seems to have come in on the Chargers as I’m seeing a line switch to -1 San Diego at some books. I think at home and getting hot maybe at just the right time will make me lean towards the Chargers in this one at -1 currently.

 

Team

Surface

Rush yards

Rush yrds allw

Pass yards

Pass yrds allw

Turnovers

Sacks for

Sacks agst

Pts for

Pts agst

Colts

Turf/RD

31

24

5

6

+9

15

3

13

7

Chargers

grass

20

11

7

31

+4

28

10

2

15

 

 

 

NFC    No. 6 Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1) @ No. 3 Minnesota Vikings 10-6

The Eagles were another team who looked to have no shot at the playoffs this year.  However, with Bears and Bucs losses and a demolition of the Cowboys the Eagles seem to have fate on their side. 

While they seemed dead for some time, the Eagles have been consistently playing decent as they rank highly in many key statistical categories. (see chart).  Philly’s large offensive line will try to open up lanes for Westbrook and give McNabb time to pass vs the Vike’s 18th rank pass D.

Philly’s smaller defenders will look to continue to bring pressure on most likely Tarvaris Jackson as Minnesota is 28th in the league at protecting their QB. On defense, the Vikes could also be short handed if Edwards and Pat Williams can’t play on their defensive line as they are battling injuries.

For Minnesota, they will most likely throw Peterson and Taylor at Philly all day and hope to break off some large runs from behind their large and effective O-line. Vike’s coach Childress also used to work for the Eagles so he may have some inside insight to their play calls. 

In a pleasant surprise, Tarvaris Jackson has come in and held his own in relief of Frerotte so the Vikes know they can trust him to pass if needed. What’s concerning with Philly is that sure they shut down a lifeless Cowboys team last week; however, the week prior, they needed that game just as badly vs Washington and laid a huge egg in only scoring three points and losing 10-3. 

Minnesota also finished the regular season on a high in a 20-19 win over the Giants.  However in a game that meant nothing New York and potentially everything for Minnesota, the Vikes were barely able to pull off the victory at home playing against a Giant’s team playing most of their backups.

If I had to pick one here, I’d say the door was left ever so slightly open for the Eagles and they took advantage of it last week to make the playoffs. I think that luck could continue this week and the more experienced QB (McNabb) will prevail.

Put a gun to my head and Philly -3 is my play.

 

Team

Surface

Rush yards

Rush yrds allw

Pass yards

Pass yrds allw

Turnovers

Sacks for

Sacks agst

Pts for

Pts agst

Eagles

Grass

22

4

6

3

+3

3

5

6

4

Vikes

Turf/dome

5

1

25

18

-6

4

28

12

13

 

 

In Week 16, the top-five public consensus choices not only didn’t cover but they also lost SU. In Week 17 the opposite occurred as many of the top consensus choices cashed. This week I’m a little scared to be leaning to siding with many public choices which is part of the reason I’m going to back off a couple of these games.

 

Best of luck to all this wild-card weekend!

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