If we have learned anything in the NFL during the regular season, it is that many factors can help a team win. This trend should continue during the 2016 playoffs.
It's easy to look at one or two positions where a team has an advantage, but it often takes 53 players to earn a victory. Even a great quarterback can't always do it all himself without a defense or a run game alongside him. You especially can't ignore the ability of the offensive and defensive lines to make an impact in the trenches.
When making picks, it's important to consider all the players who will have an impact in each game. With that in mind, here is a look at the upcoming bracket and picks against the spread for Wild Card Weekend.
Picks Against the Spread
Kansas City Chiefs (-3) at Houston Texans
Everyone knows by now these two teams play excellent defense, each of which has been much better down the stretch.
The Kansas City Chiefs finished third in the NFL with 17.9 points allowed per game, although they have given up an average of just 12.8 points during the 10-game winning streak. The Houston Texans held opponents to 10 points or fewer in six of their last seven wins.
While the defensive matchup is close, a look at the offense provides much more separation. The Texans have an elite receiver in DeAndre Hopkins but inconsistency at quarterback and in the run game. This will make it difficult to keep up with the Chiefs, who surprisingly have the No. 9 scoring offense in football.
Quarterback Alex Smith is often mocked, but he knows how to spread the ball around to his receivers without turning it over. Kansas City also ranks third in the NFL in yards per rushing attempt (4.7), much better than Houston (3.7) as the fourth-worst in the league.
The Chiefs have a better chance of moving the ball in what will likely be a low-scoring game and should come away with a win.
Cincinnati Bengals (+3) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
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After going back and forth on this, the Cincinnati Bengals currently have the edge in this battle. It's easy to look at quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wideout Antonio Brown and assume the passing attack will simply dominate, but that is only one part of the equation.
Sure, the Pittsburgh Steelers did win, 33-20, in Cincinnati just a few weeks ago. But Andy Dalton got hurt early in that game, and backup quarterback AJ McCarron was thrust in action without much preparation. The defense still played well, especially when you take away one pick-six from the Steelers and a touchdown allowed after a turnover inside their own 20-yard line.
Meanwhile, McCarron has improved tremendously in the past few weeks, as offensive coordinator Hue Jackson explained, per Coley Harvey of ESPN.com:
Night and day. When he first took over, he walked off the sideline after the starter got hurt. That's different. You just go in there and play and you wing it and you do things. Now it's about the process through the week of getting ready to play that builds up to the game, and then you walk out there first. That's a different set of pressure, a different set of anxiety. That's a different set of everything.
After throwing two interceptions against the Steelers, McCarron has four touchdowns and no picks in his last three games. With playmakers around him, this solid play could be enough to get that playoff win the Bengals have been looking for.
Seattle Seahawks (-5) at Minnesota Vikings
The Seattle Seahawks had plenty of problems early in the season—even defensively, where they had been dominant for years. During a 2-4 start, the pass rush struggled, and the secondary allowed big plays, especially late in games.
Despite these issues, Seattle turned things around and ended the year with the fewest points allowed for the third season in a row. After the Seahawks' dominant showing against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17, the Minnesota Vikings might be in trouble.
Minnesota's offense is carried by Adrian Peterson, who led the league with 1,485 rushing yards. The squad is 7-0 this season when the All-Pro running back tops 100 rushing yards, which is fine as long as he remains productive. This might be a challenge against the No. 1 run defense in football.
Peterson had just 18 rushing yards on eight carries when these teams battled last month, and he won't be much more successful this time around. This will put the pressure on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to make plays, which won't be easy against an elite secondary.
With Marshawn Lynch also expected to return for the playoffs, the Seahawks are a dangerous team that should be able to win on the road.
Washington Redskins (+1) vs. Green Bay Packers
The line has shifted during the week toward the Green Bay Packers now being favored against the Washington Redskins. This is likely due to the familiarity with the Packers and the trust in quarterback Aaron Rodgers to lead his team in the playoffs.
Unfortunately, this squad has not resembled the team we have seen in the past for some time.
Zach Kruse of Bleacher Report noted the struggles offensively compared to the usual under head coach Mike McCarthy:
Zach Kruse @zachkruse2
#Packers offensive ranks: Yards (23rd, worst under MM) Points (15th, second worst) Passing yards (25th, worst) Yards per att (28th, worst)2016-1-4 16:03:39
After a 6-0 start, Green Bay is just 4-6 in the last 10 games and continues to look worse each week. The offense was held to a combined 21 points in the last two weeks, with Rodgers getting sacked a total of 13 times. Nothing is working well on that side of the ball for the Packers.
On the other hand, the Redskins are heading into the playoffs on an impressive hot streak, winning four in a row, including three on the road. After a mistake-filled beginning to the season, Kirk Cousins has 24 touchdowns and just three interceptions in his last 10 games, including an 11-to-0 ratio in the last three.
Washington hasn't faced the toughest competition this season, but the team is playing much better at the moment and should be able to keep it going against a struggling opponent.
All spread info courtesy of Odds Shark.
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