Wild Card Weekend

I went 4 from 6 last week with both the New York teams the ones to let me down, leaving me at 54-45-3 on the year. Buffalo won a scrappy game to end the season 8-8 thanks to 3 picks in the second half as the Jets tried in vain to force a win. Their loss was Pittsburgh’s gain as they rolled over the Browns 28-12 to take that final wild card to set up a game with the Bengals. The Patriots managed to lose another divisional game, this time against the lowly Dolphins which turned them into Chargers fans to try and hold onto the number 1 seed. Despite a good effort from San Diego the Broncos were able to get the win they needed to become the number 1 seed in the AFC thanks in part to the return of one Peyton Manning. The Chiefs held on in Oakland to keep them unbeaten in 10 games to set them up with a rematch from week 1 with a trip to Houston. The Texans took the AFC South with a 30-6 win over the Jaguars. The Colts managed to see off Tennessee but that Houston win kept them out of the playoffs after being in the Championship game last year. I think there just might be some big changes in Indy this year. In the NFC we already knew which teams were going to the playoffs and only seeding to sort out. The Panthers made sure of their number 1 status with a comprehensive 38-10 win against Tampa while Arizona didn’t get the win they needed had the Panthers lost – going down 36-6 against the resurgent Seahawks. With Washington already a lock as the 4th seed it was a straight up fight for the NFC North title between Green Bay and Minnesota. A win would give them bragging rights over their rivals but also a game against the Seahawks so maybe Green Bay were playing the long game as they lost 20-13 to send them off to Washington to take on the Redskins. The rest of the games were incidental but the Lions beat the Bears to leapfrog them in the battle at the other end of the NFC North while the Saints beat the Falcons with a field goal as time expired to ensure they didn’t finish bottom of the NFC South. The 49ers finished an awful year with a win against the Rams but still finish rock bottom of the NFC West. The Panthers have bragging rights as the team who scored the most points with 500 over their 16 games as well as the biggest points differential with a huge 192! The lowest scoring team was unsurprisingly the 49ers with only 238 but the Browns pipped them with the worst point differential of -154. The leakiest defence was Jacksonville who allowed 448 points all year while the Seahawks had the stingiest defence, only allowing 277 points which beat the Bengals who only allowed 279. No team went 6-0 against their division but the Chargers did manage to go 0-6 in the AFC West. One final fun fact? There have been 20 games that needed overtime to give us a winner. Anyway, enough with this regular season nonsense, onto the playoffs!

Saturday 9.35pm
Chiefs@Texans
First off is this week 1 rematch which Kansas City won 27-20. Kansas of course are still without star running back Jamaal Charles who they did have while they went 1-4. Since he went down injured they have gone 10-1. Houston had a similar start to the year too going 2-5 before rallying to finish 7-2. This could actually be a tricky matchup for Kansas; Alex Smith threw a couple of interceptions against Oakland and with the Texans defence bearing down on him, especially JJ Watt, then there are chances for Houston to generate turnovers a week after they sacked Blake Bortles 8 times! The Chiefs are also pretty good on defence so Hoyer might have his work cut out to get points on the board, especially if Kansas take their usual route of building up a lead and hanging on for dear life for the win. They’re favoured by 3.5 on the opening line. I think this is going to be quite a defensive game and therefore quite low scoring so I’m tempted by the under 40.5 points line. If it does end up being a grinding defensive game I’m going with the Texans on the spread, they might even steal the win.

Sunday 1.15am
Steelers@Bengals
Both teams here have been hit with injury news at the wrong time of the year. Obviously Cincinnati lost Andy Dalton the last time these two met as he tried to make a tackle after tossing an interception and the quarterback is not expected to be back for his annual one-and-done. Pittsburgh lost DeAngelo Williams in that game with the Browns last week which will hit their running game hard after already losing LeVeon Bell weeks ago and is liable to turn their offence a little one-dimensional. That in itself isn’t a huge problem when you have Big Ben throwing the ball to players like Antonio Brown but against the stingiest defence in the AFC then Pittsburgh might need to tighten up its own leaky secondary. Steelers are favoured by 3 and can pull that off if Big Ben can cut out the turnovers, even without much of a ground game. Don’t count Cincinnati out yet though, maybe they can finally win a playoff game if Dalton is sidelined!

Sunday 6.05pm
Seahawks@Vikings
These two met back in week 13 and I’m sure everyone remembers the Seahawks dominated the Vikings with a 38-7 victory. I’m afraid I can see more of the same in this one. Bridgewater doesn’t get good protection to give him ample time to make his throws, and I’ll bet not many are aimed at Richard Sherman anyway which should make him a little easier to read. The Seahawks are also hoping that Marshawn Lynch might be able to return to bolster the running game and take some of the pressure off Russell Wilson. Not that he needs it. Wilson has been fantastic in the last 6 weeks or so and has dragged Seattle back to the playoffs and making them look like the scariest team on this side of the draw. Unsurprisingly they’re the big favourites, 4.5 on the spread, and can go more than that if the run game returns with a healthy Lynch, Wilson still playing like crazy, Kam Chancellor and JR Sweezy returning and the defence putting the stops on Peterson again. The only potential spanner in the works could be the weather – it’s predicted to be hovering around -1 at kick-off without accounting for any wind chill. Not quite to the level of the Ice Bowl but it could make things a little more interesting.

Sunday 9.40pm
Packers@Redskins
This has to be the worst offence Green Bay has sent to the playoffs in living memory. Possibly the worst team actually. The defence is up and down, the receivers keep dropping catches and the running game barely exists. They’ll certainly be glad to not be going up against the Seahawks this week but this is a Washington team that is starting to pull together and look pretty dangerous. They actually currently have the longest win streak in the entire NFC at 4 games! They don’t really have much of a running game either but Kirk Cousins is playing very, very well right now making some great throws and barely any turnovers. Washington are actually favoured here by 1.5 points which seems strange at first, but Green Bay aren’t a team to be feared so much anymore. Washington might actually pull this off.

Picks:
Obviously we don’t have enough games for my usual pick 6 so instead I’m going to pick each game as well as a few bets I think are decent value.
Texans +3.5
Steelers -3
Seahawks -4.5
Redskins -1.5
7/1 on Kansas, Pittsburgh, Seattle and Green Bay all to win – at least one is bound to upset it but that’s canny value. This is with Betvictor.
4/1 Doug Baldwin and DeSean Jackson to score a touchdown. Also Betvictor.
8/1 DeAndre Hopkins, Antonio Brown and Adrian Peterson to score a touchdown. Betfair.
Steelers -3 & Seahawks -4.5 double pays a little under 3/1

Now that we’re down to the final 12 teams it might be time to mention the Super Bowl again. The current favourites are, unsurprisingly the 15-1 Carolina Panthers who are at 7/2 to win in February. The Patriots are next at 4/1 with the Broncos next for the AFC at 6/1. The outsider Redskins are 33/1 and the poor Texans bringing up the rear at 66/1. If you fancy a bet on the currently hot Seahawks, they’re 11/2 while the current hot AFC team, the Chiefs, are at 16/1.

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