Many years there’s a stray NFL team that sneaks into the final wild-card spot and because of one reason or another, has no real chance to compete. It means we get at least one bad game in the postseason. Think of the Connor Cook-led Oakland Raiders a few years ago.
That’s not the case this season. All 12 teams are capable, even the NFC East champion Philadelphia Eagles. The quarterback field among the 12 teams is probably as deep as ever. We’re going to get a lot of great games this month.
Let’s take a look at the games with some against the spread picks, lines courtesy of BetMGM:
Bills (+3) over Texans: The Texans might be the most unpredictable team in the field.
They have been blown out by the Ravens and Broncos. They beat the Patriots and won a crucial road game against a good Titans team. They are capable of looking very good and capable of some of the worst performances you’ll see by a playoff team.
The Bills have been more steady. They were outpacing their analytics most of the season, but then they caught up late in the season. They played very well. Tough games against the Ravens and Patriots, while they didn’t win either, showed they are capable of playing well against top teams. It’s a team on the rise. They’ll need Josh Allen, in his first playoff start, to not miss key throws, but they do everything else fairly well. Tre’Davious White can help limit DeAndre Hopkins, and I think the Bills offense can take advantage of a Houston defense that has struggled most of the season (though should have J.J. Watt back from injury).
I’ll take the Bills, because I like their defense and you have to practically choose if we’ll see good Texans or bad Texans on Saturday. That’s just too hard to predict with any certainty.
Titans (+5) over Patriots: This feels like a trap.
There are plenty of reasons to buy into the Titans here. The Patriots are just 4-4 in their last eight games, and coming off a loss to the Dolphins. The offense has had issues all season and the defense hasn’t been as great lately either. Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill had a fantastic season, Derrick Henry was finally (finally!) used as a lead back by the Titans and led the NFL in rushing and rookie receiver A.J. Brown looks like a star. It looks like two teams going in opposite directions.
And still, we’ve been down this road before.
The Patriots always seem to find a way. It’s really hard to pick against Bill Belichick in a playoff game, especially at home. Every reason to pick the Titans is valid, and it’s still hard to pick someone to beat New England.
I’ll take the Titans and the points, but figure the Patriots find a way to win. And if the Patriots do end up with some easy win, it’s not like any of us should be surprised.
Saints (-7.5) over Vikings: No offense to the 49ers, but I might pick the Saints as the best team in the NFC field. They have played tremendous football the past few weeks.
And yet, again, they caught a bad break. How does a team as good as the Saints go 13-3 and not get a bye? They’re the third team in the current playoff format to be in that group, joining the 1999 Titans and 2011 ... Saints. Ouch. But the 1999 Titans made a Super Bowl, and I wouldn’t be shocked if the Saints made a similar run.
New Orleans’ offense has taken off lately. Drew Brees, who slumped in December last season, was NFC player of the month. Michael Thomas would have a good MVP case in any non-Lamar Jackson season. This is a very good team, but having the long road to the Super Bowl is a tough break.
The Vikings are a very good No. 6 seed. They haven’t played quite as well lately, but a lot of that can be attributed to Dalvin Cook’s injuries. If Cook is back to 100 percent, that makes a big difference. Still, the Saints are playing well, the Superdome will be deafening, and yes, it’s still hard to trust Kirk Cousins in a big game.
Seahawks (-1.5) over Eagles: I’ll give Philadelphia credit for getting it together and making the playoffs, though they were lucky to be in a terrible division. But I don’t think they can keep it going.
Injuries have hit both teams, but I think the Eagles’ injuries are more significant. Tight end Zach Ertz, running back Miles Sanders, offensive tackle Lane Johnson and receiver Nelson Agholor all could play but it’s hard to imagine they’ll be 100 percent. Carson Wentz has played very well lately, but he doesn’t have a lot to work with.
The Seahawks’ injuries are mostly at running back, and hopefully the coaching staff doesn’t get stubborn. The Eagles’ run defense is much better than their pass defense. If there was a game to let Russell Wilson loose, this is it. The Seahawks have resisted that, for whatever reason, and we’ll see what their game plan looks like on Sunday.
Seattle has been the better team through the season, the Eagles are struggling with key injuries, and I’ll keep it simple and pick the Seahawks to win.
Last week: 9-7
Season to date: 121-131-4
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